Monday, 30 July 2012

Review: Alba by Rachel King

I got this book free at the Healthy Planet free books place, so it's not something I would usually pick up and read, and to be honest I'm still not sure what to think of it.

The story follows Alba, a single albino schoolteacher who lives with her controlling, judgemental mother who does not allow her to express herself, and who checks her underwear drawer for signs that she has 'been with a man'. Alba has white hair, translucent skin and eyes the colour of rain. Her striking, unusual beauty has caught the attention of her headmaster, Kirkwood, who appears to be suave and charming, the black to Alba's white, but who really wishes to possess Alba for himself. In contrast there is Dutch, the outsider, who wishes to set Alba free. After the sudden death of her mother, Alba finds herself at once free to pursue her own interests, but at the same time trapped between these two very different men and their equally manipulative desires.

My main criticism is that I found the writing style to be a little bit too poetic, as if the author was consciously trying to be clever at all times. There are parts which are very well written and enjoyable, but sometimes I found myself having to reread a paragraph a few times just to figure out what was actually going on.

The story itself was interesting and contained enough twists and turns to keep me hooked, but I guess it just wasn't really to my taste. It was a bit too dark and twisted and I didn't find any of the characters particularly likeable. However, that was just my personal preference, and this story is otherwise very unusual and powerful, and remained in my mind for a long time afterwards despite my criticisms.

Alba gets 3 out of 5


I haven't posted in over a week! What's been happening in my dull life?

  • My proofreading job has kicked off, I've done about 8 or 9 so far over the last week and I've been getting around 2 each day so it's keeping my brain cells in tip-top condition!
  • I've got an interview on Thursday for a 6 week work experience at Fusion People, which is the main company that the CV company belongs to. I'm a bit nervous but it should be fine as long as this horrible cold goes away soon.
  • I've developed a horrible cold out of nowhere (see above!)
  • My parents and Isaac are away for another two weeks in Greece, but my older brother Alexis will be coming home this Thursday from New Zealand, as his friend who he was travelling with had to go home because of a family problem. 
  • I finally got around to cleaning out the fridge and found a mouldy potato in a ziplock bag. I don't know who decided to put a single potato in a bag in the fridge.
  • My cat is seriously driving me up the wall with her incessant screechy meowing. She asks for food and then turns her nose up at it when I put it in her bowl. I've decided not to bother fussing over her, if she's that hungry she'll eat what she's given. Hmph.
  • I went out on Friday night, for a girls' night out to Babylon, which is a club that exclusively plays songs from the 90s. It was great fun and I can't wait to go out again.
  • I've been bitten by mosquitos and it's horrible. My legs are covered in pink spots and I look like I've got a disease. 
  • That's about it, to be honest. 
Here is a picture of me, Emma and Lyndsey doing our best duck faces:

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Review: One Day by David Nicholls

This book kept catching my eye in the charity shop but I put off buying it for ages, thinking it would be your usual sappy fairytale romance. Eventually I caved and I'm very glad I did. One Day was not at all what I'd expected. Rather than a warm, fuzzy love story, this is all about missed opportunities, loneliness, and the unfortunate habit life has of getting in the way of all our plans. 

The story begins with Emma and Dexter laying in bed the morning after their graduation in 1988. They've spent the night together, and will soon be leaving Edinburgh to return to their respective families and do not expect to see each other again. Despite this, they are brightly optimistic about what the future has in store for them.

Each chapter sees what Em and Dex are up to on the anniversaries of their first night together, spanning the next twenty years and revealing the ways in which their lives live up to and defy the expectations they had in their early twenties.

After leaving university, Dex and Em remain close friends, calling and writing to each other and meeting up as often as they can, despite their very different lifestyles. Em finds herself stuck in a depressing and low-paying job in a restaurant chain, whilst Dex moves up his career ladder in the media and becomes a successful TV presenter. As Dex embraces the celebrity lifestyle, he and Em drift apart as he prefers to spend time with his shallow, fashionable friends and feels that Em is no longer worthy of him. However, as his luck runs out, he realises that she is his only true friend, and that he needs her more than ever. 

Despite Dex's selfish behaviour towards Em, it is clear from the start that they will eventually get together. But this is not your typical happily-ever-after story, and life throws a lot of obstacles in their way, leaving the reader wondering what else could possibly go wrong. The changing backdrop of life from the eighties to the new millennium provides a lot of humour and poignancy as a social commentary on life in Britain and the changing fads and lifestyles, from the introduction of mobile phones (and everybody eventually caving in after swearing they would never buy one!) to the rising popularity of posh organic sandwiches.

