Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Notes from March

Previously known as What I read in... but it wouldn't be my blog if things were consistent now would it?


March has seemed like such a long month compared with January and February!  Not in a bad way, but when I think about some of the things I did at the beginning of the month they seem like at least half a year ago.  Here are March's highlights:

  • Brunch with Alice at Fettle Cafe
  • A visit from Noel and a great night in watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which I've never seen before and which made me snort with laughter in quite a few places
  • Two trips to the theatre!  The first to see War Horse which was my Christmas present from Paul.  It was absolutely amazing, so atmospheric and the puppets blew me away, I couldn't believe how lifelike the horses were.  They were never completely still, all the time they were breathing, flicking their tails, pawing the ground.  Just incredible.  Then a week later Paul and I went to see Tim Vine - a totally different experience, he is absolutely bonkers.

  • Snow, snow and more snow.  I used to say that I hated snow but let's be honest, last time we had proper snowfall I was more likely to be going out wearing unsuitable footwear and not enough layers.  This time we had a real flurry and I loved walking to work in it, the excuse to dig out my floral wellies, enjoying the hushed feel of the morning.
  • Fancy hot chocolate with my sister at Hotel Chocolat
  • An afternoon in York with my best friends, having lunch and shopping
  • Lunch with my dad and the tiny glass elephant he gave me... A treasure 💓
  • Shopping for and collecting my first wig and getting a little bit of myself back - I wrote more about my experience here


And here's what I read in March...

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock tells the story of Jonah, a widowed merchant in the 1700s who unexpectedly acquires a mermaid.  His new possession makes him rich and famous and steers him from a humble existence to high society and a world of opulence and debauchery that he's never experienced before.  At a party he meets Angelica Neal, an accomplished courtesan, and from then their lives are linked.

It took me a good long while to get through this one which is usually a sign I'm not enjoying a book as much as I thought, but I really liked it.  I was pulled in straight away by the premise and the language in this book is so mesmerising, both the way the characters speak and the descriptions of the setting.  It's really beautifully written and an impressive debut.  I loved the historical setting too.  The mermaid is less a central character than I expected from the blurb and more of a background influence, but it worked really well especially because Jonah and Angelica are already accompanied by a cast of vivid characters; his niece Sukie, the maid Bridget, Angelica's former madam Mrs Chappell, and Polly, a black prostitute working for her now.  In fact, the novel is really driven by its women characters.  Not quite 5 stars because some of their stories were left unfinished (especially Polly) and it almost seemed a shame to include them and not tie everything up - but then it's already 500 pages long!

Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton

Everything I Know About Love

This was definitely a case of  'instagram made me do it' but I don't regret it one bit.  Dolly Alderton has written such a wonderful thing with this ode to friendship, family, teenage romance and relationships, I read it cover to cover in the space of one evening.

There's a chapter at the beginning about talking to boys on MSN that made me giggle so much, I knew exactly where she was coming from and I want to recommend it to all my friends just for that part to be honest because we were all the same.  But there was something to relate to all the way through as Dolly takes us through her life (apart from the bits about heavy drinking and drug use at university - I don't begrudge anyone their experimental phase but she lost me a bit there) and it was both funny and very moving.  You should read it.

The Children of Men by P.D. James

The Children of Men

Holy snooze-fest Batman.  Seriously, this one was way oversold to me.  To be fair the person who I heard about this from was telling me about the film but I thought I should read the book first, only now I'm wondering whether this is one of those rare cases where the film is actually better.  I'm not sure whether P.D. James had completely made her mind up what angle she wanted to take with this novel: it started off as an interesting commentary on a world without children and ended up as a story about the abuse of power.  For me personally I would have been more interested in the societal stuff, plus I never felt the tension I think was intended.  One of the poorer dystopias I've read, which is a shame as the general concept is so interesting.

Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh

Let Me Lie

Last month I wrote a five stars reads prediction post (click here to read it) in which I predicted that I would give Let Me Lie five stars.  I was right!  This was soooo good.  I will forever read anything Clare Mackintosh writes, she is just amazing.  That's all I'm going to say on this one because as with any thriller I think it's best to go in blind, but definitely pick this up if you're looking for a good crime novel.

