Unputdownables 2016!

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Another year has gone by! Of course, I can't see it through without writing this post. Here are my favourite reads from the past year:

Southern Reach Trilogy - Jeff VanderMeer

I'll admit something: this series took me almost a year to finish, despite finishing the first volume in a couple of days.

The Southern Reach are an organisation in charge of investigating the mysterious Area X, a dangerous and strange wilderness off-limits to the public. The first volume follows The Biologist, part of a four-woman team sent on the twelfth expedition into Area X to discover its secrets. As the series unfolds, you start to discover why the previous expeditions ended badly.

VanderMeer has a chilling writing style, particularly in the first book, which feels tense throughout. The second book - focusing on Control, newly instated at the Southern Reach - dragged a little at times, but the scary moments (when they happened) arrived like a punch in the gut.

What's great about this series is the world that VanderMeer has extensively built. The detail is incredible. He also manages to invent creatures and landmarks that are so unreal and out of this world that they feel genuinely creepy in their other-ness.

I've never read anything quite like it.

I'm not really a sci-fi girl but this series has convinced me there's more to the genre than spaceships and intergalactic politics!

Hold Your Own - Kate Tempest



One day last year, despite having a stack of books waiting to be read, I checked a load out of the library when I took Jellybean there. Why? Because they looked nice. I'm weak willed.

They had loads of copies of Hold Your Own, and having banged on for ages about wanting to get into poetry (having been put off by the way it was taught at school), I decided to check it out. What I found in this book totally changed my mind.

The collection kicks off with the story of Tiresias, a blind prophet of Apollo who is famous for being transformed into a woman after separating a pair of mating snakes by smacking them with a stick (yes, that is the actual story. Tempest's telling of the story is really good so I won't ruin the ending for you. You'll have to read it yourself). Then the collection is split into sections, following Tiresias's journey from child, to man, to woman, to blind prophet. What results is a deep, personal collection of poems that I kept re-reading in the vain hope I might be able to memorise bits of it. Tempest covers social issues, youth culture, and consumerism amongst other topics, in a slim but packed book, and deals with each subject with compassion and raw honesty.

She has made me discover poetry with fresh eyes - and the power of being able to express so much in few words. It really is an art form. This year I'm going to buy my own copy and highlight the absolute heck out of it.

Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith - Sarah Bessey



Two Sarah Bessey books have made their way onto my list this year. I've said it before but I'll repeat it here - what I love about Bessey is her ability to be totally grace-giving, even to people that have hurt her. She manages to balance gentleness with challenging words, having both respect for other people and the conviction of her own beliefs.

Out of Sorts sounds like it could be an attack on certain denominations or beliefs within the church. It isn't. Instead, it is a deeply personal and moving account of a changing and evolving faith. It wades into the deep waters of theological differences between Christians without fear - and explores it with both sensitivity and honesty.

Bessey writes about the process of maturing in your faith, and how difficult it can be. Having been through this process myself in the past few years, this book helped me to understand it. Bessey's own account of her journey in faith is tender, and beautifully honest. It helped me to realise the importance - the necessity - of 'working out my own faith with fear and trembling', and that to consider theology isn't just the job of pastors and preachers, but for everybody to consider and invest time into.

Expecting Better - Emily Oster



If I was going to recommend any book for an expectant mother, I'd recommend this one. Emily Oster, economics professor from the University of Chicago, fell pregnant, and rather than concentrating on sleeping and trying not to be sick (as I do whilst pregnant), she went into research mode. Focusing on the studies about pregnancy and alcohol, caffeine, eating rare meat, etc, the book breaks down each study and analyzes their findings. Oster comes to her own conclusions - and allows pregnant women to make their own conclusions, too. Very level headed and informative, and it made me feel better about drinking coffee in the mornings!

Hurrah for Gin - Katie Kirby



This sneaks onto the list as the last book I finished in 2016. I love the Hurrah for Gin blog and was so excited to get the book for Christmas. Katie Kirby's book of stick man cartoons and thoughts about parenthood manages to be both hilarious and touching. The last chapter made me cry a little bit. The rest made me laugh out loud.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter - Peggy Orenstein



Ever wondered why toys and books and games are so rigidly gendered blue for boys, pink for girls? So did the writer of this book. Orenstein found herself lost in a world of pink and glitter when her daughter, Daisy, was born. She goes on to investigate the impact this gender stereotyping has on girls - and how to avoid falling for it. I've wanted this book for a long time, and it's my favourite kind of non-fiction: interesting, impactful and very readable.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed - Jon Ronson



I went on a Jon Ronson reading spree this year, starting with the brilliant So You've Been Publicly Shamed. Ronson explores what happens to those who make mistakes on social media and have their lives turned upside down for it. It made me think twice about joining in with online witch hunts - and still makes me think before I post.

Funny and down to earth and kind of horrifying at the same time - this should be required reading for anyone who uses social media.

