Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014 in Review: Fiction

This year has been a funny one for reading. I started the year reading loads, but then I hit a slump and DNF'd almost everything I picked up. I'm slowly getting back to my normal reading levels now, but that explains why all except one of the books featured in the list were read in the first half of the year. Sorry July to December, you were a bit of a bust.

I've not stuck to any particular number of books, instead I've grouped them into my favourite debuts, classics, books that I wouldn't usually go for, and books by authors that always crop up in my favourites.

The Debuts:
Wake by Anna Hope
The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
The Undertaking by Audrey Magee
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
The Night Guest by Fiona Mcfarlane
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

The Classics:
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
The Rector's Daughter by F. M. Mayor

The Ones Out of My Comfort Zone:
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

The Recurring Ones:
The Lie by Helen Dunmore
The Silver Dark Sea by Susan Fletcher

Links are to significant mentions on Lit Nerd or reviews here or on Centenary News.

Which books made it in to your favourites list this year?

Don't forget to enter my giveaway or fill in my reader survey!


Tuesday, 30 December 2014

2014 in Review: Moments

2014 has been a tricky year to say the least. I have been struggling with my mood which overshadowed everything and led to some pretty dark patches from around July onwards. I feel like I'm slowly digging my way back to the surface now and I can put a lot of it down to working hard to change the way I think. For the last two months I have been writing my 'What Made Me Happy This Week' posts and that has been the perfect way to hone in on the good and remind myself that there are still things that are making me smile.

I've decided to do the same for the year and list the moments that really stood out and gave me that warm fuzzy glow of contentment.

1// Trips This year I've been to Amsterdam and Italy, camped for the first time ever somewhere near Lowestoft and had a wonderful day trip to Hastings with some work friends.

2// Gigs My sister and I are huge music lovers and we made it our mission to see some of our favourite bands live this year (some for the second/third/fourth time). My favourites were You Me At Six, Bastille, and New Found Glory.

3// Discovering Yoga I have a running injury that I have never quite let heal properly and I thought yoga would be the perfect way to stretch out and gain some more flexibility to help ease the pain. I was right, but it has also given me so much more than that. It is an amazing way to relax and has given me goals to reach for.

4// Literary Pub Crawl Pub crawl? Books? What could be better?! My sister got us tickets for this organised tour which started in Fitzrovia and ended in Soho. It was so exciting (for me) to walk in the footsteps and drink in the locals of London's literary greats and the tour guide was wonderfully enthusiastic.

5// 10k Finsbury Park After having a disappointing year of running due to said injury, I decided to sign up for a10k in September. It hurt like hell, but I smashed it in just under 56 minutes and it gave me my running confidence back.

6// Family time My family come up in my weekly posts regularly because time with them never fails to make me happy. There have been some amazing moments spent with them this year, whether for big celebrations or quiet evenings in.

7// Interviewing people for CN In December last year I started volunteering for the website Centenary News to help them create a books page. It launched early this year and has been going from strength to strength. The highlight for me has been interviewing Taylor Downing and Paul O'Prey about their new releases. Not only was it ridiculously fascinating discussing science with Downing and poetry with O'Prey, but it also was quite the personal achievement to get past my fear and worry to actually have a conversation with someone.

Next year I'm going to take a better note of everything I do because my memory is the worst. I'm certain there have been so many other moments this year that I just can't remember. But I am also aware that I have done a lot less this year than I usually would so that again is something I will be working on in 2015. Yay for new goals!

How about you, what were the best moments of your 2014?

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Monday, 29 December 2014

2014 in Review: Exhibitions

Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision @ National Portrait Gallery

Late Turner: Painting Set Free @ Tate Britain

Conflict, Time, Photography @ Tate Modern

Bond in Motion @ London Film Museum

Great War Portraits @ National Portrait Gallery

First World War Galleries @ Imperial War Museum

War, Art and Surgery @ Hunterian Museum

Museums and art galleries are, alongside theatre, another of the main attractions London has for me. I have been visiting museums and galleries my entire life (thanks, Mum and Dad) and have been lucky enough to visit them all over the world, though London's offerings are among some of the best - I promise I'm not biased! The fact that I live within walking distance of Tate Britain and the Imperial War Museum is a huge bonus.