Monday, 2 April 2018

25 Thoughts on Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

Gilmore Girls only came into my life around the time everyone started talking about the revival.  I'd heard about it before then but I'd only ever seen maybe the last few minutes of the odd episode while flicking through TV channels, but suddenly everyone was talking about it and a few of my friends told me they thought I would love it, so I decided to give it a go and around the time A Year in the Life became available on Netflix, I started right from the beginning.


My friends were so right.  It's been a long time since I have taken a TV show so to heart or got so involved with the characters but I loved it, so much.  I genuinely missed it when I got to the end.  I've only watched it through once so I won't be winning any trivia prizes or anything but it just gave me all the warm and fuzzies and was probably just exactly what I needed in a series when I started watching.  It took me through more than a few bad days and Stars Hollow was the perfect place to escape to, even the stressful times when I was annoyed at Lorelai for messing things up with Luke which culminated in me shouting 'fuck off Christopher!!!' at the TV.  As I said, I was very invested.
So, bereft as I was when I finished the original series, I was actually pretty nervous to watch A Year in the Life in case it burst my cosy Stars Hollow bubble.  I'd avoided spoilers but I knew there had been mixed opinions, some people even hated it, so it was after a few week's break and with a fair amount of trepidation that I sat down to watch this week.

I'm so relieved to say that, overall, I really enjoyed it.  Phew!

The rest of my thoughts aren't really coherent enough to be formed into paragraphs so I'm just going to chuck them at you in list form.   I think since the revival aired in 2016 I'm pretty safe on the spoiler front, but just in case consider this your fair warning.  Ok?  Let's go.
  1. First things first: Luke & Lorelai.  THANK GOD. I thought for sure she was going to mess it up again.  The only thing I really needed from the revival was confirmation that they lived happily ever after and it made me so happy.
  2. Side note: very happy Luke is still alive and running the diner, I had a minor panic in the first scene when Lorelai had coffee from Al's until I remembered about Al's Pancake World
  3. The new rules at Luke's.  'No man buns and no taking pictures of your food.'  Oh, Luke. 
  4. You could sense the bigger budget and everything had been a little bit Netflix-ed with higher definition and more sets but the characters were still the ones I loved.  Kirk was still running around town with his multiple jobs, Babette still interrupting Taylor at the town meetings in her husky voice.  Several times I chuckled at something familiar from a character.  They all look a little different (none more so than Zach) but other than that, it was like they just picked up where they left off.
  5. It did feel a bit like sometimes characters were just slotted in to get the fan reaction though?  Like Jackson and Mr Kim (!)
  6. The whole storyline of Richard's passing was so moving and done so well, I think they really did him justice.  The premise of the revival was all about change and the absence of the Gilmore family patriarch was a good frame for this.  The three of them at the funeral broke my heart, especially Emily but I thought it was nice that Richard still had so much of a presence.  He was always one of my favourites.
  7. Dean's scene was perfect.
  8. And Jess is still hot and also now a well-adjusted adult encouraging Rory to follow her passions?  I might have to switch allegiance.
  9. On the subject of Rory's boyfriends... I was hoping she might have grown out of sleeping with other people's partners? I don't think Logan is a bad guy (cheating aside), they were almost engaged and he definitely understands and supports Rory just as much as Jess does, but I wish they weren't both still cheating.  I know it had to be casual because she's kind of at a loose end, but still.
  10. I'm glad they don't pretend she isn't flawed though.  And that she doesn't get everything handed to her on a plate.
  11. And I'm also glad Rory's story arc was not all about which guy she would end up with.
  12. I missed Sookie so much, I needed so much more than the 10 minutes or so we got.  I know Melissa McCarthy is really famous now but you know, don't forget your roots.  It doesn't make sense to me that Sookie would leave to go on sabbatical when she hates letting other people in her kitchen and the Dragonfly was just as much her dream as Lorelai's.  I'm glad she was able to film something for the revival but I would have appreciated Melissa making a little more time in her schedule thank you very much.
  13. On the other hand, Sookie's absence made some room to explore Lorelai's relationship with Michel which was lovely, and he was on top form throughout.
  14. What happened to Sookie and Jackson's third baby?  Is it a boy or a girl?  Does it have a name?
  15. So glad there was so much Paris, I bloody love her, she's hilarious.
  16. I'm not a huge April fan and I'm glad she wasn't in it much.
  17. I would not pay to see the Stars Hollow musical.
  18. But I probably would use Ooober!
  19. I need to know who sent Emily the nasty letter on her birthday (although my money is on Trix).
  20. The development of Emily's character was so great, hers was probably the most interesting story arc, watching her come to terms with losing her husband and finally settle into something of a new life and routine for herself.  The scene where she calls out the DAR ladies was hilarious.  Kelly Bishop is fantastic.
  21. Loved Lorelai's whole Wild thing and how she didn't even end up going but got what she needed anyway.  Her calling Emily to tell her a favourite memory of Richard was so moving, it made me cry and it might have been my favourite part of the whole thing.
  22. I didn't need to see or hear from the Life and Death Brigade again, they were never my favourite people.  That whole scene bugged me firstly because I don't like when weird things happen in a show that otherwise has no magical or fantastical theme (like the sign on the flower shop changing, the talking crow), it just doesn't make sense.  Secondly, at 32 I'd have thought they would have outgrown those antics.
  23. Yay for talking fast and witty comments and not knowing how to hold a full coffee cup and sniffing the air for snow, I'm here for it all.
  24. I still 100% wish I lived in Stars Hollow.
  25. And finally... the last 4 words.  At first I rolled my eyes but really, it makes sense given that Gilmore Girls has always been a generational show.  I know that Amy Sherman Palladino planned to end on those words all along too so I'm glad she got the opportunity to, and it does bring everything nicely full circle.
I know I had so many more thoughts but these are the main ones.  Overall, I loved it.  I had some niggles but they were more to do with the plot, and I wasn't without these during the original series either - I never understood the Jason Styles thing?  And there are things that would have been on my wish list if the revival had been longer, a more fulfilling life for Lane being one of them.  But crucially, a Year in the Life hasn't taken anything away from my enjoyment of Gilmore Girls.  It *felt* the same to me and I'm so happy about it! Now to start series one again...

