Priorities, Plans and New Pencils

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Hey guys,

Well, it’s September (how did that happen?), so new stationery at the ready – it’s time to plan ahead for the remainder of the year. I’ve had some time off from my blog recently but I’m back now and raring to go. I always feel like this time of year means coloured pens, new shoes and timetables, with the promise of starting something new and exciting – so it’s definitely time for me to get back into writing. Do any of you feel the same? I think the academic year has been hard wired into me, like how a lunar cycle makes people go crazy on a full moon (or is that just a myth?)  

Anyway, my colour coded, bullet journalled, super organised plans are:

1. New blogging timetable
I’ve had a look at my blog stats and I can see that anything posted on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday gets far more attention than anything posted in the week. I’ve always said that I don’t care how many followers I have or who reads my stuff, but it seems silly not to take advantage and post when most of you are likely to see it. So, from now on I’ll be posting on Fridays and Sundays, with the option of a Wednesday discussion type post.

2. Complete my reading challenges
I’m doing both the Popsugar reading challenge 2017 and the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 and to be honest I’ve lost my mojo a little bit. There’s just so much good stuff coming out at the minute and Netgalley seems to be getting all of my attention. My current stats are:

Book Riot: 12/24 books read (3 books currently being read)
Popsugar: 23/40 books read (3 books currently being read)

*blinks in surprise* that’s actually better than I thought and although I’m a little behind I think I can complete both by the end of the year.

3. Work on making my blog prettier
I’ve always thought that I’m quite creative but other than sticking up a picture of the book cover I don’t bother with graphics. It actually annoys me when other bloggers put a million gifs into their blogs because I think it interrupts the narrative and my crappy old kindle fire struggles to play them. Does anyone else have this problem/bugbear? I’ve got a vague idea of what I want to do but sometimes I just find it so time consuming and tedious – I’ll have to see how this one goes *reads this back and immediately knows this isn’t something I’ll pursue for long*. Does anyone with a super adorable, graphics heavy blog have any tips?

4. Engage more with the blogging community
I’ve neglected you guys lately so I need to show you some love! I’m sorry and I missed you all, but I have been pretty busy (see previous post).

I think that’s all for now, I can’t focus on much more than that without getting overwhelmed.

Are you all making plans and prioritising specific tasks that you’d like to achieve with your blogs, or in your lives in general? Does everyone have that back-to-school feeling? Do you find it a positive motivator or do you get a mild sense of panic? Let me know in the comments!

Super big love,

Lucinda xxx

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Review: The Revenant by Michael Punke

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The year is 1823.
Location: the Rocky Mountains, USA.
The task – go with the men of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, find as many wild animals as possible, kill them, bring back their pelts. Oh, and don’t die.

One man takes these instructions far too seriously.

Hugh Glass is one of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company’s most experienced trappers. However, a surprise encounter with a mama bear leaves him seriously injured and fighting for his life. Out in the wilderness, with no medical provisions and only a rudimentary knowledge of first aid, Glass’ fellow trappers do what they can, but they’re fairly sure that he’s a dead man. The only problem is, Glass refuses to die quickly and waiting for him is putting the rest of the team in danger of being found by hostile Indians, as well as putting them behind schedule. Therefore, they decide that the only practical solution is to leave him behind. However, they don’t want Glass to die alone, so two of his colleagues agree to stay with him until the end.

Except they don’t.

The two men wait with Glass for a couple of days, but concerns for their own safety lead them to decide to abandon him. They reason that he won’t need his kit anymore and raid his stash of weapons and personal items before leaving Glass for dead.

Except that Glass STILL refuses to die.

And now he wants revenge.

And his weapons back.

But mostly revenge.

Glass then drags, crawls and limps his way back to the men who wronged him, almost dying on a daily (sometime hourly) basis. Apart from his injuries, Glass has to deal with surviving in a hostile wilderness, alone; having no food; being surrounded by enemy Indian tribes and wild animals completely unarmed, unable to walk, bleeding, with infected wounds and with no definite idea where he’s going. I would have said that the story was completely unbelievable if it hadn’t been based on true events.

