Book Review: How to Be a Grown Up by Daisy Buchanan*

12:00 pm

* Thank you to Headline Books for sending me a proof copy of this wonderful book. The final product will have a much more exciting cover! *

'...the only difference between being a proper grown-up and an idiot sitting in her own vomit in the back of a taxi is perspective.'

As someone who recently found themselves in this situation post-work Christmas do, I was very pleased to read this sentence at the beginning of Daisy's spectacularly hilarious and incredibly comforting book How to Be a Grown Up. The tagline is 'You're doing fine and let me tell you why', which fondly reminds me of Laura Jane Williams' subheading on her website: 'Because none of us is fucking up like we think we are.' And that's the whole vibe of the book. We all become adults, but we all also have no clue what we're doing. We can follow rules and advice and do what we think adults are supposed to be, but things still *happen* and life goes on and we're all just pretending. Now, I don't know about you, but that's really bloody comforting.

'It's difficult to be an adult child who suddenly has to deal with reinstated curfews, parental pressure and a limited amount of space. But it's just as hard for parents who find themselves held hostage by hungry young people who are old enough to drive and vote, yet immature enough to leave wet towels all over the floor.'

Daisy's book is refreshing in the way it's telling people who are already grown-ups how to be a grown-up. It's not aimed at fresh-faced teenagers heading off to uni, ready to take on the world. It's aimed at the twenty-somethings who have finished uni and have probably had to move back in with their parents, looking for a shitty graduate job that has nothing to do with their degree, trying to earn enough to move out, navigating the weird world of dating in the twenty-first century, trying to hold down old and new friendships left, right, and centre, attempting to have confidence and a good view of their body despite not having time to exercise or cook, scowling at the glamorous lives of others online, and probably developing some mind of mental health problem in the meantime. Phew. Never fear, Daisy is here to make you feel infinitely better about all of it, with her own personal anecdotes, stories from her friends, and actual actionable advice you can implement to feel a little less like you're fucking everything up. She's great.

'Self-belief is a team effort, and a gift to be shared. If you love someone, give that person reasons to be confidence in him or herself and the vibes will come back multiplied to you.'

I would recommend this for fans of the aforementioned Laura Jane Williams' Becoming and Emma Gannon's Ctrl Alt Delete, both wonderful books that I've previously reviewed here and here. Daisy's voice is one of a friend at the other end of the phone, consoling you with her own stories and giggly anecdotes. She's comforting without being coddling, and inspirational without being unrelatable. She's your best friend's cool older sister.

How to Be a Grown Up will be published by Headline on April 6th and I urge you to pick up a copy if you've ever felt like you've been doing this whole 'adulting' thing completely wrong because, long story short, there's not really a wrong way of doing it.


Rereading: Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman

12:00 pm

One of the categories for my 2017 Reading Challenge (which you can read about here) was to read a book I loved as a child. So here we are: Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman. I had forgotten it was on my list until I finished my book at work and hunted through the shelves for something to read on the train home. Et voila.

I had a copy of this when I must have been around 12-13 and read it cover-to-cover more times than I can count, so was really looking forward to picking it up again and seeing if it affected me in the same way it did before. Immersed in the story, I was amazed by a) how much of it I'd forgotten or b) how much I just hadn't picked up on as a child. There are some very dark subjects covered here, far too heavy for my child self to have fully understood back then, that really took me by surprise. But reading it again from the perspective of an adult actually made me really grateful that a book like this exists for children to read. The dark and serious subjects are important, and it's good that they can be covered in such a responsible manner.

For those of you who don't know, Noughts & Crosses is the first book in a series by Malorie Blackman about a world where Crosses (dark-skinned people) are the ruling class and Noughts (white-skinned people) are subservient. This may seem a little heavy-handed, but Blackman writes about it in a way that just works. Sephy is a Cross, and her childhood friend Callum is a Nought. We follow the story of them slowly drifting apart as they enter their teens, going to school together as a trial to integrate children from both sides goes forward, and the eventual fracturing of their relationship, which deeply affects them as they enter early adulthood. 

