reading

The 2016 Bookish Winter Gift Guide

4:31 pm



* I was fortunate to receive some of these titles for review from their respective publishers, but my opinions are honest and, well, my opinions! *

Gorgeous Fiction

Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology - ed. Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (PM Press, 2015) - An anthology of feminist speculative fiction, as it says in the title. I got this for Christmas last year and it's such a wonderful collection. Perfect for feminists wanting to get into science fiction, or just science fiction fans.

Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - art by Yayoi Kusama (Penguin Classics, 2012) - A beautiful edition to someone's favourite classic is a wonderful gift idea. This edition of Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland is illustrated with lots of polka-dots and colourful imagery. 

The Sculptor - Scott McCloud (Self Made Hero, 2015) - One of my favourite graphic novels, illustrated solely with whites and blues. The story is wonderful and the physical book itself is a wonderful thing to behold. A good gift for someone looking for a less-mainstream graphic novel to discover.

The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft - ed. Leslie S. Klinger (Liveright, 2014) - For horror/weird fiction fans everywhere. This book is enormous and full of research material on the work of Lovecraft. This is probably one of the books I'm proudest to have in my collection. It's stunning.


Creative Inspiration

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative - Austin Kleon (Workman Publishing, 2012) - The perfect little kick in the butt for those creatives out there feeling stuck in a rut.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear - Elizabeth Gilbert (Bloomsbury, 2015)
You can read my full review of Big Magic here, but this is an interesting delve into the idea of 'ideas' and how to work creatively without anxiety.


Comforting Non-Fiction

The Book of Tea - Kakuzo Okakura (Penguin Little Black Classics, 2016) - A relaxing little volume on tea and the tea ceremony. These Penguin Little Black Classics are just made to be stocking fillers.

The Secret Lore of London* - ed. John Matthews and Caroline Wise (Coronet, 2016) - Hidden secrets about London. Perfect for the inquisitive Londoner in your life, or someone who is just really into history and is always spouting facts when you're out with them.


Beautiful Poetry Collections

The Emma Press Anthology of Mildly Erotic Verse* - ed. Rachel Piercey and Emma Wright
You can read a little more about this collection and The Emma Press here. A short collection of somewhat-saucy love poems from some lesser-known poets. Basically all collections from The Emma Press would be the perfect present.

Ariel - Sylvia Plath (Faber, 2010) - A similar idea to the illustrated Alice's Adventures in Wonderland above. A beautiful edition of someone's favourite poetry.


Hands-On Activities

Draw Every Day Draw Every Way* - Jennifer Orkin Lewis (Abrams, 2016) - Every month allows you to branch out with a new art material as you work your way though this daily drawing quest. From experience I can tell you this is very, very fun. I would recommend this as a gift along with some new art supplies and this requires a lot! I now have a lovely collection of Japanese brush pens.

Vertical Worlds Coloring Book* - Abi Daker (Abrams, 2016) - Is the world ever going to get bored of adult colouring? This book is full of incredibly intricate art, for the person in your life who has the focus to colour tiny windows and doors, and loves architecture. 


Humour

Redshirt's Little Book of Doom - Robb Pearlman (Michael O'Mara, 2016) - For that one Star Trek fan you know. A wonderful stocking filler.

The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies - Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin (Canongate, 2013) - Need some life help? Got an ache that isn't going away? The Novel Cure will recommend a book or five to heal you of your woes. This is so much fun to flick through and get ideas from. A very chunky volume!

M x

reading

Recent Poetry Favourites: Sappho, e.e. cummings, & Dante

10:58 am


It took me a long old while to get into poetry. There are a few poems I remember loving when I was studying them at school, but that kind of environment where you're picking things apart to try and glean meaning isn't conducive to falling in love with poetry. I remember getting endlessly bored trying to analyse Browning's 'Fra Lippo Lippi', but loving 'My Last Duchess' and 'Porphyria's Lover'. I have a huge soft spot for Shelley's 'Ozymandias', Ginsberg's 'Howl', and anything by Plath, Pound, or Eliot thanks to my years at university. It had been a while since I had read any poetry for pleasure, and recently I've found myself in the perfect headspace for it, so here are three volumes I've been read/read over the past few months.

Inferno by Dante, translated by Robin Kirkpatrick (Penguin Classics) - Hopefully my final attempt to ever read this epic poem. I'm only up to Canto 5, but I'm reading the notes and annotating as I go so it's pretty slow progress. I'm really liking this translation however; it's pleasantly un-clunky and still feels very poetic. As a sucker for any kind of classical allusions, this is a wonderful read.

