Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The 2017 Challenge

Happy New Year everyone!

I am so glad to be back on my blog and hope that you will enjoy reading it. As part of my '2017 challenge' for this year, I hope to get back into blogging, so hopefully I will be able to keep it going this year. To help this, I have decided to branch out from just books! Don't get me wrong, I am going to hopefully read more than I ever had before, thanks to my 'lovely' commute into London every day. But given than my PhD is in psychiatry and mental health, I would really like to also talk about mental well-being. And, this brings me to the topic of my first post of 2017: The 2017 Challenge!

My boyfriend and I have decided that 2017 will be our 'year of self-improvement'. Like many of our friends of a similar age, it seems that the life of a 20-something is a minefield of things threatening our mental well-being. We are working longer hours than ever, more bills than ever and are feeling older and older by the day. It's very easy to get bogged-down in 'adult life' and feel the need to mourn your youth and make "wow, I am so old" your most-used catchphrase, but is that really helping? So, in an effort to combat this, we have compiled a list of 12 main challenges or areas of life we would like to improve on, in an effort to counteract the negativity with real progress that matters to us. We have allocated one task to each month, not because that's the only time we can start it, but so that we have a specific month where each task is our main focus. Otherwise, if one starts a new year with a list of resolutions, it is almost certain that a few will fall down the cracks in the sofa. This way, we will have time to truly focus on each one and once we have got into the swing in a month dedicated to the cause, we should hopefully be able to carry things on. I am going to take you briefly through our monthly challenges:

January: Blogging and Improving your Online Profile Month
We are both at stages in our lives where networking is extremely important in terms of careers, but also in terms of social life. For example, I have just graduated university, so it would be all too easy to lose contact with all the people I have met along the way. I hope that by keeping an active (and productive) life on social media, it will be easier to keep in contact with friends and arrange social events. Furthermore, we are interested in reading and photography respectively, both of which can be quite isolating hobbies, but by maintaining an active social media profile, it becomes a lot easier to turn these hobbies into much more social occasions! 

February: Fitness Month
Yes, this is the stereotypical 'New Years resolution' that everyone seems to have, but we have decided to spend February giving it a little extra time. We hope that during this month we will find a fitness regime that we actually enjoy, so that we can carry it on for a lot longer than just one month!

March: Spring Clean Month
We have just moved into a place together (yay!), but with moving in and starting new jobs it has been very easy to let things like dusting slip away. This month will be dedicated to making our home sparkly clean and washing all those things that always get neglected, like curtains and mattress protectors and coats. Nice-smelling and tidy homes make me happy :)

April: New Knowledge Month
You know when you're doing a quiz and there's a question about a topic that makes you say "I really wish I knew more about that." Well, for us, this is the month where we are going to pick a topic and research it, which I am really looking forward to! I would love to know more about certain periods of now just to pick one! 

May: Diet Detox Month
I never seem to have time to research and cook recipes which are really really healthy. I always seem to revert to the staples of pasta and rice. So, this month will be dedicated to making some fabulous meals and learning some new recipes. 

June: Home Improvement Month
Like I have said, we have moved into a new flat, and we have been putting off painting the bedroom for months, So, if by June we have not done this yet, then it shall get done then! Hopefully we will also be able to do some decorating and make our home look cute and cosy. 

July: Outdoors Month
I am notoriously good at sitting indoors reading or on the computer or watching TV. In this spirit, July is going to be dedicated to finding as many reasons to go outside and appreciate our beautiful country as much as possible. 

August: Money Saving Month
I am quite money savvy anyway, but as money is always a constant thought on our minds, we will dedicate August to re-evaluating our bills and the way we buy food to see if we can save some money. We will also try the brand shift experiment during our food shop where, when possible, we try the brand one price down from the one we usually buy. You never know, we might be rich by September!

September: New Skill or Hobby Month
Similar to new knowledge month, this month will be dedicated to us developing a new skill or hobby whenever we have free time! So exciting!

