Books 2014: July

Next month, the books post will look slightly different; I’ll be reviewing each book in more detail as I finish it and then at the end of the month having a round-up post. It’ll make sense when you see it, promise.

Orange is the New Black- Piper Kerman (My book- Kindle)

 

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I love the TV series. I loathed the book. You know how in the series, Piper is full of a sense of privilege and entitlement? Well, TURN THAT UP TO 11 and you have the book. Of course, it’s a memoir and of course the show is fictional, despite drawing on the book as a source but my God I wanted to smack the author in the face at times. Other characters are merely sketches and as a reader I wanted to know more about them. Kerman attempts to address the prison system but merely comes across as someone who didn’t really give a monkeys about anyone else. Just stick to Netflix, yeah? (Larry is nicer in the book, FYI, which is a bit of a relief.)

Trials of Passion: Crimes in the Name of Love and Madness- Lisa Appignanesi (Library book)

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I read the author’s work Women and the Mind Doctors a few years ago, so I knew that this would be an interesting read; it deals with how psychiatry has worked in the courts since 1870 in three countries (the UK, France and the US), with specific reference to three major trials. What drew me even closer to the work was that the first case in the book is that of Christiana Edmunds, also known as the Brighton Chocolate Poisoner. I’ve been fascinated by her for a while as I often walk past the site where her house would have been. Anyway, despite the book sometimes becoming a bit too mired in the psychological side at times, the descriptions of the cases themselves- and the characters within each one- is marvellous stuff and I really enjoyed it.

The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media- Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Coslett (Library book)

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I’d been aware of the authors mainly through their Guardian columns and a couple of Twitter spats I vaguely remember from last year. I’d decided to get this from the library as I’d read some scathing reviews of it (a couple in the Guardian, actually and a slightly ranty one by Germaine Greer.) I was hoping it would be a useful tool for feminists. Alas. I think it might just work as something for new, young feminists- the scathing, sweary take down of various issues would have appealed to me when I was 16, I think. However, it’s a strange beast of a book- it’s very general (not really a massively detailed take down of the media at all) and its ideas felt like they were all over the place. Yes, women’s magazines can be a bit crap and yes, they airbrush the bejeezus out of their photos- but I reckon that most people know that anyway. What I want are SOLUTIONS. I also found the tone irritating and I just got really, really cross with the whole thing.

Currently reading: A Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

 

What are you reading right now?

 

A Tale of Two Hand Creams

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The hot weather is playing havoc with my hands; I’m trying to keep up with my various craft projects and my hands are drying out insanely quickly. I managed to use up my stockpile of free L’Occitane hand creams from Marie Claire (seriously, I had SO MANY) and decided it was time to try something new. Silly me.

First up, I bought Garnier Intensive 7 Days Soothing, which has added honey. I’ve had really good experiences with honey based skincare in the past and I thought this could be the holy grail for me: cheap, easily available and effective. On the first two counts, it does the job. It smells OK. As for effective…. well. I don’t particularly like the texture of this hand cream, as it’s heavy and makes my skin feel claggy (a nice Yorkshire word meaning sticky, gross etc.) I felt like I had to use a ton to get the moisturisation I needed. It might be better in the winter, but it’s just not effective enough for my needs.

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You can see the difference in textures here; the Garnier is thicker and more solid, whereas the L’Occitane has a lighter consistency.

I then decided that my mum’s hairdresser was right that time when she said ‘buy cheap, buy twice.’ I knew I needed to go to the brand that had never let me down- L’Occitane. Yes, it’s more expensive at £8 a tube, but a little goes a long way and the quality is amazing for the price.

After what must have seemed an eternity to the bemused sales assistant as I compared all the different scents on offer (I only use the Shea Butter hand cream in winter; its thicker consistency is brilliant for cold, chapped hands), I settled on the new Frisson de Verveine gel based hand cream. It’s light and has a fantastic zingy scent which is perfect for summer. The cream itself melts into skin and leaves it feeling fresh and clean. Well worth the extra money in my book!

Review: Elementary Sewing Skills from Merchant & Mills*

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A while back, I had the good fortune to review the Merchant & Mills sewing book and so I was keen to take a look at this little accompanying volume.

Like its predecessor, this is a very utilitarian-chic book; no-nonsense and no fuss, it talks you through the basics of sewing as well as more complex techniques.

20140725_114314.jpgWhat’s really great about this book is its little size; it’s A5, so perfect for stashing in my bag when I’m going on a fabric buying spree (or, more likely, I’m at the computer eyeing up cat fabric online at Guthrie and Ghani…) The size also means it’s a useful addition when pattern cutting or sewing- you can have it just on the table without it taking up more room than necessary.