Come Close by Sappho, translated by Aaron Poochigan (Penguin Little Black Classics) - Go out and pick up a copy of one of Sappho's poetry collections. Although everything is only in fragments, this is some of the most beautiful poetry I've ever read. At several points when I reading I would actually just have to put the book down and stare into space for a while. Sappho knew what she was doing.

Selected Poems 1923-1958 by e. e. cummings (Faber) - This definitely isn't a poetry collection for the first-time reader. cummings liked to throw random punctuation into the middle of sentences and write really long parenthetical lines. Each poem requires several readthroughs but I think they're really rewarding. Some of the imagery he uses is completely bizarre, but works in a way I haven't ever read before.

M x

lifestyle

The One Where Megan Pretends to be Bob Dylan and Fixes Up a Typewriter

1:00 pm




So, back in my first year of university, way, way back in 2011, I bought a secondhand typewriter off of eBay. I can't remember how much it was, somewhere between £30-£75. I had a student loan, I didn't care how much anything was. (This way of thinking isn't serving me well now these loans are actually something I need to pay off.) Flash-forward to now, I finally decided it was the time to fix this baby up as a fun little project to end the year. Something I thought would take me through until December actually only took me a week thanks to the pretty good condition this was in, the speediness of eBay deliveries, and, honestly, how much fun the whole pursuit was.

The typewriter I own is, I believe, a 1964 Royal Safari, but it's hard to be completely sure as the decal has come off of the front. Thanks to some PDFs of the original manual I found online I've been able to narrow it down, and the 1964 model is the closest fit. It's a portable typewriter which means it comes in a very clunky carry case that I keep stowed on a shelf for storage, and it's very similar to a model Bob Dylan used so 'swoon' indeed. Obviously the glorious blue colour was a selling point for me and fortunately it's quite a hardy design so worries about using the right cleaning materials were minimal.

1. Ribbon

The first thing I really wanted to get sorted out was replacing the ribbon so I could actually, you know, type with this thing. The one it arrived with was a simple black ink, but after reading the manual I could see that this did originally come with a half-black/half-red ribbon, meaning you could type in two colours (there's a lever on the side of the machine that changes this alignment for you, so reloading the ribbon isn't necessary when you want to switch between the two colours). Pretty fancy. It was pretty easy to find this ribbon on eBay for a really good price, and loading it into the typewriter didn't take much hassle. My only recommendation to people doing this would be to wear gloves because the ink is really transferable and I made the mistake of doing all of this on a white coffee table with bare hands. An inky massacre.

2. Cleaning

Once I had the ribbon loaded, I tested every key to see which were sticking. I think it's pretty typical for typewriters to jam after several uses as they oil they use to lubricate the arms (arms? What is the correct terminology here?) gathers dust and all sorts of gross stuff and everything gets gummed together. As I said before, this is a pretty hardy machine so I used, god forbid, nail varnish remover on cotton swabs to get between the arms and clear things out. I certainly wasn't taking any photos of this part of the process as the entire table was covered in disgusting, blackened, gunky buds. This was a very glamorous project. The rest of the typewriter I wiped over with a damp cloth, I gave the actual keys themselves a bit of a scrub to remove fingerprints (sounds far more NCIS than I expected: CHECK FOR PRINTS, DUCKIE), and the cleaning job was pretty much done.

3. Learning the ropes

Everything up and running, it was time to actually sit and read this PDF manual I found online. I cannot praise the internet as a 'thing' enough for making these things readily available (and Nick at http://royaltypewriters.blogspot.com). This typewriter was a particularly confusing one to get my head around as it has the ability to set your margins for you, and even write in columns. There's about six keys for either of those bloody functions so it took a fair bit of practice, but now I feel like a pro. And I will also never use columns.

4. Looking ahead

As you can see from the photos, I'm currently only using my typewriter for the very, very important job of writing lists. After a little practice I'm hoping to start using it on slightly heftier projects, maybe with some short stories or letters for my friends. The actual process of writing with this typewriter is hugely satisfying and the fact I cleaned it up myself even more so. It's taking a lot of strength to not buy another typewriter to do up as I think I'd like the challenge of something a little older that needs a bit more care. Time to Google what typewriter Ginsberg used...

