Tuesday, 3 November 2015

VSH Book Club... Late Fragments Review

This last month's book has been a very different choice for me, as I am not normally a fan of the autobiography. However when I first came cross it I just felt like I had to read it. Maybe it is because I am still relatively new to the mum game and was drawn to the fact that the author Kate was a mum, or maybe it is just because we are all so acutely aware of how big a threat Cancer still is and I haven't actually read any books on the topic. 

I am so glad that now I have. This book made me cry (shocker) but not until the end, which was kind of unexpected. I thought that I would be weeping throughout, but the writing was so surprisingly upbeat and positive for a large part of the book that I found I would frequently forget the bigger picture, and be absorbed by the often funny, and always very real, portrait of day to day family life. Kate Gross was undoubtedly a successful and ambitious women, with an illustrious career. Yet whilst she worked for Tony Blair, and led a life changing charity, she comes across first and foremost as a mother and a wife. And a daughter and a friend. It's no wonder that her blog and subsequently this book have been so popular; this could easily be someone you know filling the pages with their brave words. 

The thing that I enjoyed most about this book was the message, which is delivered in a distinctly non-preachy way. What Kate makes us, or at least me think, is that there is joy to be found in the little things. We all know life is short, but for some, it is too short to even imagine. Faced with the certainty that her twin boys will grow up without her, Kate manages to make us believe in the magic of a swimming lesson or a cuddle from her self declared soulmate. Her wishes for her family's lives to continue are beautiful, and you get the sense of how much her early travelling years shaped her lust for life. 

Kate was a natural born writer. Honest, intelligent and witty, she manages to describe 'the nuisance' in the most effective way I have ever come across with just the right mix of science, minute detail and perspective. I felt like I understood how she felt at every stage of her illness, and why she did. I loved her approach to the spirals of friendship, and her familiar descriptions of the woe that is young adulthood. Most of all however I loved the way in which she writes about her husband and boys, the respect that underpins her feelings towards them bouncing off the pages. The fact that the book is pretty much her gift to them, and her way of always being with them just makes the writing even more noteworthy. 

Although the final chapters are the most emotional to read, I still raised a smile at Kate's description of her need to control everything post departure. As a list fiend myself, I think that I too would try and fit in everything possible task I could in an attempt to exert some control in my absence, and of course to try and make life a little less messy for those left behind. 

I would recommend this book to everyone, but specifically to anyone who knows someone in Kate's shoes, or similar. It provides such an honest insight into what helps when faced with the worst news possible, and what absolutely doesn't, some of which is pretty surprising. It's also a great read for anyone who just sometimes feels that life is whizzing by, and needs a reminder to pause once in a while to appreciate what's around us. It's also great for those who don't like a long read - easy to read and brief, you'll get through it quickly (which is actually a sad thing when I come to think of it, as had Kate's life been longer so would the book). 

So there we go... my rambling thoughts on a book that I loved.  Feel free to share yours! 

Friday, 2 October 2015

VSH Book Club #5 - Late Fragments

I don't think I have ever seen or heard the word 'life-affirming' used as much as it is in reviews of this month's book club choice. Late Fragments: Everything I Want to Tell You (About This Magnificent Life) was written by Kate Gross, a mother of twin boys, a wife, and CEO of a charity by the age of 30. Gross also worked for two British Prime Ministers at 10 Downing Street (as you do). 

Kate was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 34 and died on Christmas Day morning, last year. Apparently she passed away just minutes before her sons woke up to open their presents. 

Welling up yet? Wondering why on earth would I want to read about such a horrendously sad story? I kind of am too, but I keep coming across this book (you can't miss it in Waterstones at the moment, and I remember reading this article by the author's mum in the Guardian a few months ago) and I feel like Kate's story ought to be read.  Starting life as a blog, Kate's words apparently turned into a memoir left for her husband and children, one which has since become a Number 1 Bestseller. Praised as being honest, funny (yes really) and beautifully written, this promises to be a book you will remember. Let's just hope that's because it provides perspective and inspiration, and not because it made us all weep for a year. 

Waterstones have included it in their book club for the month, given it 4/5 (reader reviews) and are selling the paperback version on sale at the moment (click here). Amazon readers have praised it as a 4.5/5 and are selling it for even cheaper here, and the kindle version here

Who will be joining me? If you need a little more convincing here is a snippet of Kate's writing about life after her diagnosis, taken from the book and mentioned in the article referenced above:

 “Everything has changed and yet nothing has changed. In other words, the petty frustrations and stupid ambitions and general rushing around have melted away, but the good stuff remains. And it’s better than ever.” 

PS - Reviews of To Kill A Mockingbird/Go Set a Watchman next week! 

Friday, 7 August 2015

VSH #5... Go Set A Watchman

No surprises with this month's choice folks! As I said in July I chose To Kill A Mockingbird to mark the release of the sequel Go Set A Watchman and to re-read the original before turning to the much anticipated new release. 