The book is a complete Boy’s Own survival adventure – it’s a very literal account with almost no discussion of interpersonal relationships. It seems that every man (and it is all men, the only time women are referred to are in passing references to whores) is out for themselves, as life is so tough and death is just around every corner. This held my attention for a while, but I did begin to get a little bit bored of the endless hardship. The book became a series of descriptions of dangerous situations, near misses and bloody deaths and their frequency meant that their impact began to wane.

I got a bit annoyed by the occasional different points of view that the text was written from, especially as some short chapters were set in different time periods. Most of the characters had kind of merged into one by this point so I kept having to refer back to see what was going on.

Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

I know a lot of people didn’t like the ending, but I didn’t really have a problem with it. I won’t give away too much but things don’t turn out exactly as planned – but fine, whatever, more dangerous situations, blood and guts, blah blah blah. It was a bit of an anti climax but I’d kind of lost interest by that point.

Overall, this book was definitely not the kind of thing I’d usually read. I have very, very little interest in historical novels (fact or fiction) and the relentless struggle for every meal, every mile travelled and every search for a shelter to sleep in became quite tiresome. I did enjoy learning about various survival techniques and some of the characters that Glass encountered were quite interesting but overall it just wasn’t my cup of tea. If 19th Century American history is your thing then I’m sure you’ll get more out of the book than I did. Oh, and it’s apparently quite different to the film (which I haven’t seen) so don’t let Leonardo DiCaprio put you off.

Rating: 3/5

Neither hated nor loved it, found some enjoyable parts but didn’t really engage with the subject matter.

Please note that I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #11 Read a book that’s set more than 5000 miles away from your current location and the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #24 Read a book that’s set in the wilderness.

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Loveitt by Chelsea Sedoti

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Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

Wow, so, like, this is like a totally annoying way to write, right? So, like, you probably wouldn’t have the main character of a book, like, totally talk like this, right? Well, not if you’re Chelsea Sedoti.

In fairness, this weird Valley Girl vernacular drops off pretty quickly, but after reading the first few pages of The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Loveitt I really wasn’t sure if I could keep going. I did, and it did get better, but unfortunately there was plenty of other things to get annoyed about.

The book itself is about a girl called Hawthorne, who gets completely hung up on the disappearance of Lizzie Loveitt, a girl she vaguely knows from school. I didn’t understand exactly why Hawthorne got so involved in the case (we’re told she has an active imagination – more on that later – and Lizzie does sound like a very engaging individual) but I don’t get why she got so wrapped up in events. Was it a girl crush? Was it just the excitement of the disappearance? I’m still not sure.

Through Hawthorne’s own investigations, she meets Lizzie’s boyfriend and begins a kind of relationship with him. That might sound all sweet and adorkable but frankly, it was just a bit odd. Normally I’m firmly in the corner of the weirdo’s but as a character, Hawthorne was just too random, even for me. She had the most bizzare ideas about what had happened to Lizzie and seemed to want to convince herself and everyone around her that she had figured things out, even when her solutions were ridiculous and she knew that everyone would laugh at her. I found Hawthorne to be so lacking in rationality that it was impossible to follow her train of thought, which got on my nerves.

Lots of the other characters in the book weren’t really fleshed out properly so it was hard for me to engage with them. Lizzie’s boyfriend, Enzo, was a stereotypical tortured artist type, Hawthorne’s best friend was a stereotypical nerd, her mum was a stereotypical hippie. They all had side stories that didn’t really go anywhere and their relationships with Hawthorne seemed quite flimsy. A chunk of the story was dedicated to some gypsies turning up and camping on Hawthorne’s lawn, but nothing really happened except a couple of conversations where Lizzie was given advice.

Yawn.