M x

review

Book Review: Bad Girls Throughout History by Ann Shen*

9:54 am



* My copy of Bad Girls Throughout History was kindly sent to me upon request from Abrams & Chronicle *

As soon as I saw Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World* on Abrams & Chronicle's Twitter feed, I knew I was in love. Ann Shen's new release details the lives of 100 amazing women through time who have broken the rules that restricted them, from the biblical Lilith to the modern revolutionary Malala Yousafzai, by way of dancers, scientists, writers, explorers, actors, and fighters.

Ann chooses such a refreshingly broad spectrum of women to focus in in this volume. She reaches far-flung corners of the globe to teach you about the women you may otherwise not have been introduced to but thoroughly deserve their story to be told. Some of my favourites include:

  • Diana Nyad, the 64-year-old who became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage.
  • Junko Tabei, the first woman to climb to the summit of Everest, who died at the age of 77 on the day I'm writing this.
  • Christine Jorgensen, an actor and the first publicly-known trans woman in America.
  • Dorothy Dandridge, the first African-American to be nominated for the best actress Oscar.
  • Alice Guy-Blaché, the world's first female film director and the inventor of narrative film.

Those are simply five of such an incredible collection that offers inspiration on every page and at every age. Ann's beautiful illustrations are simply the cherry on top of the cake, with each woman's story accompanied by a full-colour portrait and brush lettering (which reminds me that I really need to sign up to a calligraphy class). I know this book is going to hold pride of place on my shelf for many years to come.

This gorgeous book was published by Chronicle Books on 6th September and retails at the outstandingly good price of £12.99 for such a pretty hardcover. I think it would be the perfect gift this Christmas for the student or twenty-something with big dreams in your life.

M x

reading

Quick Book Review: Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed

1:00 pm


Brave Enough (Atlantic Books, 2015) is a book of quotes. It's as simple as that. I was looking for some inspiration and the lovely Cheryl Strayed popped back up onto my radar after disappearing post-Wild last June. Reviewing a book of quotes seemed like a bit of a pointless task to me, so I'm going to share with you a few of my highlights from this quick read. All quotes are from Cheryl herself (I don't think I've ever said one quotable thing in my life that wasn't crude, honestly). It's one of those ones you'll go back to when you need a kick up the butt.


'The body knows. When your heart sinks. When you feel sick to your gut. When something blossoms in your chest. When your brain gloriously pops. That's your body telling you the One True Thing. Listen to it.'

'Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren't a state of being, but rather a room where I could always retreat to be who I really was.'

'Be the captain. You are the captain.'

'Don't own other people's crap.'

'Would you be a better or worse person if you forgave yourself for the bad things you did?'

'You let time pass. That's the cure. You survive the days. You float like a rabid ghost through the weeks. You cry and wallow and lament and scratch your way back up through the months. And then one day you find yourself alone on a bench in the sun and you close your eyes and lean your head back and you realize you're okay.'


M x

haul

September 2016 Book Haul

9:16 am



I write this soothing my throat with Lemsip. That is not a murky cup of tea. I have Freshers Flu and I'm not even a student.

Leaving the Atocha Station - Ben Lerner (Coffee House Press, 2011)
An actual spontaneous book-recommendation purchase when browsing the Amnesty store in Cambridge. My wonderful friend Dan (so wonderful he definitely won't be reading this) pointed this Lerner novel out to me, which I had never heard of before, but I trust his judgement when it comes to anything bookish. It's been blurbed by Paul Auster which just makes it even better. From what I can gather this follows a young poet and his exploration of art.

I Was Told There'd Be Cake - Sloane Crosley (Riverhead Books, 2008)
Another Amnesty store purchase, this time something I've had my eye on for years. This is an essay collection on modern life in the city (and was totally mentioned in an episode of Gossip Girl but I swear that's not the only reason). This has been blurbed by none other than the fantastic author of the next book I picked up...

You Don't Love Me Yet - Jonathan Lethem (Faber & Faber, 2007)
I love Jonathan Lethem. I wrote an essay for the Contemporary US Fiction module of my MA on his use of genre, comparing it to that of Thomas Pynchon and Paul Auster (mentioned above in this creepily self-referential blog post), and I ended up reading so much of his non-fiction work alongside Motherless Brooklyn. Now, You Don't Love Me Yet has absolutely terrible reviews on Goodreads, but I guess everyone fucks up at some point. The protagonist of this novel works on an art installation that takes the form of a 'complaints line' where she listens to the problems of callers, and she, of course, falls in love with one of them. I just want to read all of the Lethem under the sun.

Psyche Unbound - Heather Buck (Anvil Press Poetry, 1995)
Probably the purchase in this haul with the least reasoning behind it. I've been really enjoying poetry recently, and this collection caught my eye. I can't find much online about the poet herself so who knows what it's going to be like.