So it's only logical that the sequel is the next book choice, and as the two books are linked (albeit from what I've heard they are pretty different in reality!) I thought I would post my review of the two at similar times, and also because I know not everybody has finished TKAM yet - or even started it Mother and Husband!!

I have purposely steered very clear of any reviews of Go Set A Watchman as I want to go straight into it with an open mind. In fact my knowledge of what the story covers is very limited, aside from being aware that Scout is once again the narrator only this time round she is in her mid 20s and is returning from New York City to see Atticus. 

You can purchase Go Set a Watchman in hard copy here or for the kindle here.

I hope you'll join me, and let's hope it lives up to the hype!

Friday, 17 July 2015

Haul Ass to... the beauty bargain basement!

It's been a while hey?! But I'm back with some Friday treats for you and this week there are 50 of them! I cannot take any credit whatsoever though as I am simply pointing you in the direction of Sali Hughes' 50 best buys under £20 recent round up which you will find if you click here. For those of you who don't know, Sali is an all round beauty guru who writes a regular column for the Guardian and who, when it comes to make-up, hair and beauty products, is the bomb. 

I came across this list a couple of weeks ago and straight away at least half of the items went on my wish list. Some I had already come across (hello fellow Elnette devotees) others were completely new to me and I am looking forward to giving a whirl, for example the Vichy serum which I've seen on twitter is causing quite the stir and the burt's bees hand cream which sounds gorgeous and has been requested for my upcoming birthday :-). I have already purchased the wet brush which I love! It is a godsend if, like me, your hair resembles a birds nest after being washed, especially as I have recently been doing the 'reverse wash' - has anyone else? Maybe a post topic in it's own right! 

Has anyone got any favourites from this list? What about other budget buys you love?

Gems I have come across myself include this Collection 2000 concealer which I honestly can't tell apart from Touche Éclat when it's on, baby oil as an all round moisturiser and Max Factor's False Lash Effect mascara which for some reason I haven't replaced despite it running out around a year ago and none of the replacements I've been using since coming close! 

I hope you find something you like and join in the beauty chat. What else are you going to do on a Friday afternoon?! 

Thursday, 2 July 2015

VSH Book Club #4... To Kill A Mockingbird

If ever there's a book which needs no introduction it's this one, so I'll keep it brief!

I have chosen this classic in honour of the sequel Go Set a Watchman which is released on 14 July, 55 years after To Kill a Mockingbird was first published. Go Set a Watchman is possible the most anticipated sequel EVER, with a serious amount of hype surrounding it.  It's pretty impressive that so many years on the original is still regarded as a must read, and it was definitely one of my favourites growing up. Like me, you may have read it as part of the English Literature curriculum at school, and I am pretty intrigued to revisit it and check out what *insightful* comments I scribbled down in the margins!

I have to admit that I have forgotten much of the story so I am really looking forward to discovering characters Jem, Scout and Boo Radley, amongst others, again. The story is set in 1930s Southern America and is told through the eyes of Scout, whose father (all round legend Atticus Finch) causes somewhat of a stir by defending a black man accused of raping a white woman. The book has sold over 30 million copies and won the Pulizter Prize. Enough said. 

I don't want to read the sequel (which you can pre order now) without being up to speed on the original, so if you feel the same then please join me. If you have never read the book, grab a copy now and I promise you're in for a treat!

Versions are available for kindle here, or you can pick up this paperback edition here. Personally, I have fallen a little bit in love with this gorgeous limited edition so will be very jealous of anyone who gets it!

Happy reading!! 

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

VSH Book Club #3 - All The Light We Cannot See Review

Apologies for the lack of book club posts last month, I blame my return to work, plus the fact that this was a bit of an epic read! Hopefully we will now be back on track with a book a month, so make sure you come back tomorrow for the reveal of July’s choice.

So… All The Light We Cannot See. I really, really liked this book. It is definitely my favourite of the books I have read so far this year and I would recommend it to anyone who likes to get stuck into an intriguing story with a focus on character development. History buffs or just those with an interest in the Second World War are unlikely to be disappointed.

The book has two main characters, Marie-Laure, who at the outset is a 12 year old blind girl living in Paris with her father, and Werner Pfennig, a German orphan of a similar age whose best friends are his younger sister Jutta and an old electrical radio which he manages to salvage. The short, sharp chapters of the book mostly alternate between Marie-Laure and Werner’s narration, and it is their parallel experiences of wartime, and eventual convergence, which make the story so effective. Whilst the two are only in each other’s company for the shortest of times, it was for me one of the stand-out sections of the book, with Doerr managing to avoid an overdose of sentimentality.

Marie-Laure was my favourite of the two protagonists and in particular I embraced her relationships with her father, then later her uncle, as authentic and necessary. Guided around Paris and then Saint-Malo (the coastal town of Northern France where she and her Father flee to) by hand carved model cities, Marie-Laure develops into a young adult who takes on the task of smuggling illegal broadcasting messages to her uncle with minimal fuss or fear, which seems natural given the way in which her father raised her. The absence of her Father for at least half of the book, and the lack of resolve on his disappearance, is hauntingly sad but entirely ordinary given the story’s context. Inhabited by the power of books, Marie-Laure’s coming of age culminates in a 5 day stake out in a secret attic, during which time she reaches out and finds, albeit unknown to her, the ears of Werner, via her uncle’s rogue broadcasting station.