October: Limiting TV Month
This is going to be a tough month but hopefully a productive limiting how much TV we are allowed to watch, it will hopefully break the habit of coming home from work, switching the TV on and staying on the sofa until bedtime. Hopefully we will realise how much else you can do in free time and hopefully we will talk more and pay more attention to each other without the temptation of TV! :)

November: Volunteering Month
I love volunteering, but it is easy to let it slip with busy lifestyles. But in November, I am going to commit to at least one volunteering activity which I can keep up with. 

December: Move-Out Month
Although we now have a flat to ourselves, we have a LOT of stuff still spread across our parents' houses. So, if this is still the situation by December, we will make sure we go and de-clutter our old rooms and bring everything to our own home. 

As well as this, we are also going to have other year-long goals:
  • Charlie to find a job that makes him happy
  • To visit 3 new UK destinations
  • Visit 1 new country
  • Visit a new zoo
  • Get our first pet
  • Pay off all credit cards
  • Read more books (Kristi to read 60, Charlie to read 6)
  • Have a date night once a month
  • Fill up the savings jars we received for Christmas
  • TAKE MORE PHOTOS - we have always been terrible at taking photos, so this year we are going to try our best to document as many happy memories as we can. 

I hope you enjoyed this first post for a few months - I would love to hear what your plans or resolutions are for 2017! 

Sunday, 6 March 2016

The Art of a Covert Message

In the last 24 hours I have read two books which wanted to portray important messages:

Necessary Lies was written to raise awareness of the Eugenics Programme which was used in 1960s America to prevent 'undesirable' people having children, for example those with low IQs or epilepsy. Sterilisation was forced onto teenage girls, often without telling them. It was a barbaric practice. This story was so emotive because Jane, a newly-recruited social worker became so attached to one of her clients and Chamberlain is such a talented writer that the reader became just as attached along with her!

Only Ever Yours is a YA novel with a very very strong undertone of social commentary. In a world where girls are created and raised to believe that their looks are the most important and that their value is based on how boys view them, everything leads up to their 17th birthday when they are picked to be child-bearing companions, sex-giving concubines or undesirable chastities. The girls live in a world dominated by body-shaming, social media and beauty products.

Reading these in quick succession highlighted something pretty important to me. Although they both deal with emotive and important subjects, I loved one and...didn't love the other. The reason for that is obvious to me, one portrays their message with grace and is shrouded in a great story, the other seems so synthetically engineered to shove the message into your face as much as possible. Chamberlain even writes in her afterword that she could have picked much more shocking or harrowing cases on which to base her story, but she decided it would be more poignant to choose a run-of-the-mill case. I think she was right. I couldn't see past the message in Only Ever Yours, so I couldn't enjoy the story. It seemed to make the story repetitive to ensure that the message 'hit-home' and the ending seemed to have no purpose or addition to the storyline except to be hard-hitting. The compassion and honesty with which Chamberlain wrote Necessary Lies was infinitely better and I think it something worth bearing in mind when trying to portray messages in stories! A try-hard social commentary is prone to making people (or at least me) so averse to the message you're giving that it works against itself!

Monday, 29 February 2016

Am I Normal Yet? - Holly Bourne

Gah, I have so many feelings about the book I have just devoured over the space of about 24 hours! I LOVED this:

The basic premise of the book is a girl who suffers with generalised anxiety and OCD, who is in recovery and trying to become 'normal' and fit-in at her new college where very few people know of her 'crazy episode'. But it is also so much more than that! This story incorporates femininity and girl-power with some really powerful statements and ideas! Not just that, but it has a Louise Rennison-esque feel as Evie struggles with the normal boy-related struggles of teenage life.

