Category Archives: Books

I completed my reading challenge!

Hello from the sick bay!

This is a post I’ve been working on for quite a few weeks. I’m currently wiped out by a chest and kidney infection, but I’m feeling like I’m coming out of the other side now. so I thought I’d update the old blog to stop me dying of boredom. I’m going back to the doctors later on today where they will decide if I need shooting or not.

Anyway. As those of you who know me will know that I love to read. I’ve always loved reading and I’ve spent a lot of time with my head in a book. Every year I set myself a reading challenge on the goodreads app. This year, I decided I wanted to read sixty books. I realise this sounds a lot, but my biggest achievement so far was reading 78 books in 2015, so for me, it seemed manageable.

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Bloody hell, that’s a lot of pages.

2017 was a big year for us, because we got married! In terms of my reading though, this really didn’t help. I found the wedding planning incredibly stressful, and for one of the first times in my life, I found myself unable to read! The wedding was on my mind so much that every time I picked up a book, I’d just stare blankly at the text whilst my brain was tackling seating plans, or a food bill etc.

So there was a few months during the summer when I didn’t read a word. Then, as a wedding gift, my brother Jacob bought us a copy of “The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil” and it was exactly what I needed. Once the wedding dust (confetti?) had settled, I started reading again by tackling some graphic novels, then easing myself back in.

This reading hiatus left me really behind on my challenge, so I told myself “50 pages a day if you’re working, 100 pages a day if it’s a day off” and I got there in the end!

Here’s all the books I read this year. (The ones in bold were my favourites, which I’ve (very briefly) reviewed below the list, and italicised ones were audiobooks).

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  1. The Martian by Andy Weir
  2. My Dear I Wanted To Tell You by Louisa Young
  3. The Girls by Emma Cline
  4. Pretty Iconic by Sali Hughes
  5. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
  6. So Much For That by Lionel Shriver
  7. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka
  8. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
  9. Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden

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10) Pure by Andrew Miller

11) The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Steadman

12) The Trees by Ali Shaw

13) The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

14) Maus by Art Spiegelman

15) Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

16) A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

17)Rose Madder by Stephen King

18) A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

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19) When The Floods Came by Clare Morrall

20) Like A Queen by Constance Hall

21) Ctrl, Alt Delete: How I Grew Up Online by Emma Gannon

22) The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins

23) How To Understand Israel in Sixty Days or Less by Sarah Glidden

24) The People At Number 9 by Felicity Everett

25) Domina by L.S. Hilton

26)Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J K Rowling

27) Beautiful Bodies by Kimberley Rae Miller

 

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28) The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin

29) He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly

30) Rough Music by Patrick Gale

31) Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince by J K Rowling

32) The Children Act by Ian McEwan

33) Habibi by Craig Thompson

33) The Power by Naomi Alderman

34) Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets by J K Rowling

35) The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

 

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36) The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

37) Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delise

38) My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

39) The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

40) American Gods by Neil Gaiman

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41) A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman

42) I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

43) The Mandibles: A Family 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver

44) Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

45) How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti

46) Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

47) Nutshell by Ian McEwan

48) Wonder by R.J. Palacio

49) The Bricks That Built The Houses by Kate Tempest

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50) The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura

52) Kaleidoscope City – A Year in Varanasi by Piers Moore Ede

53) Wool – The Graphic  Novel by Hugh Howey

54) Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

55) The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

56) Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King

57) Black Hole by Charles Burns

58) Leap Year by Helen Russell

59) The Good Children by Roopa Farooki

60) The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff

DONE!

I was interested to see all the books in one place, and see what that says about my reading habits:

I read 37/60 books by women (so 23/60 by men)

I read 47novels and 13 non-fiction books

I read 7 graphic novels

 

This year, I felt I read a lot of “easy” books, and the focus felt more quantity over quality. Next year I’m going to set a challenge of less books so I can hone in on some longer, classic novels.

