Spending Diet

Today I’m going to talk about something that I haven’t before on this blog, and that topic is money.

Since the beginning of the year especially, and after reading The No Spend Year, I’ve been attempting to become more conscious with where my money is going and what I’m putting into savings every month. In the last week, I’ve accepted an offer for a masters degree, which although is a really exciting opportunity, comes with a whole host of new financial worries. With my fees for one year of study coming to just over £6k, and the government loan for postgraduates stuck at £10k, there will have to be some serious lifestyle changes that come with my next round of studies. That’s not even including this summer, where I will be getting no support from student finance, and even with working extra hours will have nothing left over once the essentials have been paid.

I will be keeping my current part time job in order to help pay the bills, and luckily with the loan and my income combined, all the basics will be covered during term time, leaving about £60 a month spare. Although this is much more than I ever had ‘spare’ for the majority of my life (and even the majority of my degree), since having a little extra income my spending choices have adapted to meet my disposable income.

So, in light of this, I’ve decided to put myself on a spending diet, from now until graduation. Instead of doing the tempting thing, which would be to ‘make the most’ of my spare money while I still have it, I will bring down my spending to what it will have to be over the next year. Everything that I have coming in that is ‘extra’ will go straight into my savings account, meaning that if I do desperately need more than what I have coming in next year, I can feel more comfortable dipping into what I’ve put aside.

I’m also hoping that choosing to reduce my spending now, as opposed to being forced to come September, will make the transition easier and that I won’t feel tempted to over spend or use up my savings.

I’m hoping to keep a mini weekly diary of my spending in order to keep track of it, as well as little ways that I’ve managed to save money on day to day costs.

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Countless, Karen Gregory

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When Hedda discovers she is pregnant, she doesn’t believe she could ever look after a baby. The numbers just don’t add up. She is young, and still in the grip of an eating disorder that controls every aspect of how she goes about her daily life. She’s even given her eating disorder a name – Nia. But as the days tick by, Hedda comes to a decision: she and Nia will call a truce, just until the baby is born. 17 weeks, 119 days, 357 meals. She can do it, if she takes it one day at a time …

Heartbreaking and hopeful by turns, Karen Gregory’s debut novel is a story of love, heartache and human resilience. And how the things that matter most can’t be counted. Perfect for fans of Lisa Williamson, Non Pratt and Sarah Crossan.

CONTENT WARNING: Eating Disorders (anorexia, binging, and restriction)

 

Why I picked this book up:

I requested this book because I was curious to see how issues of mental health and pregnancy would be handled, and I was interested in a YA novel set in the UK, as almost everything I’ve read in the YA Contemporary genre has been very American-centric.

 

The bad:

Honestly, there was nothing negative to say about this book, other than the possibility that it my be triggering to ED sufferers due to some details about Hedda’s methods of restriction and obsession with other women’s weight. Other than that, the topic of the main character’s eating disorder was handled well – great details and insight were included regarding Hedda’s recovery and relapse without making this novel a handbook on how to lie about food and lose weight as some others on the topic can tend to be.

 

The good:

Wow. Just wow. At times this book winded me with descriptions of Hedda’s self-hatred, with her two halves battling towards health but also towards her anorexia, which she refers to as ‘Nia’. The way Nia is personified is so chilling, and was a great narrative device in order to convey often inexplicable emotions. There was a moment where I was worried that a love interest would become the ‘cure’ or the main plot, but Gregory allows any romance to become background to Hedda’s personal journey, with her feelings used as a way to demonstrate her self-destructive behaviour rather than something that felt shoe-horned in to make the book sell (which is a trope I feel that a lot of debut authors fall foul of). Hedda was also a great and flawed character, selfish due to her illness, but also deeply passionate, analytical and efficient, with a wicked sarcastic sense of humour. Overall this book was tragic, hopeful, and beautiful, exploring motherhood, mental health, learning to trust others with your problems, and the difficult to break spiral of self-loathing. Hedda is never ‘cured’, but her steps towards self-improvement are inspiring and heart-wrenching.