The Beats - ed. Park Honan (J.M. Dent, 1987)
This was the only book not picked up after work from the Amnesty store, but in London during a very hungover visit with my mum. I can't turn down anything related to Beat Poetry, so when I saw this in the window of a secondhand bookshop I knew I needed to crawl into that display and grab it. Which is exactly what I did. I then chatted to the shopkeeper about the new £5, because what else is there to talk to people in retail about at the moment?

M x

reading

2017 Releases to Get Excited About

2:59 pm


We have reached October which means one thing: thinking about next year already despite there being a crap-tonne of things still to do. Here are some of the books coming out in 2017 that I'm already very excited about:

Month Unannounced

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body - Roxane Gay (2017, HarperCollins)
Gay's second publication, this time a memoir on her relationship with her body image and food. The release date for this one keeps shifting around, with Roxane starting to write it in 2014 with a 2016 release in mind. Now it's set for some time next year.


January - March 2017

Universal Harvester - John Darnielle (February 2017, Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
I loved Darnielle's debut, Wolf in White Van, so am over the moon that he has another book coming out in the next six months. This one sounds equally as mind-bending and creepy: mysterious footage starts appearing on VHS tapes at the local video store. I love how Darnielle used a retro play-by-post game in Wolf so happy to see another form of 90s media being used.

Wires and Nerve, Volume One - Marissa Meyer (January 2017, Feiwel & Friends)
Praise Meyer for continuing on with the Lunar Chronicles by adding a graphic novel series to the mix. This will focus on android Iko and feature all of our favourite characters from before. I cannot wait.

Caraval - Stephanie Garber (January 2017, Hodder & Stoughton)
A new Young Adult duology centering around Scarlett, a young woman trying to find her sister after she disappears at the mysterious Caraval, a once-in-a-year performance where the audience participates.

Carve the Mark - Veronica Roth (January 2017, HarperCollins)
Duology number two. From the author of Divergent we are presented with a violent planet where everyone is born with a specific gift, some better than others. Akos and Cyra both have gifts that can destroy one another and through events they must work together in order to survive. Drama drama drama.

Witch - Lisa Lister (March 2017, Hay House UK)
I've basically read everything Lisa has written. This will be no exception. In Witch, she gives a history of witchcraft and leads us through to its modern iterations. She is a wonderfully warm and wise woman, and I can't wait to hear more about this release.


April - June 2017

Flame in the Mist - Renee Ahdieh (May 2017, G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers)
The first release in a new Young Adult series set in rural Japan. Mariko is an alchemist and the daughter of a prominent samurai, but is unable to follow to follow in his footsteps because she's a woman. She dresses as a boy and enters into the Black Clan. Obvious Mulan vibes here. What's not to love?

Release - Patrick Ness (May 2017, Walker Books)
Prepare yourself for the greatest book description you'll ever read. 'Inspired by Mrs Dalloway and Judy Bloom's Forever'. Need I say more?

Spindle Fire - Lexa Hillyer (April 2017, HarperCollins)
As if I could ever turn down a fairytale retelling. This time it's Sleeping Beauty. There's bloodshed, evil faeries, and obviously a whole lot of sleep. Recommended for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Sarah J. Maas.

M x

interiors

Interview: Annie Dornan-Smith on Female Illustrators and Luscious Leaves

3:44 pm


Today's interview is with the lovely Annie Dornan-Smith of Annie Dornan-Smith Design! I've been following Annie on Twitter for a while now and absolutely adore her illustrations and design style. She's recently fully-funded her Kickstarter for her book House Jungle, a gorgeous illustrated guide on how to care for your house plans. We spoke about artistic inspirations, greenery, and favourite films! I hope you enjoy it, and check out Annie's wonderful art at the links below.

~

Magic & Musings: Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions, Annie! First of all, for any readers who don't know your background, tell me a little bit about yourself. When did you first get into illustration? Did you study it formally or come across it as a hobby?
Annie Dornan-Smith: You're welcome! I got into illustration at uni - I was studying Graphic Design at Uni (Nottingham Trent), and I pretty much discovered that illustration 'existed' at the end of my first year. Before that, I vaguely knew that book illustrators existed, but I thought that to take illustration courses you had to be able to draw like Disney animators. I didn't realise that illustration was so wide and could be applied to so much. I graduated in BA Graphic Design this year, but luckily I had some very supportive illustrator tutors, which allowed me to explore illustration under the 'banner' of graphic design. Now I mostly focus on my shop, where I design illustrated stationery and homeware to make your life extra fancy!

