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)

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!

Christmas Gift Guide: Books

Around this time last year, on my old blog URL, I published a bookish Christmas gift guide on a budget, mainly revolving around accessories, bookmarks, or jewellery. This year I’ve decided to recommend books to buy people based on things they’ve already loved, and I’ve tried to recommend alternatives for popular series or authors.

 

If they like Philippa Gregory, try the Outlander series1.png

Like most of Philippa Gregory’s work, the Outlander series is (for the most part) a chunky historical fiction series, with lashings of romance and engaging plot lines.

 

If they like Throne of Glass, try Three Dark Crowns

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Like the Throne of Glass, Three Dark Crowns is the beginning of a new YA series, which stars three sisters forced to attempt to assassinate the other two in order to gain the crown. It has a similar feel and is a great action packed fantasy novel.

 

If they like The Mistborn Trilogy, try Sorcerer to the Crown

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Although slightly different in tone to MistbornSorcerer to the Crown is a wonderfully original fantasy set in an alternative Victorian London. They’re both fantastic pieces of genre fiction, and Sorcerer to the Crown is something that epic fantasy fans may not have picked up themselves.

 

If they like Me Before You, try Ugly Love

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Another bittersweet romance novel, Ugly Love is great for fans of Me Before You. It’s an intense and page turning novel, although be warned: this is definitely not for younger readers due to adult content.

 

If they like The Book Thief, try All the Light We Cannot See

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Although both of these are WWII novels, they both take an original and beautifully crafted approach to an over-saturated genre. All the Light We Cannot See is similarly an emotional and personal story set against the backdrop of war torn Europe, with heartwarming but tear-jerking endings.

 

If they like Ready Player One, try Only You Can Save Mankind 

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Only You Can Save Mankind is an older novel following a plot similar to that of a stereotypical ‘fight aliens’ video game – but all is not as it seems. Thematically the same and similarly nostalgic, Pratchett’s hilarious writing is great for fans of Ready Player One.

 

If they like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, try Heartless

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What’s better for a fan of a classic than an updated retelling? Heartless tells the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland‘s Red Queen, written by the author of the Lunar Chronicles series. Set before the events of the book, it’s a fresh new take on the popular classic.

 

If they like The Inheritance Cycle, try Seraphina

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Although both of these series are aimed at a younger audience, both are great fantasy stories for all ages. Seraphina also plays on a new take of the dragon myth, combined with a brilliantly written romance, fantastic characterisation, and intimidating dragons and courtiers.

 

What do you guys think of these recommendations? Would you buy any of these for fans of the popular series mentioned?

6 Wintery Reads

At the time of writing, England has just had its first snow this winter. After an unseasonably warm September and October, the temperature has plummeted and I can (finally) crack out the bobble hats and oversized jumpers, and I’m about two steps away from having ‘cosy’ tattooed on my forehead.

In the spirit of the cold weather – and the beginning of my favourite time of year – I thought I could share some books that I love snuggling up under a blanket with.

Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

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Not only is this a gloriously chunky and heart-warming book that’s ideal for occupying you throughout the holidays, the book also begins with one of the most beautifully described Christmas mornings I’ve ever read. Although they were a poor family, each girl received a beautifully bound book under their pillow – and I honestly think that reading this as a child is what made me so grateful for everything we tend to take for granted of Christmas day.

The Little Book of Hygge – Meik Wiking

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Hygge (pronounced hoo-guh) is an untranslatable word from Danish, which roughly means cosiness and happiness. This books summarises how Danish day to day life revolves around this concept, and how it can be into your own in order to achieve greater general happiness. It even has a whole chapter dedicated to Danish Christmas, complete with mouth-watering recipes.

Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone – J K Rowling

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The winter is almost always going to make me want to re-read the entire series, but particularly the first book brings back so many memories and is rich with nostalgia at this point – and Harry’s first Christmas at Hogwarts is still so magical to me at the age of 20 as it was at 7.

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

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Do I even need to explain? Not only (in my opinion) is this the easiest to read Dickens novel – mostly due to its length – but this is probably one of the most iconic Christmas stories in literature…other than the obvious.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas – Agatha Christie

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As always, Agatha Christie is on the top of her game with this novel that has its own seasonal twist. It’s an extremely original mystery where almost every single character has something to hid, and can also serve as a welcome break if you’ve had your fill of fluffiness from other seasonal stories. I always end up watching this adaptation around Christmas, too, which is also well worth a watch!

Twelfth Night – William Shakespeare

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The ‘Twelfth Night’ was a day, 12 days after Christmas, where the lower class citizens would swap status with the elite as part of the seasonal celebrations in Tudor England. Although the play itself isn’t set at this time of year – or even in England – Twelfth Night completely embodies this swapping and foolishness at its core, and is a genuinely hilarious script full of idiotic characters and memorable lines, that I always come back to in winter.

What are some of your favourite wintery reads?