This book just really touched me. Bourne really did her research when writing this and it has paid off and created a really powerful and honest story of the real-life struggles of living with mental illness. Not just the symptoms...anyone can talk about how embarrassing, painful and inconvenient it can be to have a panic attack. There is so much more to it than that... what about the time when you start to feel better but keep second-guessing yourself? "I am nervous for this interview" - wait, is this normal? Or is this just my stupid brain playing up again? It's such a surreal experience to think that your brain, the thing that is controlling your whole body is actually the thing that is acting against you. It makes you waste time and doubt your personality - is this just me now? Am I now the person who can't be comfortable in social situations and can't deal with this high level of pressure anymore? I used to think I was so resilient...have I just changed? Not just that, but even when you feel better, relapse is like a black cloud which constantly hangs over you. It can be exhausting. The constant worry about making plans because they sound like a great idea right now but what if your brain has other ideas by then? And possibly one of the worst know you're getting worse again, you can feel it, but you cannot admit it to yourself. More than that, you definitely cannot admit it to those around you! Because yes, they may be supportive, but you know full-well how much they breathed a sigh of relief when you seemingly started to get better, they don't want to hear that you feel like you're back to square-one! It's draining for them too!

In reality, you really do get a different take on life. Logic becomes the enemy. One of the most hard-hitting lines in the book for me was "I know it is irrational, but it doesn't make it any less scary!" It's true, and the problem is that logic and rationality are the things that everyone else but you seem to have, which is the biggest barrier to them understanding what you're going through or offering any helpful advice. Then there's the situation where you encounter someone else who seems to be suffering like you. You feel like you should be able to say those magic words which help because "you've been there", but it strangely makes you feel speechless. You just compare yourself to them and no matter what conclusion you come to, it's very rarely "talking about this with this person is really going to help me." So who do you talk to? Instead you let it stew in your own brain for so long that you hate yourself. You feel guilty and weak because you're allowing a few tiny chemicals to beat you.

Evie goes through all this and it really got me thinking. I am sure I will be thinking about this for a very long time. However it is nowhere near as dark as it may sound! Intertwined with the humour and the empowering feminism, I thoroughly recommend this book to everyone! It's a great read and kept me hooked through every page! :)

Saturday, 9 January 2016

2015 Christmas Book Haul!!

Two posts in one day?! Yes, I really am taking my NY resolution seriously! 

This time, I bring you the wonderful collection of books I got for Christmas off my lovely family and boyfriend, I am so excited to read them all! :)

Aren't they pretty?! It also pleases me that they fit perfectly into rows! :)

In no particular order (except the order which I found the pictures...)
  1. Asking for It - Louise O'Neill (I have heard great things!)
  2. Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda - Becky Albertalli
  3. Little Black Lies - Sharon Bolton
  4. The Art of Being Normal - Lisa Williamson (Already read so I could pass it on - loved it!)
  5. To Be A Cat - Matt Haig (My love of Haig makes him an obvious choice for a present!)
  6. High Society - Ben Elton (ditto Ben Elton)
  7. Very Good Lives - J.K Rowling
  8. Disclaimer - Renee Knight
  9. The Versions of Us - Laura Barnett
  10. Unravelling Oliver - Liz Nugent
  11. Necessary Lies - Diane Chamberlain
  12. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon (yes, I am a bit slow to get this one!)
  13. Tuesdays with Morrie - Mitch Albom
  14. Pretty Girls - Karin Slaughter
  15. The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins (I am so happy I waited to get this beautiful Waterstones edition!)
I am sure you can agree with me that my lovely family and boyfriend did a fabulous job, I cannot wait to read them! What books are you most excited to read this year? :) 

A (slightly late) 2015 wrap-up!

Wow, it has been far too long since I last posted. Life has been pretty busy! But, I don't think it would be fair to let 2015 go by without me reviewing my year, book-style. 

This year has been a really important one in my 'reading life'. (Is that a thing? Well, it is now!) This year was the year I really discovered how sociable reading can actually be. From the outside, most people would consider reading to be a very introverted, isolated activity, but it does not have to be that way! This year I joined Goodreads, I started a blog and I really re-ignited how important and sociable reading can be! I learned that you can get involved with so many things by having bookish friends and can spend many happy hours chatting about books and the pleasure of recommending them.