It took me until now to realise that Noughts & Crosses was probably my introduction to dystopian literature. I would recommend it to anyone who hasn't read it before and is a fan of The Hunger Games because although nowhere near as 'action-packed', it's still very heavily focused in teenage relationships and complicated feelings, as well as more important issues such as racism and stereotypes. As a child I never read the rest of the series. Why? Who knows. But after this reread I am really urged to. I showed one of my work friends that I was reading this, which dissolved into us gushing about how wonderful a book it was, and her offering to lend me the rest of the series. I think I might have to take her up on the offer.


Fruit Bowl Books #1*

8:58 am

* Thank you to Fruit Bowl Books for sending me one of their science-fiction and fantasy packages this month. I was under no obligation to post about what I received, but something this lovely needs to be shouted about! *

I've never tried a book subscription box before, and lord knows there's a lot of them floating around these days, but there was something about Fruit Bowl Books and their subscription services that drew me in. Maybe it was the fruit with googly eyes; I am pretty easily swayed by googly eyes.

Fruit Bowl Books send out their boxes every Tuesday, so you don't need to wait until the start or end of a month for everything to be shipped off to you! What you receive is completely tailored to you, rather than the same for everyone like other boxes. You can choose the genre you want to receive and an expert from their team (thank you Ben Melon for my wonderful sci-fi/fantasy book!) will pick you something based on the likes and dislikes you provide, as well as by looking at your Goodreads profile! Everything about this service feels personal and you can tell time has been put into making your delivery perfect for you.

As you can see above, in the parcel you receive a lot of information from the Fruit Bowl team about your subscription, a bookplate, and then your wonderful gifts. The book chosen for me this month, as I decided on the science-fiction and fantasy option, was Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb, which I've actually been wanting to read for years! Alongside the book I received a very fantasy-inspired metal bookmark, and a Ladybird Books postcard which now lives on my pinboard, waiting for the right occasion to send.

When signing up for Fruit Bowl Books, you can select from the following subscriptions:

  • Classic Fiction
  • Contemporary Fiction
  • Crime Fiction
  • Historical Fiction
  • Sci-Fi and Fantasy
  • Young Adult Fiction
  • or the 'Fruit Salad' subscription which could be anything!
All subscriptions start from £42 for three months, with the first month arriving first class and the following second, so you're off to a speedy start!

You can find out more about Fruit Bowl Books here, and stay tuned to find out what I receive from them in March!


Book Review: Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon*

9:00 am

* I was fortunate to receive a copy of Mad Girl for review from Headline upon my own request. *

Lord almighty, this book. 

Bryony Gordon has OCD. She's been diagnosed with it since she was twelve. 

At this moment I will hark back to what I said in my review of Rose Bret├ęcher's Pure and reiterate: I do not know what it is like to have OCD. I do not have OCD. I do not pretend to understand OCD. I will do everything in my power to try and talk about OCD, but the words I use will not be perfect and I will not always explain things in the best way, and for that I apologise. For the real details and a proper perspective, I would recommend you read one (or both, really) of these books. Get it straight from the source.

Bryony writes to us about her life with OCD, from her early years up until the present. She talks about her depression, the medication she was put on, her alopecia at a young age, her eating disorders, drug addictions and binging, unhealthy relationships, and eventually meeting her future husband and having her daughter. A lot happens to Bryony in this book, and I think she's absolutely bloody amazing for putting it all down on paper. My knowledge of OCD has grown dramatically. I forget how much of the disorder takes place in your mind rather than through the physical actions people always associate with OCD (AKA when people like to be organised then call themselves OCD...ach). Reading through Bryony's thought processes is difficult at times, so I cannot even begin to imagine what life is like during those difficult times. She fears she's killed her family without remembering. She worries she's done terrible things to children and then forgotten. She cannot travel on a plane without using a suitcase that has already 'survived' a plane journey.

This book is incredibly engaging, and Bryony's writing style kept me reading avidly. It's darkly funny, endlessly informative, and I am now calling it required reading for anyone who wants to learn more about mental illness. Just look at all of those five-star Goodreads reviews. This book is something special.

(Also I sobbed like an actual child when her (now) husband proposed to her. I mean, I knew it was going to happen, he's her husband now but still. I cried at work because I was so happy for her.)

Mad Girl was published in hardcover by Headline back in June, and is now available in paperback!.The last time I was in WH Smith it was #1 in the chart! Success!