~

M&M: When did you first start selling your illustrations and did you have to overcome any self-confidence barriers in order to get to that place?
ADS: Luckily I've always felt pretty confident that I can make stuff that is *nice* (naturally, I still compare my work to EVERYONE else's and feel bad about it, but I never really worried that 'nobody will want to buy this') so that wasn't a huge problem. I started putting a few illustrations on Etsy initially, in my second year of uni, as I thought it would be a good way to continue to keep practicing, and hopefully make a little extra money as a poor student! Now I have my own website - anniedornansmithdesign.co.uk - where I sell my designs primarily.


M&M: When did you first get the idea to publish a book and use Kickstarter as a way of funding it?
ADS: I actually made the book in its entirely for one of my final projects at uni. It's 94-pages long and took me about three months to finish, and I had to get it made into a 'real thing' in order to hand it in for my course. When it was completed I was just really proud of it, and I wanted to make it real and I thought the best way to be able to afford enough copies would be to get some help via crowdfunding. I am the kind of person that has never felt like I needed anyone's help in order to do something, so instead of waiting around hoping something good would happen with it, I just decided to get on with making the book 'real', and start selling it myself. Funnily enough, throughout the course of the Kickstarter, I was actually approached by multiple publishers, and now I'm kind of getting that help. I've been really lucky.

~

M&M: On Magic & Musings I love talking about female artists and their work. Which female artists, if any, would you say have been influences on your work? Do you have any favourites to look at when you need a spark of inspiration?
ADS: There are so many female illustrators who've been really influential - hether it's their use of colour of their style. I really love Laura Callaghan even though our work is nothing alike! I also love Dinara Mirtalipova, Laura Redburn and always, Anna Bond of Rifle Paper Co.

~

M&M: A lot of your work is inspired by nature. Would you say you turn to the natural world often for inspiration? I know walks outside have been the pursuit of artists for centuries and are certainly good for calming the busy mind.
ADS: Definitely - I love florals and 'girly stuff' - which I think is why, but I actually love leaves the most. I'm not sure why really, but when I'm trying to paint leaves and florals I often feel like I need to go and look at some real life plants for inspiration. I've always lived in cities, so I don't really go on lots of walks, but my mum grows an absolutely stunning, wild and abundant garden, which has probably been an influence on me.



M&M: Do you draw from reference items or do you draw from your imagination?
ADS: I like to draw from reference, but I usually make it my own by interpreting it in weird and wonderful ways. For House Jungle, I used actual photos of plants with a little artistic license, because they needed to look like the correct plant, but I like to use reference just as 'inspiration' and then think about how those things will translate through my 'style'.

~

M&M: This is a question I like to ask purely because of the variety of answers I get! I'm really interested in how people work and get things done. Do you have a particular place you work or find yourself the most productive? Are there a particular set of things that need to be in place for things to get done, like a milky cup of tea or a particular album of music you listen to?
ADS: I'm actually not very exciting in that respect. I usually work best from my desk (currently in my bedroom!) but that's mostly because I'm super forgetful, and if I went to share workspaces/coffee shops, I would probably sit down and realise I didn't have something. Or suddenly decide I needed a certain kind of pen, or something. Other than that, the only thing I like to have around it to-do lists - I design my own and I can get quite obsessive about knowing what I'm doing that day, but that's mostly because I'm so forgetful that I have to stay organised.

Note: Here is a link to Annie's blog post on her studio tour!



M&M: What are your favourite tools you use to create your illustrations?
ADS: I am always armed with gouache - which I do all my paintings in - and my beloved beloved brush pens. I am really into brush lettering, and being left-handed I find I can only do it properly with brush pens.

~

M&M: Onto a fun question! Can you recommend everyone reading a book you've enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song?
ADS: Hmm, I've been really bad about remembering to read recently - I used to be such a bookworm but now it's so easy to just sit there and look at your phone like an idiot instead of snuggling up with a book! However, I did read Garden of the Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng recently which was interesting! I need to get better about reading. As for a film, it'd have to be my favourite Scott Pilgrim vs The World. It's so stupid and silly and is probably my number one favourite film ever. It makes a lot more sense if you've read the graphic novels first, though. As for an album, I'm recommending Plans by Death Cab for Cutie. It's hardly a recent album, but it's probably my all-time favourite album ever ever ever. I think people hear their name and don't give them a chance but their music is really special and catchy and just excellent.