My favourite haunts are the National Portrait Gallery and Tate Britain and I've spent many a weekend floating around their galleries. Tate Britain's 'Walk Through British Art' is amazing and arranged so that I can head straight to the 1910 room (my absolute favourite). Coming in at a very close third is the Imperial War Museum which reopened this year in time for the World War One Centenary. Their newly refurbished First World War Galleries are spectacular and strike the perfect balance between information and interaction. I have yet to visit the Truth and Memory exhibition there, but will be making it a priority in the New Year.

As you can tell, I'm quite the fan of cultural pursuits and I plan on including more of these on Lit Nerd in the New Year - let me know if that is something that will interest you!

How about you, have you been to any memorable exhibitions this year?

Don't forget to enter my giveaway or fill in my reader survey!

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #8

1// A two-day work week and Christmas tunes in the office Tuesday was my last day at work before Christmas and we celebrated by blasting a variety of Christmas classics. I managed to restrain myself from dancing and singing at full-volume to Wham as I'm pretty sure there would not have been many appreciative faces in the room. Now I don't have to look at or speak to a single therapist until 2nd January and you have no idea how happy that makes me.

2// Planning for our European Adventure My sister and I decided a few months ago that we were going to travel next year. We have both booked just over two weeks of annual leave for June and have a vague idea of where we want to go. We booked the Eurostar for the first leg of our trip at the weekend and now I'm getting into full on planning mode and loving it. I'll be talking more about the trip in the New Year.

3// Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper I started this at the weekend and very quickly plowed my way through. It's a wonderfully sad yet uplifting novel which to me seems to be the Canadian version of Harold Fry.

4// Deciding my Christmas Read I don't actually know why I make such a big deal about choosing the book I'll read over the Christmas period. I guess I think that Christmas is a time for happiness so it's only right that I chose an extra special book that I know will make me smile from ear to ear.

5// Being home Home cooked food, a roaring fire and family. It doesn't get much better than that.

6// Finishing my 25 Days of Fitness and knowing I'm not going to stop On Christmas morning I finished my 25 Days of Fitness challenge with a run. It was the perfect way to start Christmas Day and I'm so proud of myself for completing the challenge. Although I gave myself a break on Boxing Day, I got back to it yesterday and I can safely say it's become a habit.

7// Christmas Manicure I took my own advice and gave myself a Christmas manicure on Christmas Eve. Red and gold is always my standard and I love how it's turned out.

What has made you happy this week?

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Saturday, 27 December 2014

2014 in Review: Theatre

One of my favourite ways to spend an evening is at the theatre as it never fails to make me happy, even when I'm seeing something that should make me sad. There are many reasons why I moved to London from Somerset and the abundance of theatres is pretty close to the top. I love the variety that is available right at your fingertips - I can go to a fringe play one week, to classic Shakespeare the next and end the month with a musical. That certainly isn't possible in Taunton.

This year I have seen some jaw-droppingly amazing productions so it is very difficult to narrow down a list of the best, but I have tried my hardest and can safely say that these shows were beyond spectacular:

Not About Heroes at the Trafalgar Studios 2
A play based on the friendship between Owen and Sassoon forged at the Craiglockhart shell shock hospital. I studied the Craiglockhart hospital for my MA and it holds a significant place in my heart. This play was done really well and the way Owen's and Sassoon's poetry was blended into the script gave me goosebumps on more than one occasion.

Johnny Got His Gun at the Southwark Playhouse
A one-man play based on Dalton Trumbo's classic war novel. The Southwark Playhouse is an interesting space and the perfect venue for such a harrowing adaptation. I was terrified, shocked and saddened in equal measure and I really must read the novel.

Last Days of Troy at Shakespeare's Globe
Simon Armitage's dramatisation of the final sections of Homer's Illiad was brilliant produced and had all the elements you would expect from a play based on The Illiad. With added humour.

Electra at The Old Vic
I think Electra tops the list and takes the title of my favourite play in 2014. Kristin Scott Thomas is scarily good and you can't go wrong with Greek tragedy.

The Crucible at The Old Vic
This was a birthday present from my sister and, even though it was perhaps a little too long (3 hours!), we both adored it. Richard Armitage's presence helped make the length entirely bearable.

