Wednesday, 31 January 2018

What I read in January

January has felt like such a long month!  And I've been taking it slowly too.  Apart from the odd cinema trip and a lunch outing for Paul's dad's birthday I haven't been up to much besides my working week, and that's been fine with me.  I've missed the gym and I'll be getting back on that horse after payday but without classes three times a week I haven't needed to rush home from work to get ready - it's been nice to take my time a bit more.

I wrote about my hair loss and posted it on Facebook.  I was nervous and I didn't know what to expect, I even switched my phone off after posting but I received such a show of support.  People said some lovely things and I had messages from people I haven't spoken to in years...  It was quite overwhelming and emotional and I can't even begin to say how much it meant to me to have people tell me they're proud of me for being so brave.

In other news, I've got a good head start on my reading goal for this year!

Thin Air by Michelle Paver

Thin Air

I actually started reading this between Christmas and New Year but it took me a while to finish it.  It's described as a ghost story and there are some scary goings on but for me the tension never quite got to where I think the author intended so I was a bit disappointed.  I'm not sure whether that might have been because half the time I was reading there was a very over excited dog in the room!  I'd give it a miss if you're looking for something a bit dark.

The Dollmaker of Krakow by R.M. Romero

The Dollmaker of Krakow

This book.  Where do I start?  An early contender for my favourite book of the year, if not ever.  Set during WWII and the Nazi occupation of Poland, when the story starts we meet the Dollmaker who owns a toyshop in Krakow, and Karolina the doll, who comes to life.  Karolina's presence helps the previously solitary Dollmaker to come out of his shell and make friends with people in his town, namely Jozef and his daughter Rena, who are Jewish.  The events that follow are not surprising given the setting, but told against a backdrop of magic and friendship.  I thought it was all woven together so well with a wonderful mix of history and Polish folklore, clearly a labour of love for Romero. 

It's just so beautiful and poignant and I loved the use of the fictional war in Karolina's native Land of the Dolls to draw parallels with German occupied Poland, very clever and an accessible introduction to the Holocaust for younger readers.  It's a big subject but I thought The Dollmaker of Krakow struck the perfect balance between being age-appropriate but not glossing over events.

It is a middle-grade novel but please don't let that put you off if you're an adult reader like me, you would be missing out on something so special.  I loved it so much.  The ending absolutely destroyed me, Paul came home to find me sitting on the sofa in tears!  The book itself is a stunning object too.  I didn't want to give it back to the library, I'm going to have to buy my own copy!

'You can destroy a person, but destroying their story is far more difficult.  No one is ever really lost as long as their story exists.'

The Worm and the Bird by Coralie Bickford Smith

The Worm and the Bird 

4/5 stars just for being absolutely stunning.  I didn't love the story as much as The Fox and the Star but I'm very happy to have this on my shelf, it's a gorgeous thing.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History 

I did like The Secret History but I am confused as to why it has such a big reputation.  It's a murder mystery in reverse, as we know from the beginning who has died and who killed them so it's more of a why-dunit.  I liked the writing and it kept my attention because I wanted to know the answers, but boy did it take a long time to get there - I feel like it could have been a few hundred pages shorter.  A large amount of the book is filled with nothing more than the characters sitting around taking drugs and drinking.  They're not meant to be likeable, you're meant to see them for exactly what they are which is spoiled, self-centred rich brats, but you can labour a point too much and it doesn't strike me as the mark of a great writer.

I actually thought the blurb was quite misleading too.  'Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries.'  I didn't see how said professor was so influential given that he appears in the book only a handful of times and isn't particularly charismatic when he does.  I feel like this is akin to saying Tom Riddle created horcruxes under the influence of Professor Slughorn...

Am I glad I read it?  Yes.  Would I read it again or give it to anyone else to read? No.

The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal

The Heart 

The Heart was a lovely book to read.  It's about Simon Limbeau's heart, and what happens to it following his death in a surfing accident.  As we follow the heart to its new body we meet all the people who play a part in its journey: Simon's parents, his doctors, hospital staff, transplant coordinators and surgeons and, finally, the heart's new recipient.  We see everything from their point of view and Maylis de Kerangal writes so beautifully about them all.  A poignant little book about grief, death and hope.