Here are the books I’d recommend that I’ve read this year:

If you’re looking for the audiobook equivalent of comfort food: Listen to the Harry Potter audiobooks read by Stephen Fry

If you want a true life account that will render your troubles insignificant: Read “Wave” by  Sonali Deraniyagala – written by a woman who lost her family in the Boxing Day tsunami

If you’ve been living under a rock for 27 years like me: Read “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Hilarious.

If you need an easy feel good read: Read “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio. It’s just been made into a film too!

If you want a weirdly beautiful book with incredible language and imagery, read: “A Year of Marvellous Ways” by Sarah Winman (Thanks for lending me this Mimi!)

For an intriguing historical novel with a touch of the supernatural: “The Wonder” by Emma Donoghue

If you’re brave enough to have your heart blown into a million pieces (don’t say I didn’t warn you: Try “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara

For a laugh out loud, read: “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris

The best graphic novel: “Maus” by Art Spiegelman

If you want to fall in love with the characters, and then sob at the end: “A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry

For a weepy love story: ‘My Dear I Wanted To Tell You” by Louisa Young

Here is what I did to read more:

Set a goodreads challenge. This is the single thing that motivates me to read the most. For those of you who haven’t come across it, goodreads is a book app. You make a profile, set a challenge and log the books you read. I also really enjoy reading other people’s reviews.

Read what you want to read. This may sound obvious, but to read a lot, you need to read what you enjoy. Don’t force yourself to read anything because you think that’s what you should be reading. This joins onto my next point:

Give yourself permission to ditch rubbish books. I have a fifty page rule: if I’m fifty pages in and I’m still hating a book then I give up and read something else. Life is to short to read shit books (and believe me there are SO many!!!!!!)

Listen to audiobooks. Yes, in my opinion, this still counts as reading. Controversial. Tom doesn’t believe that listening to audiobooks “counts,” but the way I view it, I still know the story, and all the characters, and can discuss the book with someone who has read it.

Always have a book with you. There’s a quote by Lemony Snicket that I feel is a good philosophy for life “Never trust anyone who hasn’t got a book with them.” Similarly, I always feel a little unsettled if I go to someone’s house and they haven’t got any books. Anyway, I digress. Always have a book with you. Those minutes where you arrive early somewhere, or you’re sat on the bus staring at your smartphone can be spent reading instead.

Quit social media: I’ve read SO much more since doing so.

Variety is the spice of life. If I’ve just read a 1000 page literary award-winning piece of literature, I’ll read a trashy page-turner next. Otherwise I get fed up and loose steam.

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A new set of challenges

Hello from a very soggy Sunday morning in Leeds. We are in the middle of “Storm Brian,” which is pretty full on. I’ve been awake since 5am (great Sunday lie in) after waking up from a horrible zombie nightmare. Maybe I need to stop watching The Walking Dead right before  we go to sleep…

Parker is delighted that I’m up so early and has pushed my laptop off me and has started giving me a slightly scratchy massage.

Anyway.

When I first started my blog in 2015, I gave myself something fun to do, and also to write about by setting myself 25 challenges to complete before I was 25. I didn’t really complete them all, but it was good fun. You can click the links to read about when I tried lobster, caviar, and meditated for ten days.

Now I’m picking up my blog again, I’ve decided to give myself a new set of challenges. (With no more fishy business – now I’m a veggie)

Although I’ve just turned 27, I’m sticking with 25 challenges (seems like a more manageable number haha)

Here we go, here are my challenges for the year!

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1- Visit India

2 – Hike one of the three Yorkshire Peaks

3 – Read “Shantaram”

4 – See live comedy

5 – Watch “Gone With The Wind”

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6 – Get a tarot card reading

7 –  Take a language class

8 – Donate 200 things to charity

9 – Spend no money for one week

10 – Go to a pilates class

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11 – Learn to salsa dance

12 – Play piccolo in an orchestra

13 – Learn to sew and make something wearable

14 – Host a dinner party for my friends

15 – Go plastic free for a week

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16 – Try making my own cosmetics

17 – Go Christmas shopping in York

18- Go to Ireland

19- Go to a concert of music from another culture

20- Go vegan for a week

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21- Read sixty books in a year

22- Volunteer to help out with a charitable cause

23- Start drawing again

24- Have a car-free week

25- Do yoga every day for thirty days

So there we have it! I’m excited to get going. How nice to have a list of stuff to fall back on when I’m bored.