Alongside various theatrical productions I also try to see as many talks/films/discussion panels that I can. Without a doubt the best of these events were:

-Kate Adie talking about women and war in the newly refurbished Imperial War Museum
-The Art of Curiosity at the Southbank Centre
-NT Live: Frankenstein at the Clapham Picturehouse (with Benedict as the monster)

Apart from Electra and The Crucible, I attended these productions by myself. There are so many things that I cannot do alone without being crippled by anxiety, but going to the theatre is not one of them. I feel so comfortable in the theatre when the lights go down and it's just you and the actors bonding over language and storytelling. It is my aim next year to continue visiting the theatre as much as I am able, particularly as I'm getting dangerously close to the age when I can no longer get the under-25 or under-26 tickets! Time to make the most of it.

Have you seen any good plays this year? Anything I should try and catch if I can?

Don't forget to enter my giveaway or fill in my reader survey!

Friday, 26 December 2014

2014 in Review: Non-Fiction

I'm very much hoping you are not all getting tired of the best of/favourites posts for this year because I'm about to add a few to the already toppling pile!

Welcome to the first in my series of '2014 in Review'. Today I'm sharing my top non-fiction reads of the year and over the next week I've got a whole host of lists that represent the best bits of 2014 as I experienced it. I'm not going to be limiting myself to books - I'm going to share my favourite exhibitions and theatre productions, alongside my top moments of the year and I'll be rounding off the series with a bumper list of my top 14 fiction reads.

Without further ado I'd like to introduce the non-fiction winners:

Wounded by Emily Mayhew
This was a seriously stand-out book from this year which gives us a glimpse into the experiences of the wounded and those that helped the wounded during World War One. It is a subject I think not many people had even considered, but it is truly fascinating and Mayhew's writing brings it to life in all its terrible beauty. I reviewed it over on Centenary News.

Secret Warriors by Taylor Downing
Another one I read and reviewed for Centenary News and I was also lucky enough to interview Taylor Downing (actually one of the crowning moments of my year). If you want to know more about the science/technical side of WW1 this is the perfect starting point. I loved it particularly for the chapters on aviation and code-breaking. My Dad received a copy from me for Father's Day this year and he thought it was brilliant too, so if that's not recommendation enough I don't know what is.

How To Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis
This was one of the first non-fiction books I read this year and probably the one responsible for the sudden change in my non-fiction reading habits. How To Be a Heroine is the perfect pick for the literature loving feminist.

Italian Ways by Tim Parks
In the summer between my second and third years at uni my best friend and I spent five weeks travelling around Italy. Most of our journeys were by train so I'm pretty familiar with the joys and frustrations of the Italian railways that this book expounds. Italian Ways is a brilliant book which blends a touch of memoir with anecdotes and a generous helping of history. I didn't review this one, but I would recommend it for any travel/transport/history/memoir fan - nearly everyone, then!

Virginia Woolf by Alexandra Harris
I'd long fancied reading a bit more about Virginia Woolf as a person as I find her entire history so immensely fascinating. Hermione Lee's tome intimidated me quite considerably so I started off with Alexandra Harris's much shorter, but no less interesting, biography. The writing was perfectly accessible for even the most terrified Woolf-newbie and it strikes the perfect balance between biographical data and analysis of Woolf's key works.

Which non-fiction books stood out for you this year? Do we have any in common?

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Thursday, 25 December 2014

The Christmas Read

Merry Christmas Everyone! 

I hope you are all having the loveliest of days however you are spending it.

I'm just here with a quick post today because I know you have all been dying with anticipation to find out what this year's Christmas read is. I've mentioned that the book I read over the Christmas period is quite a big deal and that I take the decision very seriously, but I've been keeping it very quiet which book made the cut for this year. Although that is only because I just decided yesterday after finishing Etta and Otto and Russell and James (more on that later, it is beautiful). What can I say, I fly by the seat of my pants!

Before I get on to the big reveal I just want to really quickly let you know that I succeeded in my 25 Days of Fitness challenge. I finished off the challenge this morning when I was reunited with my favourite running partner for a pre-bucks-fizz run. What could be better?

