Friday, December 2, 2016

{2016} November Reading

I am a little, tiny, weeny bit late this month because I am actually attempting to type things without the use of one of my fingers since I cut it open a few days ago and am still waiting for it to heal properly. I am doing okay so far.... XD Onwards!

Books bought/received:
~ War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
~ Remarkable Birds by Mark Avery
~ Ride Free by Jessica Whitman (review)
~ Aisuru by Anma Natsu (review)
~ Someone to Love by Mary Balogh (review)

Books read:
~ Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
~ Asteroid Made of Dragons by G. Derek Adams
~ Spirited: Taking Paganism Beyond the Circle by Gede Parma
~ The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg
~ Wind/Pinball: Two Novels by Haruki Murakami
~ The Slow Fix: Solve Problems, Work Smarter and Live Better in a World Addicted to Speed by Carl Honore
~ Kew Gardens by Virginia Woolf
~ Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1) by Ann Leckie

Library books are wonderful things.

Right! Given my finger is kind of difficult to manage at the moment, this post may be a bit brief. I had a really good reading month! I finished Anna Karenina, which was pretty amazing and was a classic I had always wanted to try. I found it to be really accessible and, if you are wondering about Russian literature, I do recommend it.

All the books I read this month were either my own or borrowed out from the library. [Review books didn't get much of a look-in this month...] I will mention a couple of the standouts: The Encyclopedia of Early Earth is a graphic novel that I have been wanting to read for some time and when it finally came in at the library for me I gulped it down in one sitting. It really is fantastic and left me thinking about world cultures for some time afterwards.

Another honourable mention goes to Ancillary Justice - a book I wanted to read and then stumbled across in a secondhand bookstore in Japan, of all places. (I still have the '500Yen' sticker on the front and refuse to remove it.) I remember reading about 120 pages back when I bought it, but ended up putting it down in favour of another book, so when I returned to it this month I decided to restart it so I could get the full picture properly. This is definitely a book you need to pay attention to whilst reading, but if you can manage that, it is amazing. I have already started the next one.

Amazing and beautiful bird books are a weakness of mine~

I am already well into a couple of books and hoping to finish them soon, plus I have more reserves coming in at the library that I am excited about. Yay for using your local library!

How was your November? Did you read anything wonderful?

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Book Review: Hygge by Charlotte Abrahams

I love reading. Books are amazing. They are a form of escapism, yes, but they are also inspiration, joy, and... well. Goodness. I think in some ways I have used my appetite for reading to define parts of my personality, so it made sense for me to review some of what I read! Here we go...

Title: Hygge: A Celebration of Simple Pleasures. Living the Danish Way
Author: Charlotte Abrahams
Publication Date: October 13th 2016

Synopsis: "Hygge; the wonderfully onomatopoeic Danish word that is so central to Danish culture. Hygge is about cherishing yourself, about making time to enjoy everyday pleasures. It prioritises experiences over things.

When writer Charlotte Abrahams first came across the term, her interest was piqued. Is hygge the reason that Denmark consistently tops world happiness polls? If so, what can non-Danes learn from this approach to life?

Hygge: A Celebration of Simple Pleasures tells the story of her attempts to embrace a more hyggelig life, interwoven with meditations on hygge as a cultural phenomenon and its role in making Denmark such a happy state.

It is also an exploration of contentment. What it is, why it is important and whether allowing ourselves to raise the white flag from time to time can help us to achieve it."

My thoughts: Hygge (pronounced 'hoo-gah') is something that, like Charlotte Abrahams, I have been interested in since I learned of its existence. However, I haven't really done much to research it. Abrahams' book steps in nicely to do that for me! 

The cover is absolutely beautiful, to begin with. I love the simple structure and lovely colours and textures (the black parts you can see are actually kind of velvety!). You can see straightaway that lots of love and care has been put into this book.

Abrahams separates the book into the following sections: Hygge by Design, Hygge Living, and Hygge for the Soul. Hygge by Design was probably my least favourite section, but it did help me to understand the beginning of the Hygge movement of styling and furniture design, and a little background was helpful in the layout for the rest of the book. My favourite section was definitely Hygge for the Soul - how can you turn away from a section where the first part is titled 'The Serious Business of Happiness'? Abrahams writing is gentle and friendly, with just the right balance of both personal story and researched facts, and she really brings it all together in the last section.