Werner stumbles upon the voice of Marie-Laure narrating one of her favourite stories, followed by a cry for help of “he’s going to kill me”, whilst he is trapped in post-bombing hotel ruins. Werner ends up there after being plucked from obscurity at the orphanage and saved from a life of mining thanks to his knack for audio engineering. His natural talent sees him excel at a Hitler Youth School under the protection of a Science Professor and older student Volkheimer, whose friendship with Werner is slow burning and subtle. Unsurprisingly, the Academy is a brutal breeding ground for oppression and indoctrination. Sent out to the field at the early age of 15, Werner manages to rejoin Volkheimer and his team as they travel east, trailing and uncovering illegal broadcasters, ultimately leading him to Marie-Laure and a moral decision he must make.

The story is captivating, and I can see why there have been comparisons with ‘The Book Thief’. I have probably not read a book as atmospheric and one which so effectively conveys the reality of wartime Europe since Markus Zusak’s offering, although the latter remains far superior for me. The jumping from one time frame to another worked well I found, as it kept up levels of intrigue as to how the main two characters would fare in the last few months of
the war. The empathy felt for the two young adults was the strongest point of the book, together with the beautiful language used to paint a vivid picture of their immediate surroundings. Amongst the best bits of writing were the chapters in which Marie-Laure, deprived of both her site and her closest companion, sets foot onto the beach for the first time, as the healing powers of the sea and accompanying wildlife almost leap up out of the page.

The downsides of the book and few and far between. I found it a little too drawn out around the middle section, when Werner’s time at the school is depicted in great detail. Here there were also a number of characters which did not, in my opinion, add anything substantial to the book, and bordered on clichéd. For example I would have happily given up time reading about the Academy’s almost cartoon like Commander, and spent it instead following the plight of Marie-Laure’s imprisoned Father. I also think that more narration from Werner’s sister would have made the chapters she does offer towards the end more effective. She is an intriguing young girl but unfortunately her descent into adolescent is only briefly explored. The book also tracks the plight of a supposedly cursed precious stone, and in particular the quest to discover it by a terminally ill captain of the Reich. I found his chapters the least enjoyable, and although his involvement is key to the much anticipated encounter of Werner and Marie-Laure, I thought he was given too much page space.

Despite those small flaws All The Light We Cannot See has made its way into my top 50 books (if such a list existed!) and the beautiful imagery of conflicting childhoods, and the difficult decisions made in the years that follow will stick with me for a while. I do wish that I had read this in fewer sittings, as I feel the time I took to keep dipping in and out probably diminished the overall effect of the read. If you haven’t read it yet then definitely do so, but try to start it when you have a decent amount of time to dedicate.

Overall, a beautifully written book with a clever way of uniquely telling what is essentially a much told story.

What did you think folks? Would you recommend to a friend? 

Friday, 5 June 2015

Haul Ass to... The Vintage Emporium @ Pear Mill

Whilst Teddy had his first solo session at nursery earlier this week I decided to pop into a nearby Vintage Emporium I had seen advertised, which is located within one of Stockport's many old cotton mills. This one is Pear Mill, which also houses the kid's play centre Run of the Mill. I am pretty glad that I did!

Who knew that there was such a huge collection of some (incredibly cheap) vintage clothes, accessories and furniture so close?! I was surprised by how vast the space is, covering two floors and with empty space for more sellers to come along and display their gems. I took a few sneaky snaps but if retro is your thing then you should definitely get down there and see for yourself.  

I have been after some vintage suitcases for ages, to store on top of our wardrobes, and picked up two blue ones for £10 and £12 each. Much cheaper than the ebay alternatives I had been looking at! Pablo took a shine to one immediately! I could have spent a lot longer there browsing the clothes but didn't think it was the done thing to be late for nursery collection on the first day! It just means I have an excuse to go back and check out the amazing 80s slouch ankle boots I spotted on the way out :-)

Happy weekend one and all! 

ps anyone else have one of these at primary school? Imagine having one in your house!!

Monday, 1 June 2015

Our Trip to Tallinn

Around eight weeks ago Chris and I took Teddy on his first holiday, a 3 day break to Tallinn, Estonia. I'll be honest with you, the destination choice was wholly governed by money. As we were travelling in a school holiday (the perks of being married to a teacher) flights to most of the places we fancied, including Madrid, Barcelona and Dubrovnik, were all pretty damn expensive. I had almost written the city break idea off altogether when I did a skyscanner search along the lines of 'Manchester to Anywhere' for our dates and discovered that Tallinn was a much cheaper alternative.