I’ll keep you posted with how I get on.

P.S. apologies for the photo overload! These are all photos I took on our visit to Harewood House yesterday where I had my mind blown by the dahlias. I am no longer using instagram, so you can expect a lot of photos making there way on here.

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Read a poem every day

Hello,

This is my 100th blog post! Wow! I’ve been a little (okay incredibly) flakey since we returned from our big trip around the world, but lately I’ve found more time on my hands thanks to my decision to quit social media.

I’ve been reading a book about how we can make and break habits. It’s called “Better Than Before” by Gretchen Rubin.

Usually on a morning, the first thing I’d do would be to grab my iPhone and spend a few minutes trawling through Facebook and Instagram. I felt like this was putting my mind in a bad state for the day, and so, decided to create a new habit to replace social media. I now read a poem as soon as I wake up every day.

I plonk a book of poetry on my bedside table and it’s there awaiting me in the morning, so I don’t have to move or think about it. Also, poems are usually quite short, or you can always flick through until you find a short one, so it doesn’t feel too much of a burden.

I love how I can wake up and feel a bit more inspired than before.

Before setting myself this challenge, I hardly read poetry. I’m now slowly working through my poetry books. This is great for my goodreads reading challenge, where I set myself the challenge of reading 60 books in 2017. I’m currently on book number 44/60, and it’s mid october, so I’ve got to pull my finger out!

I’ll leave you with a poem by Alice Oswald from her collection: “Falling Awake”

A Short Story of Falling

It is the story of the falling rain
to turn into a leaf and fall again
it is the secret of a summer shower
to steal the light and hide it in a flower
and every flower a tiny tributary
that from the ground flows green and momentary
is one of water’s wishes and this tale
hangs in a seed-head smaller than my thumbnail
if only I a passerby could pass
as clear as water through a plume of grass
to find the sunlight hidden at the tip
turning to seed a kind of lifting rain drip
then I might know like water how to balance
the weight of hope against the light of patience
water which is so raw so earthy-strong
and lurks in cast-iron tanks and leaks along
drawn under gravity towards my tongue
to cool and fill the pipe-work of this song
which is the story of the falling rain
that rises to the light and falls again

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Lately

Well hello,

It’s been a while hasn’t it? I’m writing this sat in the lounge of our house in Leeds. I’m fully dressed with my dressing gown on over the top because I’m refusing to put the heating on. I’ve got some candles burning to cheer myself up a bit, a mug of chai (standard) and Eva Cassidy/Joni Mitchell on in the background to stop my urge to put Christmas music on because I’m feeling really Christmassy but it’s still not December so I’m trying not to start everything off too early.

I haven’t blogged for ages but I’ve been missing it, and work’s still slow so I don’t really have that much to do, so I thought I’d give you all a little update on how things are at the moment. I also thought I’d do some cheeky subheadings for your viewing pleasure.

Celebrations

When we got back we saw our close friends Joe and Lauren get married. It was a lovely lovely day full of laughter. Tom pulled off his best man duties well, including a speech which had everyone chuckling. We are so happy for them both.

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(That’s Tom below the feathers)

Our friends Kate and Ed announced that they are expecting their first baby, which is such wonderful news! I can’t wait to get my knitting needles out and make a start on Baby Robert’s hand-knitted wardrobe.

Tom and I celebrated a year since our engagement, and also our six year anniversary. Can you believe I was 19 and Tom was 20 when we got together? We were babies! Still are really… but we’ve got a wedding to plan! Far too grown up for my liking!

Home

I’m at a weird equilibrium of still enjoying my home comforts whilst feeling the post-travel blues. I miss not knowing where I am for a few seconds when I wake up, but at the same time, I’m loving seeing my family, getting drunk with my friends and making up new songs to sing to my cats.

I’ve found a new lease of passion for decorating and changing up the house since we’ve got back. I think being away for a while gives you a bit of perspective and inspired me to make some changes.