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The motto of Merchant & Mills is ‘do it once, do it well’ and this little book aims to help you with this (oh, how I wish I’d had it earlier!) Everything for the beginner sewer is there and, because there’s no patters, just method, it’s easy to stay focused on the task in hand. The diagrams and instructions are clear without being patronising.

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I would definitely, definitely recommend this to all dressmakers, as all aspects of making clothing is here. I will be using this all the time and I hope it’ll help me improve my own technique. It’s just brilliant. At £12.99, I think it’s a bit of a snip; it’ll help you improve ALL of your patterns and you’ll learn new skills too. Fabulous.

*PR Sample

 

A day out at Standen!

My friend Zoe asked if I fancied accompanying her to visit a fairly local National Trust property, Standen, and I agreed. After all, it would be nice to go somewhere that didn’t have toddler fingerprints over everything…

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We drove out to Standen, in East Grinstead (it was the first time I’d been out that way; all I knew about East Grinstead is that it’s where a major Scientology centre is.) The journey was lovely- it was the morning after the massive storms and all the plants were lush. Everywhere was quiet.

Image: Standen/National Trust

The Beale Family at Standen Image: Standen/National Trust

After about an hour, we arrived at Standen, a house and garden built in the 1890s by the Beale family, initially as a summer residence, although they took up permanent residence there after Mr Beale retired. What makes it an attractive place to visit is the fact that inside it’s decorated in the Arts and Crafts style and is therefore a haven for a William Morris fanatic like me.

How gorgeous is this fire screen? If ONLY my embroidery skills were up to this!

How gorgeous is this fire screen? If ONLY my embroidery skills were up to this!

I love the calm of stately houses and the fact that they’re SO PRISTINE. You’d get through quite a few feather dusters at Standen, I can tell you. By the way, does anyone else ever go to these sort of places and try and imagine what it would be like to have lived their at the time each house was built? It can’t JUST be me, surely?

The house is truly lovely and if I didn’t live with a man whose favourite colour was beige, I would totally emulate the Arts and Crafts style in the new house. As it was, I took inspiration from the accessories and artwork around the house. If you keep your eyes peeled, you can definitely spot some Rossetti and Burne-Jones art, which was definitely super exciting for a Pre-Raphaelite nerd like me.

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I wish I’d got a better photo of this gorgeous tapestry, but it was quite dark and you’re not supposed to use a flash. Also, I’m a rubbish photographer.

As well as the house itself, the gardens are well worth a visit- I was endlessly snapping photos of plants in order to get ideas for when (ha!) we move. I sat in the Victorian conservatory and looked out onto what seems like endless greenery. I could have quite happily taken my own needlework in there and worked for hours.

Me chilling in the conservatory.

Me chilling in the conservatory.

As well as visiting the house and gardens, there’s an exhibition about Helen Beale (one of the daughters of the original owners) and her time as a nurse during the First World War. We were lucky to arrive at Standen on the day this small exhibition opened and it was fascinating and poignant.

Finally, we had lunch in the cafe- it was not as expensive as I’d thought it would be AND it was delicious!

Now I have plans to visit The Red House and Kelmscott Manor, both houses lived in by the great William Morris.

It’s happening again…

It looks like my book buying ban is becoming an annual thing- I have accumulated so many books that I need to take a step back and actually read what I have!

Image: Musee D'Orsay

Image: Musee D’Orsay

The rules:

  • The ban begins on August 1st and will last until December 25th.
  • I can accept books as gifts and for review.
  • I should take all other books out of the library or borrow from friends.
  • I’m allowed to swap books with friends.
  • I can buy books for D- from charity shops- whenever I fancy/have money.
  • I can buy books for other people as gifts.

Last year, I did really well- I only broke when I saw Morrissey’s autobiography for less than the price of a magazine. As much as I desperately I want the new Sarah Waters book, I’ll have to go on a massive reservation list at the library.

Fancy joining in? Sign up below and we can encourage each other- it’ll be a looooooooong few months…

Caitlin Moran: How To Build A Girl tour

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I rarely have much to thank football for; it dominates whole swathes of the year in our house and I’m currently (still) living with the bloody World Cup wall chart in the living room. However, this weekend, football pulled a blinder for me, as a friend (Kelly) had a spare ticket for the sold out gig at Brighton’s Theatre Royal because her husband fancied watching the final. Obviously, I immediately took her up on the offer. Then I panicked.