Cue a read of the Lonely Planet guide and some general internet research, from which I learnt that Tallinn looked very attractive indeed, aesthectically and on the bank balance. So a short text to Chris ("Do you want to go to Tallinn? It looks nice and has cheap beer") followed by an even shorter response ("Yes") later and we were booked to fly with Ryanair. The next step was to find a hotel, and this was a very pleasant experience because there actually isn't a huge amount of choice (compared to other European cities), especially if you want to stay inside the Old Town itself.  We chose the Merchants House Hotel because of its location, its individuality and the free standing baths! I may have a bit of an obsession with them.

This choice turned out to be a great one, as we absolutely loved the hotel. As Tallinn accommodation prices are generally very reasonable, again especially when you compare them to other capital cities, we could afford to stay in this type of boutique hotel and even upgrade to a suite. We decided that as we were travelling with a 9 month old in tow we wouldn't be out partying every night so it made sense to spend the money on a nice room which we would be spending a significant amount of time in. I contacted the hotel directly to ask about the size of the rooms and fitting in a travel cot, and they offered me a great deal (cheaper than the website price) for the suite which sealed the deal.

So off we went... we decided to borrow a buggy rather than take Teddy's pram/car seat combination which worked out fine for us. We drove to the airport and parked there meaning he was in his car seat for that part of the journey, and I checked out the taxi laws in Tallinn which confirmed he could go on one of our knees for the 10 minute journey from airport to hotel. Teddy stayed in his buggy at the airport and we didn't have to hand it over until we boarded the plane. I found the majority of the travelling process with Teddy to be fine. Luckily the flights were at decent times and we managed to keep Teddy awake for a good while beforehand so for both journeys he was tired by the point of take off. As soon as we boarded he had a bottle which sent him off, and he then slept for about 1.5 hours, leaving us with about an hour and twenty minutes to entertain him. We did so by dragging out giving him a meal, reading to him and letting him bang the fold down tray with his toy hammer (hi there fellow passengers!). Although it wasn't bad, I wouldn't want to go on a budget flight for much longer as there was a serious shortage of space. Maybe it would be ok if we paid for extra legroom or a first row though I guess.

One more bit of baby chat before I talk about the actual destination. Food and milk wise for Teddy we took two large ready made aptamil bottles which we put in the checked in bag and stored in the fridge in his room, then 6 small 7oz bottles for when we were out and about. We took two pouches per day and the same in fruit pots. For sterilising we took 4 bottles and purchased these disposable sterilising bags from boots which were great. Teddy tried a fair bit of food when we ate out, and had breakfast every day from the hotel buffet, but it was good to have the pouches for ease of use and to make sure he was eating enough.

Tallinn is split into the Old Town and the surrounding areas, the latter of which are often frequented by stag (and the occasional hen) dos but we didn't come across any once we were there. Full of cobbled streets and picturesque churches the Old Town is really beautiful and is really easy to navigate. I would say that three days was enough as it isn't very big, but then again you could spend much more time there if you wanted to visit all of the museums and galleries on offer. We aren't always museum people, and less so with Teddy, so we spent most of our time wandering the town's shops, bars and restaurants. We visited the main tourist attractions like St Katherine's passage, where we booked into a great Italian restaurant that did the best carbonara I have ever tasted, and the famous hot chocolate cafe Pierre Chocolaterie with its candlelit velvet interior.

We also spent one day visiting the zoo, which was fairly impressive given the next to nothing admission fee. It was really big and although some sections were under construction it was definitely worth the bus ride and we spent about 3 hours walking round.  That evening we walked out of the old town and round the back of the train station to an area called Telliskivi which is apparently where the cool kids hang out. We followed a recommendation from the app I had downloaded, Live Like a Local (which is really good) and went to F-Hoone for food and drinks. Despite it being a trendy hang out, no surprise was shown at us rocking up with a baby at 8pm and it was very child friendly.  The same goes for all of the bars and restaurants we went to to be honest, it is definitely a place that embraces young families. 

Weather wise it was a bit hit and miss; the first two days it was fairly chilly and coats were definitely needed. On our last day however the sun came out and as we sat outside having a few beers in the main square it felt pretty damn hot! The main square itself is very colourful and picturesque, evidenced by the amount of people posing for snaps there. I expected the prices in the bars which surround the square to be high (hello Rome) but was pleasantly surprised to find that there was no real difference between here and the backstreet bars. 

One final reason why I would recommend Tallinn is the time difference. They are two hours ahead and Teddy stuck to his loose routine based on UK time, meaning that he would wake at 9-10ish Tallinn time, making for a nice couple of lie ins! Similarly he wouldn't need to eat tea until 8pm in Tallinn which meant we weren't back in the hotel room too early. We hadn't planned to keep Teddy to UK time for naps and eating, it just naturally happened. 

It was so nice to go away and I think that we definitely did it at the right time. It seems that in the couple of months since we went Teddy's mobility has soared, and I can't see him being as happy now to spend as long being pushed around or sat in high chairs. He is all about the exploring right now! Having said that he did get to see lots of new things, and tasted numerous beer mats and restaurant menus. You stay classy child! 