Note: Scott Pilgrim has got to be one of my favourites, too!

~

M&M: Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish? How can people find out more about you and your work?
ADS: Well, I'm active on Twitter and Instagram at the moment if you wanna hang out with me a bit. I'm always looking for new friends. My website is where I sell all my lovely stationery and homeware designs, and my newsletter is where I share whatever cool new things I've designed to make sure you don't forget about me!

M x

reading

Zine Review: Gut Flora: A Chapess Zine Collection edited by Cherry Styles*

1:00 pm

Gut Flora, Chapess Zine Collection, Cherry Styles review

* I would love to thank Cherry Styles for sending me a copy of Gut Flora for review; all opinions of this wonderful collection are my own. *

As a child, I would always carry books around with my that were my favourites as a sort of comfort blanket. I would take them in the car, on holiday, to family parties. They would sit in my bag despite whether I planned on reading them or not. I felt comfortable with them around, as if they were there for me to escape to if I felt uncomfortable being away from home. Gut Flora almost became that for me as an adult for this past week. In time when I needed comfort, it was there for me to read. There were stories inside that I could relate to, and reading the voices of other young women and their experiences kept me grounded. I wasn't alone in my uncertainty and anxiety.

This is the first proper zine I've read from cover to cover, and it's more a collection of zines than anything else. Gut Flora is a round-up of editor Cherry Styles' favourite pieces from the first nine issues of The Chapess, a quarterly zine that accepts submissions from women of all backgrounds. All pieces are black and white, including photography, which gives the world a wonderful, homemade and comfortable feel. The collection includes photography (as previously mentioned), poetry, prose, and one hilarious IM conversation about poop. Never before have I wanted to read so much about poop. Other topics covered in this collection include sex, belonging, youth, body image, self-care, making art, and literature.

I gobbled up this collection from cover to cover and it made me excited for the work of women I have never heard from before. There is a river of talent running underneath our world that we rarely hear about unless we're looking in the right places. The voices of these women have inspired me to create, but not create in a way that I see around me. Their stories are so regular and so full of life that the don't need to conform to any pattern, or tell the stories people 'want to' hear. These are real people and I can't wait to hear more from them. 

You can find more about The Chapess on their Tumblr here, their Twitter here, or from their editor Cherry here. Gut Flora is published by the Synchronise Witches Press which is based in Manchester, UK, and has just gone into a second print run. I have also purchased some publications from the Synchronise Witches Press which I will be reviewing very soon.

M x

reading

Quick Book Reviews: Lindy West, E. Lockhart, and The Coquette*

7:13 pm

Quick book reviews: Shrill by Lindy West, The Best of Dear Coquette by The Coquette, and We Were Liars by E Lockhart

* I was fortunate to be sent review copies of both Shrill and Dear Coquette from Quercus and Icon Books. My reviews will be my honest opinions, as usual. *

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman* (2016, Quercus) - Lindy West (4 stars)

Shrill is an incredibly compelling read; that's not something I'm going to deny. Lindy West details her experiences as a fat woman (she doesn't want us to beat around the bush, she's fat) both on the comedy circuit and as a writer. Through chapters of varying length, she tells stories from her dating life, her career, her experiences online. I first heard one of Lindy's stories on Woman's Hour when she talked about her chapter when she confronted one of her online 'trolls'. He had set up a fake Twitter account, posing as her dead father (yes, it's as bad as it sounds), talking about how much of a disappointment she was as a daughter. Absolutely horrible. She speaks about this issue and many more with clarity and confidence throughout the entire book. Unfortunately there are some things she says that I don't agree with, but honestly that could happen in any piece of non-fiction. A really quick and interesting read overall.

The Best of Dear Coquette* (2016, Icon Books) - The Coquette (3 stars)

If you like foul language, questionable advice, sass, and the hard truth, this book is for you. Putting some of her most popular and informative blog posts into print, The Best of Dear Coquette reads like an abrasive advice column, because that's basically what it is. Our mysterious agony aunt regales us with tales of cocaine, one-night-stands, sex work, and dealing with a job you hate with brutal honesty and a level of wit I am incredibly jealous of. Page after page I flipped between laughing and nearly crying, with half of the stories printed being extremely relatable and half of them being so far from my life I would doubt they were even true if they were told by anyone other than coketweet. The only thing letting this book down is its length, as by the end I felt like I'd heard most of it already. A really fun gift idea for the sassy bitch in your life.