I guess the biggest thing that’s happened is Gaby and Peter have sadly moved out. We loved living with them for a month when we got back! We decided to rent our room out via Airbnb. We used airbnb several times whilst we were away. (For those of you who don’t know, it’s a website where you can find spare rooms to rent, or rent out you own spare rooms. At first the idea of staying in a stranger’s home can be a bit weird, but we discovered it’s actually a great way to make new friends and a cheap way to visit new places.)

So we painted the top spare room and bathroom and put it on the website. So far we’ve had three sets of guests, and it’s going really well. Our current guest, Paul, has been with us for a few weeks and is staying until Christmas, and we all get on really well, so that’s nice. Luckily he’s quite understanding with my late night piano lessons plonking away right under his bedroom! Phew!

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(Here’s the room – fancy, no?)

We’ve also painted the kitchen and dining room, and painted the outside steps. Tom fixed the doorbell, and I’ve just ordered an outdoor light, which makes everything much more inviting to my students arriving in the darkness.

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KNOB

I’ve been on a shopping rampage recently, and I’ve bought new knobs for the chest of drawers in our room and the Welsh dresser in the kitchen. I also discovered the website Desenio which is great for cheap prints. I went a bit bonkers and bought a tonne, but they’ve given the house such a lift. Our next step is painting our bedroom.

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Work

Tom has started working in primary schools doing music technology on iPads, so he’s doing that on weekdays. He also works in a pub up the road on some evenings and weekends, and he has a third job working for a local radio station.

In contrast, I’m not really working as much as I’d like. I have twelve private flute and piano students who I teach in the evenings, one daytime school teaching flute and recorder, and a Saturday music centre where I teach big groups of piano students, and a music theory class. Having seen that written down, I realise I’m working more than I think… It’s just taking a while to build up, but I accepted that when we went travelling!

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(New prints above the piano too 🙂 )

 

Listening

We’ve been to a tonne of gigs since we got back: Kate Rusby, James Vincent McMorrow, Tom Odell, the Low Anthem, and we’ve booked tickets to see Bon Iver in January.

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I love live music, and it’s a constant reminder of why I do what I do and love doing it! I must say, Tom Odell was truly mind-blowingly good. He’s my second favourite gig of all time. (Number one was José González at the Sydney Opera House, incase you’re wondering.)

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(That’s Tom Odell jumping up and down on his piano, which I think you’re allowed to do when you’re as good as him.)

I’m enjoying having Spotify working again. For some reason it gave up the ghost and refused to work whilst we were away. Can someone let me know if I’m allowed to listen to Christmas stuff yet?

Watching

This is getting a little dull isn’t it? Ha! Well, I like to think of this blog as my diary, so I know I’ll find it interesting in years to come, plus you may find some film/tv recommendations in here.

When we got home we were massively behind on our TV watching schedule. So we’ve been catching up on Orange is the New Black, Bates Motel, and Game of Thrones. New shows we’ve discovered and loved have included Stranger Things, Happy Valley, and the new series of Planet Earth.

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(Stranger Things)

I’ve been binge watching Outlander, since we met Dave who worked on the show when we were in Laos, and he told me all about it. I read the first book whilst we were away, and I’ve been watching the show since we got back. (I’d just like to add that it’s quite gory and not for the faint-hearted!)

Reading

Whilst I loved the convenience of having a Kindle whilst we were away, I’ve loved getting my hands back on real books. They are such a pleasure and comfort to me and always have been.

A few highlights of my general bookwormishness since we got back:

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IT by Stephen King (I’m a massive Stephen King fan, and I’ve been meaning to read this massive tome for years. It took me a good three weeks but I bloody loved it. I also read this at the same time as we were watching Stranger Things and fell into an eighties nostalgia black hole. (I do realise I wasn’t alive in the eighties but yeahhh))

Pretty Honest by Sali Hughes ( Hughes is a beauty writer for the Guardian, and I’ve always loved her writing. I treated myself to a copy of her book and, girly as it sounds, it’s inspired me to change up my make up look. I always used to wear the same make up every day, but it’s so fun to experiment and try new looks!)