Without further ado, the book which has been crowned my Christmas Read 2014 is...

[drum roll please]


I went with New Grub Street by George Gissing and I couldn't be happier with my choice.

I'll leave you to your festivities now - I hope your day is filled with happiness, love and plenty of mince pies!

Which book was crowned your Christmas Read 2014?

Don't forget to enter my giveaway or fill in my reader survey!


Tuesday, 23 December 2014

A Spring Clean in Winter

This time of year doesn't only have me reaching for notebooks and calendars to plan excessively, it also makes me feel the need for a good clean. There are so many cliches surrounding the end of one year and the start of another and, unfortunately for those who dislike cliches, I buy into many of them. I'm a big believer in fresh starts, putting one year behind you and moving onto the next with minimal baggage and a more positive outlook on life. Sometimes that is hard to do and I know I will struggle to leave some things behind from this year, but I'm not one to not at least try.

One way I have always found it helpful to get me into the mood for a fresh start is by physically making my spaces fresh. I will clean, reorganise, and move things around so that my space, as well as the year, is new. It's seems too simple to think that scrubbing the skirting boards or rearranging your knick-knacks could make a difference to your outlook, but I truly believe that it does. Clean slate, and all that.

This last Saturday, after my usual morning routine of coffee in bed followed by the gym, I donned the marigolds and set to it. I had a list, a bucket full of cleaning products and just enough motivation to get me through the day.

I started with the floors, moved onto the skirting and door frames, surfaces, cupboards, windows, and finally ended with the bathroom. I ended the day with that buzzing exhaustion that comes from worthwhile productivity. I also ended the day feeling that little bit more prepared to tackle what 2015 throws at me. A new housemate is my first challenge and I'm hoping that having a clean and cosy flat will make it the little easier for me to cope with having a stranger in the house.

I don't think a fresh space can only be achieved by wearing marigolds or waltzing round the kitchen with a mop (which may or may not have happened). Other small changes can make a huge difference and I know I have a few things planned for early in January, including printing and framing some of my favourite pictures.

Some of my favourite ways to freshen up my space include:
- reorganise a bookshelf (alphabetical? colour coded? by genre? The possibilities are endless!)
- display memories
- change something small
- de-clutter
- make displays (with books, photos, keep-sakes, collections)

Does this time of year ever make you crave a clean slate?

Don't forget to enter my giveaway or fill in my reader survey!

Background image via June Letters

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #7

1// Homemade chunky chili Liv made us the nicest (and spiciest!) chili on Wednesday evening which we ate in front of Star Trek with an accompanying glass of red. It made for the perfect mid-week evening.

2// Unexpected gifts all week the clinical admin team which I am part of has been bombarded with edible gifts from therapists and on Friday we were each handed a beautiful bunch of flowers and a gift card from our boss. It was so unexpected, but so cheering to know that our work is appreciated.

3// Herbal tea I've been a big fan of herbal teas for a while now (peppermint is my favourite) and this week I've been enjoying a chamomile and vanilla mix just before bed. Yum.

4// Exercise My 25 days of fitness is going really well. There have been a couple of slips, but in general I have been moving more and doing something every day. In fact, I'm still suffering from a particularly vigorous workout I did on Thursday evening.

5// Cleaning Yesterday was the day for my bi-annual deep clean. I popped out in the morning to buy a mop then I spent hours scrubbing, washing and rinsing the floors, skirting, kitchen and bathroom. It felt glorious.

What has made you happy this week?

Don't forget to enter my giveaway or fill in my reader survey!


Saturday, 20 December 2014

Last Minute Gifts: Books are Best

We've officially got less than a week until the big day and the days left for gift buying are very quickly slipping away. As book lovers we all know that books make the best gifts so I've bundled together my top picks for those last minute present-buying rushes. Grab yourself a pen, take a deep breath and then head on out to your local bookshop because there's something here for everyone.