According to Goodreads (how did I survive without it?!), I read 78 books in 2015 - that's 27,291 pages! That seems like an obscene amount, but by reminding myself that it was all completely voluntary, I guess it is kind of amazing! Added to that the fact that my average rating was 4/5 stars, it just shows how much I have enjoyed all (or maybe, most) of the books I devoured this year!

So, I think the easiest way to pick the highlights of the year is to do a top 10! My strategy for this was to just write down the first 10 books that came to mind when I look back over the year. Seemed like as good a strategy as any!

So here we have 2015 top 10!

10) Us - David Nicholls 
Waterstones' marketing strategy worked well here...this as an impulse buy that I bought at the till. Believe it or not, this was the first David Nicholls book I have ever read and I really loved it. It put such an interesting twist on a normal love story as it was written from the man's perspective! (Just consider for a second how rare that actually is.) The main character was so endearing and it was a joy to read!

9) The Way You Look Tonight - Richard Madeley
Aaaand this was a case where marketing didn't go so well! I think Madeley has made a huge mistake with the cover of this book! Let's be clear, it is most definitely a crime novel, but I would forgive you for assuming that it were a trashy romance novel, given the cover! In fact, I even saw it in the romance section of one Waterstones store! The problem is, crime novels invariably have a lot of black on the cover! I was intrigued by this book though, in one of my sessions where I spend hours in book shops reading the blurb of books that I normally wouldn't pick up - trying to challenge my 'judging a book by its cover' habit. I am so glad I did, because the plot is so full of suspense and intrigue and it just amazing! I have since given this book to my Mum, who loved it so much she wants to read his next novel! So seriously...go and pick this book up! Don't judge this book by its cover, give it a go!

8) Intrusion - Ken Macleod
I really do need to read more SciFi, as this book was a great example of how fab it can be! I am a sucker for a book with good (and accurate) scientific references, (yes, I am a geek!), so this book had me hooked very early on. The story of a future world where all genetic defects can be eradicated with a pill. But...who decides what is a defect and what is a genetic advantage? When the lines are blurry, one woman fights to save the genetic diversity of her child. Such a thought-provoker!

7) The Shock of the Fall - Nathan Filer
Okay I am sorry, I am sure you are completely sick of hearing from me about this book, but it is just amazing. It is one of those books you can't help but just want to give to everyone you know and wait for them to finish so you can both hype about how amazing it is! It is an amazingly written story of a boy suffering with schizophrenia from Filer, who has witnessed the effects first-hand. A real page-turner which can very easily be devoured in one sitting!

6) The Bourne Original Trilogy - Robert Ludlum
I have always been a big believer in reading the book before I watch a film, so when my boyfriend said that I had to watch the Bourne films, I decided to read the books first and ordered the first three online. They seemed like a good place to start as they are the only ones written by the original author, Robert Ludlum, as far as I understand. When they arrived, I couldn't believe how long they are - seriously, these books are monsters! So they sat on my bookshelf for a very long time. However when I had a few weeks spare before going back to uni, I decided to attack them. It is the mark of a fantastic book that they kept me completely hooked throughout all three of the monsters! They were so fantastically written, with suspense and plot twists everywhere! Oh, and also....just in case you didn't know, the plots of the books are entirely different to those of the films! I don't understand why the person with the film rights decided to do that, but okay! At least now the films will still hold some mystery for me!

5) The Accident - CL Taylor
Most of the crime I read is focused around spies or government conspiracies or big murderers or drug cartels. This was the first book in a long time that I read and was about one mother trying to solve the mystery of her daughter's coma. Much more of a localised crime story and I was right there along with her, feeling the frustration as she hit dead ends and the excitement with every success! A really great book!

4) Reasons to Stay Alive - Matt Haig
Yes, yes, regular readers of my blog will once again sigh at the shameless name-dropping of Matt Haig, who features in almost every blog I write. I can't help it, I just love him. I had read The Humans (stay tuned) before this, which I absolutely love, but it wasn't until I read this that I loved Matt Haig as a person. The bravery and cut-throat honesty displayed in the writing of this book is just astounding. He gives an account of his struggle with anxiety and depression, as well as glimmers of hope and advice for anyone who suffers themselves or has loved ones who are suffering. It really is just perfection and I will never cease to applaud Haig for writing it.

