It’s the little things that matter when it comes to self-care

January is traditionally the time for self improvement, new life goals or big changes, with New Year’s resolutions and trends like Dry January and Veganuary. But it’s also the deepest darkest month, the glum period after Christmas, and the time when it’s acceptable to stay in all weekend and be cosy on the sofa.

So I gradually begun making some small changes at the end of the month and start of February instead, largely in an attempt to stop myself falling indefinitely into indifference and laziness outside work hours.

These are things I began doing, or continued doing with increased purpose, which I believe are good for both mental and physical health. Continue reading

Finding a book to get excited about

My summer reading – part two

The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan

the-lovers-dictionaryIf you’re looking for something different, I’ve certainly never experienced anything quite like The Lover’s Dictionary which tells a real and at times fraught love story using dictionary definitions. What’s more, the story is ordered alphabetically rather than chronologically, but segments are always placed thoughtfully and often poignantly in sequence.

Nothing can explain this unusual idea quite like simply picking up the book and seeing for yourself – but I guarantee it will then be difficult to put down. The short definitions – rarely over a page long each – mean it’s spectacularly easy to just keep reading ‘one more’.

But what actually makes this book so special is its beautiful use of language and constantly exquisite yet realistic descriptions of relationships.

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My summer reading – part one

11.22.63 by Stephen King

518yqsjxtblI’m a big Stephen King fan and after the terrific James Franco adaptation of this book earlier this year, I finally got round to reading it.

Although its 750 odd pages were initially daunting, I’ve read other long King books (such as IT, a personal favourite) and once you’ve started they are always richer and more engrossing for their length.

11.22.63 initially sounds totally different to King’s usual thing – more rooted in history, though with an obvious element of the supernatural with the intrinsic time travel, it follows Jake Epping as he accepts a dying man’s challenge to travel back and attempt to save JFK from assassination. They hope it will improve the world for the better if JFK lives – but these are high stakes.

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What I read in June…

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

71rfICBB6WLWow. I don’t want to spoil anything about this book because there are two huge things the reader discovers that aren’t given away in the blurb and it’s all the better for it.

Luckiest Girl Alive follows TifAni FaNelli, a 28-year-old editor at The Women’s Magazine in New York who is engaged to a successful and handsome guy and is generally feeling like she’s got everything she’s ever wanted. But TifAni is about to take part in a documentary about an extremely harrowing event that happened at high school when she was 14 and delving back into her past changes everything.

As a reader you’ll rarely like TifAni but that’s okay. What’s important to me was just that I understood her and all her cruel, self-loathing ways by the end of the book. But more importantly (for me) the plot was totally gripping and kept me turning the pages late into the night.

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What I read in May…

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

goldfinchI was unsure about this one. At 773 pages it would the biggest book I’d read in quite a while, and I’d heard it bigged up as a literary masterpiece. Could I fit that into my schedule and give it enough time for it to have a proper chance? Then I spontaneously borrowed the audiobook from the library, listened to it on my commute (around 55 minutes each way in the car) and quickly became addicted.

It follows Theo Decker whose mother dies when he is 13 in a traumatic terrorist attack in a New York museum from which he escapes with a famous and valuable piece of art. What follows next is a winding road over 13 years from the high society of New York, the desolate and empty new-build streets of Las Vegas where Theo first becomes caught up with alcohol and drugs, back to New York for a lesson in antique furniture dealing, and then onto snowy Amsterdam at Christmas. During all this time the painting is at the forefront of Theo’s mind and the whole is just wonderfully constructed.

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Book Review: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

9781447298908Carry On is a strange beast. Not just a mix of young adult genres – with a magical pinch of fantasy and romance – but also with unusual, meta origins.

The book follows the World of Mages’ Chosen One, Simon Snow, as he enters his final year at the Watford School of Magicks. Throughout there are references to challenges he and his friends, book-smart Penelope and beautiful Agatha, have faced throughout their teen years from mysterious villain the Insidious Humdrum, and altercations with his roommate and sworn enemy, Baz. But the war facing this world is coming to a climax and the Christmas holidays don’t end up being very festive…

For the uninitiated in Rainbow Rowell’s work, the world of Carry On first appeared in her last book, Fangirl, which followed a college student writing her own fan-fiction based on a series of books written by an author called Gemma T. Leslie.

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Book Review: Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

downloadGo Set A Watchman promised to be the literary event of the year, if not the decade. As soon as it was announced that a new novel by Harper Lee had been found, the book-loving world went crazy and there was a huge build up. The interest seemed to die down remarkably quickly after publication though, which unfortunately may be an accurate indictment on the book.

The new release follows Scout, now 26, returning home to Maycomb, Alabama to visit her family – the much-admired Atticus, and her Aunt Alexandra. Her brother Jem is dead and race relations are running high. Scout, now known by her proper name Jean Louise, struggles to comprehend the involvement of her father and sort-of boyfriend, Henry Clinton, in a racist Citizens’ Council.

Unfortunately, the book is rather slower and less compelling than To Kill A Mockingbird. Despite some fascinating insights into the world of America’s South in the 1950s, things plod along after Jean Louise’s discovery – she reaches a better understanding of her family, her town and the world around her but there is little drama or development of interest outside her personal thoughts and conversations.

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Vienna – tourist sights, the great musicians and more

As a long-time Mozart fan who studied music at university, I’ve always wanted to visit Vienna and experience the city historically known as the European capital of music. Equipped with one friend, with the destination of another’s lovely, book-filled apartment, I set off for a long weekend in this beautiful city.

First off, if you’re used to London as I am, Vienna is so quiet. The only places I experienced that had the hustle and bustle of London were a couple of key tourist streets. But this made a nice change of pace and gave us the opportunity to admire the oft-beautiful architecture and feel extremely safe on the roads despite the novelty of the trams (which were way too exciting).

One busy landmark was Schönbrunn Palace, a spectacular imperial residence built in the 1740s-50s. You don’t even need to go inside if you don’t want to because the huge gardens and the magnificent view over the city from the Gloriette are well worth a trip themselves. And that’s before you even get to the fun mazes…

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Two Book Reviews: The Miniaturist and The Versions of Us

24480276The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett called to me from the bookshop shelf, with its blue and yellow snapshots of scenes from the story. It promised to be a descendent of One Day and Sliding Doors, a lofty promise, and it met my expectations.

The book follows Eva and Jim, who meet after a dog crosses her path as she cycles to a seminar in Cambridge in 1958. Three versions of her and Jim’s subsequent conversations and indeed their lives follow; one appears good, one bad and one – who knows? But of course life isn’t that simple and their paths follow countless twists and turns.

The story is a beautiful reminder that life is what you make it and that your choices can make a huge difference in what path you go down. Even more, if there is a real connection or purpose to find, it can be found no matter how long it takes.

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