Sunday, 18 March 2018

I Went Wig Shopping

Yesterday, I went shopping for a wig.  It's something I've considered before during the time I've been struggling with hair loss but I've always come to the conclusion that it wasn't bad enough to go down that route.  That's changed in recent months - it's at the worst it's ever been just now - so I decided it was time to properly look into it.

I did some research and looked for wig shops nearby online, eventually settling on Betty Brown Wigs in York.  Of course there are shops in Leeds I could have tried but when I looked at their websites I just didn't get a very good vibe - you can tell a lot about a place from the effort they put into their site I think, and most of the early sites I looked at had very basic, hard to navigate pages that didn't inspire a lot of confidence in me.  I also didn't find many styles I liked on the online stock of any of the shops in Leeds.

When I found Betty Brown Wigs I knew I was on the right track.  The website was really professional and I managed to find a handful of styles I liked the look of, so I emailed them to book an appointment.

It was so much more positive than I was expecting.  I thought it would be upsetting and that there would be tears, and it wasn't like that at all.  It was actually quite fun!  I had thought that I wouldn't find one I liked, but actually by the end I was choosing between 4 or 5 that looked great.  They had kindly ordered in some of the styles that I'd said I liked from the website, and also had loads of others in stock that I was able to try on.  Funnily enough none of the ones I'd picked were quite right - the first one I tried made my head look about three times bigger - so I'm really glad that I did go somewhere to try them on.  I would have been so much less nervous about ordering one online than I was before going into the shop, but then it wouldn't have been right and would probably have resulted in more anxiety down the line.

