Friday, 26 May 2017

The Reading List #43

Having shared this week about my daily ritual of spending at least 30 minutes of reading a day, it seemed about time to share my next reading list and some of the pages I've been turning.


The Lake House, Kate Morton


This book falls into the style Morton does well; two stories unfold at once, one of a missing child in the 30s and the second set 70 years later. The stories clearly have some kind of connection, but that's revealed only very slowly. It's certainly gripping and interesting, and there are some lovely passages of description. 

Whilst I enjoyed the read, as I have with Morton's previous novels, the style and formula are very distinctive and familiar, and it felt a little predictable towards the end. If you're looking for some escapism, though, a decent story and some good little twists, it's worth picking up.


Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig


This book is raved about by so many, and for very good reason. I'm not actually going to say too much as I think I want to re-read it for a second time and then dedicate a post all of its own to one of the best books I've read in a very long time.

Using his own experiences, Haig weaves a beautiful, difficult and insightful look at depression, suicidal thoughts and other facets of mental health and metal illness. He tells his story, tells of parts of his recovery and shares key tips or lessons he has learned. It's one of the first things I've read that really captured the way I feel when my depression is most heightened, or described those feelings I recognise as surrounding my own panic attacks.

Truly outstanding, and should be essential reading.


My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You, Louisa Young


This story follows young Riley Purefoy, serving at war in 1917 and his childhood sweetheart, Nadine, whom he leaves behind. He never thought he had a chance with her, as she was from a more privileged background, so believed by going away he could move on with his life.

It's a beautifully written story of the war, from both the front line and the home front, focusing in particular on hospitals for wounded soldiers. It was easy to get invested in the characters, and I particularly loved Riley's journey through pride, injury, blame and embarrassment. He was believable, but your heart broke for him.

However, the novel never quite goes as far I wanted it to, when I wanted it to, but maybe that's part of why it was a page-turner. It was a quick-ish read, but full of emotion.


One Foot Wrong, Sofie Laguna


Hester, who seems around primary-school age, lives at home with 'Sack' and 'Boots'. The story is narrated mainly inside her head, a young girl who doesn't attend school and has been brought up in an incredibly strict household, with bible stories her only tool with which to connect to and understand the outside world.

This was a really unusual read, with a truly shocking ending. It's intriguing and clever, but there were moments where I felt the voice was lost, or the narrator used a metaphor she would have had no way of comprehending. However, I would say the voice was far more consistent than some other novels which try to adopt this childlike voice. Well worth a read.



A mixed bag, as ever, but that's the way I like to read! I've already read plenty more since these few, so expect more reading lists on the way soon...

Monday, 22 May 2017

A new daily ritual: 30mins of reading

Growing up, I was always a bookworm.

I loved reading and I was a fast reader, so I would devour book after book.

I'd build dens with my sister and sit in there to read book after book after book.

English literature was always my 'thing' academically, and that's what I continued on to study at university.


After leaving university almost four years ago, my reading levels definitely decreased.

Part of the reason was I just needed a break. I had been reading such huge quantities and reading things TO discuss, write about and be examined on.

At the same time, my lifestyle wasn't in a very good place overall.

My anxiety had kicked in for the first time and my overall way of living and mindset were extremely unhealthy.

Add in working full time and the excuses of never having enough time to read, and the number of books I was getting through decreased dramatically.


I started reading properly again a couple of years ago, when I moved to London, as my tube commute was the perfect little block of time to get stuck into a book.

The problem with that was that I only read a very particular kind of book on the tube. Because I hated the tube so much, I needed easy, 'trashy' novels that  could quickly get swept away in and enabled me to block out the world around me. My reading increased, but I wasn't broadening my horizons, mixing it up or challenging myself in any way.


Fast forward to the end of 2016.

I left London and my whole lifestyle was being reassessed. I had got so unwell in terms of my mental health that drastic change needed to be made.

As a part of that change, I began to gradually introduce new daily habits, which included things like a gratitude journal.


About 4 months ago, I added in a new habit of reading daily. I started with 20 minutes then quickly upped it to 30 minutes.

It's a long enough amount of time to completely get lost in a book, without eating up a huge chunk of the day.