For the Murakami obsessed:
The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

For the fiction lover:
The Minaturist by Jessie Burton (Waterstones Exclusive Edition - because it's beyond beautiful)

For the loveable war nerd:
Secret Warriors by Taylor Downing

For the foodie:
Jamie's Comfort Food by Jamie Oliver

For the health conscious:
Nourish by Amber Rose, Sadie Frost, Holly Davidson

For the poet:
Hold Your Own by Kate Tempest

For the literary:
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (Clothbound Classics)

For the traveller:

For the feminist thinker:

For the film buff:
What I Love About Movies by Laura Jenkins and David Jenkins

What books have you bought as gifts this year?

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Friday, 19 December 2014

Giveaway: Celebrate Lit Nerd's Two Year Blogoversary With Me!

Who is ready for some Wilkie enthusiasm? Who am I kidding? You all are!

In November I shamefully let my two year blog anniversary slip by without notice, but now, with Christmas on the horizon, I've decided it's time to do a special something for the lovely people who stick by me through thick and thin (that's you, by the way). I've gathered together two of my favourite Wilkie-related reads and a beautiful notebook to giveaway to one lucky person.

First up is an edition of The Woman in White that I've been eying up for the longest time. It's red, it's mysterious and there is some beautiful typography. Then there is Peter Ackroyd's biography of the man himself. I read this last year and found it the perfect accompaniment to Wilkie's novels. It's not too long, there is humour and plenty of little anecdotes that are sure to interest even the most reluctant Wilkie-lover. Finally there is a lovely old-school design notebook to document your Wilkie journey in. Interested? Go ahead and fill in the rafflecopter below.

Best of luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Thursday, 18 December 2014

5 Things To Do This Christmas

This time next week it will be Christmas Day and I'm hoping to be lounged on the sofa, glass of wine in one hand, mince pie in the other, surrounded by my family and having a good old giggle. Christmas always creeps up on us so fast that it's so easy to get a bit overwhelmed with all the jollity, but it is important to take a minute (or two) and absorb it all. Today I thought I'd share the five things I'm going to do this Christmas to slow things down a little and I hope there may be something in there for you too.

Read something you know you'll love I'm a big fan of reading something special over Christmas week as a treat. I wrote a whole post about it a couple of years ago and my views have not changed. Some years I'll go for the re-read and others I'll try something completely new, but the decision making process is almost as special as the reading. This year I think Emma Hooper's 'Etta and Otto and Russell and James' will take the title. I'm sure I speak for a number of you when I say that grabbing five minutes with a book in the midst of the festivities can be all I need to maintain my sanity. All the people, all the eating, and all the doing can get very tiring - mentally and physically - and books have this wonderfully restorative power that I can rarely avoid.

Tell your loved ones why you love them I'm guilty of not telling my friends or family why I love them, or even that I do love them at times. It's so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of gift-giving, cooking, and Dr Who Christmas specials, but I think it is important to slow things down and share the love. Why not lift someone's spirit by telling them exactly what it is that makes you love them as much as you do? I'm making it my mission this year.

Do something for somebody and then do something for yourself Make your household chef (in my case either my Dad or Sister) a cuppa or something stronger, treat your partner to breakfast in bed, or neatly collect the used wrapping paper ready for recycling (unless you have a pooch/cat that will do it for you). The smallest gesture can have the biggest impact. Don't forget to do something for yourself too. It's coming towards the close of the year, it may have been a good year or a hard year, but either way you deserve a treat. Take that long bath filled with copious products from Lush, paint your nails a festive colour or give yourself an evening wrapped in a blanket with a good book.

Reflect Have a good long think about where you are, who you're with and how far you've come. Christmas always puts me in a reflective mood and I always make sure to take some time, even if it's in the five minutes before I fall asleep, to feel thankful for the things I have.

Enjoy yourself Again, it is so easy to get caught up in Christmas and barely take a minute to just enjoy yourself. I quite often find the big day to be anti-climactic after all the build up, but I'm determined to just be happy and celebrate the time I'm getting with my family this year. My advice is: drink some wine, have a mince pie and ENJOY!

What do you think it is important to do at Christmas time?


Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Walking in London

One of my favourite pastimes is walking around London. I can walk the same route over and over and still discover new sights, new architecture and new streets. I can see why Charles Dickens took to wandering the streets when he couldn't sleep and why he thought 'the sum of the whole is this: walk and be happy; walk and be healthy. The best way to lengthen out our days is to walk steadily and with a purpose'.

