Saturday, 19 April 2014

March Reads

This month I had a bit of a Sylvia Plath-athon. Our book club choice was a biography of Plath by Andrew Wilson, 'Mad Girl's Love Song'. It covers, in great detail, her early life up until she met Ted Hughes at Cambridge. I liked this book, it was informative and the author had obviously researched the subject very well. Views were mixed ( as ever!) at book club, many felt Plath was such a dreary character and this book was TOO detailed. I disagree, Plath was fascinating, a deeply troubled but tremendously gifted girl who wanted to kick against the path that was still expected of young women of a certain class in America in the 1950s. Wilson's book gave me a real insight into her early life and made me want to re-read her novel, 'The Bell Jar'.

I first read Sylvia Plath's 'The Bell Jar' when I was a teenager, full of Mancunian angst. I may not have shared many of Sylvia's life experiences but, as with 'Catcher In The Rye', the book captures that feeling of alienation and suffocation that is universal to most young adults. Reading it now, after the biography and as a middle-aged woman, it is still powerful but rather than identifying with Esther (Sylvia) it was fascinating to read Sylvia's thinly veiled autobiography of her slide into clinical depression. The book is over fifty years old now, yet the writing seems still so original and fresh.

Our next book for book club is 'Brave New World' by Aldous Huxley. I have never read this, I'm not a fan of futuristic dystopia ( struggled with 1984 to be honest, so depressing) but it was a fascinating read. Even though it appears very dated at times, it also appears contemporary at others. It was bleak but strangely believable and had powerful points to make about religion, mass consumption and what it means to be happy. Not a easy/simple read but I'm glad I finally tackled it and look forward to the lively debate it will cause at book club night!

Finally, I have heard Natalie Haynes on Radio 4 a few times, she is a comedienne and classicist and 'The Amber Fury' is her debut novel. It was a page-turner, telling the story of a bereaved young teacher who works at a unit for troubled teenagers. She enacts Greek dramas with them and we know that something catastrophic has occurred from the beginning. I could see where the plot was going but I thought the writing was very lively and fresh, with all the characters being effectively depicted. 

I've suddenly realised all my reads this month were on the depressing side! I'm currently gripped by ' The Goldfinch' but maybe some light relief is in order afterwards!

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Spring is springing....

The sun is out, the buds are budding, I love the spring!

I found these lovely little tea lights in Laura Ashley, ideal for my Mother's Day table.

Pretty pastel cotton jumpers from New Look, not too pricey but just the job for spring-time.

Bought this cook book in Homesense for £7.99, it's packed with lovely recipies.

Sunny tulips, cheap as chips from Aldi.

Pastel blue glasses from Laura Ashley.

Going to see Elbow next month, great new album.

The cherry blossom is is good.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

January/February Reads

Almost up-to-date with my reads now!
'The Shock of the Fall' by Nathan Filer won the Costa Book prize recently, and for a debut novel, it really is excellent. Matthew narrates an account of his descent into mental illness caused by a great loss. That may sound incredibly depressing, and while it is bleak and sad, it is also very warm, funny and filled with believable characters. It is very contemporary and Filer, who was a mental health nurse, writes with confidence about that world and the effect that cuts in services are having on vulnerable people like Matthew. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, my book club unanimously loved it, a rare occurance! 

'The Great Lover' by Jill Dawson has been sitting on my shelf for a while now and I did enjoy it. The book is a fictional account of Rupert Brook and his time staying in Grantchester just before the Great War and the effect he has on a young maid, Nell. Dawson has obviously researched the subject meticulously and the whole 'fin-de-si├Ęcle' atmosphere is captured perfectly. I felt inspired to re-read my collection of Brook's poems afterwards.

'Midwives' by Chris Bohjalian is another book that has been on my shelf for quite a while. Sibyl is a midwife working, often against the wishes of the health authorities, in Vermont. A birth she is attending goes tragically wrong and this novel charts the effect on her family and community. I enjoyed the characterisation in the novel, particularly Sibyl's teenage daughter, and I couldn't really predict the ending. In a country where birth is so medicalised due to omnipresent fears of litigation, Sibyl's plight is entirely believable and will have you thanking the NHS for the midwifery-led services we ( on the whole ) enjoy in this country.