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett ( A beautifully written novel, about a hold up in a big country house in an unnamed country. The whole book takes place inside the house, and quickly becomes not about the hostage situation but the relationships that blossom.)

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (Non-fiction account of a Mount Everest disaster. I’m obsessed with Mount Everest, and I’ve read other works by Krakauer, so this was an obvious choice. Definitely read if you’re wanting something that will leave your heart in your throat and appreciate the lengths human beings can go to.)

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Quiet by Susan Cain (Currently listening on audible. A book about the power of introverts. I’ve now realised there’s an actual reason why I’m exhausted after big social gatherings and absolutely love time to myself – hello introversion. Weird that it’s taken me this long to realise, as I’m not a shy person! But this is a really interesting and insightful listen for me, and I’d highly recommend it!)

Wedding Shiz

Wedding planning is going well I suppose. People keep saying to me “oooh how’s the wedding planning??” and I’m just like “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO BE DOING”

SO the ceremony and reception are booked, I’ve found my wedding dress, we’ve sorted the bridesmaids and best men, working on bridesmaids outfits then colour scheme…. blah blah blah. I’m excited! I am absolutely over the moon about marrying Tom but I’ve realised I’m just not the right type of person who gets excited about wedding favours and all that bullshit. Show me the champagne.

Anyway.

Honeymoon? Now we’re talking!!

We’ve been through a million options… Cuba, transiberian railway, Madagascar. I think we’re settling on inter railing around Europe. Once the travel bug bites you’re never cured, and I can’t be doing with luxury lying on a beach all inclusive holidays – it’s just not for me. Gimme that backpack!!

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We’re home!

Hello there,

I’m writing this in……. rainy Kendal. HA

Isn’t it funny, I’m normally in some exotic destination, but it’s good to be back. Really. Kind of.  I really want to keep my blog going, so I’m going to try and update at least once a week. It’s a fun hobby. I’m going to come up with some kind of weekly posts about travel etc. I still haven’t got my proper travel pictures off the big camera so I’ll get some of those up here when I do.

Anyway. Time for a little update. Our flight home was fine, not very eventful. I was amazed by our brief stop in Dubai at 5.30am where it was over 45 degrees. It was like stepping off the plane and into a greenhouse. Even the water in the toilet at the airport was hot!!

On getting back to the UK we spent a week in London with Tom’s family, catching up and seeing friends. It was lovely. And sunny too! Then we had a weekend in Southampton with my brother and Charlie and my parents flew down to meet us. I also saw my aunty and Grandad. It’s been so great to see my nearest and dearest after so long. There’s still more lovely people to see too!

Some other things I’ve been doing….

1)

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OBSESSING OVER THE FACT THAT YOU CAN DRINK WATER FROM THE TAP AND IT’S DELICIOUS AND IT WONT MAKE YOU SICK.

2) Booked our wedding. No biggie. We will be getting married on the 8th of July next year! So expect to hear a bit of rambling about that in the immanent future.

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Enjoying having my mac back and being a mac wanker again. 🙂 I’d also forgotten about the witty sticker I’d put on it. Thanks past Heppy. You are a comical genius.

(I am also pleased to see my flute and piano again but my current migraine is making this a little unpleasant.)

4)

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Obsessing over my handbag I bought in Bali and posted straight home. I’d forgotten how lovely it is. It was expensive by Balinese standards (about £20) after a loooong haggling session but I’m so glad I bought it!

5)

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Writing in my diary. I finished a moleskine journal whilst we were away and as I lifelong hoarder of empty notepads, this is quite an achievement. So I bought an empty one, and this journal prompt thing on my kindle. It’s quite cool if you’re stuck thinking of things to write about (now that you’re not waking up in a different exotic location each day… sob)

 

6)

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Obsessing over this woman’s hair like the creepy weirdo I am. (N.B these are photos from a magazine haha!) I think I’ll get this done after we are married, need to stay fringe free/not a goth until then.