I'm also really glad I went with my gut and chose Betty Brown for my first wig shopping experience, and don't think I will go anywhere else if I need to buy another one in the future.  The team were really friendly over email and when I called a couple of days before to confirm the appointment and explain that I was a bit nervous.  The assistant Becky who helped me try everything on the day was lovely, very calm and down to earth, and she was really helpful.  I didn't feel rushed at all, she let me try each one on multiple times and swap between them as much as I wanted.  We were the only ones in the shop anyway, but we were in a private fitting room as well.  I was so worried about being on show, or feeling rushed, or intimidated by glamorous hairdressing staff, but it was nothing like that.  I left in such a good mood, and it was a successful trip - I've settled on a style very close to how my hair looked before this all started, and they're ordering it for me in a shade close to my natural colour.  I'm actually pretty gobsmacked thinking about it - I never get anything right first time!

It is bittersweet and feels a bit like giving up on my own hair, but overall I'm feeling really good about it.  The pressure it's going to take off me is immeasurable really and that will have benefits in the long run even possibly for my natural hair.  It's been something of an epiphany to me to realise that yes, this is happening to me, but that it's not my fault and I don't have to grin and bear it every day and carry on feeling miserable - actually, I can have something to make me feel better.  People rely on all kinds of fakery to help them feel better and whereas before it was a case of weighing up the cost and the necessity, now that is it necessary I think the cost is negligible compared to how it will help me.

And it really will, I can't tell you how much.  I felt it the minute I put one on, just having the weight of hair around my shoulders and framing my face.  If I had cried at all I think they would have been happy tears.  I didn't need to worry about not feeling comfortable in one - I haven't felt that much like myself in a really long time.  I'm not planning on using it for every day wear but I loved it so much this could easily change!  And it's such a massive relief to me that it turned out that way.

Thank you to Becky at Betty Brown, to my mum, Paul and my best friend Ellie for their moral support during my appointment, and to all my friends who have been so supportive and kind.  Obviously my anxieties aren't going to magically disappear, but hopefully you'll be seeing a bit more of the old Holly around soon. 💓

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Five Star Read Predictions

Alternative title: some books I'm on the reserve list for at the library that I'm super impatient for.


Five Star Reads prediction videos are some of my favourite to watch on BookTube.  I don't have a YouTube channel (hold the laughter at the thought of me doing anything of the sort) but I wanted to play too!  The idea is to pick books you're yet to read that you think will be worth 5 stars just from the blurb or what you know of the concept.  Here are three titles I already know I'm going to love.

Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh

The police say it was suicide.
Anna says it was murder.
They're both wrong.

One year ago, Caroline Johnson chose to end her life brutally: a shocking suicide planned to match that of her husband just months before. Their daughter, Anna, has struggled to come to terms with their loss ever since.  Now with a young baby of her own, Anna misses her mother more than ever and starts to question her parents’ deaths. But by digging up their past, she’ll put her future in danger. Sometimes it’s safer to let things lie…


I love a thriller and Clare Mackintosh is one of my favourite crime authors.  I loved her first two books I Let You Go and I See You, they were both so smart and slick and exactly what I look for in a thriller that now I'll read anything she brings out.  I don't even necessarily need to know what it's about, but incidentally the blurb for her third novel sounds like it will be equally as good as the others!  I'm currently right at the top of the waiting list for this one and I've seen it in Waterstones this week, so fingers crossed the library gets their copies in soon.

✻✻✻

The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale
The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter. It is the same every year. Across the city, when children wake to see ferns of white stretched across their windows, or walk to school to hear ice crackling underfoot, the whispers begin: the Emporium is open!
It is 1917, and London has spent years in the shadow of the First World War. In the heart of Mayfair, though, there is a place of hope. A place where children’s dreams can come true, where the impossible becomes possible – that place is Papa Jack’s Toy Emporium.

For years Papa Jack has created and sold his famous magical toys: hobby horses, patchwork dogs and bears that seem alive, toy boxes bigger on the inside than out, ‘instant trees’ that sprout from boxes, tin soldiers that can fight battles on their own. Now his sons, Kaspar and Emil, are just old enough to join the family trade. Into this family comes a young Cathy Wray – homeless and vulnerable. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own. But Cathy is about to discover that while all toy shops are places of wonder, only one is truly magical.