Each section has a white page part and a blue page part - the white pages are dedicated to laying everything out before you, talking it through, and offering her own take on things. The blue part gives you checklists and hints on how to apply hygge to the different areas of your life. This is a fantastic layout because I plan to refer to this in the future, and it is great that I can just flip to a blue section to get a short refreshed course rather than having to read through to find the part I remembered about that-one-thing-that-one-time. 

While I personally could have done without some of the information about Danish design, I still think this is a fantastic book worth checking out if you want to implement some Danish-style cherishing in your life. Two (very relaxed) thumbs up.

[I received a review copy of this book from Hachette in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!!]

A favourite line from the book: "The Monday after my hygge Sunday I was out running before seven (without so much as a goodbye to the sleeping boyfriend), and then put in a nine-hour stint in my hut. But the experience of the previous day had a profound effect. It sounds ridiculous; all I had done was take a day off - and a Sunday at that - but thinking about it with a hygge mindset really have made a difference."

You would like this book if: You are interested in hygge; you like beautiful books that have a calming influence while you read them.

Tea to drink while reading this book: A spiced tea of some sort, I believe, would suit this well. Perhaps T2's Spi Chai?

Rating:  8/10

If you'd like to keep up to date with what I'm reading, follow me on Goodreads here!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Book Review: Heartless by Marissa Meyer

I love reading. Books are amazing. They are a form of escapism, yes, but they are also inspiration, joy, and... well. Goodness. I think in some ways I have used my appetite for reading to define parts of my personality, so it made sense for me to review some of what I read! Here we go...

Title: Heartless
Author: Marissa Meyer
Publication Date: November 8th 2016

Synopsis: "Long before she was the terror of Wonderland - the infamous Queen of Hearts - she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.
Catherine has a talent for cooking magical confections that can alter a person's emotions. She wants to open a shop with her best friend and supply the Kingdom of Hearts with delectable pastries and confections. But such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next Queen.
Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans."

My thoughts: I actually finished this book way ahead of time, but I had to take quite a while to figure out my feelings on it, to be honest. It wasn't that I didn't like the book - far from it, in fact - it was that I felt a little overwhelmed by everything, and had some complex stuff coming up.

Let me start with the characters. I absolutely loved the construction of each - characters that I was familiar with from Alice in Wonderland were here, bright and fantastical, with three dimensions and stories to tell. I loved the way Meyer constructed them - they (to me) felt true to the original story whilst also giving them her own artistic spin. Cheshire and Hatta were my favourites (though it isn't normally hard to get me to like the Cheshire cat, his particular breed of madness is one I adore). Catherine was an intriguing character, and while I did have my problems with her at times (I think understandable given the subject of her evolution into the Queen of Hearts), she was always someone that I could follow.

Without giving to much away, I was quite fascinated by the love interest in this book. To begin with, I felt like there was that breathlessness about new romantic possibilities fully present, and I squirmed happily whilst reading those early scenes. However, this is when we got to a few of my issues with the story: the love interest occasionally acted in a way that didn't make any sense to me. Perhaps this will require a reread to fully get the idea of it, but I just felt that said love interest was behaving in a way that didn't really improve the situation for either themselves or Catherine.

The other issue I had was one that may be fairly unique to me, and let me preface this with saying that I know this is a back-story for a villainous character, so a certain amount of terrible things had to happen to said character for her future to make sense. However, I just felt that Meyer may have relied on the other storyline (that of the fearsome Jabberwock) in this tale a little too much for my liking. It began to feel a little like she was following a certain formula: main character gets hopeful about life, romantic interlude of possibility, something bad happens (Jabberwock?), beaten down character gets hopeful against odds, romantic possibility, something bad happens (Jabberwock), and on and on. When I was about three-quarters of the way through the book, I must admit to feeling a little frustrated.

However, that being said, there was always enough of a feeling (a 'what happens next?' feeling) to bring me back and back for more. And I thought the ending was absolutely brilliant. [buttons lips to avoid saying any more and possibly spoiling things.] Regardless of whether Meyer was relying on a formula or not, I definitely enjoyed my time with this book. I only wish she might explore other characters in the Wonderland world - where did Cheshire get the ability to become disappear, perhaps?