I tend to switch off any screens or distractions, set a 30 minute timer, and off I go. Sometimes, the 30 minutes race by and I carry on past the timer. Other times, I don't want to read, but after that half hour has passed I feel so much better.

I've been diving into both fiction and non-fiction and trying new authors, themes and styles and I am absolutely loving it.

I've not managed every single day without fail, but I'd say about 90% of the days I've done it, and it's definitely a routine I'll be keeping up.


Let me know if you have any great daily habits I need to be including, or have any book recommendations!

Saturday, 20 May 2017

The Recipe Post #12: The simplest spaghetti and fresh tomato dinner

On the evening I made this pasta, the plan had been to make courgetti with tomato, basil and balsamic.

But then there were no courgettes in the shops.

And then my balsamic reduction went to pot.

So I improvised with what I had in front of me.

The result was the most simple, fresh, delicious spaghetti dish.

It almost didn't feel worth posting about, but I think it can be so easy to forget the really simple things once you've got into a pattern of trying to experiment with your meals more.


Ingredients:

  • spaghetti
  • 1tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • black pepper and sea salt, to taste
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
This doesn't really need instructions: olive oil in a pan, add the garlic, tomatoes, then cooked spaghetti and finish with basil and lemon juice!

It made a really nice change to a thicker tomato-based sauce, and felt like a very fresh, light dinner for an easy evening.

When I don't feel inspired around dinnertime, I sometimes panic and default to foods that really aren't the best for me. This reminded me that the simplest of meals can be fresh, reasonably healthy but very speedy and fuss-free.


Saturday, 13 May 2017

Twelfth Night, Royal Exchange Theatre

Last week, my dad booked the pair of us last minute tickets to Twelfth Night at the Royal Exchange Theatre. We love theatre, we love that particular theatre and we are fans of Shakespeare.

This offering did not let us down.


Before I start, the show is running for about another week, so grab your tickets right now. I was surprised by the amount of empty seats there were when we went - this production deserves to be sold out night after night.

Shakespeare's plays have been performed again and again, retold in many ways and reimagined by so many performers. I've seen my fair share of both the very good and the very poor! I'd put this up with my very favourites.

I'm usually someone who leans towards the tragedies rather than the comedies, and I think that's because comedy can arguably be more difficult to get right.


This truly was 'Shakespeare done right'. It was bawdy, rowdy, musical, lively... it felt like a true celebration of the way these plays were written to be performed. It was laugh out loud comedy and the famous words were handled with slick ease by a brilliant cast.

I love theatre performed in the round and this show was well-directed to really make use of the space The actors addressed every part of the theatre and there were moments where the audience just felt a part of everything happening on the stage. I was particularly impressed by the use of the sand laid on the floor and the rain used multiple times throughout the evening.

The music plays a huge part in this production, and the musicians executed skillful scene transitions, sometimes playing from their booth up on the second level and sometimes wandering as a group of travelling players through the scenes. The music in the opening scene was incredibly atmospheric, and combined with the lighting offered a mesmeric start to the show.


Faith Omole played the role of Viola excellently - I was so drawn to her every moment she was on the stage. Her performance was faultless, and her singing was truly beautiful and something I'd listen to again and again.

Anthony Calf took on the part of poor old Malvolio with skill, pulling huge laughs from the audience again and again, handling his character's decline with conviction. Maria (Mina Anwar) provided another huge dose of comedy, although I think she sometimes got so carried away in the excitement of her character that diction wasn't always as clear as it could be.

I really enjoyed Kevin Harvey's accent (as Orsino) and found him incredibly likeable. He handled the duality of powerful king and lovesick puppy well, and he and Omole interacted beautifully.

The last cast member I'll mention is Simon Armstrong, who made a superb Sir Toby Belch. He was funny and clever, and commanded attention in every scene. I'm still not quite sure if the broken electric guitar in the 'party' scene was supposed to happen or he cleverly improvised by summoning his acoustic guitar, but either way, it worked!


It's been a while since I've seen any Shakespeare on stage, and this production reminded me why I love it, It's an intelligent, witty, musical, energetic version of the play, and well worth a watch.
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