Serious Nutcracker vibes. I am so excited for this one, I'd be reading it right now if I could; hopefully I'll get the email from the library any day now!  It sounds like a cross between The Night Circus, one of my favourites ever, and The Dollmaker of Krakow which quite recently stole my heart (I raved about it here if you are interested). Unlike The Dollmaker though, The Toymakers is an adult novel so I hope it's going to be a little bit darker.  Anything involving magic gets my bookworm senses tingling and this sounds so special, I think I'm going to love it and I'm already expecting to have to buy my own copy when I've given it back to the library...

✻✻✻

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasya doesn't mind - she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse's fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honour the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.  After Vasya's mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasya's new stepmother forbids her family from honouring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasya is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.  And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasya's stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.  As danger circles, Vasya must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed - this in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse's most frightening tales.

As someone who enjoys fairy tales and folklore, this just sounds right up my street.  I've never read anything based on Russian folklore before but I love hearing stories from different cultures, and this sounds like perfect escapism.  Most of my best loved books have some element of fantasy and magic about them and I'm expecting a big serving of that from The Bear and the Nightingale.  It promises a vivid setting and a strong heroine too, which is always a plus.  I love that there are authors out there writing fairy tales for adults - I'll still happily read kid lit and middle grade to get my fix, but it's nice to be part of the target audience for this genre too.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

What I read in February

February has whizzed past me in the blink of an eye! Here are some good things that happened this month:
  • I finished watching Gilmore Girls and I already miss it so much.  I haven't watched the revival yet because I thought it would be best to have some time in between... and also I'm afraid I won't like it as much.  I wish I lived in Stars Hollow.
  • Exploring Chester and Liverpool with my mum. It was a beautiful (but cold) weekend and I got to tick something off my bucket list - visiting Penny Lane!
  • A solo trip to the theatre to catch a matinee performance of Birdsong.  I enjoyed the show, it didn't quite live up to my expectations but they were very high as I loved the book so much.  It was a novel experience being at the theatre alone but sometimes it's nice to do your own thing, and it's something I think I'll do more if there are things on that Paul isn't bothered about.


I also read three books this month.

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Anatomy of a Scandal 

I think there was a lot of hype around this one that it didn't quite live up to, for me. I hesitated over reviewing it on Goodreads but eventually settled on 3/5 stars.  It was easy to read but that struck me as almost a bad thing given the subject matter; it's centred around a politician accused of rape, his wife and the prosecution lawyer with alternate chapters from each point of view.  I felt it could have been much grittier than it was and some of the characters seemed under developed, especially the accused.  There were a lot of instances of him looking women up and down and the like which was obviously meant to show him for a mysogynist but it seemed a bit cliche to me.
The court scenes were interesting to read but actually take up quite a small amount of the book which differed from what I expected.  It had some interesting points to make about power and privilege in the context of abuse, but overall a bit underwhelming.


Speaking in Tongues: Curious Expressions From Around the World by Ella France Sanders

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This is more of a coffee table book but I loved flicking through it.  It's exactly what it says on the cover: an illustrated collection of curious expressions from around the world.  One of my favourites is 'sliding in on a shrimp sandwich' (glida in på en räkmacka) which is the Swedish equivalent of someone being born with a silver spoon in their mouth.  Apparently shrimp sandwiches are something very fancy in Sweden! 
It's funny to think about how strange these sayings sound in English but equally how strange some of our idioms must seem to other cultures.  Language is so quirky and amazing.


The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa (translated by Philip Gabriel)

The Travelling Cat Chronicles 

This was a lovely little book.  It follows Nana the cat and his owner Satoru as they travel the country visiting old acquaintances.  Satoru is looking for a new owner for Nana as for a reason unknown to the reader he soon won't be able to take care of him.  The chapters alternate between Nana's inner monologue and flashbacks to Satoru's time with each friend they visit.
At less than 250 pages it's a short, gentle read, the perfect thing to read in between bigger tomes.

Currently reading: The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar.  Come back next month for a review! :)