 

Overall rating: 4.5

 

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: 1984, George Orwell

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✮✮✮✮☆

The year 1984 has come and gone, but George Orwell’s prophetic, nightmarish vision in 1949 of the world we were becoming is timelier than ever. 1984 is still the great modern classic of “negative utopia” -a startlingly original and haunting novel that creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing, from the first sentence to the last four words. No one can deny the novel’s hold on the imaginations of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions -a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.

 

Why I picked this book up:

I’d read this book a good few years ago, but as it climbed higher up the bestsellers list over the last few weeks (three guesses as to why) I realised that I hardly remembered anything about the book itself, or even the majority of the characters. Luckily this classic is fairly short one that I could dip in and out of during a hectic week of job interviews and class presentations.

 

The bad:

As you can probably tell from the 4 star rating, I did thoroughly enjoy this book – that being said, I don’t think it was anywhere near perfect in its construction. The first hundred pages, until the character of Julia comes into play, is almost entirely exposition told through the quite boring day to day activities of Winston. I also felt that when Orwell included passages from the book, these 5 page excerpts were quickly condensed by Winston’s internal monologue immediately after, so felt very unnecessary and clunky in what was a very fast paced section of the book. If I’m really being picky, in places the political messages felt a little over-stated, with some passages, such as that on the creation of newspeak, extremely intelligent and deftly handled, whereas others, such as when Winston discovers a photograph of some inner circle members, were a little overdramatic and lacked the nuance so much of the book contained.

 

The good:

Despite my few small problems with the narrative, this reread really cemented how excellent and relevant this novel still is. Orwell’s exploration of intellectual freedom, language, and different forms of rebellion is like nothing else I’ve read, and so clearly defined a genre that is continuously replicated today. The dark and menacing ending acts as a warning and stark reminder of political powers that go unchecked, and how rebelling can be as large as standing up to corrupt leaders, or simply finding the beauty in life that those in power would have you forget.

 

Favourite quote:

“Being in a minority, even a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.”

 

Overall rating: 4/5

February ’17 Wrap-Up

Books Bought:

  • The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell
  • The Ashes of London – Andrew Taylor
  • How to be Both – Ali Smith
  • White Teeth – Zadie Smith
  • On Beauty – Zadie Smith

 

Books Read:

  • The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell
  • The Ashes of London – Andrew Taylor
  • Ballet Shoes – Noel Streatfeild
  • 1984 – George Orwell

 

This month was a bit of a slow burner, with a few deadlines hovering at the start of the month meaning two weeks passed by with hardly any reading at all. It’s one of the main reasons why, unusually, I read a children’s book, a memoir, and a piece of historical fiction, rather than my usual mix of fantasy and literary fiction.

In terms of buying books, The Year of Living Danishly and The Ashes of London were books I bought specifically to try and force my way out of a reading slump, so unlike the majority of my other purchases which are slung unceremoniously onto my growing TBR, I ended up reading straight away. The other three I picked up at a sale in a charity shop, where I managed to get the three of them for £2. After everything I’ve heard over the last few months about Zadie’s Swing Time and Ali’s Autumn, I took the opportunity to get my hands on some of their backlist titles before I spend money on their new releases, which in the UK are only available in hardback.

 

Reviews:

The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell     4/5

The Ashes of London – Andrew Taylor    3/5

Ballet Shoes – Noel Streatfeild    4/5    (coming soon)

1984 – George Orwell    4/5    (coming soon)

Review: The Ashes of London, Andrew Taylor

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✮✮✮☆☆

 

London, September 1666. The Great Fire rages through the city, consuming everything in its path. Even the impregnable cathedral of St. Paul’s is engulfed in flames and reduced to ruins. Among the crowds watching its destruction is James Marwood, son of a disgraced printer, and reluctant government informer.

In the aftermath of the fire, a semi-mummified body is discovered in the ashes of St. Paul’s, in a tomb that should have been empty. The man’s body has been mutilated and his thumbs have been tied behind his back.

Under orders from the government, Marwood is tasked with hunting down the killer across the devastated city. But at a time of dangerous internal dissent and the threat of foreign invasion, Marwood finds his investigation leads him into treacherous waters – and across the path of a determined, beautiful and vengeful young woman.