I imagine that is enough for now :-) All in all it was a great trip and a lovely place for Teddy's first city break. Get it on your travel wish list! 

Friday, 29 May 2015

Haul Ass to... Tobias and the Bear

It's Friday again folks! Today's treat is for the little people in your life, especially the ones who like to look super cool :-) I found these Tobias and the Bear leggings on instagram and the only reason it took me a while to order a pair for Teddy was because I couldn't decide which ones to go for! 

I eventually picked Storm Boy in White which I love, although I definitely have my eye on the foxes when these no longer fit. Foxes are kind of Teddy's signature thing! They wash well and are true to size. At £15 a pair they are more expensive than standard kids leggings but I think they are worth it as a special purchase or as a gift. 

Which are your favourite?  

Teddy makes a great model. He doesn't pull ridiculous faces at all.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Haul Ass to...Breakout Manchester

Hi folks, bit of a different one this week as I am not encouraging you to go shopping but instead to spend your hard earned cash on getting locked in a room for 60 minutes. Bear with me!

Breakout Manchester is a fairly recent phenomenon, and one I stumbled across on twitter. Described as a real life crystal maze I was intrigued! In a nutshell you play in teams of between 3 and 5 and work together to solve a number of clues hidden in the room (which lead to more clues, that then point to more clues and so on) in order to get out of the locked room before the time is up. 

There are 7 different rooms to choose from when you book to play Breakout, each with a different theme and difficulty rating. Two of the rooms are the same, Classified 1 and 2, and these were the rooms we chose to play, purely because there were too many of us for one room. If you have a group bigger than 5 then I would definitely recommend booking these rooms (at the same time slot) as battling against a team of your friends only adds to the experience (not that we were competitive. Not at all). 

I won't say much about being inside the actual room in case any of you decide to go, other than the time flies by, especially the last few minutes, and that you get really into it! We managed to breakout with about 15 seconds to spare! The other team broke out too, a few seconds later. Tense times. 

So if you fancy something different then get yourself booked, I think the price depends on how many players you have but for us it worked out about £16pp which was definitely worth it. It is in the centre of town too so perfect for pre or post drinks, although I would not recommend doing this drunk! You need to be on your A Game! 

Happy weekend guys! 

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Monthly Milestones... 9-10 Months

I am not sure how another month has passed already and that Teddy is now 10 months old. Time is flying by! The past month has been as amazing as ever but if I am being honest it has probably also been the most testing one so far.

Teddy's crawling has taken back seat to more of a bum shuffle, which sees him whizzing around our wooden floors at a scary speed. His favourite activities now including chasing Pablo into corners, trying to put his hands in cat food and messing with any exposed wires. A Health Visitor's dream!  Now that Teddy can move around freely, he is understandably less interested in sitting in one spot and playing with his toys and books. Consequently I spend a lot of time following him around, especially to and from his toy box as he contemplates what he would like to play with for all of two minutes. It looks like he is as indecisive as his Mother!

Teddy has started to pull himself up on the sofa, or on us, and if we hold his hands he can also manage a few wobbly steps. He gets very excited by this, although to be fair so do we! He especially likes to pull himself up if we are eating on the sofas, as demonstrated below. A minute after that picture was taken he pinched my Yorkshire pudding! At least we know he has good taste :-).  I don't think walking will be too far off, which terrifies and pleases me in equal measure. Chris started walking at 10 months so this plus the fact that Teddy has always seemed to have strong legs makes me think he may be an early starter too. I'll probably be proved completely wrong about this! Either way I really should tick off the 'buy stair gates' item which has been on my to do list for a good few weeks now. 

Sleeping has been... interesting this month. I know that we are still very lucky to have a child that sleeps through the night for the vast majority of the time but it is the actual getting Teddy to sleep which is the problem. For his day time naps I used to put Teddy down awake and leave him to drift off unaided. Now that he can sit up this has gone out of the window! Once I put him down and leave him, unless he is completely shattered, he immediately sits up to either play with his cot toys (writing this one obvious step seems to be to remove those!), throw his dummy across the room and either cry or sing! Consequently I now rock Teddy to sleep on the rocking chair in the nursery and, whilst this isn't setting a great precedent, I must admit I love those moments especially with my return to work looming closely on the horizon. 

Bedtime is fairly similar, once we have got Teddy into his Grobag (a mission and a half) cue numerous trips upstairs to retrieve his dummy or lie him back down. Eventully he will get so sleepy that he will fall asleep, and not too infrequently this will be sat up! I think it is just his age and realisation that we are in the room one minute and gone the next. Perhaps we should see it as a good thing that he wants to be near us! If I stand next to him and stroke his cheek he will happily lie still for eternity, but I am keen for him to realise he has to go to sleep by himself. Plus that wrecks my back!

