Sunday, 19 November 2017

Non Fiction November

This year I took part in the booktube reading challenge Nonfiction November for the first time.  As it was my first time I skipped on the category challenges, and just tried to read more nonfiction than I normally would.

I'm not a huge reader of nonfiction, so that wasn't hard!  I read two great books this month that have been on my radar for a while; Another Day In The Death of America by Gary Younge and The Radium Girls by Kate Moore.

In Another Day in the Death of America, Gary Younge picks a single day in American history (23rd November 2013) and tells the story of 10 young people who died as a result of gun violence on that day.  In explaining the circumstances of their deaths, Younge examines the social, cultural, historical and political factors contributing to America's gun problem.

This book was so interesting - it really appealed to the sociologist in me - and very hard to read in places.  Gun violence is so ubiquitous in the USA that shooting fatalities are almost routine.  Victims such as the ones written about here are unlikely to make the news or get any widespread attention at all outside of their own communities and it was so sad to read the interviews with their families.  Something I am absolutely clear on since reading is that the National Rifle Association are real, true life villains.

Gary Younge is tackling a big issue here but the writing was never inaccessible.  It was split into clear chapters, one for each young life, and I read it in the space of a few days.

The Radium Girls was an amazing read.  It tells the story of a group of young women who were employed by two factories in 1920s America to paint watch dials with luminous radium paint, an element we now know to be extremely dangerous, and their fight for justice once it became clear that their work was killing them.

The level of corruption they came up against in their quest to hold their employers accountable was astounding: corporate denial, industry cover-ups, and the seemingly never-ending legal hoops they had to jump through, all while batting the horrendous effects of radium poisoning.  Kate Moore writes explicitly about the suffering of the radium girls and pulls no punches when describing the despicable acts of their employers; it was easy to see she was passionate about her subject.

It was heartbreaking and shocking reading, but I was fascinated by these brave women and I'm sure I will be thinking of them for a long time to come.  You couldn't help but take them to your heart but it was also really interesting to read about how their ordeal shaped worker's rights and industry regulations.  They also contributed massively to our knowledge of radioactive materials today which has saved numerous lives.  Highly recommended to everyone, but especially any fellow history lovers.

I gave both these titles 5 stars and they have definitely whet my appetite for nonfiction.  If anyone has any recommendations, I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Pumpkin picking at Farmer Copleys

On Sunday I got to put another tick on my autumn bucket list with a visit to the pumpkin patch!  We went to Farmer Copleys in Pontefract for their pumpkin festival and it was such a fun afternoon.

 I love this photo of me and Paul!

It was the second to last weekend of the pumpkin festival but they had loads left, scattered across three fields.  They had them in all shapes and sizes - we had a competition to see who could find the biggest, the smallest, and the ugliest pumpkin there.  I found this small one!

You could hire a wheelbarrow for a £5 deposit if you were in the market for lots of pumpkins, but we only picked one each.  You could carve them on site for a price; I think it was £2.50 for a set of pumpkin carving tools so possibly quite expensive if you were in a large group.  We opted to take ours home to decide on a design.

There were also rides, corn cannons, photo boards and tractor rides to entertain little ones and a tent - the witch's kitchen! - selling hot food.

It was a very blustery day so I definitely had the right idea with my big scarf and hat.  We all got our fill of fresh air that day and were getting blown around all over the place.  I love that warm, drowsy feeling you get once you're back inside after a day outdoors.  Despite the wind, Paul managed to make a pumpkin tower!

After we had all chosen our pumpkins, we had a look around the farm shop and stopped for a hot chocolate in the cafe.  They also had a fudge kitchen and a gift shop selling lots of Christmassy things. 

On the way back to the car we spotted this huge deckchair.  Mum was adamant she wasn't getting in but then decided to join us, I think when she saw how much fun me and Rowan were having! 😏 I love these photos.

After we got home, Paul and I snuggled up on the sofa with a cup of tea and watched the live action Jungle Book which was really good.  A Sunday very well spent 😊

Friday, 13 October 2017

The Things I'm Committed To

I recently discovered the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text.  It was described to me as being like Bible study but for the wizarding world which appealed to me straight away.  I always say that we can learn a lot from Harry Potter and the stories are a big part of my life, so the idea of applying more instructive reading practices to it sounded really interesting.