I found myself becoming attached to both Em and Dex, who were extremely well-written, believable characters. Despite their flaws, they are both very sympathetic, and their banter (oh how I hate that word!) is so hilarious and sweet that it is clear from the start that they belong together. I also enjoyed the minor characters, such as Ian the failed comedian and the recurring appearances of Em and Dex's friends from university, and the way they changed as they grew older.

As usual after reading a good book, I kind of want to see the film adaptation, but I also kind of don't, because I'm scared it will be disappointing compared to the source material, and that they will probably have turned the film into a slushy sad romance a-la The Notebook and taken out all the other sides to the story. So I think I'll leave it for now, and simply recommend this brilliant book for its combination of humour, romance, tragedy and social commentary, all rolled up into one very enjoyable read. 

Now I'm off to go and make the most of my next twenty years and appreciate what I have before life cruelly ruins everything! 

Friday, 20 July 2012

Folksy Friday - Daisies

For this week's Folksy Friday I'm doing a 'daisy' theme to celebrate the possibly-hopefully-fingers-crossed nicer weather we'll be having soon. Also, Daisy is one of my middle names :) Take a look at these beautiful items I've picked out, perfect to put you in the mood for sitting in a summery meadow!

Daisy Daisy 8x8" Print by Lola's Room
Vintage 70s Daisy Cushion by Little Sally Waters
Sterling Silver & 18ct Gold Daisy Ring by Prooshan Blue
Cute Daisy Bow Dress by Moth
Pressed Daisy Hair Pins by Wishes onthe Wind
Daisy Hare Glass Sculpture by Rachel Elliott Glassworks
Daisy Necklace by Chikako Jewellery
Ox-Eye Daisy Cushion by Briars Designs
White Daisy Tiara by Love Little White Dove
Daisy, Daisy Necklace by Geek Chic Jewellery

Thanks to all the brilliant crafters whose items I have featured in this post, and I hope we get some nice weather - and maybe even some real daisies - very soon!

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Book Things!

30 Coolest Alternative Book Covers - Redesigns of cover art for classic and popular books. I especially love the ones for The Catcher in the Rye, Alice in Wonderland and A Clockwork Orange - the simplest designs are the most iconic.

Judging a Book by its Cover - This blogger showed her six-year-old daughter the covers of some well-known novels and asked her to guess what they were about, with some very cute and funny results!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Review: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.

The Lovely Bones is a rich and powerful novel about a family coping with the extreme grief and trauma of a child being abducted and murdered. It is narrated by Susie herself, who is watching from Heaven as her family and friends grow up without her. In this story, Heaven is different for each person, and you can have anything you want. Susie's Heaven is a poignant reflection of what any teenager would wish for - just like her school playground, except 'there were no teachers... We never had to go inside except for art class... The boys did not pinch our backsides or tell us we smelled; our textbooks were Seventeen and Glamour and Vogue'  She also surrounds herself with dogs, and is able to interact with other people whose Heavens are similar to hers.
What could have been a truly dark, depressing story is actually filled with hope and beauty, as it follows the lives of each member of the Salmon family, as well as Susie's friend and the boy with whom Susie had her first kiss shortly before being murdered. Susie's younger sister begins a relationship with a boy shortly after Susie's death. They stay together for years and eventually get engaged, much to Susie's delight. Her parents break up due to the immense stress Susie's death puts upon their relationship, and her mother travels to California and starts a new life. 
This is not a religious story, and Sebold does not force her view of life after death onto the reader. It is an uplifting idea of what might happen to people when they die, and the thought that they can watch us and that we will one day be reunited is a comforting one. But it can just as easily be taken as fantasy.
I found The Lovely Bones impossible to put down, as I was so invested in the lives of these characters. It is beautifully written and so, so, so much better than the film, which my mum and I both agreed got the story completely wrong and missed the point of the book! They just don't compare at all. 