Things that are making me happy... #3

12:00 pm

Walks around RSPB nature reserves on a cool day, pretend wand (stick) in hand.

A hot thermos of veggie soup on the way to work.

Starting to watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine from the beginning again and embracing my inner/outer Santiago. But I wish I was a Rosa.

My new watercolours. I'm now painting everything. Envelopes of letters I'm posting. Funny messages for the kitchen. Bookmarks. Don't even try and stop me.

The wonderful surprise meal my boyfriend made for me. Fairy lights, wine, a lot of me going 'oh my god this is adorable' and hiding my face because I hate surprises but he may have turned me.

The fact my friend Emily sent me an Always Sunny V-Day card with the once and future king Mac on it. She is my witch sister for life.

Finally, FINALLY, seeing Madeon live and surprisingly not crying. I was too distracted jumping around with my backpack bouncing on my stomach because I wore it backwards like a overly-concerned mother. The guy next to me spent the whole thing on his phone but I was too happy to even care. And I got to see some lovely friends from school again for the first time in way too many years.

Watching Bridesmaids for the first time and being surprised by the tone of it. I expected some all-out mainstream comedy. It was weirdly subdued and heartwarming. Kristen Wiig is a treasure.

The warm snuggly feeling of Jack Johnson songs.

Space. The final frontier.


Book Review: The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

12:00 pm

We need you, Carrie. You're our only hope.

Naturally I started reading Carrie Fisher's memoirs in reverse order, although purely because this one arrived first. And now as I type that I realise the others I bought as ebooks because they were cheaper so really this arrived last. I have no justification for this reading order, but as far as I'm aware they're not really in chronological order, but actually deal with different aspects of her life. This one is very Star Wars heavy, with a large chunk of the writing dedicated to her relationship as a young woman with Harrison Ford during the filming of A New Hope.

Reading this made me even sadder that Carrie is no longer in the world of the living, buried in her Prozac urn and probably laughing at us from *somewhere*. Her voice was refreshing and utterly necessary in this world. She's sharp and honest and her humour comes across as just what she's like rather than any sort of device she's using. There is no judgement, only reflection.

I flew through this in less than a day, comforted by Carrie's voice, and motivated by her words. When I'm having one of those days where I feel sorry for myself for ridiculous reasons, I can just picture her dragging me up by the shoulder and pushing me forward. She'd say something poignant, probably inappropriate, and definitely fierce, but with love. 


On Rotation

12:00 pm

My one ask at Christmas was to finally get a record player. I didn't mind what it was like. I wasn't looking for a gazillion pound high-quality masterpiece. Just something nice-looking that made noises, and that's what I got. I feel like everyone and their dog has a Crosley these days, but they're good for what you get. Mine has a fancy geometric pattern and has an AUX port so I can also use it as a speaker for my phone. Two birds, one musical stone.

Since getting my record player, naturally, my record collection has grown. It turns out that telling people you're getting a record player for Christmas means that for Christmas you'll get a tonne of records. My head is now full of lists of albums I now want on vinyl...Sam's Town, Brothers, Gulag Orkestar, Horses, Rumours, These Streets, Guardians of the Galaxy.

But these are what I've been lucky enough to get so far...

Hatful of Hollow - The Smiths, Highway 61 Revisited - Bob Dylan, Hot Fuss - The Killers, John Wesley Harding - Bob Dylan

Babushka/Don't Give Up/Running Up That Hill/Wuthering Heights - Kate Bush, Street Hustle - Lou Reed, La Boutique Fantasque/The Sorcerer's Apprentice - Rossini/Dukas

Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - The Beatles, Shelter - Madeon and Porter Robinson, Sound of Silver - LCD Soundsystem, This is Happening - LCD Soundsystem


Welcome to Aloe...

12:00 pm

You know when you discover something wonderful on the internet and need to show it to every single person you know? Aloe is one of those things, or, a lot of those things. I'll let Amber, the creator of Aloe and a complete dream to follow on Twitter, give you a brief description. 

'Aloe is a self-care focused community within Femsplain. It's a newsletter, a blog, a Twitter bot, free resources and more importantly an ever evolving idea that in order to get through the next 4 years (and I guess life?) making yourself a priority must happen. It's a free resource and anyone can participate. The newsletter is powered by replies from people who subscribe, and the Twitter reminds you to drink water, eat, and more!'