London is constantly changing. You can walk down the same road two weeks apart and there will be something different - a new shop, new street art, or even an entirely new building. 

Even the weather has an impact on the way London looks. I've been out on sunny days, cloudy days, rainy days, early in the morning, at sunset or last thing at night. I've taken hundreds of pictures of certain views up the river, or particular sections of the skyline and each one is different. I hope I never stop falling in love with London.

This past Sunday my sister and I set off from home in Kennington at 10.30am. We finally sat down just before 5pm in a pub near Brick Lane. The weather was just right - cold, with a slight breeze and a winter sun. It was a perfectly crisp winter's day and the ideal temperature for mulled cider and coffee stops.

After walking to Tate Britain we hopped on the Thames Clipper (I love a boat) and took the brief ride to Bankside past Westminster, the London Eye and all the sights of the south and north banks. You have the treat of a different perspective from the water, one that I rarely see.

After embarking at Bankside we took a slight detour from our intended route and popped into Tate Modern to visit the Conflict, Time, Photography exhibition. This was a truly fascinating exhibition which was arranged in a wonderfully imaginative way. The first room exhibited photographs taken immediately after conflict, for example their were images of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki mushroom clouds. It then moved room by room further away from the point of conflict - weeks later, months later and years later - until it reached a point 99 years after the First World War (those particular photos gave me such shivers). As you walked into the first room you were greeted by a quote from Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five which I thought was well suited and extraordinarily resonant. I would highly recommend this exhibition, even if photography or war isn't usually your 'thing'.

It was lunchtime by this point and I had some serious belly-rumblings so we walked back up to the food market behind the Royal Festival Hall. I had such a tasty falafel wrap and Liv had a blue cheese burger. We washed this down with mulled cider from the Rekordelig Cider Lodge - just what we needed for our chilly hands!

Whenever I'm around that end of the Southbank I'm unable to resist a quick look at the Book Market underneath Waterloo Bridge. There were some amazing finds, but I did well to resist this time.

Our next big stop was the One New Change shopping centre behind St Paul's. We had a brief look at some of the shops (I completed my Christmas purchases), and then jumped in the elevator to the viewing terrace on the roof. My, my, my, were we greeted with a beautiful sight.

In the lift to the roof

Aside from the many cranes obscuring the skyline (well, it is London), I'd have to say the view was breathtaking and more than worth the stomach-curdling lift ride to the roof.

Don't you just love this half-light so particular to winter? I really do.

The final leg of our grand tour found us in a pub round the corner from Brick Lane, where we consumed a well-deserved cider by a roaring fire before meeting a friend for a curry. It was one of the loveliest Sunday's I have had in a while and the perfect happy day.

I hope you've enjoyed joining us on our tour of London! Are you a big walker?


Sunday, 14 December 2014

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #6

1// Mince pies So many have been consumed and I'm not even sorry. I can't wait to indulge in one or two (definitely way more than that) of my Mum's homemade mince pies when I get home on Christmas Eve.

2// Wilkie I was heading back into another DNF daze earlier this week, but I decided to put the book down immediately and head to Wilkie for a quick pick-me-up. He never fails me, and that's why he's my main man. I read the novella 'Miss or Mrs?' and (obviously) adored it, so next up will be 'The Guilty River' for more mystery, intrigue and questionable feminism.

3// Bobble hats It is finally cold enough for me to crack out my selection of bobble hats. I look like a nerd, but my head is cosy - you win some, you lose some. A colleague asked me if my reindeer were parked outside, but I let that one slide.

4// Walking On Friday I knew doing a workout when I got home would be next to impossible (it's been a hard, exhausting week), so I did the next best thing and walked the four or so miles home. I go by way of Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square and then across the Embankment footbridge to the Southbank and on past Waterloo. It was a beautiful walk and one I will never tire of.

5// Planning In trying to keep my head above water I've starting planning things for later this month and for next year. I've got something exciting in the pipeline coming up on the blog soon, and I'm also planning a trip to Oxford in January. In my 25 before 25 list I said I want to take a solo trip somewhere and I think this will be it (not nervous at all). If you have any recommendations for Oxford (bookshops always welcome) then do let me know.

6// Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper This novel looks set to be one of the top debuts of 2015. I've heard rumblings about it around the internet and this week I realised why when a very special package dropped through my letter box. Published by Penguin and due in January, this is a novel about a journey, memory, longing and love. I've read the first few pages and they're beautiful so I can't wait to read more - this may be my Christmas book for this year.

How about you, what made you happy this week?

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Friday, 12 December 2014


I was browsing the Foyles website yesterday (I'm planning a special treat for you guys) and I came across several hundred pounds worth of books I don't just want, I NEED. So I thought to myself, which books would I buy if I had a £50 gift card to spend in Foyles? Well, there's a question.

It was surprisingly hard deciding what I'd spent the money on - do I go pretty? Do I go deep? Do I go informative? Do I try something new? Or stick with what I'm used to? Here's the result of my fantasy shopping trip:

Lists of Note by Shaun Usher (£19.99) Who doesn't love a good list? I can see this being the perfect coffee-table book.

Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation by Andrew Lycett (£9.99) Wilkie...need I say more? I feel that this would be an excellent companion to Ackroyd's mini biography.

Siegfried Sassoon: The War Poems (£10) I do have a collection of Sassoon's poems somewhere, but I love the cover for this Faber and Faber edition.

The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman (£10.99) The classic text on the first months of World War One - it's about time I read it.

So there we have it - a mixed bag I think. I'd have to put in an extra pound, but I'd be very happy to treat myself to these this Christmas. If only dreams could be reality...

How about you, if you had a gift card what would you buy?


Monday, 8 December 2014

TED Talks: A Top Ten

Over the last few months I have fallen in love with listening to TED Talks. I find so many of them to be beautiful, inspiring and often moving. I listen to talks to learn, to feel motivated, to laugh and to feel refreshed. There are many talks that I would recommend and many that I have listened to repeatedly, but for now I'm going to share my ten favourite in the hope that maybe there is at least one in there that will inspire you.

Susan Cain: The Power of Introverts

Karen Thompson Walker: What Fear Can Teach Us

Andrew Solomon: How the Worst Moments in Our Lives Make Us Who We Are

Sarah Kay: How Many Lives Can You Live?

Billy Collins: Two Poems About What Dogs Thing (Probably)

Eve Ensler: Embrace Your Inner Girl

Meaghan Ramsey: Why Thinking You're Ugly is Bad for You

Elizabeth Gilbert: Success, Failure and the Drive to Keep Creating

Clint Smith: The Danger of Silence

Tracy Chevalier: Finding the Story Inside the Painting

What is your favourite TED Talk?


Sunday, 7 December 2014

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #5

1// Yoga I started doing bits of yoga here and there a while ago in an attempt to loosen up my hips and become more flexible. Even though I still find it incredibly hard as my muscles seem to be ridiculously tight, I'm loving the sense of calm it gives me. Plus I'm a sucker for a bit of muscle ache. Better than the calm and the aching though, is the opportunity to work towards a goal - one day I'll be able to do a downward dog with my whole foot touching the ground.

2// Taming the mane This week I finally had my hair cut for the first time since the start of the summer. It really needed it. I go to a walk-in place near work where they wash and cut with absolutely no extra fuss - I do not need my head massaging, thank you very much. Going to the hairdresser to me is like going to the dentist to others, but this place has such a 'bish bash bosh' vibe that I can almost handle it.

3// Station Eleven It seems to have been a week for this novel and I've certainly not been the only person reading it. I can barely put into words how incredible I think it is (I will try because I want to review it), even if it did freak me out a lot and make me worry that a sore throat I thought I was getting was actually the Georgia Flu. Yeh, I thought we were doomed for a moment there.

4// Writing You may have noticed that thing's have been a little more active around here recently and I think I'm almost ready to say that I've got my mojo back. It's been a difficult few months and it feels so good to be writing again and not only over here - I'm slowly starting to exercise my creative brain by writing a couple of other bits and bobs. I'd like to say that I'm so grateful you have all stuck around - thank you so much for always brightening my days.

5// Family time Seeing my family is starting to become a bit of a habit and I have to say it has been lovely. I've been back in Somerset this weekend for a wedding - the reception was in a marquee in our field (!) - and it's been brill to dress up and have a boogie with my nearest and dearest (even if some of the dancing should probably not have happened).