November ’16 Wrap Up

Books Bought

  • The Masked City, Genevieve Cogman
  • Songs, Robert Burns
  • Angela Carters Book of Fairy Tales, Angela Carter
  • Poems for Life, Various Authors

 

Books Read

  • The Hag Seed, Margaret Atwood
  • Yes Please, Amy Poehler

 

It’s been a pretty quiet month, reading and buying-wise – most of this month has been spend desperately scribbling sub-par essays, Christmas shopping and sorting our trip up to Edinburgh (photos and possibly a bookshop tour to come?) so I’m feeling a little behind. Although, as I type this I’m a good way through Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, which I think I’ll finish just too late to include in this wrap-up.

As for the books I’ve bought, I have imposed somewhat of a flexible buying ban on myself for the time being. I’m finding it far too easy to clutter up my bookshelves with exciting new releases, even though I have far too many unread books that at one point were themselves very exciting, then I get stressed because I don’t know what to read, and then I read nothing at all. A perfect circle of uselessness. That being said, I do have explanations for the books I bought, I swear.

The Masked City is the sequel to a book I already own, The Invisible Library, which I am very excited to read and is at the top of my 2017 TBR. I found the second book in a charity shop for only £2, and knowing that I had the first book lined up my friend convinced me that I was saving money in the long run, given that I fully intended to read it. Poems for Life, which I bought from the same charity shop, was entirely my own doing, on the other hand – it’s a beautiful forrest green clothbound collection of poetry, split into life events to which they’re most relevant. Not only is it just a gorgeous anthology to have on my shelf, but it was only £3 (*insert Say No To This lyrics here*).

Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales was also a defendable purchase; Matt and I had our first weekend away together in Edinburgh, and, true to form I spent the majority of it scouting out independent bookshops. The first of which was Transreal Fiction, a shop that specialises in sci-fi and fantasy titles, and when I saw this book poking out of one of the shelves I knew this was a god chance to buy it. I’ve been lusting after it in Waterstones for years, but this way I’ve supported an indie bookseller and gotten a great momento. Right?

Robbie Burns book of Songs was another buy from Edinburgh, an absolute bargain found in a secondhand bookshop. It’s a very old edition – it doesn’t actually have a date or edition on it, just the publishing house, so I may do some investigating – and for all the stereotyping it’s going to be something that always reminds me of our trip up to Scotland. It’s also a handy reference for remembering the words to Auld Lang Syne when I’m drunk at New Years.

Finally, on to the books I’ve actually finished this month: Yes Please was a little disappointing, so I won’t dwell on it for too long, but ultimately it wasn’t that funny or interesting to me, and considering I love Amy Poehler and it had been strongly recommended to me by various people it just fell a little flat. Sorry, Amy.

The Hag Seed, on the other hand, was absolutely incredible. This was Margaret Atwood’s retelling of The Tempest for the Hogarth Shakespeare series, which I was lucky enough to get a signed copy of when I went to her talk about the inspirations for the book. It’s about a disgraced theatre director who now works in a prison, getting convicts to perform Shakespeare and getting them to fully engage with the literature and the themes. Not only does The Tempest itself appear multiple times in its original form as a play within this book, but the narrative itself holds parallels, references, and themes with the source material too. It’s funny and dark and elegantly composed, and completely makes up for my otherwise barren month of reading.

What have you all read this month that you’ve enjoyed? And which books have you been buying? Let me know down in the comments!

Why I stopped rating books on Goodreads

About halfway through this year I stopped giving books starred reviews when I marked them as read on Goodreads. Although I still find the website a useful tool for keeping track of what I’ve been reading (plus I find the yearly reading challenges great motivation for me to get off Tumblr and get reading), I find the rating system really unhelpful in categorising what I’ve read.

 

I almost always think a book is great once I’ve read it

Before the elation of finally finishing a book has worn off, I’m always inclined to give it 4 or 5 stars as I mark it as ‘read’. Usually, within a few days my opinion of the book as a whole is properly formed, and it may be that I didn’t actually find it that engaging, or I realised some elements or characters were problematic.

 

It’s not always that simple

It also happens quite often that my enjoyment of the book was very high, despite me knowing that it wasn’t well written, was problematic, was cliche, etc. By giving it either a high or a low rating based on these things I’d have to ignore another element of the book, and I really don’t have time to rate a book and to justify it, or to explain that I understand why it may not be a ‘good’ book even though I’ve given it 5 stars, nor, do I think, should I have to.

 

It makes reading seem like a chore

Feeling like I had to think about a rating for a book once I’d put it down straight away was something that played on my mind all the way through reading it, and not rating one book but then rating another made me feel stressed and as though I’d been neglecting a responsibility. By deciding not to rate anything on the account I made my reading experience much less stressful, and it meant I wasn’t rushing to form an opinion on anything that I’d read.

 

Do any of you rate books on Goodreads? Do you find it helpful?