I panicked because there would be a signing after the show and a) all the books I have by Caitlin are on my Kindle and b) I’m skint til payday, so there’s no way I could afford to buy the books new again. After I realised that I live in Brighton and that there would be at least three copies of How To Be A Woman circling the charity shops, I went off on a mission and bagged myself a copy for £2. It’s thrifty, so I’m sure Caitlin would approve.

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As I waited outside the theatre for Kelly to arrive, I took in the scene: mostly women were milling around, chatting, laughing, clutching books. There were quite a few pregnant women and, from the snatches of conversation I caught, quite a few teachers too (this was further backed up by the cheering when Caitlin mentioned the strikes.) I figured it was going to be a good night.

Kelly and I settled into our seats, expensive theatre drinks in hand, and waited. I was aware that this was an event in which the host would be preaching to the converted, but I was amazed at the positive energy in the room. The lights went down and then there was that flash of the hair and we were off!

I’d say that the show is a mixture of talk, readings and standup, with a few hilarious celebrity anecdotes thrown in (seriously, I’ll never look at Benedict Cumberbatch in the same way again…), but the overwhelming message was that we have the power to change things- for ourselves and for society at large. Caitlin Moran has attracted controversy and criticism, which she accepts, but she has such good ideas that I still think How To Be A Woman should be essential reading for teenagers. I don’t think Michael Gove would agree with me though. Caitlin’s argument is that no one feminist will do everything and that feminism itself is a patchwork quilt- we have to work together to make it stronger.

The bit of the show that really resonated with me was when Caitlin spoke about how she spent a lot of her life channelling Courtney Love when she was faced with difficult situations and that we should fake it to make it. I’ve also spent a lot of my life channelling Courtney, although how appropriate that is when faced with a class of 30 Year 7s learning about grammar is something of a conundrum…

After the show, we decided to queue with the other hundreds of fans to get our books signed. This is the first book signing I’ve been to where the writer ISN’T sitting down. Talking a mile a minute, emerald green eyeshadow flashing and kisses and hugs aplenty, Caitlin enthusiastically greeted each and every one of us.

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Tip: when meeting a writer you really like and admire, don’t dress like a nerd (I’m blaming the lady who took this photo for my seven chins) and then don’t babble on like a deranged stalker about how you once accosted said writer outside Wagamama’s in Brighton about three years ago. Not cool, Pomfrett, not cool. However, Caitlin was lovely and asked how I was as if she remembered. That was cool.

Anyway, it was a great night and I’m looking forward to reading How To Build A Girl and re-reading How To Be A Woman. I’m also inspired to do more of my own feminist reading and, possibly, writing. After all, I have decided to fake it til I make it…

THANK YOU to Kelly who took me with her!

Je suis une geek, oui?

Sometimes, you get an email that sparks an idea off in your brain for a blogpost and you do it. When SingleHop emailed me to ask if I wanted to do a blogpost about being a geek in the run up to Geekness Day on Sunday, I thought “Yeah, OK. I could do with some ideas for the blog.” So here we are. (BTW, not being paid for this post, I just thought it was a fun topic.)

Image: greatwhitesnark.com

Image: greatwhitesnark.com

Now, I am quite unashamedly a geek in some ways. Not in an Alexa Chung/Topshop t-shirt kind of way, but in a ‘why, yes, I do own a number of t-shirts from TeeFury/Qwertee‘ kind of way (mostly Dr Who, X Files and Powerpuff Girls/Batman mashups, if you’re interested.) I am geeky about many topics: tea, certain books, history, the aforementioned Mulder and Scully. I also think it’s quite possibly genetic; my mum has two daughters and neither turned out to be the ballerina of her dreams. We spent out childhood beating the local boys at Street Fighter II to the point that no one would challenge us any more.

Image: Print by Hey Monster

(By the way, if anyone wants to buy me this print, you can. Here. I need it in my life.)

I think my evolution as a geek started young; I grew up with two male cousins close in age to me, but old enough to seem wiser and otherworldly to a younger me. They had a love of Red Dwarf and SNES and so it seemed natural that my sister and I followed in their footsteps. AND NOW LOOK AT ME. I write a blog read by literally TENS of people on a semi-regular basis. I’m living the dream, kids.

So, who’s your geek role model? I’ve said it before, but mine are definitely Scully, April O’Neil and Velma from Scooby Doo (being short, round and ginger as a kid/adult means limited options when represented in the media.) On Sunday I shall wear a Super Mario t-shirt with pride and eyeliner. Happy Geekiness Day 2014!