CONTENT WARNING: Rape and sexual assault.

 

Why I picked this book up:

I was in the midst of a reading slump when I decided to pick up this book on a whim in Waterstones last week. I tend to find that murder mysteries are great easy reads that I fly through, so I thought this book would be perfect to get myself excited about reading again. This period of British history is also something that I’ve read about and hugely enjoyed before, so I thought that the context I already had for the 17th century would help in getting myself through this a little quicker.

 

The bad: 

First and foremost, I really felt as though this book could have been severely trimmed down, by at least 50 pages. Some scenes gave a huge amount of unnecessary observations on behalf of the characters, and considering one of the two protagonists (James Marwood, possibly the wettest lettuce alive) didn’t ever seem to have anything interesting to say, it really dragged in places for me. I was also expecting something much more fast paced, whereas The Ashes of London ended up relying more on the historical fiction side of things than the murder mystery, which is the part I was most looking forward to. For the majority of the book, there was hardly any mystery at all, and only a small twist at the end seemed to give any excitement. I did enjoy the main female protagonist, Cat, who seemed to have much more personality than her male counterpart, but she still felt a little stilted. Her slightly feminist leanings and opinions seemed a little forced in, and the phrasing of them slightly too modern to be believable, but admittedly it did give her much more depth and motivation.

 

The good:

I think the aspect of the narrative that Taylor handled the best was his depiction of the aftermath of rape. The scene itself was not shown, but the raw emotion and gut reactions to the male touch afterwards were extremely heartfelt. Unlike other historical fiction and even fantasy I’ve read previously, this plot point did not seem throw-away in order to give some ‘edge’. Instead the act was pivotal to the main plot, and was handled delicately enough to be realistic and sympathetic without being too graphic or character defining for the victim. I also enjoyed the obviously excellently well-researched religious exploration that occurred throughout, and Taylor dealt with some complex issues surrounding how the beliefs and actions of parents can affect their children and legacy.

 

Overall rating: 3/5

 

Hygge + Happiness: Books About Denmark

As I’m sure anyone who has wondered into a bookshop recently will know (or reads any lifestyle blogs, for that matter), almost every middle-class Brit is talking about Denmark and hygge – myself included.

Over the last few months publishers have been capitalising on the trend, with literal stacks of titles sporting the buzzword, offering cosiness and happiness and an idillic lifestyle in our very own England. Although I don’t see a few blankets and candles as a fix all for 21st century blues, I wanted to share two books I’ve really enjoyed on the subject, and the lessons that I’ve taken from them.

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The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell

This first book is a memoir-cum-cultural profile, written by a British lifestyle journalist who moves to Denmark with her husband when he is offered a job with Lego. The chapters are split into a month-by-month basis, with each section titled by a uniquely Danish cultural phenomenon. Her chapter on hygge appears fairly early in the book, but the ideas and the word itself appear frequently throughout her first year of living in abroad. She openly talks about what she thinks works culturally (and the things she thinks don’t) and the difficultly she faced as an outsider, but overall the book is a lighthearted and well researched peek into day to day life in Denmark.

What Russell emphasises as being the biggest impact on her personal happiness is the balance between work and home. In Denmark, the day finishes far earlier, and clubs, childcare, and family time seem to be built into everyone’s week. Although things such as family time, and time doing activities like walks, cycling, reading, or cooking all come under the heading of ‘hygge’, the shorter work days and government assistance are something country specific. Russell frequently theorises that it is the combination of personal choice and public policy that results in such reportedly high levels of happiness in Danes, and that short of actually moving to Denmark some aspects of life are not easily replicated elsewhere. However, she does argue that adjusting mindset and priorities are key in happiness at work, home, and with your own happiness, making sure that time is taken to spend time with loved ones, eat good food, and take life a little slower.

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Buy it here.

 

The Little Book of Hygge – Meik Wiking

Although this little book is also non-fiction, it couldn’t be more different in its approach. Written by a Dane, Wiking attempts to give a comprehensive guide on exactly hygge is, why it is important, and how to achieve it in every aspect of life. This volume is chock full of gorgeous photos, recipes, DIY projects, and even clothing tips.