7)

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Reading Rachel Brathen’s “Yoga Girl” for some inspiration to get me yogaing now I’m back home. And watching Girls. I love it.

 

I realise all ove the above make me seem very vapid, but I can’t post an image of how I’ve been spending time registering for an NHS dentist, booking the cats into the vets and calling the plumber to have a look at the boiler. Plus, it wouldn’t make very interesting reading would it?!

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Lately

Oh hello there,

I’ve been a bit naughty lately with trying to keep this updated but it’s mainly due to there being little to tell…

Basically we’re working away like good little worker bees.

Last weekend we walked along the coastline to Cape Kidnappers – a cove nicknamed due to a member of Captain Cooks motley crew being kidnapped by the Maoris when they landed there.

We we walked along the beach for 2.5 hours before finding the gannet colony with the help of this lovely welly. Classic New Zealand.

imageThe scenery was absolutely stunning, so although it was a much longer walk than expected, we had a great day out.

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When we reached the end of the peninsula we came to a big gannet colony. I’ve never seen a gannet before so it was quite interesting. Did you know that it takes them eight days of straight flying to migrate to Australia in the winter? Many of them don’t make the journey, sadly.

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The quality of the photos are annoying the hell out of me. Sorry about that – still can’t get the photos off our big camera. I’ll have to bore you all to death with them when we get back haha!

In other news, our housemates Philene and Kerry’s camper van has finally been fixed!

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There’s Simson sat on our drive, isn’t he handsome?!

We now start work at 7.30am most days, and I like to use this photo to describe my feelings about this:

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We were in need of a night out to blow off steam so we hit Hastings for a night out on Saturday. For pre-drinks we had a chicken/box party (please see below photos for an explanation.)

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Absolutely ridiculous. I love these guys so much.

We went to a bar and I asked “is it cheaper to have a white wine, or a pale ale?” The answer was wine…..which instantly made me dubious. It was the most disgusting wine I’ve ever tasted in my life. If I were to describe it in a wine-tasting situation I would have described it as “offensive, with aromas of a vinegar salad dressing and revulsion.”

Anyway, to remedy the situation, Philine decided to steal a candle.

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She’s a bad influence on me…

I feel the above three photos sum up the night quite well.

After an unproductive hangover day, we were back to work this morning. At 11.30 Tom and I were asked to house sit for some of John and Wendy’s friends who were attending a funeral that afternoon.

It turns out that in NZ there’s a risk of being burgled whilst out at a funeral because low lifes look at the obituaries and target people whilst their houses are empty. How awful is that?! Anyway, the result was a slightly awkward afternoon of staying in a lovely house. Much easier money than kiwi thinning haha.

imageThe houses here are so cool! Mainly modern wooden bungalows.

Things that have been keeping me occupied:

Watching the series “Scream” on Netflix. A murder mystery based on the nineties horror movies. I love trying to figure out who dun it with the added layers of head nods to the cheesy horror genre that I adore.

Reading “Instrumental” by James Rhodes – one of my favourite classical musicians who plays without the silly suit on and actually talks to his audiences. Reading about his childhood abuse was really harrowing, but I couldn’t put the book down. I have so much respect for him.

Listening to the new book in the Millenium series – “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” by David Lagercrantz. Lisbeth Salander is one of my favourite literary characters and Lagercrantz is doing her justice.

Baking many many variations on pear recipes – flapjack – bad, pear cake – good. (Mainly good because we now have weighing scales.

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Book review: Amanda Lindhout’s “A House in the Sky”

As a general rule, I avoid non-fiction books that I know will disturb me. If it’s fiction I can cope with horrid/terrifying subject matter because I know it’s just the spawn of someone’s imagination. The books I absolutely cannot bear however, are true crime and accounts of people who’ve been abused as children.

The reason I tell you this is because I wanted to give a background for how I felt before reading Amanda Lindhout’s “A House in the Sky.”

A House in the Sky is the memoir of Amanda Lindhout, a woman who travels the globe. In August 2008 she visited Somalia, “the most dangerous place on earth,” where she is abducted along with her friend Nigel, by masked gunman.