Review: Hugh Fearlessly Eats It All

Everyone knows I'm a teeny bit obsessed with food - I'm an obese person trapped (thankfully) in a small body. I recently got shown this cool place in Havant where you can get free books which would otherwise be sent to landfill, so you're helping out the environment by recycling as well as getting some new books free of charge. I picked this one out because it's not the kind of book I would pay money for, but it's pretty interesting and easy to dip into rather than reading in one full sitting.
This book is a collection of his best and most controversial articles over the years. Hugh's agenda is a really positive one - rather than telling people never to eat meat and making them ashamed for being animal murderers, he encourages people to enjoy good quality meat from animals who were treated well, and to cook the meat in a delicious way so as to make the most of it. A lot of his articles are slating the fast food industry for their treatment of animals and the quality and nutrition of their products, and to be honest some parts did make me reconsider my love of McNuggets (I know, I'm disgusting...)
He also talks a lot about his personal experiences with food, from raising his own animals for meat, to unusual foods he's eaten (Fugu fish in Japan, and sheep's brains for example!), and fond memories of home cooking with his family. Scattered amongst these stories are recipes so you can try some of these foods yourself. I was actually quite tempted to make the tuna and egg sandwich filling he used to eat as a student, because it actually sounds amazing...!
As we all know, Hugh can be a bit of a food snob at times, and some of his articles did some across as quite patronising and out-of-touch with what 'normal' people can feasibly afford and have time to prepare. Supermarkets may be taking over the privately-owned butchers and emulsifying the country's food into bland mass-produced crap, but most people don't have the time or money to travel further afield and shop in multiple butchers and greengrocers to get their weekly shop, especially those with families and demanding jobs.  Still, I find this with most chefs, even the supposedly down-to-earth chummy ones like Jamie Oliver seem to think everyone has a fridge bursting with fresh local ingredients and hours to spend preparing the family meal each day!
Anyway, grumbles aside, this book was entertaining and informative, and the articles were varied enough to keep my attention. There is a bit of repetition, as these pieces were obviously written years apart and for separate publications, but you could be forgiven for thinking Hugh has a bit of an obsession with sheep's brains with the number of times he mentions them in different articles! 


I haven't posted in ages again, because I have been overworking at the charity shop and generally being too mopey to think of anything to say. I missed Folksy Friday this week because I worked 8 hours at British Heart and when I got home I wanted to curl into a ball. Anyway, life is more-or-less the same as ever: I'm completely broke, and I'm waiting to hear about this proofreading job and getting paranoid that eventually everyone will go "Aha, it's a hoax!' and shoot confetti at me or something like that...because that's the kind of thing that always happens to me. Well okay, not really.

I'm also looking into getting some work experience with the Navy News which my grandad used to work for (or knows someone who did, or something) because it seems like this whole job thing is about who you know, not what you know. So that would be really good if I could do that, because it's nearby and it would give me some much-needed experience with editing, even if it was mostly just photocopying and making cups of tea.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Good luck

The last few days have been really good - I've had two bits of good luck! Firstly, I've got a sort-of-kind-of job, thanks to my friend Marie who put my name forward at her job. The final arrangements just have to be sorted out, and then I'll be proofreading CVs for spelling and grammar mistakes, getting paid per CV and working from home. It's not going to be a huge wage but it's much better than anything else I could get right now,and it's really good editing experience to put on my CV.

The other cool thing that happened was that I got back in touch with my friends Emma and Lyndsey (Marie as well, but I was sort of in touch with her already!) who I was really close with all through school and college, but drifted out of contact when we all went to different universities. We went out for a drink and a catch up on Saturday evening, and I had such a lovely time. It's great to finally have a group of friends I can talk about girly things with!

And we all promised we wouldn't lose contact again. Em and I met up again this afternoon because we both had some errands to do in Havant. We had lunch and amazing hot chocolate, and we both booked to have our hair cut on Thursday, because mine is seriously in need of a trim even if I can't afford to have my roots redone at the moment - I'm hoping they look better when my hair is shorter and messier. Em also signed up to volunteer at British Heart with me. We got some free books from the free book place, then we went back to her house and watched Tangled. Good times all round!

So now I have a social life and a sort-of-job, things are looking a lot better than they were this time last week.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Folksy Friday - Books!

I didn't get around to doing Folksy Friday last week, because I was busy all day at the charity shop and I just plain forgot about it once I got home! I could have done it the next day instead, but 'Folksy Saturday' just doesn't have the same ring to it ... Anyway, to make up for it, this week's Folksy Friday is extra special, with a literary theme to match all the book reviews I've been writing lately. I've found some beautiful notebooks as well as some lovely book-related jewellery and accessories.

I have a thing about notebooks. I keep almost buying new ones for myself, before I remember I'm no longer at University and I don't really have a use for them any more. D'oh! Perhaps I should start sitting in coffee shops or park benches and writing in fancy notebooks so I can look all sophisticated like.

Anyway without further ado, I present to you this week's Folksy picks!