After my first cover-to-cover read through of this book, I’ve so often gone back to it in times where I’ve needed a little pick me up. The tips Wiking gives range from the lifestyle altering to the most basic, so whenever I’m in need of a cosy break from the day to day, there always seems to be something that I can implement immediately.

 

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Buy it here.

What are your thoughts on the hygge trend? Let me know down in the comments!

7 Favourite Books About Art

At the time of writing, I only have three (three!) months left of my undergraduate degree. The last three years have been a haze of essays, sculptures, and library days, with a few great books folded between.

As I can already feel myself feeling nostalgic for pouring over impossibly convoluted texts in the name of Art History, I thought I’d do a round-up of the best books about art (and thinking about art) that I’ve read throughout my degree.

Ways of Seeing – John Berger

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To say that this book is a cornerstone for Art History would be an understatement. As well as being possibly the most useful little book throughout my degree, Ways of Seeing is wonderfully accessible and easy to understand. The reason I love this book so much is simply because Berger opened up History of Art to the masses, showing that it was something interesting, relevant to modern society, and something very much open for anyone to learn about and discuss.

Buy it here.

 

 

 

 

The Story of Art -E.H. Gombrich

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In a similar vein to the previous book, The Story of Art also gives an incredibly comprehensive introduction to the history of art, as well as being easy to understand while still dealing with very complex topics. I read this book cover to cover before starting my degree (admittedly I did look a little strange lugging around my hardback version for ‘holiday reading’) and referred to it during almost every essay and exam season.

Buy it here.

 

 

 

The Improbability of Love – Hannah Rothschild

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As the only work of fiction on the list, The Improbability of Love is something a little different. It’s a satirical take on the art world, involving the auction of a lost painting, Nazi plots, themed cooking, and an ex-rent boy that occasionally dresses as Marie Antoinette. The author is well immersed in the art world herself, so even though the characters are completely over-blown, the book is extremely fun, very well researched, and still somehow very believable.

Buy it here.

 

 

 

 

A Grand Design – Edited by Brenda Richardson and Malcolm Baker

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I will admit, compared to everything else on the list, this is a bit of a wild card. Even before I came to university I was obsessed with the V&A, so much so that by this time last year I had decided to write my dissertation on its entrance. This book has not only been an invaluable research piece, but is an extremely interesting and passionate history of the museum, with reflections on privilege, class, and Britishness, as well as some beautiful illustrations.

Buy it here.

 

 

Artemisia: The Story of a Battle for Greatness – Alexandra Lapierre

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Simply put, this is a biography of one of my heroes. Artemisia was a Baroque painter with a fascinating upbringing as the daughter of another successful artist, who painted common biblical or mythological scenes with a distinctly feminist edge. She painted for the Medici’s, was buddies with Galileo (!) and was an amazing single mother to boot. This book also covers the misattribution of some of her work to her father, as well as her extremely public rape trail, meaning that this book reads almost like a piece of page-turning historical fiction.

Buy it here.

 

 

 

Art Made From Books – Alyson Kuhn

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Books? Check. Art? Check. Gorgeous binding? Definitely! This book is all of my favourite things put together with love, alongside descriptions of sculptures so wonderful that I wish I could see every one of them in real life. A great coffee table book as well as an introduction to some inspiring contemporary artists, Art Made From Books makes a great gift or a treat for your own shelves.

Buy it here.

 

 

 

Why Your Five Year Old Could Not Have Done That: Modern Art Explained – Susie Hodge

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I fully admit that, until the second year of my degree, I despised almost all contemporary art. I’d written it off as ugly, pretentious, and unnecessary, but this book (as well as a fabulous second year module) helped to convert me. Using examples of high profile art from the last hundred years, Hodge explains the movement that the piece comes from, its exhibition history, and why it is considered ‘good art’.

Buy it here.

 

 

 

 

Although I could ramble on and on about a huge range of books about art, I thought these showed a great cross-section of books that I’ve loved and thumbed through the most over the past three years. If you have any recommendations for art books, please let me know in the comments!

Note: this post contains affiliate links for The Book Depository. If you buy anything through my link, I’ll earn 5% of the cost of what you bought (without costing you any extra).