[I received a review copy of this book for review from Pan Macmillan in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!!!]

A favourite line from the book: ""Tell me, which answer did he give?" asked Hatta.
"Why is a raven like a writing desk?"
"Oh - because they produce a few notes, though they tend to be very flat." She was proud of herself for remembering, so caught in the performance had she been. "He covered the ballroom in confetti. Little paper notes, all with charming designs."
Hatta twirled the cane. "I always preferred the answer: because they both have quills dipped in ink.""

You would like this book if: You like back-stories of villains; you love books that celebrate Alice in Wonderland/Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Tea to drink while reading this book: Preferably something with rose petals!

Rating:  8/10

If you'd like to keep up to date with what I'm reading, follow me on Goodreads here!

To continue on with the blog tour for Heartless, check out some of the other awesome blogs below!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Book Review: The Zen Kitchen by Adam Liaw

I love reading. Books are amazing. They are a form of escapism, yes, but they are also inspiration, joy, and... well. Goodness. I think in some ways I have used my appetite for reading to define parts of my personality, so it made sense for me to review some of what I read! Here we go...

Title: The Zen Kitchen
Author: Adam Liaw
Publication Date: October 25th 2016

Synopsis: "We love Japanese food. It's fast, healthy, easy and delicious. There's a reason Japan has some of the longest-lived, healthiest and most food-loving people on the planet. The secret is simple preparation of good ingredients, which makes Japanese cuisine perfect for you to cook at home.

If you thought it was just sushi, think again. In The Zen Kitchen, Adam Liaw guides you through his family favourites like Salt-grilled Salmon, Teriyaki Pork and Mushroom Rolls, Sukiyaki, Sashimi Salad, and Green Tea Roll Cake. These delicious dishes, and many more, will bring new favourites into your kitchen.

With Adam's simple and accessible style and his belief that cooking is a celebration of food, philosophy and culture, The Zen Kitchen is your practical guide to cooking tasty Japanese food at home."

My thoughts: This cookbook is fantastic. From the beautiful photography, to the simple and inspiring recipes, even down to the way Liaw discusses the food and culture of Japan, this is just a wonderful book to make things from, or even just to flick through.

I have looked through quite a few Japanese cookbooks, and what I often find is that the recipes seem really fiddly and confusing, and not really geared towards someone who can cook a little, but isn't actually a fully-blown chef. Liaw's book explains everything, right down to the utensils he recommends, and his recipes use ingredients that I actually recognised.

I have already made multiple things from this book, but my favourite so far has been the 'Grandma's Rice Porridge' recipe. I made this on a day when I wasn't feeling my best, and my stomach had actually been bothering me for a few days. This simple, soothing porridge left me feeling happy and pain-free. Something about simmering this lovely bowl of goodness and putting so much care into something I was making for myself led me to feel wonderful about eating it, and I ate it slowly and appreciatively.

And that's the thing about this book - I think Liaw is trying to help us make Japanese cuisine, yes, but he is also trying to help us understand why the Japanese make their food in the way they do: to show ourselves and our loved ones appreciation, love, and to lose ourselves a little in the wonderful food that we can eat.

{I received a review copy of this book from Hachette. Thank you!}

A favourite line from the book: This book contains ancient Japanese proverbs, and Liaw's discussion of them. My favourite so far? Isshoku dougen. 'Medicine and food have the same origin.'

You would like this book if: You like Japanese foods!

Tea to drink while reading this book: Oh definitely a good, old-fashioned genmaicha.

Rating:  10/10

If you'd like to keep up to date with what I'm reading, follow me on Goodreads here!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

{2016} October Reading

Books bought/received:
~ Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2) by Leigh Bardugo
~ The Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly
~ Spirited by Gede Parma (gift from a friend!)
~ Peggy & Me by Miranda Hart (review)
~ Moon Chosen by P. C. Cast (review)
~ Hygge by Charlotte Abrahams (review)

~ The Zen Kitchen by Adam Liaw (review)
~ Asteroid Made of Dragons by G. Derek Adams
~ Badgerlands by Patrick Barkham

badgery badgery goodness...