And that's me all over, I don't know about you. Amber worked last year on the Hillary campaign as a member of the Digital Organizing team (I KNOW, HOW AMAZING), something she had never done before, but was described to her as similar to running a startup. Like hell, but also rewarding, Amber says. 

'It ended up being the most inspiring and challenging 4 months, and obviously didn't get the outcome e were all hoping for, but working 7 days a week I was able to learn a lot about myself and my self-care habits...Which is, they are really bad. So that was the inspiration behind Aloe.'

Aloe is very new at the moment, a tiny bud so far, only launching last week, but there's already plans for the future, including a more resourceful website, free printables (check-lists, colouring pages, what's not to love?), maybe an app, or some kind of product to buy.

'For now we're focused on getting people really excited about self-care and just getting a conversation started within #AloeChat.'

You can follow the adorable Aloe Bot here and sign up to the newsletter here. It's all very new and something to keep an eye on. Try out their self-care check-in here for a little teaser of what to look out for, and all posts by Aloe on Femsplain can be found here, covering various topics related to self-care. I'll keep you updated with Aloe news as it happens...


Book Review: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

7:53 pm

I'm not sure how to go about expressing my feelings on this one.

I wanted to love it. Really I did. But there's something creepy about a dude writing about other fully-grown dudes lusting over barely-past-pre-pubescent girls they basically stalked in school. I imagine this is how I would feel if I also read Lolita.

Don't get me wrong, the writing in this book was stunning. Absolutely stunning. But then again, it turns suicide into something beautiful. Something glamorous that these beautifully sad young girls took part in together.  The boys in the book spend their whole lives trying to work out why they did it, when it's none of their business. They take the possessions of the dead girls and cradle them like religious artifacts, including locks of their hair. They look around their bathroom and notice tampons, getting excited that one of them was currently on their period.

A few years ago I may have found this beautiful and edgy. A modern classic. But now it just feels like another creepy book about teenage girls, written from the perspective of middle-aged men.

But that's just me. I feel hesitant to post bad reviews of things but it's nice to give a different perspective sometimes.


The show must go on...

9:36 am

Photo by @alice_hampson
I could act all Han Solo about this and shrug it off as no big deal, but I won't: I didn't get offered a PhD place. Now I wish I didn't talk about it so much, because I had hope. But there's a plan in place (yes, I'm one to immediately get back in the game) and some steps to be taken:

1. Wallow, obviously. 

2. Get feedback. My 'rejection letter' was very vague and generic so I'm asking for feedback on my application. Depending on what the feedback says I'm going to either:

a) Apply again at the same institution next year after amending my proposal.
b) Take a little break and apply at a different institution - I already have a list of people to contact.
c) Take a longer break and head in a new direction altogether. Whatever I do, there's always scope to apply for a PhD in a few/a lot of years.

Dr Megan will just have to wait, for now.


One for sci-fi, one for fantasy

12:00 pm

Star Wars: Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka -  If you're looking for high, lofty literature, this is not for you, but if you're looking for some fun backstory to fill that post-Force Awakens gap in your heart, give Before the Awakening a go. This volume collects three stories for each main character from The Force Awakens: Finn, Rey, and Poe. We hear about Finn's first moments of questioning being a Stormtrooper, we learn about Rey's scavenging and trust in herself, and we travel along with Poe during events that lead directly up to the beginning of the film as he uncovers a First Order plot. It's a fun and fast read which is definitely directed towards a younger readership, but could probably be enjoyed by someone of any age who loves Star Wars

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett - I first read this when I was in sixth form and absolutely adored it, but all of these years later I couldn't tell you what on earth happened in the story. That was, until a few days ago when I re-entered the Discworld, fully intending to finally read further into the series. Goddamn, I loved this book even more the second time round, and found myself chuckling at every other line. It's hard to sum up what happens in this story but I'll give it a try: Rincewind the wizard is charged with caring for an exotic tourist, Twoflower, and his sentient luggage. Chaos ensues, as expected. I don't know why anyone wouldn't enjoy Pratchett's writing. It's sharp and witty, and uses humour in ways I wouldn't even be able to imagine myself. The definition of a 'page-turner'.