Penguin Classics Cameo Brooch by Literary Emporium

Happy Matryoshka Notebook by Handmade by Edwina

Upcycled 1985 Topper Notebook by Peony and Thistle
Harry Potter Book Charm Bracelet by KawaiiCandyCouture Jewellery

Book Locket and Key Necklace by Josephines

Butterfly Notepad by Ginger's Altered Bits

Sketchbook by Beetrootshed1

Caterpillar Bookends by Gigglewood Crafts

Sherlock Book Earrings by Bookity

Book Handbag by Pendipidy Book Bags 

Thanks to all the talented crafters whose items I have featured in this post, and I will be back next week with another Folksy Friday (no more slacking this time!)

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Review: Room, by Emma Donoghue

Wow. I seem to have a skill at picking the most depressing books at the moment. Room is possibly one of the most harrowing and disturbing stories I have ever read.

Jack is five, and he lives an an 11ft square room with his Ma. He has never been outside, and the room is the only world he knows. It is his entire universe. His only access to the outside world is through watching TV, and he is not aware that these things actually exist somewhere. Through Jack's innocent and stilted narration, and his conversations with Ma as she tries hard to explain the truth in a way that he will understand, the reader learns that Ma was kidnapped and locked in this room seven years ago, and that her captor frequently visits to rape her and to drop off food and supplies. 

Ma (we never find out her real name) is a wonderful mother and does the best she can in the horrible circumstances. She has taught Jack to read and write to a very high standard, she makes sure Jack exercises and stays healthy, and she helps Jack to make toys and games out of what little they have. She is determined to escape and has a regular schedule of flashing the lights on and off to try and attract attention, and shouting for help (which she disguises from Jack by pretending it is a game). But after their electricity is switched off for several days as punishment, Ma knows they must act fast if they want to get out alive. Together, she and Jack form a plan that will allow them to escape. This involves explaining to Jack that there is a whole world outside the room, something which he finds conceptually very difficult to understand.

The plan works, and Jack and Ma find themselves free at last, but both of them suffer horribly from the sudden change. Ma is reunited with her family, who believed she was dead and have already grieved and moved on with their lives. She struggles to adapt to normal life again after missing so much, and has a breakdown after an insensitive TV interview. For Jack on the other hand, everything is new and scary. He doesn't understand how to behave around other people, and is terrified of everything. Most of all, he wants to go back and live in the room where everything felt safe and familiar, and he can't understand why Ma doesn't feel the same. He wants all his things back, the dirty carpet and his old cutlery and damaged books, but Ma never wants to look at them again.

The whole story is told from Jack's point of view, but through his observation we see the damage this trauma has done not only to him, but to his mother and her long-lost family. It is a very thought-provoking and challenging read, and it left me feeling emotionally drained. The story ends on a fairly positive note, although it is clear that many more challenges lie ahead for Jack and Ma.

Room has to get a 5/5, because it is incredibly well written and researched, and has been the most emotionally affecting book I've read since The Book Thief. I would definitely recommend this book but I must warn you that there are some references to sexual and physical abuse which are pretty horrible despite being quite subtle. This is a book to be read in one sitting and then moped over for a few hours after, so set aside plenty of time and make sure you have a box of tissues handy, and maybe a nice Disney film or Rom-Com to watch afterwards to cheer yourself up!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012


I love looking at the things people searched to get to my blog:

The fact that not one but two people felt the need to type 'hairy gross man' into Google absolutely cracks me up. And the three people who searched for 'nice guys eyebrows' must have been really disappointed when they clicked the link and found out that it was not, in fact, a blog filled with pictures of sexy eyebrows (??) but simply a collection of posts about the life of the world's most boring person.

But it is a bit creepy, making people's search terms public like that.

So! Anyway!

I have received two rejection emails from the lowest-rung jobs I have applied to. Even ASDA won't take me. They happily employed my antisocial eighty-year-old next door neighbour as a checkout lady, even though she constantly chews gum and calls her solicitor every time a leaf blows over our fence and into her garden ... but they won't even employ me - friendly, polite, hard-working me - to put yoghurts and toilet rolls onto a shelf. What is this world coming to?

I finally got around to filling in the form to start claiming Job Seeker's Allowance. It's a depressing thing to have to do, because it's basically admitting to myself, "Fuck, I can't get a job! I am literally unemployable!" Also I'll have to go to a load of meetings to prove that I'm looking for a job rather than just pretending to so I can sponge money off of them. When in fact, I would do literally anything if they'd just give me a chance  -  I would be a professional armpit-sniffer if it gave me a paycheck and something to do with my life!