As the title of the book suggests, I thought that Hawthorne and Enzo would uncover some exciting/horrifying/salacious information about Lizzie that would add intrigue to the storyline – but – SPOILER ALERT – instead they just discovered that Lizzie had changed a lot since high school and lived a very minimal life. Quite a lot was made of this (Lizzie was empty inside, always changing herself to fit in with others etc.) but really, who hasn’t changed from their high school self? And so what if she had a minimal apartment? I felt a bit cheated by this.

The ending of the book was pretty anti-climatic and after that I thought that the story dragged. Luckily, it ended pretty soon after.

All in all, I didn’t totally hate the book but I couldn’t really engage with the characters or the storyline. The only thing that kept me reading was the certainty that at some point, something would happen…but it kind of didn’t. Perhaps if you’re more of a fan of YA you might get more from the storyline or relate to the characters better, but it just wasn’t for me.

Rating: 2/5

Bland, unremarkable fiction, vaguely annoying characters, no real storyline. Not truly terrible, but not a book I enjoyed or would recommend. 

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #17 Read a book that’s published in 2017.

Book Blogger Test

So I’ve been meaning to do this for aaages and just haven’t got round to it…thank you to Jess from Daring to Jess for nominating me! Sorry it’s taken so long!

Here we go

Rules

1. Thank the person who nominated you and add a link to their blog
2. Answer the ten questions asked on this post
3. Nominate at least five people to do it 
4. Let your nominees know you nominated them

Q&A

1. What are your top 3 book pet peeves?

1. A tiny font. Seriously, why? Are you trying to break my     eyes so I can never read again?
2. A forward or introduction that includes spoilers. Again, why?
3. Poetry or songs within the narrative. Also quotes at the beginning of chapters. I either skip over them or spend ages trying to work out the relevance. Either way, it ruins the narrative flow for me.

2. Describe your favourite reading spot.

My Grandma had a big 70’s vinyl egg chair that both spins and tilts, and when she died I put it in my spare room. It’s so super comfy and it still smells like her house. I couldn’t get a good photo but it’s almost identical to this…

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3. Tell us 3 book confessions.

1. I read about 7 books at a time, and I had no idea this wasn’t normal until recently.
2. I got excited when I broke my leg knowing that I would have so much extra reading time.
3. I’m a total kindle convert and the last time I read a paperback it actually hurt my arms.

4. When was the last time you cried during a book?

I hardly ever cry at books. Maybe when Snape died in Harry Potter. He will always be my favourite character ever.

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5. How many books are on your bedside table?

Seven! My mum keeps lending them to me. They’ve been there quite a while…

6. What’s your favourite snack to eat while you’re reading?

Satsumas. Or cake. Mmmm, cake… I recently started baking along with the Great British Bake Off (even though IT IS NOT THE SAME WITHOUT MARY, MEL AND SUE) and I made these chocolate mini rolls from week one…

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7. Name 3 books you would recommend to anyone.

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Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – a really epic story of one man’s attempt at redemption helping people in an Indian slum.

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Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann – a super glitzy story with a very dark undercurrent.

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How to be a Woman by Catlin Moran – literally changed my life and woke me up to gender bias, inequality and feminism.

8. Show us a picture of your favourite book on your bookshelf.

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Valley of the Dolls, part of my Virago Modern Classics collection.

9. Describe how much books mean to you in just 3 words.

Books mean everything!

10. What is your biggest reading secret?

I stole a book called “the Creepy Tale” from our school library, I just loved it so much…shocking behaviour!

Nominees
Heather@sassy book geek
Zucky
Mikaela@well thumbed reader
Alex@whimsy pages
By hook or by book

Enjoy!

Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine…until you scratch the surface of her life and realise that she isn’t. At all.

You see, Eleanor lives a life of pared down efficiency. Her meals are one pot, one plate. Her shoes are smart but comfortable, with Velcro for quick fastening (none of those inefficient shoe laces). Her role as a finance administrator requires analysis and ordering of numbers, which can be broken down into repetitive tasks and scheduled accordingly. All of this means that Eleanor creates minimal fuss and requires minimal interactions with other people. All perfectly FINE, thank you. Until you realise that Eleanor treats vodka like an essential basic grocery and thinks of a pot plant as her one and only friend.