Books read:
~ The Fish Ladder: A Journey Upstream by Katharine Norbury
~ Imprudence (Custard Protocol #2) by Gail Carriger
~ Heartless by Marissa Meyer (review)
~ Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2) by Leigh Bardugo
~ Ouran High School Host Club Manga (books #2-18) by Bisco Hatori
~ Undying: A Love Story by Michel Faber
~ The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life by Andy Miller
~ Girl Up by Laura Bates
~ Hygge by Charlotte Abrahams (review)
~ The Zen Kitchen by Adam Liaw (review)

Reading reading...

Well! This month was quite a good one! I read hardly any bad books, and finished an entire series of manga that I have been meaning to read for years! I am very pleased :D

At the start of the month I got back into a bit of a nature writing kick and decided to read whatever books from this year's Wainwright shortlist I could find - thus The Fish Ladder. It was absolutely wonderful and I was completely immersed in it from start to finish - wonderfully written. 

From there, I went on a bit of a YA-themed kick, finishing off Imprudence (which may actually be adult? Not sure!), Heartless, and Crooked Kingdom. Each of them were fantastic in their own ways - Imprudence left me wanting the next book (not due to come out til 2018 I think?) and Crooked Kingdom left me a bit broken and fascinated by the characters that Bardugo had created. I am a bit in love with that duology and may revisit it very soon. For my thoughts on Heartless, you will have to wait until November 14th, which is when my review is scheduled to go up.

Such a gorgeous cover...

Ouran.... Oh how I love me some Ouran.... I fell in love with the anime years and years ago, and when I came across it recently and began rewatching it, I fell in love with it all over again. I had often heard whispers that the manga went on after the anime storyline had finished, and that things happened, and so, when a friend of mine got the entire boxset of manga, I immediately borrowed it from him and committed myself to finishing it in its entirety. It was so worth it. I am now absolutely so deeply in love with this series that I want to own everything for myself. That may have to wait til I have money...

Undying by Michel Faber is a collection of poetry that I bought a few months back, but never really got around to finishing. I am so glad I did. This collection is about Faber's wife and her battle with cancer, and her death. It is about how they met, what their relationship was like, and what it was like for Faber to lose her. Beautiful and heartbreaking.

And now we move on to the nonfiction section! After watching one of my favourite booktubers, Jen Campbell, attend a book convention and meeting a few authors, I decided to see if my local library had some of the books she mentioned. The Year of Reading Dangerously and Girl Up quickly came to my hands and were gobbled up within days of each other. Reading Dangerously absolutely floored me - I adore books about reading, and this one reminded me that certain books just deserve to be read. Sometimes books just get on your radar and you try to dismiss them but they just keep coming back.... Needless to say, this book kind of changed my thinking a little bit, and I love that. Girl Up was also an eye-opener, and I found myself crying and feeling so sad and angry about certain things, but also feeling hopeful for the future and more fired up than ever about feminism and my right to research more into this topic. Laura Bates is fantastic.

Hygge and The Zen Kitchen arrived together in a package and I was so excited to receive them. Hygge was a fantastic read that I completed in about a day, and I really connected with the whole idea of this calm contentment that is a main theme of Danish life. I believe I will be revisiting this one. As I will with The Zen Kitchen - so many Japanese cookbooks leave me feeling baffled and disheartened, but this one has recipes that I actually want to try (and have already tried!) and I tend to recognise almost all the ingredients, which is fantastic and makes me excited about making Japanese food in my own kitchen!

Snacks and reading! :D

So that was my October! Not too shabby, I have to say. What are you reading at the moment? Are their any manga series that have stayed close in your heart?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Feeling my way forwards.

You know when it is dark, and you can't see anything, you tend to automatically reach out your hands to try and feel for any bad things that might be coming, that might be about to hit you in the face? Your steps are kind of jittery, juddering, shakily feeling forward to avoid tripping. You are kind of fearful, worried, afraid of the unknown.

I feel like grief is kind of like that. Whatever you are grieving, sometimes it is not someone you know passing away, sometimes it is losing a friendship, losing a sense of groundedness or connection, losing a part of yourself that you thought would be there forever. In your grief, you are in the dark. This is not some logical progression, a step-by-step instruction list that you can follow to get from A to B. This is just the unknown, and you are sitting right in the middle of it.