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon
Three Things About Elsie

I knew I wanted to read this as soon as I heard about it, it sounded very similar to Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey which I loved and I wasn't disappointed by this one either.
84 year old Florence is very unsettled by the arrival of a new resident at her nursing home, who looks very much like someone she used to know; someone who died sixty years ago.  This mystery is interesting, but it's really a clever device for a moving exploration of ageing and memory as Florence looks back into her past to try and get to the bottom of things.  Funny and heartwarming as well as sad in places, there was so much to take from this book.  It really made me think about how quick we can be in society to dismiss the things older people have to say, but their stories are valuable and we should be more willing to listen.  A lovely, wise story that I'd highly recommend.   Another one that I'm reluctant to give back to the library!

"You're not coping with your ADLs, Miss Claybourne," she said, "Your activities of daily living."
She didn't know what my activities of daily living were.  She didn't daily live with me.  She just barged into my front room one morning and accused me of all sorts.
"You can't reach your feet," she said.
"And what business would I have down there?"
"You can't do up your buttons."
"Marks and Spencer do a perfectly good range of clothes without a button in sight," I said.
The clock ticked in the corner of the room, and grew the distance between us.  The woman glanced at the clock and glanced away again.
She blinked a few times and then she said, "That's not the point, Miss Claybourne.  We need to make sure you're being looked after.  We only want what's best for you."
"Do we?" I said.
It didn't take them long to undo my life.  I had spent eighty years building it, but within weeks, they made it small enough to fit into a manila envelope and take along to meetings.  They kidnapped it.  They hurried it away from me when I least expected, when I thought I could coat myself in old age and be left to it.

Friday, 19 January 2018

2017 in Books

2017 was my third year taking part in the Goodreads reading challenge.  I set myself the goal of reading 35 books, and I managed 50!

Here's everything I read this year, in chronological order. 

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling - 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words by Ella Frances Sanders - ★★★★★
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson - ★★★★
The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent - ★★★
The Palace of Curiosities by Rosie Garland - ★★★
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - ★★★★★
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle - ★★
Caraval by Stephanie Garber - ★★★
The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson - ★★★★
The Power by Naomi Alderman - ★★★
The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths - ★★★
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling - 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
The Good People by Hannah Kent - ★★★★★
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft - ★★
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - ★★★
The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter - ★★
Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur - ★★★★★
Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell - ★★★★
The One We Fell in Love With by Paige Toon - ★★★
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden - ★★★★★
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling - 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick - ★★★★
Despite the Falling Snow by Shamim Sarif - ★★★★
The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen - ★★★★

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld - ★★★
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave - ★★★★★
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling - 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo - ★★★
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent - ★★★★
Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed - ★★★★
The Last Piece of My Heart by Paige Toon - ★★★★
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling - 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig - ★★★
Tin Man by Sarah Winman - ★★★★★
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson - ★★★★★
A Portable Shelter by Kirsty Logan - ★★
Diving Belles by Lucy Wood - ★★★★
The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena - ★★★
The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace - ★★★
The Book of Dust Volume 1: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman - ★★★★★
Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge - ★★★★★
Audrey Hepburn by Isabel Sanchez Vergara - ★★★★★
Amelia Earhart by Isabel Sanches Vergara - ★★★★★
The Radium Girls by Kate Moore - ★★★★★
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling - 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
The Museum of Exraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman - ★★★
The Neverending Story by Michael Ende - ★★★★
Murder in the Snow by Gladys Mitchell - ★★
A Poem for Every Night of the Year by Allie Esiri - ★★★★
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling - 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

It's funny looking back on all these titles and realising that some of them I had just completely forgotten about.  There are a couple of thrillers in there that were entertaining enough at the time, but didn't make any lasting impression - I'm looking at you, The Couple Next Door.

2017 was the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter, and I thought this was the perfect excuse (if one were needed) for a re-read.  I spaced them out across the months so I could both start and end my year with my favourite characters.  It was a massive highlight of my reading year, they will always hold the most special place in my heart.  However, my favourite new-to-me read this year was probably The Radium Girls by Kate Moore which I picked up during Nonfiction November and loved.  There's a full review here.