Eleanor struggles with people, and as the book progresses, you start to guess at what might have happened in her childhood to make her so ill equipped to deal with social situations. Apart from having burn scars across her face and body, Eleanor has a very troubling relationship with her mother (Mummy) who she only contacts via telephone for 15 minutes on a Wednesday (and thank God, because this woman is a BITCH). As the book progresses, Eleanor makes some woeful (often hilarious) attempts to make herself more attractive to her crush and through a freak event is forced to spend time with Raymond, who she knows from work. Through this very off-kilter friendship Eleanor begins to accept herself and explore ways in which she can, ultimately, be fine (no capitals).

I have to say that I really enjoyed this book. Eleanor was such a great character and although she is clearly odd and her life is terribly sad, the novel is written in such a way that you don’t ever feel that you’re laughing at her, or at least not in a malicious way. There’s so much darkness in the book and Eleanor is such a bullied, broken individual that you immediately want to defend her, but you don’t just like her out of pity, you want her to be your friend because she’s genuinely funny, interesting and kind. When she acts inappropriately you can see it’s because she doesn’t understand social norms and never because she aims to cause offense – but to outsiders I suppose she seems aloof or downright rude. It’s this constant formality and awkwardness that made me empathise so much with Eleanor – you can’t help but be completely on her side. 

The book is very cleverly written and is such a fantastic achievement for a debut author. The surname Oliphant means a monster or monstrous elephant and the full name of Eleanor Oliphant sounds like a play on the word Elephant. I suspect Gail Honeyman wanted us to think of the metaphor “the elephant in the room” which could often be applied to Eleanor – the strange, silent person that, with her pensioner style clothing and scarred face, is completely obvious but no-one wants to acknowledge.

The ending of the book has a fantastic twist that I half guessed at but the sadness of the whole situation really hit me. I loved how Eleanors past was hinted at throughout the novel and that by the end of the book everything had come to light. It certainly kept me guessing right to the end and I would love to know how Eleanor gets on (although I said this after Me Before You and look how After You panned out).

Overall, I loved the character of Eleanor and seeing how she stopped trying to just survive and started trying to live. I loved how what could have been fluffy chick lit was turned into something much more challenging and emotive by offsetting the lighter elements with something far darker. The book is very well written and is perfect reading for this time of year, when the days are still mild but there’s a bit of a nip in the air.

Rating: 8.5/10
Charming, funny and oh-so heartbreaking, a great debut novel from an author to look out for.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley!

Review: Assassins Apprentice by Robin Hobb

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I don’t really know how this  series of books passed me by, but I was surprised to see that they’ve been around since the 90’s (ahhh, the 90’s, my favourite decade…). Having read that they’re similar to Game of Thrones but without the tits and dragons (surely this should be the quote on the front cover) I was quite excited to get stuck in. I love a big heavy fantasy series and I was initially impressed by the heft of the novel, but surprisingly it took me a little while to get into. I found that it was quite slow going at first, and being written all from the main characters perspective it did grind along detailing every single thing that happened every day, which got quite boring quite quickly. However, the pace improved and I found myself getting sucked in to the magical world that Robin Hobb has created. Eventually. This is one of those books where patience really is a virtue.

Being aimed at a slightly younger audience, and with a young main character, there is very little in the way of romance. There is a bit of a love interest but nothing really happens and I felt that if this element of the story had been beefed up it would have made the more mundane sections of the book more interesting. Similarly, certain events occur which would usually be quite upsetting, but because the characters aren’t fleshed out enough beforehand Hobb failed to create any emotional response from me as a reader. I really missed this engagement with the story, and although it did get better later on I felt it added to a fairly flat tone throughout the initial third of the narrative.