They are held hostage for 460 days, tortured, and kept in chains before finally being released.

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I’d seen that the book had rave reviews online, but I was selfishly a bit scared to read it in case it put me off travelling. (It didn’t, but I’m not in any hurry to go to Somalia now!)

The book was incredible. I gave it a rare five stars on goodreads. I couldn’t put it down, I HAD to know what happened. The account is incredibly harrowing, as you can imagine, but ultimately uplifting. Lindhout survives her ordeal by visiting a house high in the sky, a safe place she’s created for herself.

There’s a passage where she fantasises about waking up at home, going for a run in the fresh air and returning home for pancakes. On reading, I was suddenly filled with an enormous sense of gratitude. These are all things that I can do any time I fancy, and I’m so lucky to be free!

Lindhout faced criticism for even going to Somalia in the first place. She is seen as a rich Westerner whom can be held for a huge ransom. Governments don’t pay ransom money as it’s seen as negotiating with terrorists, hence how she was in captivity for such a long time.

What did I learn?

There’s a lot to cover, but what struck me most was her incredible will to survive, her inner strength, her choices, and her friendships.

I’m filled with gratitude for the lucky life that I’ve lived so far, and eager to see the world in all its colours.

Here is a quote from a goodreads review which I think sums it up beautifully:

“Go anywhere. Fall in love. Make mistakes. Be kind. Forgive. Know that you are strong enough. Make change. Be hopeful. These are the thoughts I am left with, after closing the book. There are others of course – the baseness of human brutality, cultural realities that scare me, how governments work in our lives, the role of women in society, the feeling that there is so much work to be done in so many places. In all this, Amanda leaves her readers with hope, hope for change and hope that despite what she has been through that life holds for her so much more yet.”

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Go read it!

 

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Books set in NYC

As you may have realised, I like reading.

Yesterday I suddenly thought: I should write a post about books set in the places we’ll visit!

The first stop on our journey is New York, New York. So I wracked my bookshelves and realised I’ve actually already read tonnes of books set in the Big Apple.

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Stephen King’s The Stand – Not set in NYC for the majority of the novel so I cheated here, but had to include it because I loved it. A must-read for anyone who loves the King, The Stand is an epic post-apocolyptic horror novel. I love Stephen King’s characters, and Randall Flagg (the devil in human form) is one of my absolute favourites. Definitely a book for summer, as it’s over 1400 pages long. It took me about a month to get through, and I dropped it on my face whilst reading it  and nearly got a black eye. The things you do for love…

Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close I adore this book. It’s definitely one of my top ten favourite books I’ve ever read. They recently made a really naff film adaptation with Tom Hanks in it. Don’t bother, just read the book. The premise makes it seem really depressing (a young boy looses his father in 9/11) but it’s actually wonderfully uplifting. The way the book is used as a medium is revolutionary. You need to get your hands on a copy and flip through to understand what I mean. It made me cry.

Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s – More of a short story than an actual novel, this is one of the few cases where I prefer the film to the book. Having said that, I imagine reading the story would be much different if I didn’t have Audrey Hepburn swirling in my mind. Still, a good story based in New York.

Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking – The only memoir in the stack, I read The Year of Magical Thinking just a few weeks ago. Didion is an author who looses her husband suddenly and tragically. The book follows her grief throughout the year after his death. This was a really harrowing read. I found myself touching wood constantly, so grateful to still have my nearest and dearest with me. It was a really interesting insight into how we grieve, set against the backdrop of the Big Apple.

Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar – Okay, so not really focusing on NYC really, but this is a must-read for any human being. I haven’t read it since my teenage years so it’s most definitely due a re-read. “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”

Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love – The cover of this book makes it look really naff but don’t judge it by its cover (ho ho ho) I must admit, I really wanted to like this book. I read it when I was really busy and I didn’t give it the time it deserved. The result? I was really bloody confused by the whole book and missed the point completely. Whoops!

Others that I’ve read and loved, but couldn’t find on my shelves: The Great Gatsby. The Princess Diaries (admittedly when I was younger haha)

For the love of god you must read this book!!!!!!