I am sure the textbooks would be screaming 'controlled crying' to me at this point and berating us for going upstairs whenever he cries. Don't get me wrong, we don't go in immediately but I just dont think the controlled crying is for us. Teddy seems too young to be left alone upset for any significant period of time, plus all the running up and down the stairs will hopefully help me to fit back into my work wardrobe! I am treating this as just as phase which will hopefully pass like the rest, and as I say it's not all bad given once he is asleep he is generally out for the count until 8am. He is not going to be happy when nursery calls for a much earlier start!

This past month has also seen Teddy master the art of waving (usually the double hander), throwing his arms into the air when we say "how big is Teddy?" which my Mum can take credit for, and a very cute squint as he tries to copy us when we blink at him. It is ridiculous how proud each of these developments makes me. The little things hey!

That's all for now, roll on 11 months! x

Thursday, 30 April 2015

VSH Book Club #3: All The Light We Cannot See

Well I promised that the next book would be something you can get your teeth into, and I am certainly hoping that's the case with this month's choice, winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and New York Times bestseller All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. 

I first came across this book on the Waterstones website under the bookseller recommendation section. Having done a little more research, more than one source has said that fans of The Book Thief should enjoy this, and I LOVE that book. I guess the two are being linked because of the similar backdrop of World War II. In All The Light We Cannot See two children cross paths in occupied France; Marie-Laure a blind French girl and Werner, a German orphan. From what I can gather (I don't like reading too many reviews in case of spoilers) we follow their journeys over a 10 year period intertwined with a mystery connected to a cursed jewel. 

Amazon reviewers have given the book 4.5 out of 5 and you can buy the kindle or paperback edition here. Or head on over to Waterstones, where it gets 4 out of 5 from the solo reviewer, who describes it as "Magnificent. An all time great."

So there we go. Who's in? 

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

VSH Book Club... The Girl on the Train Review

Look away now if you haven't finished the book or want to avoid spoilers!

If I had to sum up this month's book I would say that it is an easy read thriller, enjoyable but not ground breaking. Overall I liked it despite it not setting the world alight; it was well written and engaging, and I can understand why it is currently so popular. Like with last month's book however I wasn't overly enamoured with the characters, and this wasn't a read which I kept thinking about afterwards.  If asked for a score out of 10 I would go for 6 (in a very far reaching and general book category) or 7 (in its genre). Here's why:

The biggest plus point of the book is that it hooks you in immediately. No slow build up here, the reader is introduced to the main character Rachel and all her flaws from the outset, as well as the couple she has become somewhat obsessed with as her daily commute (which we soon learn is contrived) passes the back of their house each day. A few doors down lives Rachel's ex and his new wife and daughter, who add to the intrigue. There is no arguing that the writing leaves you wanting to know more, this is the kind of book that you will stay up late for even when you don't think it's worth it!

The array of characters' secrets adds to the overall success of the book and keeps you fairly on your toes for the majority of the story as to how things will pan out. I say the majority as I suspect many people will have guessed the twist and/or outcome around 3/4 of the way in which is when I did. This didn't ruin the book for me though, as I thought the conclusion of the story was well handled and didn't feel as rushed as some thrillers do. It also made sense and didn't leave me wanting to punch the author in the face like a certain similar title did. Most of the characters (Rachel's housemate aside) had a hint of darkness about them, and the story flowed well from one narrator to another as well as from one timeframe to the next. 

I also thought that having such a flawed main character was a bold move and one which made the book more interesting than many of its counterparts. Obviously towards the end we learn that many of Rachel's shortcomings are the after-effect of an abusive relationship, but for the most part we are dealing with a character whose lonlieness and excessive drinking are described in all their (anti) glory and which appear at times to be self inflicted. I found that I did engage with Rachel and was willing her not to open that bottle of wine at 10am in the morning. Equally I was cringing for her when she wakes to her housemate discovering the pile of vomit at the bottom of the stairs, which I put down to the effective writing and refreshingly realistic descriptions of how bleak living in such circumstances must be. 

On the downside, I found there was some repetition within the story and that it lacked depth. I guess it doesn't set out to be the sort of book that will change your life though so can't complain too much about that! The character of Scott, Megan's husband was an obvious cliche for me, and I found it pretty hard to believe that he and Rachel would have struck up the shortlived friendship that they did without him asking a few more questions about her relationship with Megan. There were also a number of characters introduced but not explored fully enough for me, like Anna and Dr Abdic. 

I am trying to think of other shortcomings of the book given that I only think it is a 6/7 but am actually finding it difficult so maybe I have been a bit harsh! My main issue is simply that it's not a book that will stay with you or effect you emotionally, but for a thriller read which keeps you guessing and makes you want to race to the end (which isn't a difficult task) you can't go too far wrong with The Girl on the Train. 

What did you think folks?! Please share your thoughts! They are probably more insightful than mine!

