Last week I decided to count up how many book I have read this year so far – it came to a very satisfactory 35 books. And since we are half way through the year I have picked out my five favourite books so far. NOTE: this is not a list of the 5 best books published in 2017 so far – this is a personal list of my favourite reads as I came to them. Here we go:
In no particular order:
1/ Don’t Look Now by Daphne Du Maurier – And behold I have discover another favourite author. This bunch of short stories are as creepy as they are clever and I was especially pleased to see my homeland of CO. Antrim in Northern Ireland getting a mention in there.
2/ The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – I along with a crowd of others have discovered this book and read it as a reaction to the television show. Gladly I was able to read it before the show started and so far have been very impressed by both. It is a brilliantly written dystopian novel which is a modern classic and worth picking up if you haven’t already.
3/ Nutshell by Ian McEwan – I picked this up in the supermarket following two heavy, serious reads and Nutshell was the perfect antidote. It focuses on an unborn child in its mothers womb who narrates the story of his fathers demise. Yip, it certainly is unique and darkly funny.
4/ The Optician of Lampedusa by Emma Jane Kirby – This book is a beautiful and shocking all at once. It starts with a promising day off where friends head out on a leisurely boat trip. the afternoon takes a turn when the holidayers realise that the ocean is full of people – people displaced by conflict who are desperate to find safety and a new home. An unforgettable true story which is brilliantly told. If you read anything this year make it this.
5/ Perespolis by Marjane Satrapi – A graphic biography which introduces us to a girl growing up in Iran during the years of the Islamic revolution. An incredible account which is charming and informative and a quick and easy read. The illustrations are gorgeous.
So there you have it. The best five books which I have read this year so far. Honourable mention to Hot Milk by Deborah Levy, My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal and The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie.
My Name is Leon is a debut novel – but as you read it you would be forgiven for thinking this is the work of a much more experienced author. Leon is an eight year old boy whose story is so well crafted that there are times when you want to reach in to the pages and give him a hug. As you start to read this book prepare yourself for that feeling – wanting give out hugs – you will feel it often. Even the stoniest heart will be moved.
Leon lives with his mother Carol who has just had a baby, Leon’s half brother Jake. There are no fathers in the picture – just a shadow cast by their absence. Carol suffers a bout of severe depression and Leon is left to deal with his baby brother on his own. De Waal doesn’t sugarcoat any of what happens next. Social services get involved, Carol is taken away and Leon and Jake are rehoused for a short blissful period where the reader can relax because Leon is safe.
Maureen, his new foster carer is the perfect grandmother figure – loveable and flawed, steady and no nonsense. What could go wrong? Well, didn’t I mention that Leon is mixed race and big for his age? And that baby Jake is white skinned with blond locks – as the boys are put up for adoption not all things are equal and the results are devastating.
So far it sounds bleak but De Waal is such a charming writer that you want to keep on reading. The story is set in the 1980’s which gives it the perfect nostalgic charm with an appropriate smattering of references – Curly Wurly’s, The Dukes of Hazard, Action Man figures and photographs with the date written on the back. The book changes in the second half when an older Leon gets a bike, makes the acquaintance of some local men who educate him in gardening, brawing, and politics. A newly mobile Leon hatches a plan to bring his family back together. A plan that upsets his social worker, worries the adults around him but makes complete sense to a grieving ten year old. Herein is one of the rewards from reading “My Name is Leon” – the character is so well written that you can understand his motives and outbursts perfectly.
Illustration by Supersimbo
De Waals debut novel is a surprise – probably due to the fact the De Waal is writing from her experiences and knowledge. She has worked alongside social workers in her job as a magistrate, she was born to an Irish mother who was a foster carer and her father was Caribbean. One suspects that her experience has moulded Leon and his characteristics.
I wasn’t expecting to care so much about the characters involved and was delighted by a change of pace in the middle of the book. The whole story felt authentic and offers a heartbreaking look at the breakdown of a family unit and the impact it has on child.
So lots of people are asking about arm knitting – it apparently is all the buzz right now. Lots of people are also laughing at / mocking me for knitting without needles (or sticks as I keep calling them). But cease and desist people because a quick flick through Pintrest brought forth these great projects which were created by arm knitting.