6// Compliments from elderly men At the wedding a lovely, if inebriated, chap I was stood by at the bar told me I had beautiful eyes and a beautiful smile. You've got to grab those moments whenever you can.

What about you, what made you happy this week?

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Friday, 5 December 2014

Review: The War Workers by E.M. Delafield

The War Workers
E.M. Delafield

'But it was characteristic of Char Vivian that she did not make up her mind then and there to order the car around and arrive at Plessing in time for eight o'clock dinner and early bed, much as she needed both. To do so would have jarred with her own and her staff's conception of her self-sacrificing, untiring energy, her devotion to an immense and indispensable task, just as surely as would a trivial, easy interruption to the day's work in the shape of John Trevellyan and his new car, or an hour consecrated to fresh air and luncheon.'

E.M. Delafield is best known for her classic portrayal of British domesticity in Dairy of a Provincial Lady, published in 1930. She was in fact the author of over thirty novels, including Consequences (1919) which, along with Diary, has since been published by Persephone Books. As she is now out of copyright, there are a multitude of ebook versions of her books floating around the internet. I discovered (maybe rediscovered would be a better word) Delafield through one of these ebooks and I only wish that it had been available when I was writing my dissertation on women's war work as it is such a perfect example. Alas it was not, but I'm thrilled to have finally been able to read it.

The War Workers gives us a glimpse of life at the Midland Supply Depot under the uncompromising control of Charmain Vivian, a woman of good fortune bent on being the most patriotic and hard working female around. I loved the way Delafield slowly introduced Char to us by letting us almost eavesdrop on the conversations of those around her. The novel starts with her subordinates discussing the wonderful Miss Vivian who does her duty until late into the evening and rarely stops for lunch (a certain Miss Delmege is her greatest admirer who enjoys collecting 'Glimpses into Miss Vivian's Real Self'). Then we're shown a different perspective, that of Char's mother Lady Vivian, who is far less impressed by Char's apparent patriotism as she sarcastically rebuffs any notion of the wonderful Miss Vivian.

The focus of this novel is everyday life and everyday relationships, particularly those between groups of women. Though the war plays a large part I found it to be something of an extra - it does crash into the plot on occasion and we're aware that it's always there lurking in the background, but it seems to be something that's just happening whilst the women carry on. It feels wrong almost to say that given that the women have been drawn together by their war work, but there is a different attitude towards war in this novel compared to many others written during the period. We understand throughout that the war is a terrible thing, but I think what makes it different is that Delafield does not try too hard to show this. She focuses on the lives that must go on as usual in the most unusual circumstances and in doing so, she provides us with a startling portrayal of humanity in war.

What I particularly loved about The War Workers is how character driven it is and how much the dialogue dominates the text. Each character is given a voice - an individual, recognisable one at that - and it is hard not to form attachments and opinions. Miss Delmege and Mrs Willoughby are two of the most memorable characters in my mind. Delmege is so unfailingly loyal to Miss Vivian that she is  often tiresome and her habit of saying things that she doesn't understand or agree with are 'strange' began to verge on the comic at times. Then we have Mrs Willoughby, a violently patriotic childhood friend of Lady Vivian who speaks in a high pitched voice to her long-suffering pekinese (aptly named Puff). She is quickly set up as the woman whose lavish patriotism and exuberance make her an irritant, but in actuality she is one of the first to tell Char how it is - 'Simply because you enjoy making a martyr of yourself!'

'You can't send us to the cellar? My dear boy, I, for one, refuse to go. We're not children, and we're not afraid. We're Englishwomen!'

I could so easily give you a rundown of the whole character list for this novel, but I won't. I think I'll leave you to discover the ladies of the Midland Supply Depot for yourself. I could also easily write an awful lot more about the novel, but again I won't. Instead I'm just going to urge you to read it because I think, no matter what genre usually appeals to you, this is a heartwarming, hilarious, subtly observed and beautifully detailed character study that will brighten your day. 

I'm so glad I finally managed to read The War Workers, and I don't think it will be long before I start discovering what else E.M. Delafield has to offer.

Have you read The War Workers or any of Delafield's other novels?

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