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!!