Mainly I just feel useless. I'm a graduate with a 2:1 and I can't even get a job as a trolley-pusher. It's not even about the money, it's just feeling like I was lied to all through school and college when I was told I'd get a good job one day if I worked hard. Well, I could have dropped out of school and still had some chance at getting at least a job. Now, I'm considered overqualified for half the jobs and too inexperienced for the other half. I feel lazy and like I'm just leeching off of John and my parents.

So wow, this really really sucks! 

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Review: Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Tessa is sixteen, and has just found out that the leukaemia she has been fighting for four years is terminal. She doesn't have long left. With the help of her best friend Zoe, she sets on completing the list of things she wants to do before she dies. But these things are far from sentimental, including sex, drugs, and breaking the law. At first Zoe is enthusiastic about helping Tessa out, but when she discovers she is pregnant she finds it frustrating having to put her own life on hold for Tessa.

One day Tessa meets Adam, her next door neighbour, who is looking after his unstable mother since his father passed away. Together they form an inseparable bond and Tessa is able to cross 'fall in love' off her list. Part of what makes Tessa's story so heartbreaking is that she isn't afraid of dying, she just wishes she had more time, especially since meeting Adam: "I don't want to be dead," she says at one point, "I haven't been loved this way for long enough." She also desperately wants to meet Zoe's baby, but knows she'll die before the baby arrives.

Despite the very poignant subject, Downham manages to refrain from being overly sentimental. Tessa is far from perfect - she can be selfish, rude, and often pushes people away, just like any normal teenager. The story is told in first person and Tessa talks about everything in a very matter-of-fact way. Her thoughts on death are revealed through the descriptions of everyday things she encounters, such as her reaction to a dead bird that Adam and her brother Cal help to bury, and a hotel room she stayed in with her family when she was much younger, which has since been renovated and her name is no longer written on the inside of the wardrobe. She is afraid of being forgotten. 

There is also a lot of description of unpleasant things, which most stories of this kind would avoid for the purpose of sentimentality. The hospital visits are described with simple clarity, and in the last few pages as Tessa is passing away, Adam and Cal talk about hearing the sound of the fluid rattling in her lungs. There is no beauty in Tessa's death, but in the relationships she forms with those around her, who she has to leave behind. Adam's devotion to her, her parents' differing ways of coping, and her little brother Cal's attempts at coming to terms with her death - all of these are written very realistically, with the characters getting frustrated with each other and with Tessa, wishing they could move on with their own lives, and feeling guilty that they couldn't do more to help. 

Overall, I felt that this book was brilliantly written. It is difficult to write about such an unhappy subject without turning to sentimentality and doom and gloom, but the voice of Tessa is very genuine and at times she makes jokes and even forgets that she is ill. The final few chapters are especially well-written, and Downham tackles the dilemma of writing about a character dying in the first person very effectively. I found it difficult to put this book down, and the story stayed with me for a few days after I'd finished reading it. 

Review: We are all Made of Glue by Marina Lewycka

After her husband walks out on her, Georgie finds herself becoming involved in the life of her glamorous and eccentric neighbour, Mrs Shapiro. Mrs Shapiro lives with an army of cats in a dilapidated and filthy mansion, and when she slips on ice and breaks her wrist, the local estate agents begin sniffing around in hopes of buying the property from her. Georgie takes on the task of keeping the house safe, with the help of a Palestinian builder and his sons. Meanwhile at home, Georgie's teenage son is behaving very strangely, having turned to religion for fear that the world is going to end. 

The characters are written with great attention to detail, and Lewycka delights in describing all the horrible details such as the state of Mrs Shapiro's house, her clothes, and the disgusting food she serves. The estate agents and social workers are comically evil, like pantomime villains. However, beneath all this shock and humour is the harrowing story of Mrs Shapiro's past, narrowly escaping the Holocaust in 1940s Europe. There is also a thread focusing on the Arab-Israeli conflict, as told by Ali the builder. These two storylines sometimes feel a bit uncomfortable when placed side-by-side with the slapstick of the present events, and the sudden shift from the horrors of war to 'Wonder Boy' the cat doing something silly can be a bit jarring. I also found the storyline about Georgie's son a bit unnecessary; it didn't seem to add anything to the plot. It feels a bit like Lewycka has tried to fit too many stories into this book, and they don't fit together particularly well. 

However, Lewycka's trademark dark humour and vivid characterisation make up for the somewhat stretched plot, and I found this book enjoyable to read for the characters alone. I would say that this book feels a bit weaker than Lewycka's previous novels, but is still worth reading if you are a fan of hers.

3/5 - great characters and description, overly complex plot.