'Bedsit Disco Queen' by Tracey Thorn is a highly enjoyable ( for us a certain age) account of Thorn's life as a pop star. She writes in the same style she sings, wry, dryly humorous and understated. She comes across as an honest, intelligent woman who finds herself in the middle of a crazy time as one part of the successful duo, 'Everything But The Girl'. This autobiography is a complete contrast to the Morrissey book, but I enjoyed both.

'Sweet Tooth' by Ian McEwan is a highly intelligent novel, post-modern and a delight for lovers of literature. It is set in the 1970s and Serena Frome graduates from Cambridge, is recruited by MI5 and is given a mission, to recruit a novelist. This doesn't go entirely to plan as Serena falls in love with her quarry. The atmosphere of London in the 70s is captured perfectly and I did enjoy McEwan's writing, as I always do. His are never 'easy reads' but I like books that make me think...once in a awhile! 

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Recent Reads ( Part 2 )

More recent reads from me. I heard good things about 'The Burning Air' by Erin Kelly and it was a very good thriller. It took me quite a while to realise the narrator's gender, I had presumed wrongly and I'm not sure if that was a deliberate plot device. A child goes missing after being looked after by the girlfriend of a family member, she isn't who she appears to be, but who is manipulating her? It is cleverly written and kept me gripped until the end.

'The Middlesteins' by Jami Attenburg was rather melancholic. Edie is morbidly obese and is eating herself to death. The book charts her family life, her background and how we are all bound by familial and emotional ties. It is a well written story set in contemporary Chicago but left me feeling so sad.

'Amity & Sorrow' by Peggy Riley was a strange read. The sisters of the title are spirited away by their mother from the quasi-religious cult they have been raised in. There are hints that Sorrow has been a victim of abuse but she is desperate to return to her father who leads the cult. The landscape of the American mid-west is beautifully described and it certainly is an original plot. The ending was a bit disappointing really but it was still a good read, on the whole.

My favourite book of this bunch was 'Instructions for a Heatwave' by Maggie O'Farrell. Set in the hot summer of 1976, a man goes out for a paper and fails to return. The plot concerns the effect this has on his wife and three ( very different) children. I loved the characters in the story and it was very funny in parts, and very touching too. Maggie O'Farrell is an excellent writer, I love her style, wit and humanity.

Monday, 24 February 2014

London Town

Bel and I went to London this week to see 'Matilda', which was such excellent fun. We also visited Notting Hill and the Portobello Market, as well as mooching in our favourite shops. I managed to succumb to temptation in Anthropologie and Orla Kiely, good job we don't visit too often.

Pretty houses in Notting Hill.

The Matilda stage.

Lovely pots at Anthropologie.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Tales From The Tearooms: Selo Deli

Selo Deli in Monton has been open quite a while now, and for some strange reason I haven't got round to visiting. I went with my mum last week and it was quite lovely. Irina, the owner, is Ukranian and the menu boasts many delicacies from her homeland. Not feeling adventurous, I chose homemade broccoli soup with artisan bread and it was simply delicious. I was looking forward to her famed "Monton Tart" but unfortunately all had been eaten, so I had a perfect cherry scone instead. Service was friendly and prices were reasonable. I will be returning VERY soon.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

A Visit to Brum

I went to the wedding of my friend Pat's daughter recently. She is from Worsley but lives and works in Birmingham and that's where she got spliced. I have never been to Birmingham before and was really excited to visit the new library there. It was a wonderful building, futuristic but filled with floor upon floor of books. The design was breathtaking and we got a brilliant view of the city from the observation deck at the very top. There was a Shakespeare room, a recreation of the original room built at the old library, and I couldn't resist hamming it up for Belinda's photo! It was a lovely weekend, Katy is now married and I finally got to see Britain's THIRD city...