Goals for 2018
- 40 books
- carry on using the library as much as possible
- a new-to-me series as per the last few years, currently undecided

Holly x

Monday, 15 January 2018

In Grandma's handbag

KitKats, two or three
strawberry Chewits for the grandkids,
half a packet each
one knife, plastic
for my mcchicken sandwich, see
sugar sachets and stirrers from when we had tea
you never know what you might need

I wrote this poem a few months after my Grandma passed awayIt's short but it contains a lot of memories.  One that always makes me giggle is the time she declared for all to hear on the bus that she had a knife in her bag, only to pull out a plastic one and inform me that it was to cut up her McChicken sandwich later 😂

She collected sugar sachets and things from everywhere and always had some in her bag, not to mention the ones stuffed in kitchen drawers.  I don't know if she ever even used them but she was prepared at least!

Grandma was so wonderfully stubborn and an absolute sass-master.  There are so many examples but one story I love is about when me and my sister were little, we'd gone to a park with dad and Grandma and a lady came over asking 'how old are the twins?' Grandma straight away replied '7 and 4.'  Absolutely deadpan.  Never afraid to say what she thought, our Joan!  She was hilarious, though not always on purpose - usually she made us laugh the most when she was being grumpy! 

Some of my favourite memories are the Sunday afternoons we spent watching the planes at the runway lookout.  One of the last times we went it was a beautiful sunny day and we could get out of the car to see properly; whenever a plane took off she would clap and cheer and she was making everyone else there smile.  She thought it was magic that my sister could tell her where they were going to/coming from using an app on her phone. 'Ooh, smashing!'

Today she would have turned 88.  Happy birthday Grandma, we miss you 💗

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Hello 2018

Hi, I'm Holly.  You might remember me from... well, you might not remember me.

In September last year I started this new little space of mine full of good intentions.  I've never been very good at posting consistently but I did think I'd manage more than 8 posts before letting it slide again!  I like having a blog, but I sometimes struggle with what to write about.  I'm still quite a private person, and I yo-yo all the time between wanting my blog to be noticed and actually not being sure I even want people to read it 😂 I know, make your mind up Holl!  I've lost count of the number of times I've thought of a post, something I'd probably love to read on someone else's blog, only to dismiss it as too personal; typed something out and never posted it because 'what if so-and-so from school or work reads it?'

Because of this most of my posts tend to be 'what we did today' style accounts.  Not very revealing or vulnerable.  They're lovely to write and look back on, but I'd like to write about some of the not so shiny sides of life too.  I just worry about giving away too much to both strangers and to people who, for whatever reason, aren't close enough to me in person to know everything already.  I'm quiet in real life and don't give much away, so I even get a bit squirmy thinking about my close friends reading my blog!

But by not writing more candidly, am I not authentic enough to have any readers?  The blogs that I love to read are written by very open people who share a lot of their family lives.

Do I care if I have any readers?  But if no one is reading, is there a point to this - should I stick to journalling instead?

So you see by the time I've gone round the loop a few times, I talk myself out of posting most things before I've even written them.  And I'm not sure I care enough about blogging to really work on improving - maybe I just need to embrace it as a casual hobby, and leave it at that.

 Anyway... that's actually not what I wanted to write about today!

I wanted to talk about my outlook for 2018.  I think the turn of the new year inspires reflection in everyone, but I'm trying not to put too much emphasis on the whole 'new year, new me' thing.  It sometimes brings some pressure with it, and things don't magically change with the beginning of January.

At the start of 2017, I wrote this post on an old blog.  I was feeling positive then, so I'm sad to say that as the year went on I took some steps back in that respect.  There are things in my life that are out of my control but which affect me greatly.  Tackling those is going to take a bit more than some new years resolutions. (Edit: I've since written this post opening up about my hair loss and anxiety).

Frustrating as those aspects of my life are, I'm trying to concentrate more on the positive things about where I am now that I've brought with me from 2017; my relationship, finally settling in a job, my strong friendships and family bonds.  I made progress last year in other areas - I managed a whole year of going to the gym for classes three times a week and my fitness has improved a lot.  I'm more active in general and my attitude to exercise is so much more positive.  I drink lots more water and eat healthier.  I'm not where I want to be yet, but I'm on the right track and I have people helping me to figure it out along the way.

So 2018 is less about change for me and more about keeping up the good work (when I can afford to renew my gym membership!) and doing what I need to do to look after myself.  Hopefully the things affecting my confidence will get better as a result 😊

Coming up soon: December book haul, and my 2017 in books.

Holly x