So far, I’m about 4 episodes in, and the first one in particular struck a chord with me.  Each week there is a different theme.  In the first episode, presenters Vanessa and Casper read chapter one of The Philosopher’s Stone through the theme of commitment.  They looked at what each character is committed to and even though I knew these things about the characters already – for example, that Hagrid is committed to looking after the vulnerable and outcast, and Professor McGonagall has a strong sense of duty – I’d never really sat and thought about them in so much depth before and it was really good to listen to.  In some cases, it made me love them even more, and it even made me see the Dursleys in a more positive light!

Towards the end, when the discussion turned to how the theme of commitment could be applied to everyday life, Vanessa commented that there are things she could be committed to, but isn’t.  For example, she could be a marathon runner, but she hasn’t chosen to take that path and put in the effort required to do that.  And that’s not a bad thing.  She’s committed to other things, like her chaplaincy studies, and being healthy in general.

It really got me thinking about how we define commitment and how it’s something that we can easily get bogged down in.  If you haven’t got a measurable goal or an achievement that can easily be quantified by others, or you’re not visibly busy with lots of projects and hobbies, does that mean you’re not committed to anything?

Like Vanessa, there are things that I could commit to if I wanted, but I haven’t put the effort into choosing those things.  One that springs to mind is that I often feel sad that I’ve lost touch with so many people from school.  I went to a great school with some amazing people, and somewhere along the way I let those relationships fizzle out.  I haven’t been committed to having a large circle of friends.  But, something that I am committed to is maintaining my relationships with my small circle.
I think what I ended up with on my mind was not so much about commitment, but about how the things you are committed to make up who you are, and that it’s okay to be that person.  You would never call me a social butterfly, but that’s fine – I simply haven’t chosen to be one.  Something that (I hope) you could say about me is that I’m a loyal friend, and that’s a commitment that I have made.

The more I thought about it, I realised that there lots more smaller things I’m committed to.  I’m a conscientious employee and it’s always been in my nature to get my head down and get on with what I’ve been asked to do.   I take myself into work every day and keep up this diligence even though there are lots of times it would be much easier for me to stay home.  I’m dedicated to my family, I love spending time with them and if any of them needed me I would be with them in a heartbeat (I’m the eldest child so it’s probably in the job description, but I take it very seriously!)  I’m committed to Paul, our relationship and building our lives together.  I have always loved reading and I consciously put effort into nurturing that passion by collecting books and reading as much as I can.
In the podcast, Casper and Vanessa discuss a passage from the chapter.  It’s right after Professor McGonagall reminds Dumbledore that he could beat Voldemort because he is the only one the villain fears.  Dumbledore replies that he is flattered but that Voldemort has powers he will never have.  They ask whether this is him acknowledging that he is not as powerful, or saying that he does not want to go down that path?

As Dumbledore would say, it is our choices that make us who we are.  There are lots of things I could be were it not for the fact that I try to be the opposite, and I’m happy that the traits and habits I’ve chosen to commit to, consciously or not, are positive ones.  There might be bigger goals and achievements in my future, but these are the strings I have to my bow now.  That’s something I’ll try to remind myself of whenever I’m feeling like I haven’t achieved what others have – my commitment might not be lifechanging or as visible, but it’s there.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Wishlist: Thrillers

Many people see thrillers as the perfect summer read, something to be taken on holiday and devoured while lazing by the pool.  I won't disagree, I have been known to take a thriller or two away with me, but the time of year when I'm most likely to pick up a good crime novel is autumn and winter.  I don't aim to match my reading to the seasons, but there's something about curling up to get stuck into a mystery when the nights are drawing in that I love.

I've recently been really craving some crime fiction as I haven't read any for a while.  The last book of this genre I read was The Girl Who Played With Fire way back in March, but there are lots that have caught my eye so I thought I would share a little wish list.

A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys
1939, Europe on the brink of war. Lily Shepherd leaves England on an ocean liner for Australia, escaping her life of drudgery for new horizons. She is instantly seduced by the world onboard: cocktails, black-tie balls and beautiful sunsets. Suddenly, Lily finds herself mingling with people who would otherwise never give her the time of day. But soon she realizes her glamorous new friends are not what they seem. The rich and hedonistic Max and Eliza Campbell, mysterious and flirtatious Edward, and fascist George are all running away from tragedy and scandal even greater than her own. By the time the ship docks, two passengers are dead, war has been declared, and life will never be the same again.