Come back tomorrow for May's book club choice x 

Friday, 24 April 2015

Haul Ass to... GAP

I rarely go into or look at Gap online for clothes for myself. When it comes to baby and kid's clothes though, they are up there with the best in my opinion. They currently have an interesting offer on whereby the more items you buy, the more discount you get. If you purchase one item a 20% discount will be applied, if you purchase 3 or more items the discount is 25% and if you have a blow out and go for 5 or more you'll get a 30% reduction. The code is LOVEGAP and ends today! 

Here are some of my kiddie favourites. Head on over there now! 

Americana flutter star one-piece £14.95 before any discount 

Whale one-piece £12.95 before any discount 

Flutter ladybug one-piece £17.95 before any discount 

Americana star slip-on sneakers £8.95 before any discount

Ant tunnel banded pants £7.95 before any discount 

Have a great weekend! And if you haven't finished reading this month's book club read then get a move on :-) 

Monday, 13 April 2015

Monthly Milestones... 8-9 Months

We have a crawler! I said in my last monthly milestones post that Teddy was almost there, and a couple of weeks after posting that he figured out how to cross the rug to reach his favourite toy and since then there has been no stopping him! It has been so amazing to watch, as you can see him working out in his head where he wants to go and the determination he uses to get there. He does sometimes still alternate the crawl with the bum shuffle, and prefers carpets to wooden floors but I suspect that we will be needing that stair-gate very soon! After the first time Teddy crawled he didn't do it again for 24 hours, and I think he hadn't realised that he had cracked it, but now as soon as we put him on the floor he is on the move. Pablo is less enthused about this than the rest of us :-)

Crawling hasn't been the only major milestone this month, we also took Teddy on his first holiday! I will write a detailed post about both the destination (Tallinn) and tips on travelling with a 9 month old very soon but the short story is that he was a little star and we found the whole trip to be much less stressful than anticipated. I would definitely recommend a city break with a baby around this age; Teddy seemed fascinated by the new surroundings and was more than happy to be pushed around in the buggy we borrowed. It also turns out that menus are his new favourite thing! He was happiest with one of those in his hand (and not one of the carefully selected toys I had packed) whilst Chris and I had a beer. You can't argue with that! It was lovely having time together as a family, we didn't cram too much in so had plenty of time to chill out just the three of us. I just wish we could have had a bit longer!

Over the last month Teddy's sleeping pattern hasn't changed much but one new development is that he now sleeps on his tummy rather than his back, sometimes with his bottom in the air as demonstrated beautifully below! When he first did this I would turn him back over but having consulted fellow mums I learnt that it is a safe way for babies to sleep once they are strong enough to turn themselves over, so I leave him be. Unless of course he decides to fall asleep sitting up which he has now done twice. How this is even possible I don't know, the boy has some serious sleeping skills.  

Food wise, Teddy continues to eat most of what he is given. Given being the operative word however - he has decided that feeding himself is too much hassle so now tends to drop whatever I hand to him on the floor and opens his mouth expecting me to do it for him. Of course this never seems to apply when he is given a baby biscuit, the little monkey. It is a good job we didn't go for solely baby led weaning as it would be a nightmare right about now! I am not worrying about it yet as I am hoping it is just a phase, and I am sure that if he gets hungry enough he will miraculously start to feed himself finger food again.  On holiday we discovered that he LOVES spaghetti carbonara and pizza (I gave him a tiny bit of mine) so he clearly takes after his mum when it comes to a weakness for Italian food.  I suspect that he has put on a fair few pounds recently! 

I think that is all for now, quite a month it has been for the little man! I will leave you with a few more pictures from the last few weeks and will see you in a months time! 

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

VSH Book Club #2: The Girl on the Train

I almost didn't pick this as April's book because of the title and it's similarity to last month's. I promise that not all the featured books will begin with The Girl...! I am hearing about this book everywhere though so I thought let's keep it topical and go with the current number one bestseller (in the Waterstone's UK chart and Amazon books); The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Plus it is on offer at the moment to download to kindles for only £1.79 which you can't really argue with. Click here for the link.

The book is being compared to Gone Girl, but from what I have read only in the sense that both are thrillers and have risen to popularity quickly. I started reading this last night, as did Chris, as it is VERY easy to read. This does make me think it may not be the most intellectually challenging book ever, but I will make up for this next month with a serious read! 

You can read a synopsis of the book's premise here. It seems to be about a women called Rachel, in her mid 30s and a heavy drinker, who rides the same train everyday to London. During this journey the train slows or stops at a particular signal, from where Rachel can see into a number of houses, including one belonging to a couple she names Jason and Jess. I already want to know more about Rachel, whose loneliness and hints of a past life are immediately engaging. One day Rachel sees something which apparently "changes everything". Intrigued? Me too! In terms of reviews it has 5 out of 5 on the Waterstones website, 4 out of 5 on Amazon and the Guardian describes it as "inescapable tension, superbly handled". 

I hope you join me in reading this book and that you find it enjoyable. We'll compare thoughts in a month! 