Well, who is laughing now. The great news – a scarf takes up to an hour, the middle blanket took 3 hours. The possibilities are endless (as long as a rectangle is what you want). I learn from this excellent tutorial at Flax and Twine.
Currently I have mastered a scarf / snood which too an hour and I only needed to be cut free once. Onwards and upward from here on. The snow has inspired me to keep going. Arm knitting is the future.
Winter is such a fickle time. We are expected to get dolled up in red sequins and high heels for Christmas parties all through the month of December and then when January arrives in a haze of glitter and novelty ‘2015’ glasses we are left back with our normal monotonous wardrobe.
Did you love your Christmas jumper. Warm, colourful and quirky – Did you have to be prised out of it with a crowbar? May you did or maybe you are glad to get out of it. Either way I’m guessing that we all could appreciate a substitute for that cosy jumper which will work in everyday life.
Buy cashmere. Buy it now in the winter sales and enjoy the luxurious cosy heat that will see you through until spring time. Choose well and you will have a garment which will last for years and will be wearable with most of your wardrobe.
Search Uniqlo (1), Mark & Spencers (2&3), and Next for affordable cashmere jumpers or hit Net a Porter for luxury investment. Don’t forget to check the mens department too. Pick a plain colour and change it with scarves, collared shirt and different bottoms. The humble jumper is a wardrobe staple and worth investing in the best you can afford. I have a few grey cashmere jumpers from Next which I came across a few years ago in their sale, and one from debunked design house Luella. They are all super warm and easy to wear.
You’ll be happy to pack your Christmas jumper away with the fairy lights once your clad in cashmere.
If you are looking for a dress style which will always be classy and in fashion, and if you are tall enough to pull it off then look out for anything which is a midi length.
Here are my three favourite midi dresses from the ASOS sale.
(Dress 1 – £38, Dress 2 – £39, Dress 3 – £51)
All prices correct at date of publish and currently get an extre 10% off by using the code: GIMME10.
Tom Rob Smith presents this crime story – “the Farm” which is written more like a novel that a conventional thriller. One half of the book is a conversation between a mother and a son and the other is a truth finding mission – but will the truth be more or less disturbing than the mothers accusations? I’ll let you read it yourself to find out.
4 things I have learnt from reading “The Farm”:
1/ Mittens aren’t a good idea when breaking and entering – although I still like these ones from Monki.
2/ What white honey is. (Photo source)
3/ That an Elk is a very big animal.
4/ That a leather satchel is always desirable, especially this one from thisisground.
I’m also very happy when a crime story involves trolls or any kind. I suggest picking this one up for a read. “The Farm” by Tom Rob Smith is out in paperback format in February.
While I’m not planning to spend much this month that won’t stop me from pursuing he sales for you. Here is a pretty monochrome mix for anyone who want to invest in some sale shopping this January.
Coat, Leather trousers and eye shadow palette from Topshop
Green stone ring and Beauty jumper from Farfetch
Boots from Urban Outfitters
Bag from Zara
Spend your Christmas money wisely folks!
December gave us some fun pic opportunities, walks on the beach, pretty floral prints and Magnify magazine.
Reading was a big luxury for me this year. Escaping into a book has always been relaxing but this year more than ever I have found myself says things like “Once I finish my essay I can start that new novel” and “Tonight I will work twice as hard so that I can spend all tomorrow reading”.
I tried to be a big reader this year. By that I mean I tried to be diverse and give different books a go. I also enjoyed our Ballymena bookclub which came up with some unexpected choices and the Beautiful Mess bookclub which is online here. Take a look at all the books I read here.
However, with greater choice comes greater disappointment, and I definitely felt that some big titles this year were a big letdown. “Thrive” by Arianna Huffington wasn’t the thrilling biography that I wanted it to be (my fault), Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the Bottom of the Lane” left me cold and I couldn’t wait to get finished with “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp (I know – I am the only one who didn’t fall in love with this book – What’s wrong with me!!)