I had mixed feelings about the way that the main royal characters were named after their personality traits (i.e. Shrewd, Verity, Chivalry etc.) On the one hand, it made it very easy to remember who was who and to mark out who needed to be second guessed (King Shrewd, for example, would always make a seemingly wrong decision that you knew would turn out to be correct later on). However, this also took away a layer of intrigue – the individuals always acted completely “in character” so their personalities turned out to be a bit one dimensional. There’s also the very real question of what the characters were called before these personality traits developed – were there just nameless children running around for the first ten years of their lives? Or did they change names? And did their name mean that they couldn’t grow and change as people? These little queries really got to me as the story progressed and I never found a satisfactory answer. Grrr.

Overall, I did enjoy this book once it got going although not as much as I had hoped. I found some parts were quite dull and I would have liked more emotive writing, with a greater emphasis on the magical elements. As the main character grew throughout the novel (literally and figuratively) I came to be more involved in the storyline so I would be interested to see what the next book is like – but I wouldn’t go out of my way to read it. There’s so much great fantasy out there that I wouldn’t really recommend this book to anyone unless they specifically wanted “something like GoT, but for an older child”. Even then it would have to be someone with exceptional patience – I imagine most kids would get bored.

For older readers – yeah, it’s missing tits and dragons. That’s all you need to know, really.

Rating: 7/10
Disappointing, but the second book should be better.

Please note that I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #12 Read a fantasy novel.

What Lucinda Did (when she wasn’t blogging)

Hello lovelies!

How are you all? Have you had a good summer? I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to keep up with my blog, so I gave myself a little break from it. I think that’s ok? Anyway, I’m back now and ready to catch up with the hundreds of reviews that are yet to be published (ok, maybe not hundreds, but several). I’ve missed blogging, and specifically, the blogging community, LOTS so thank you all for sticking with me.

In the meantime, I thought I’d ease myself back into writing g-e-n-t-l-y with an update on what I’ve been up to…

Brace yourselves…

The New Allotment
Oh my goodness, I am OBSESSED with my new allotment. We picked up the keys in March and got cracking pretty much straight away. We’ve taken it from a sea of weeds to creating lots of neat rows of veg, with a grassed area for fruit trees and bushes. This is it about a month ago when it was sill a work in progress:

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I’ve harvested peas, beans, potatoes, kale, onions, soft fruits and carrots, baked pies, blanched, steamed and roasted vegetables, made soups, stews and risottos and produced my own jam. As a result, we’ve been eating more adventurously, although not necessarily healthier – plum tart is my new favourite dish! This is the runner bean risotto that I made – we have about a million beans at the moment that we give away to as many people as we can think of:

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I’m planning out my crops for next year and I’m planting winter veg now. Exciting times!

The New House
So as an investment opportunity we bought a second property to do up and rent out. We now own a small terraced house which was built in about 1850 and after peeling back the wallpaper and ripping up the carpets, it doesn’t seem to have had anything done to it since then either! It has some lovely original features like a brick fireplace but it also has dodgy electrics, mice and a leaking roof. We’ve stripped everything out, had it rewired, put in new windows and fences and we’re in the process of replacing some of the floorboards and having it replastered. I’ve chosen a new kitchen and bathroom, semi tidied the gardens and had antique lights fitted outside. This is my partner Rich chipping back the plaster to expose the original fireplace:

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I can’t wait for the plastering to be finished so I can get on with the decorating!

Chilling Out
Summer is a time for relaxing and we’ve had some nice family days out, been to Trentham Gardens (definitely worth a visit, especially at this time of year), had a few relaxed barbeques with friends, been on nights out and had a holiday in Devon with my parents. We also ticked off one of my ‘bands to see before I die’ as we went to watch the Flaming Lips in Birmingham, which was just the best gig I’ve ever been to. It was crazy and funny and an unbelievable stage show. Here’s so poor quality pics that I tried to take on my phone:

The lead singer’s unicorn – he came out into the crowd riding it to throw glitter all over us

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One of the many inflatable stage props – this one is a giant robot.

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Singing Space Oddessey in an inflatable orb balanced on top of the crowd – as you do.

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Anyway, that was my summer – how was yours? Let me know in the comments.

Loadsa love,

Lucinda xxx