Monday, 30 March 2015

VSH Book Club... The Girl With All The Gifts Review

It's quite hard to write a book review when you don't really know how you feel about the book! When I finished The Girl with all the Gifts Chris asked what I thought, to which I answered "I'm not sure". I think what this means is that I didn't love the book, but I did like it. I am torn as to whether this indifference is because of the quality of the book, or its genre. 

As I said in my original post, I hardly knew a thing about this book when I picked it as the first book to review. This is quite unusual for me as I generally know the vague concept of a book I am about to read or at least what section of a bookstore it would be found in! It isn't a bad thing though, as if I had known in advance that this was essentially a zombie story (despite never using the Z word) with a hint of science fiction I probably would have steered clear. I have since learnt that the book is being made into a film starring Glenn Close and Gemma Arteton and that, judging from twitter especially, some people really bloody love it! So here's what I thought... look away now if you don't want to read any spoilers!

The book is well written, I don't think you can argue with that. It has a great opening which gets you interested straight away, and I enjoyed the fact that there wasn't a large build up to finding out what was going on in the outside world. The first narrator of the book (told in the third person which I think works well) is Melanie, a 10 year old 'Hungry' who lives in a secure facility which we discover houses some of the few people remaining in England after what is referred to as the Breakdown. I have read a couple of dystopian stories like the Hunger Games and the Divergent series but this was a level darker, probably because it was not written for a teenage audience.  The Breakdown is described here and there throughout the book, and much of it from the point of view of Dr Caldwell who largely speaks in an overly technical and scientific rhetoric. In summary, a virus wipes out much of the population by turning them into Hungries who live in a zombie like state until they smell or hear human movement, which then inevitably leads to attack. The victims of these attacks then become Hungries themselves and so the cycle continues. 

Melanie, and about 20 other children living in the facility with her, are different however, and it is only revealed towards the end of the story in what way they are different, and why. We lean early on that Melanie is very intelligent, and has conscious thought so we know she isn't an ordinary Hungry. We are also told about her fondness of a certain teacher, Miss Justineau, who initially seems to be the only staff member of the facility who has a moral conscience. Melanie and her counterparts are kept locked up in cells overseen by Sergeant Parks, except for when they attend school-like lessons, or for weekly trips to the chemical showers and grub factory. Trust me, that bit is gross. 

The characters are well developed and the story only revolves around 4 or 5 of them so you get to know them pretty well, but ultimately I didn't feel that I could identify with any of them nor was I emotionally attached to them at all, even Melanie. To me this is one of the main downfalls of the book, as I am sure the author did not intend for a reader to be so ambivelent to their characters, especially the protagonist. Maybe this was because the story was so removed from reality, or maybe I am just heartless!  Another downside of the book was how graphically it described Dr Caldwell's work in her lab, which involved operating on live specimens. I don't have a stomach for this kind of thing at the best of times, but the detailed description of amputating a human head was to me unnecessary and indulgent. 

I found the ending to be pretty dark and depressing, but it wasn't something that I predicted which is a good thing. For one character in particular things concluded in an interesting way, and the book definitely leaves you with a lot to think about in terms of this person and their future, or lack thereof.  I did find it unconvincing how Melanie asserts authority over the other Hungry children who feature towards the end of the book, and I felt that the author having her save Miss Justineau in the way she did a little too convenient and that maybe the ending was rushed. 

What I did like about the book was that it was more than a story of the Breakdown, or the zombies left in its wake, it was about how the people left to deal with all of this developed relationships in forced circumstances, the most effective relationship being the one between Melanie and her favourite teacher. I also enjoyed the pace of the book, and its variety of narrators. It was also pretty clever to be honest, the guy who came up with this original concept knows their science! The book was very descriptive and I found that as I was reading I had a very clear (and weird) picture in my head of what the landscape looked like, so I will definitely see the film when it is out to see if the two match up. 

Ultimately I think that The Girl with all the Gifts is probably one of the best books of its genre, it's just a shame that that genre doesn't do it for me! 

What did you think? I would love to hear your thoughts if you have read it too! 

Also, come back tomorrow to see what April's book of the month will be! x

Friday, 27 March 2015

Haul Ass to... Accessorize

Less than a week to go until the long weekend folks! If, like me (yay!) you are jetting off somewhere over Easter then you may be on the lookout for the perfect travel companion and Accessorize may well be able to help with a number of reductions on their bags, in particular their 'weekenders' which currently have at least £10 off. If you are sorted for an overnight bag then you might be brave enough to try a backpack which I keep reading/seeing are having a bit of a moment. For me many of the patterned versions remind me too much of high school, but these plain leather or leather look ones have caught my eye. Failing that you can't go wrong with a cross over for a city break or a pretty tote for just about anything! 

Neon Print Weekender Bag £29 (was £39)

Ikat Print Weekender Bag  £24 (was £39)

Sophie Sporty Backpack £25 (was £35)

Leather Backpack £65 (was £85) Also available in tan 

Verity Tote Bag £30 (was £45)

Soft Satchel Across Body Bag £22 (was £32)

Happy Weekend! x