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The reason I can’t photograph my copy of The Goldfinch is because I don’t own one – I listened to the audiobook. I fucking loved it so much! It’s a really long (33 hours) listen, but so great to have on whilst you do other things: I listened to it whilst I painted the living room last summer and it was wonderful. Made me itch to go to New York too, although I may avoid the art galleries…

Books on my to read list, set in NYC: The Catcher in the Rye, American Psycho, The Devil Wears Prada, Sophie’s Choice.

Do you have any recommendations? I’d love to hear. I also need to find books set in LA, Fiji, Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia and South East Asia.

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(And here’s a blooper from earlier hahaha)

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Book review: Rita Golden Gelman’s “Tales of a Female Nomad”

I’m still hunting for travel literature and devouring every single one I can get my hands on. My latest? Rita Golden Gelman’s “Tales of a Female Nomad”

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Golden Gelman is a children’s book author, who similarly to Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love), goes through a divorce, sells her possesions and then takes off alone, with a dream of seeing the world, and living among people of another culture. To this day, (she’s now in her seventies) she lives as a nomad.

Nomad: a person who does not stay long in the same place; a wanderer.

During the course of the book, Rita visits and lives in:

  • Mexico
  • Guatemala
  • Nicaragua
  • Israel
  • Galapagos Islands
  • Indonesia
  • New Zealand
  • Thailand

(The above countries in bold are places Tom and I hope to visit.)

I loved this book. On goodreads, I gave it four out of five stars. (Had it been a mark out of ten, I’d have given it 9/10)

What inspired me most was how she lived with local people, became a part of their daily life, and paid back their favours by teaching English and helping them with writing.

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I loved how Golden Gelman met local people, many of whom she didn’t share a common language with, and experienced their way of life. I find this concept very life-afirming. At the end of the book she asks the reader to get in touch. I’ve just sent her an email.

I completely empathise with the sense of freedom that travel gives. I can’t wait to experience it again. Oh how my feet itch!

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Book review: Gretchen Rubin’s ‘The Happiness Project’

Slightly away from the travel genre, this is a book that has been on my amazon wish list for years but I only recently got around to buying.

DSC_0311(The Happiness Project, or, why I spent a year trying to sing in the morning, clean my closets, fight right, read Aristotle and generally have more fun.)

The Happiness Project is a year memoir by Gretchen Rubin, who had an epiphany one day whilst on a bus, and realised that “The days are long but the years are short.” and decided to dedicate a year to learning about happiness and focusing on the things that brought joy into her life.

Sounds a bit kooky, right? I LOVED it.

I found the book so inspiring, and I realised that in doing my 25 new things before I turn 25, I’m essentially already on my own Happiness Project.

Things I learnt from reading the book:

  • We are hardwired to absorb bad experiences more readily that a good experience. For example, if you were to loose £100, you’d be more upset than you would be happy if you found £100. Therefore we should always strive to appreciate the good things.
  • Taking notes is a good idea. Rubin dedicated a chapter to books and wrote about how she always takes notes when reading. I thought what a good idea! I’ve always got my nose in a book but I really struggle to remember what happens in the novels I’ve read. I decided to start a diary. Partly in preparation for keeping a travel journal, but also so that I can write down quotes and remember things from books that have inspired me. I’ll also use it to document my own sort of happiness project.

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(Look, I already started!)

  • Tackling a nagging task is such a satisfying thing to do. I’ve made a list of them and I’m beginning to cross them off. Bliss.
  • There’s also something wonderful about clearing out. It feels like such a relief to get rid of unused clothes and clutter.
  • There were a few seething reviews on Goodreads, stating that the Happiness Project is introspective and selfish, doesn’t benefit the starving children in India etc etc… but
  • “One of the best ways to make myself happy is to make other people happy. And one of the best ways to make other people happy myself.” – So striving to be happy isn’t as selfish as they made out.

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In other happiness news, I’ve been listening to “Hardwiring Happiness” on audible. It goes into the psychology of what makes us happy, and teaches how we can take in the good. Interesting.

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