On the other hand I started books and literally couldn’t put them down. Here are my favourite books of 2014;
1/ “Stuff Matters” by Mark Miodownik – Wow, so this year I loved this non-fiction, pop science title – who would have guessed that? This book talks about all the materials which are around us everyday, concrete, glass, stainless steel, etc. I know it doesn’t sound thrilling but I really enjoyed it, think a biography of materials rather than textbook and if you don’t fancy reading it look out for the accompanying TV series which was shown on BBC 4 earlier this year or watch here.
2/ “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt – It was great, and not at all what I expected. A linear novel with no jumping around or flitting between character, “The Goldfinch” was an example of good old fashioned storytelling. The only downside is that it is long, maybe a little longer than it needs to be, but it is worth getting right to the end.
3/ “The Letter for the King” by Tonke Dragt. I picked this up after hearing about the publisher “Puskin Press” who basically sit around all day reading novels in french, swedish, chinese and a myriad of other languages looking for books that are crying out to be translated into english. This is a children’s book (10 upwards) first published in 1962 in the Netherlands and follows a young squire who has put his knighthood on the line to help a stranger in need. Why did I love it? Because there are no dragons, magic spells, rings, little people, wizards or any silly nonsense distracting from the noble adventure. I read this after having struggled through a few disappointing reads and it got me back on track.
Here are some notable runners up;
- Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – Sci-fi classic.
- Night Film by Marisha Pess – Twisted thriller.
- Popular by Maya Van Wagenen – Super cute teenage biography.
- Wild by Cheryl Strayed – Gritty emotional and physical journey.
- God Knows your Name by Catherine Campbell – Encouraging and thought provoking.
- Running like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley – Made me start running like a girl
- We are all Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler – I had no idea what the twist was before we were told.
- Enough by Helen Roseveare – Thoughts from a missionary on how Christ is enough.
(1) As a child we had a video recorder and I worked out how to use it at a very young age. One day I recorded a film starring Steve Martin and Rick Moranis called My Blue Heaven. It turns out that I loved that film and watched it over and over and over. Mostly I think I loved the music and especially the title track by Frank Sinatra. Now that I’m older I can see that this was the beginning of my appreciation for writer Nora Ephron (who was a genius).
(2) Walking on Broken Glass by Annie Lennox is an amazing song and when you are 9 years old and seeing the video on tv for the first time the whole thing is mind blowing. The video is crazy, Annie’s voice is astounding and The Best of the Eurythmics was one of the first album I ever bought.
(3) The one song that I will request at my funeral is Amazing Grace. The lyrics are simple yet have such depth and truth within them – much like the Gospel message of grace it is about. My Favourite line is “I once was blind but now I see”. Aretha Franklin sings it well.
(4) While my friends liked Take That I had found something louder and harder – Supersonic by Oasis lurked on the B side of a Now thats what I call music cassette tapes and I became steadily obsessed with their music. They had Mark Owen posters on their wall – I had Blur, Elastica and Oasis.
(5) Can’t you hear me Knocking is my favourite song by The Rolling Stones (closely followed by Emotional Rescue). I first discovered The Rolling Stones through the films of Martin Scorsese and realised that I had been missing out on the best music I had ever hear. Ever.
(6) I fell in love with the Red Hot Chili Peppers when they released By the Way. The single By the Way is everything that they do well, bass lines, drumming, lyrics etc etc. This reminds me of university and the year that I started dating my future husband.
(7) They don’t make them like you anymore – Rory Gallagher. This is basically the most romantic song ever written. Am I right?
(8) Sunshine of your Love – Cream. Dragged to Eric Clapton concert – bored to tears – then he plays two Cream songs, Sunshine of you Love and Cocaine and suddenly I am onboard with this concert. Unfortunately he stopped at two songs but for me they saved the night.
(9) I first discovered Elbow through their performance of One Day like This at Glastonbury. During the song the clouds parted and the happy crowds sang along in the glorious sunshine and all was right with the world. Since then I have listened to all of the music made by Elbow and especially love Grounds for Divorce. So glad we got to see them perform it live!
(10) England – The National. I love the National. I spent many a-night driving home from university, or back to university, in the dark with not another soul on the road. The National were the band that I started listening to on these journeys. At first I found them boring but they are a grower. The more you listen – the more you love them, and England is the reward which makes me glad that I stuck with them
If you are a Spotify user, you can listen to the tracks on my playlist entitled Soundtrack of my Life