S. - Doug Dorst and J.J Abrams



I finally finished the rich, layered masterpiece that is S. This year. Written by Doug Dorst and conceptualised by J.J Abrams, S is a story within a story. Not so much a book, more of an experience. Check out my review here.

House of Leaves - Mark Z Danielewski



Speaking of ... Chris managed to find me not one, but two books with more than just one story this year. House of Leaves is the story of a man who discovers, in the apartment of a recently deceased blind man, an elaborate manuscript - an in depth analysis of a documentary about a family living in a mysterious house. The only thing is, the documentary itself doesn't exist.

House of Leaves tells the story of the mysterious Navidson house, the story of the old man who wrote it, and the story of the man who is trying to unravel it all ... and is starting to become dangerously obsessed with it all.

House of Leaves genuinely creeped me out (I had to stop reading it at night. The last book that did that to me was The Shining). When I finished it, I discovered a whole world of secrets and theories and puzzles waiting to be unlocked, mostly through the community on the author's official forum. This book could take over your life!

I just - I can't explain it. You have to read it to really get it. I found myself looking at the forum and then grabbing my copy of the book, rifling through it, and gasping in revelation. Either that or furrowing my brow and dropping everything else to try and work it out.

Jesus Feminist - Sarah Bessey



Bessey again, and I read this one with tears in my eyes. I'm planning on reading it again this year. Bessey explores scripture and discusses women's roles, and ponders how certain verses of the Bible have been used to silence and oppress women for thousands of years. She gets to the root of what I believe is God's heart for women - and uncovers how damaging and limiting the Christian obsession with gender can be. All with her patient, grace filled, but passionate manner. Highly recommended if you're a Christian (not just a Christian woman!)

The Fringe Hours - Jessica N. Turner



Another Christian book, but with such practical application that I think it would be good reading for anyone with a busy life. The Fringe Hours presents a way of finding the margins of your life - the small gaps and empty spaces - and suggests filling them with things that you are passionate about. A brilliant read for a creative-but-exhausted person.

Becoming Unbecoming - Una




So last year I said I'd read more graphic novels. I only got round to reading one in the end. Maybe this year?!

Becoming Unbecoming is the beautiful (true) story of Una, an artist going through her teenage years in Yorkshire at the same time that the Yorkshire Ripper was active. Una explores her own experiences with sexual abuse and slut-shaming, and the damage that we do to girls by sweeping it under the carpet. Very powerful, and at times painful, it's not a light read, but a beautiful and important one. The art style is stunning and conveyed her message in a way that impacted me long after I finished it.

***

That's it for my best reads of 2016 ... now to work on 2017! What were your favourite books from the past year? Let me know!

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Baby (grow) fever

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

I've been away for a bit. I had it in my head that after a few weeks I'd be back to normal blogging wise.

Oh, my hilarious, naive past self.

My son is now eight weeks old and I'm just about getting used to life with two kids. You know, the usual stuff - showering, eating, and so on. All about ten times more difficult with two kids, when one kid happens to be a tiny baby. It's amazing how much chaos one small person can bring.


Lovely chaos, obviously. I'm very grateful. (Admittedly I don't feel very grateful when I'm trying to get them both dressed and ready in the mornings. Getting ready is an epic disaster every single time. Right from not being able to find clothes that fit me down to attempting to manoeuvre the pushchair through a carpet of My Little Ponies and Duplo blocks. All to the beautiful sound of my son screaming at me in protest about being in the pram).

Anyway.

Eight weeks - how, how can it be eight weeks already since I was in a birthing pool sucking down gas and air like a drowning woman? - have passed. And it's still all a bit crazy here. The problem is, if you let enough time pass between babies your brain blocks out how much hard work they are. You start thinking of babies as small, cute bundles that you can just carry about with you wherever you go with no problems. LOL.

Anyway, I go to bed thinking 'I'll write a blog post tomorrow' and then I wake up at five to feed him, in a dark and cold house, feeling so dazed and exhausted that everything seems a bit surreal (mind you, the Trump stuff doesn't help with that 'is this actually real life' feeling).

So this is the best I can muster because I'm not so great at deep thinking right now (or indeed, any thinking): every day I have a small moment of indecision about what to dress my baby in.


We've been given tons of clothes, thanks to the happy timing of my sister in law having a baby boy a couple of months before us, as well as having close friends who are a bit further down the having-a-boy path than us. Our baby has more clothes than anyone else in the house. He's possibly got more clothes than me and Chris put together. He has lots of lovely little tops and soft comfy jogging bottoms and dungarees and teeny tiny little socks.

He also has a lot of babygrows.

I LOVE babies in babygrows. Love them. Something about a baby in a tiny onesie makes me melt a little inside. There's something so primal-mother-ish in pacing, shhing, and patting a babygrow-clad bottom in perfect rhythm. The day that Jellybean discovered that she could unpopper her babygrows and undress herself was a very very sad day for me, and I vowed I would make the most of babygrows this time round.