And this darkness is so complete that sometimes you're not even sure if you are moving forward, or just going around in circles, or somehow, hopefully not, going backward.

Grief is a lesson in patience, one that I never feel ready or capable of learning. I am often feeling like I am fine, like I am moving out of it, like I am coping well, and then my foot will catch on something and suddenly I am completely unsure of myself again, lost back in the darkness, fumbling for the light.

There is not much else to say here, no deep wisdom to impart, just a reminder to you (to myself) to be gentle. To commit yourself to any simple thing you can do - even if it's just getting up to get a glass of water. Feel the glass under your fingers, listen to the water as it enters the cup, and really feel the water as you drink it. It may sound silly, but even just experiencing that much can draw you back, can restore a little bit of confidence to you.

All my love to those who read.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Book Review: Grown & Gathered by Matt and Lentil Purbrick

I love reading. Books are amazing. They are a form of escapism, yes, but they are also inspiration, joy, and... well. Goodness. I think in some ways I have used my appetite for reading to define parts of my personality, so it made sense for me to review some of what I read! Here we go...

Title: Grown & Gathered
Author: Matt and Lentil Purbrick
Publication Date: September 27th 2016

Synopsis: "In this, their first book, Matt and Lentil share all of their growing, gathering, preserving and cooking secrets. It is a practical guide to traditional skills in a modern world, with information, advice and projects for everyone, whether you have access to acres of farmland or barely a balcony. Learn how to grow your own vegetables, herbs and fruits the way nature intended; forage for wild mushrooms and edible weeds; raise your own animals, like chickens and bees; seek out the very best produce that exists; and trade without money to experience a new level of connection with those around you.

Included are over 100 delicious, creative wholefood recipes from Matt and Lentil's seasonal, regional diet. Make your own cultured butter, feta, and sourdough starter; bake a fresh loaf of sourdough bread; fry up some sourdough crumpets; and ferment traditional dill pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut and natural wine. You can bottle some pear and eggplant kasundi, impress with homemade green tomato ketchup, cure and smoke bacon the traditional way, and even can your own tuna at home.

If you believe in living thoughtfully, knowing where your food comes from and prioritising health, food, family, friends, and fun, then this book is for you."

My thoughts: Let me just say first up: this is an absolutely beautiful book. The photography is fantastic and manages to convey Matt and Lentil's personalities - which also comes through in the writing. It is a wonderful pairing.

The book takes you through seven main sections: Observe, Grow, Gather, Nurture, Trade, Seek, and Eat. Each one is fascinating to read about - even if you are not in a place to be able to have your own chickens or bees, for example, you might still enjoy reading about them in the Nurture section. The tone is informative and yet so friendly and warm - what comes through in this book over and over again is how much Matt and Lentil love the land, their animals, and their bodies (by putting the good things in!). 

The main thing I have gotten out of this book (so far!) is a changed view of how I prepare legumes/beans. When Matt and Lentil explain about the difficulty that human bodies go through in digesting certain parts of legumes, I started buying my beans in dry formats, soaking them, and then cooking them for the recommended time in the book (I started with chickpeas, which took 4 hours to cook!). The result? Buttery, wonderful, tasty beans that don't make my stomach hurt after eating them. Since that first venture, I have been happily soaking and cooking my beans whenever we need them, and I have to say it makes me feel good, and also makes our home seem cosier somehow!

I am not sure what else to say about this book except that it is a wonderful experience to even glance through it, and I hope that you will get a chance to get your hands on a copy to enjoy.

(I received a review copy of this book from Pan Macmillan in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!!)

A favourite line from the book: "To your future garden, full pantry, warm home, celebrations and happy everyday routines. This book is dedicated to making change, to experiencing life fully, being brave and bold, and to a bright future. We hope that one day 'organic farming' will just be called farming again and 'whole foods' will just be called food.

With our love. We wrote this for you."

You would like this book if: You feel a connection to the land, and to the things you eat; you want to grow food for your family.

Tea to drink while reading this book: Perhaps some fresh mint tea using leaves from the mint plant in your garden?

Rating:  10/10
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