We Were Liars (2014, Hot Key Books) - E. Lockhart (5 stars)

Don't mind me, I'm just still crying about this book. I heard so much about We Were Liars in 2015, but sort of passed it off as your usual overly-dramatic young adult contemporary. I would like to formally apologise to this book for ever thinking that. It's near-impossible to write a review for as it's best to go into it knowing as little as possible. We have our narrator, Cadence, her two cousins (Johnny and Mirren), and her childhood friend, Gat. These are The Liars and they've been coming to the family island every summer since they can remember. We seem them form their personalities through their studies and their relationships. We learn their lies and their passions. This is all I can say really. This is a book of secrets, and it will kick you in the gut. It's a quick read so, please, just give it a try.

M x

reading

More New Releases for Review: Bryony Gordon, Peggy Orenstein, and Elizabeth J. Church

1:00 pm

New releases for review: Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon, Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein, and The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church

* I was fortunate to receive these three books for review from Headline, Oneworld, and 4th Estate. All comments now and future reviews are and will be my honest opinions. *

Mad Girl*- Bryony Gordon
Published on 7th June by Headline

Very important note: underneath the dust jacket, this hardcover is bright yellow. I'm very interested in reading Mad Girl after reviewing Rose Bretécher's Pure last year so I can see a variety of perspectives on living with different iterations of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Bryony Gordon has OCD. It's the snake in her brain that has told her ever since she was a teenager that her world is about to come crashing down: that her family might die if she doesn't repeat a phrase five times, or that she might have murdered someone and forgotten about it. It's caused alopecia, bulimia, and drug dependence. And Bryony is sick of it. Keeping silent about her illness has given it a cachet it simply does not deserve, so here she shares her story with trademark wit and dazzling honesty. [...] Mad Girl is a shocking, funny, unpredictable, heart-wrenching, raw and jaw-droppingly truthful celebration of life with mental illness.

Published in 6th October 2016 by Oneworld Publications

I heard an interview with Peggy Orenstein on the podcast (I swear half of my posts mention me finding out about a book from a podcast) Note to Self on their episode about sexiness, social media, and teenage girls. How young people are growing up on the internet today is something I find myself thinking about a lot, having a younger sister especially, so I'd like to see what research Peggy has come across on the subject. Things I read and see online can affect me greatly at the age of twenty-three, so I can only imagine what it would be like for a youngster (yes, I just said 'youngster') with a still-squishy brain.

New York Times bestseller offers a ground-breaking picture of the sexual landscape facing young women in the 21st century - and reveals how they are negotiating it. [...] Drawing on in-depth interviews with young women and a wide range of psychologists and experts, renowned journalist and bestselling author Peggy Orenstein goes where most others fear to tread, pulling back the curtain on the hidden truths and hard lessons of girls' sex lives in  the modern world.

The Atomic Weight of Love* - Elizabeth J. Church
Published on 20th October by 4th Estate

Now, this is a novel I had never heard of until I saw a post on Twitter from the publisher giving away copies for review. The premise really interested me (fiction that talks about scientific history is my bag) and the cover is gorgeous. I'll be sure to keep you all updated on how this one fares! It's very high up on my to-read list, so watch this space.

Spanning the years from the Second World War through to the Vietnam War and on to the present day, this luminous, stirring novel is a story of birds and physics, ambition and sacrifice, revolutions - both big and small - and the late-blooming of an unforgettable woman.

M x

inspiration

Writing Haikus #1

5:48 pm

Haikubes

I have a lot of word-based creativity games stashed away in my room, so today I thought I would pull out my trusty box of Haikubes (Chronicle Books) in an attempt to get the creative part of my brain working again. They're very easy to use. You roll all of the dice, put aside the two with statements on as your 'inspiration' for the haiku, and you make a 5/7/5 syllable poem out of what's left. The statements on my dice today were 'A DESIRE FOR' and 'MY CHILDHOOD'. That's a pretty meaty topic for anyone. Here's what I came up with:

Haikubes haikus

GLEEFUL FANTASY
THIS PRECIOUS SIMPLE GENTLE PEACE
I SLOWLY CLAMOR FOR

M x

comics

Library Comic Book & Graphic Novel Haul #2

1:00 pm


This week I actually managed to read/watch some of my library borrowings and return them, freeing my up some more loan space to fill with graphic novels. It's nice having a lovely librarian who will actually stock graphic novels, including ones that aren't over a decade old (Patience was released earlier this year). Here are my three most recent finds, plucked from the shelves and brought into my life.