And so each morning I think 'this outfit is cute. I should dress him in that.' and then I think '... but I think I'll put him in a babygrow.'

There is literally no other point in this blog post other than a little update on what life is like here. Time flies like nothing else when you have small people around that insist on growing all the time. Watching them grow is amazing and slightly painful all at once. The only thing you can do, right in the midst of the sleepless nights and the mess and the chaos, is to allow yourself to drown in it. To be absorbed fully with it. And to grab onto the tiny perfect moments - first smiles, bonding moments between the kids - and file them away for mulling over later when you're less deliriously exhausted.


So I'm here, mostly at home. Learning all the words to the songs from Blaze and the Monster Machines ('maaagnets pick up some kinds of metal ...'). I've been smiling a lot. Sighing a lot. Swearing in my head sometimes when I get frustrated. And enjoying a tiny, snuggly babygrow-clad boy as much as I can before time slips through my fingers again.


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Pink Pear Bear

Unputdownables 2016 - Toddler Edition!

Saturday, 28 January 2017

If you read my Usbourne Books post a little while ago, you know how I feel about reading with kids - it's so important, and such an easy way to switch off from technology and the busy pace of life. We spend a lot of bonding time reading, and talking about the characters and ideas presented in books.

Luckily for kids these days, there is an unbelievable selection of beautiful, funny, quirky, and imaginative children's books out there. So this year I've decided to do a little round up of my daughter's favourites!


The Day the Crayons Quit - Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers


We got this from the library this year and repeatedly renewed it. It's now on my 'to-buy' list. I love Oliver Jeffers, but The Day the Crayons Quit is just the funniest, sweetest book we've read together in a while. (I think children's books should get bonus points if they're funny enough to keep entertaining everyone even after the fiftieth re-read).

Duncan's crayons have gone on strike. They've all got a bone to pick with him - they are overworked, tired, bored, and frustrated. Each of them has an individual reason why they refuse to do any more colouring - and they've let Duncan know in a series of letters that they have left for him to find.

I really love this book. Maybe this year we'll have a look at the sequel ...

Peep Inside ... books - Usbourne



What makes these books so interesting is how beautifully made they are. Little holes in one page reveal something exciting on the next. Little doors open and close ... you can even use the flaps to dress up a knight in the Castle one.


They're like next level lift the flap books. Informative, too!

We're Going on a Bear Hunt - Michael Rosen



Bear Hunt is one of those books that I knew I wanted to buy for my kids before I had them. It's a classic that you may remember from your own childhoods.

For a little while this year, Jellybean became extremely fixated with Bear Hunt. We had to act it out when we went for walks. (Which is fun to do in front of strangers walking their dogs in the park.)

Littleland Around the World - Marion Billet





A current favourite of Jellybean's. The Littleland books are really cute (I've reviewed one before here), happy books about a nursery of small animals. They are look-and-find books, as in 'can you see a map? Can you see a fountain? Can you see a camel?' and so on. Times a million.

Thankfully it is a Nosy Crow book (home of Pip and Posy!) and it comes with a QR code for an audio version, so instead of having to read this at bedtimes, a nice girl reads it for us instead. Which is a relief because it is fifteen minutes long.


Hairy Maclary - Lynley Dodd




I picked this up from a charity shop for £2 a long time ago. And it's still one of Jellybean's favourites. It contains five stories about Hairy Maclary and all his friends (and mortal enemies like Scarface Claw). He's a classic character for a reason!


Mr Big - Ed Vere





This was a 10p bargain in the library. It's tatty and old and obviously well-read and it's one of Jellybean's ultimate favourites. Mr Big is, well, big. A big, intimidating gorilla with a heart of gold who just wants to make friends ... however, Mr Big is so big that everyone is a bit scared of him. He expresses his sadness and loneliness through jazz music, and then ...

I won't give away the ending. It's good though. And very very sweet. And a little bit silly. Perfect!


Princess Polly's Potty




This was the book that prepared Jellybean for potty training. It covers everything kids need to know about the whole process in a simple to understand way. And it has a button which makes a cheering noise.

(It's very annoying after the 1000th press. Just FYI.)

The Official Pokemon Handbook - Maria S.Barbo



I've mentioned this before, but I had this book when I was little and loved it. It sparked an obsession with Pokemon that is still going strong. To the point where we replaced the book with a lovely new one.

I Want My Hat Back - Jon Klassen





(Jellybean laughs out loud every time we get to this page)

I caught Chris reading this and chuckling in Foyles back in the summer. We love this book. It follows a bear on a desperate hunt for his beloved red hat. When he finds out what happened to it, well ... he's not best pleased.

The Lion Inside - Rachel Bright and Jim Field






I LOVE this book. The illustrations are beautiful, the message is really empowering ... we bought it for Jellybean's third birthday to see if it helped her to feel more brave as a result.

It is seriously sweet. One of those books that makes you melt a little inside.


So that's it - toddler unputdownables! What have been your kids favourites this year? Let me know in the comments!


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