Obsession by Amanda Robson
Carly and Rob are a perfect couple. They share happy lives with their children and their close friends Craig and Jenny. They’re lucky. But beneath the surface, no relationship is simple: can another woman’s husband and another man’s wife ever just be good friends?
Little by little, Carly’s question sends her life spiralling out of control, as she begins to doubt everything she thought was true. Who can she trust? The man she has promised to stick by forever, or the best friend she has known for years? And is Carly being entirely honest with either of them?

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
Your neighbour told you that she didn't want your six-month-old daughter at the dinner party. Nothing personal, she just couldn't stand her crying. Your husband said it would be fine. After all, you only live next door. You'll have the baby monitor and you'll take it in turns to go back every half hour. Your daughter was sleeping when you checked on her last. But now, as you race up the stairs in your deathly quiet house, your worst fears are realized. She's gone. You've never had to call the police before. But now they're in your home, and who knows what they'll find there.

Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse
Hannah, independent, headstrong, and determined not to follow in the footsteps of her bitterly divorced mother, has always avoided commitment. But one hot New York summer she meets Mark Reilly, a fellow Brit, and is swept up in a love affair that changes all her ideas about what marriage might mean. Now, living in their elegant, expensive London townhouse and adored by her fantastically successful husband, she knows she was right to let down her guard. But when Mark does not return from a business trip to the U.S. and when the hours of waiting for him stretch into days, the foundations of Hannah's certainty begin to crack. Why do Mark's colleagues believe he has gone to Paris not America? Why is there no record of him at his hotel? And who is the mysterious woman who has been telephoning him over the last few weeks?

The Honeymoon by Tina Seksis
For as long as she can remember, Jemma has been planning the perfect honeymoon. A fortnight's retreat to a five-star resort in the Maldives, complete with luxury villas, personal butlers and absolute privacy. It should be paradise, but it's turned into a nightmare. Because the man Jemma married a week ago has just disappeared from the island without a trace.

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
Katie and Eric Knox have dedicated their lives to their fifteen-year-old daughter Devon, a gymnastics prodigy and Olympic hopeful. But when a violent death rocks their close-knit gymnastics community just weeks before an all-important competition, everything the Knoxes have worked so hard for feels suddenly at risk. As rumors swirl among the other parents, revealing hidden plots and allegiances, Katie tries frantically to hold her family together while also finding herself drawn, irresistibly, to the crime itself, and the dark corners it threatens to illuminate.

Dead Simple by Peter James
Michael Harrison had it all: good looks, charm, natural leadership, a wicked sense of humor, and now, Ashley, his fiancée. While out celebrating with a group of friends a few nights before the wedding, Michael suddenly and unexpectedly finds himself enclosed in a coffin equipped only with a flashlight, a dirty magazine, a walkie-talkie, and a tiny breathing tube. It's all in good fun — payback for the grief his mates suffered due to his own penchant for tomfoolery — that is until the four are killed in a drunk driving accident just moments after leaving Michael completely alone and buried alive.

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone. When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar…who says the kiss was a terrible mistake but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise. And then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend, but she also just happens to be married to David. David and Adele look like the picture-perfect husband and wife, but then why is David so controlling, and why is Adele so scared of him?

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz
Forty-eight hours after leaving her husband’s body at the base of the stairs, Tanya Dubois cashes in her credit cards, dyes her hair brown, demands a new name from a shadowy voice over the phone, and flees town. It’s not the first time. She meets Blue, a female bartender who recognizes the hunted look in a fugitive’s eyes and offers her a place to stay. With dwindling choices, Tanya-now-Amelia accepts. An uneasy―and dangerous―alliance is born. It’s almost impossible to live off the grid today, but Amelia-now-Debra and Blue have the courage, the ingenuity, and the desperation, to try. Hopscotching from city to city, Debra especially is chased by a very dark secret…can she outrun her past?

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside...

I've been craving some great big lungfuls of sea air and some fish and chips for weeks now, so yesterday Paul and I hopped on the bus to spend the afternoon in Whitby.  It's one of my favourite places along the coast but I hadn't been for years, and Paul had never been, so I was excited to go back and take him for his first visit.


We arrived at around half past twelve, and straight away set off for a bracing walk along the front - it was very windy but a beautiful day, and I was well wrapped up in my scarf.  The tide was in, so we couldn't get onto the beach at first.  Instead we took our time wandering, looking around the shops and pretty buildings in the town, and making our way up the hill to the famous whale jawbones.