Adventures of a Japanese Business Man - José Domingo (2013, Nobrow Press)
This is the second graphic novel I've picked up from Nobrow Press (the former being the slightly-confusing Destination X by John Martz, hauled here), and this one also has some stunning cover art. I'd never heard of it before, but Domingo's cartooning and use of panels inside made it nearly impossible to put back down. The title explains the concept pretty well, as the story follows a Japanese businessman leaving work and stumbling across some rather fantastical events. This is probably going to be a quick, but fun read.

Patience - Daniel Clowes (2016, Fantagraphics)
Now, I (shockingly) didn't really get on with Ghost World when I read it a few years ago, but find myself now with another of Daniel Clowes' books in my hands. Patience is described as a 'psychedelic science-fiction love story'. My brain is saying 'what's not to like?'. Hopefully practice will say 'nothing'. I do really like the illustrations in this one.

Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth - Chris Ware (2003, Jonathan Cape)
A few summers ago I saw someone give a talk on the worlds of Chris Ware and ever since I've been eager to pick up one of his graphic novels. From what I can grasp, Jimmy Corrigan is one of his most popular, and by glancing at the art I can see that I am probably not going to be let down. There is something about Ware's illustrations style that I find so compelling and almost comforting, like weekend newspaper cartoons with a shinier edge. This is probably the first I will be picking up of these three.

M x

reading

Quick Book Reviews: Marisha Pessl, Lauren Oliver, and Emma Cline*

7:04 pm

Quick book reviews: Night Film by Marisha Pessl, Delirium by Lauren Oliver, and The Girls by Emma Cline

* I was fortunate to receive a copy of The Girls via NetGalley and Chatto & Windus, but all opinions are my own *

Night Film (2013, Hutchinson) - Marisha Pessl (4 stars)
This book had been on my radar for years after initially being drawn in by the cover artwork for one of its early editions. Night Film follows a disgraced reporter investigating the supposed suicide of the daughter of a cult horror film director. That description is a good start really, isn't it? This book is spooky and haunting, with multimedia aspects including news report clippings, online profiles, and sections ripped out of notebooks. It was also released alongside an app which I didn't use whilst reading, but apparently expands more upon these articles. Even without the app this book was full of information, with an incredibly deep-reaching story that goes on for over 600 pages. I don't really read a lot of 'horror' books (although I would call this much more of a mystery-horror than straight up horror as all of the awful things happen behind closed doors) but this has really lingered with me weeks after finishing. A very original story, well-executed, and one I didn't want to end.

The Girls* (2016, Chatto & Windus) - Emma Cline (3 stars)
This book has been getting attention from everyone, from professional reviewers to national magazines to Youtube beauty bloggers. It adds to the Manson-mania that seems to have been happening over the past two years, including the recent YA release My Favourite Manson Girl (also marketed as American Girls) and the TV show Aquarius. The Girls is basically a fictional retelling of the Manson cult. Our protagonist Evie lives a simple life with her mother in the 1970s until she meets Suzanne and the other girls. They flock around their charismatic leader, Russell, and live a life of free love, free (see: stealing) food, and free thought. Predictably, due to the Manson parallels, things start to go horrifically and violently wrong. The atmosphere of this book is compelling and hazy, and also probably the thing I liked the most about it. Cline does a wonderful job of transporting the reader back to the 1970s and creates a realistic voice for her young narrator that didn't feel patronising or fake. However I didn't find the story incredibly compelling and didn't feel like I had really experienced much by the end. The inclusion of a separate story told by a middle-aged Evie as a sort-of framing device also seemed a bit unnecessary. 

Delirium (2011, Hodder) - Lauren Oliver (4 stars)
A young adult dystopian read to itch that part of my brain once again, and I was pleasantly surprised by this one! Delirium is set in a world where love is illegal and must be cured. Yes, I know, stick with me on this one. When girls/boys reach eighteen they go through 'the procedure' which makes love, basically, impossible and they are matched with a boy/girl with whom they will live out the rest of their lives (homosexuality is basically eradicated through this too, hence the boy/girl pairings). Lena is our narrator and ninety-five days before her procedure, she meets Alex. Chaos and teen-romance ensues. Despite the cheesy premise, I bloody loved this book. It was funny, left lots of space in the future books for world expansion, and I really liked Lena as a YA protagonist. The second installment of the series, Pandemonium, is already downloaded and ready to go on my iPad.

M x

beauty

The Blurt Foundation's BuddyBox Lite: August 2016

1:00 pm

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 piña 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...

M x

reading

Book Review: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

6:43 pm

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.

M x

haul

A Magically Marvellous Book Haul

12:01 pm


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