3) The Humans - Matt Haig
I told you to stay tuned! Like I have said, I loved 'The Humans'. In some ways, it is quite similar to The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - how would you explain to aliens what it is to be human? Well, I thought I knew until Matt Haig threw this book into the mix! His 'outside', alien perspective on human life is funny, endearing and thought-provoking - just WOW. I am sure this book will stay with me for a very long time.

2) The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
Yes, I am a bit behind the times on reading this one, but luckily my A-Z challenge of 2015 gave me the push I needed to pick up my copy and give it a read. It deserves such a high status on this list because it is the only book I remember which has given me such a strong emotional reaction not only whilst reading it, but for hours and possibly even days after! It truly was a 'book hangover' - I wouldn't recommend reading it before going to an Ed Sheeran concert, like I did! PS...the imagery alone is a work of literary masterpiece!

1) The Fate of Ten - Pittacus Lore
Ohhhh these books!! I am so obsessed with this series and cannot believe it is as little-known as it is because it is just incredible! It is the only series since Harry Potter for which I eagerly await the release of the next instalment each year! They never ever disappoint! The suspense and the drama and the action and the love and the destruction...just - GAH! READ THEM!

So, that is my 2015 year of books! From now on I am going to try and be a bit better at reviewing my favourite books on here. I would love to take-on another challenge in 2016, to add to the A-Z challenge I did in 2015, so if anyone has any ideas please let me know in the comments below! 

Monday, 19 October 2015

Jamie Lawson's Debut Self-Titled Album

Hello everyone! 

I realise it has been a good while since I have posted on this blog, and you may think you've found yourself in the wrong place...she's talking about music now?!

I have been extremely busy with work for uni and settling back in, so I have to confess that I haven't had time to find any amazing books worthy of a blog post! However, what is much easier to find whilst music :) I have a lot to say about Jamie Lawson and have been trying to think of who I can bore with my music ramblings...this is why I love my blog! I can ramble away into cyberspace, and I don't have to see the bored face of any unsuspecting victim!

I wake up to the radio every morning, and recently, Jamie Lawson's 'Wasn't Expecting That' has quite often been the song I have woken up to. I think it's such a beautiful song! The first word that comes to mind is 'heart-breaking''s not easy to listen to a song talking about such a beautiful romance and a happy life which ends so abruptly and tragically. Nevertheless, I am a sucker for lovely acoustics and a good male voice, so it had me gripped and hasn't let go since!

I was so intrigued that I decided to download his album, which is something I very rarely do! I usually pick and choose the songs I like. The only other people whose full albums I have downloaded are Michael Buble and Andrea Faustini!

I am so glad I did though, because I just think it's fantastic. At first listen, many people would think that the lyrics are quite depressing, but I don't see that. Let's take an example: 'Sometimes It's Hard'. This song has touched me and some other people I have sent it to, mainly because it's so honest. It's perfectly relate-able and it's what anyone who has dark days needs. It's a song that gets down there with you when you're feeling crap and says "Yes, I know you're finding life hard today, you're going through a bad time. I know how it feels, it's terrible. Just get through today, and tomorrow will be better, and next time this 'rain' comes along, you'll feel stronger to deal with it." I think that's really powerful. Sometimes, when you're feeling bad, you need someone to get down to your level and acknowledge that things are pretty crappy before they try to cheer you up! It ends on a hopeful note, reminding the listener that they are strong, and are a great person - the perfect ending!

On a similar note, I also love 'Let Love Hold You Now'. I'm sure many people can relate to that fantastic feeling when you're lying in your partner's arms and feel completely safe and contented. It's a time when all the anxieties of the day can just melt away, and that's exactly what this song describes. It has a really lovely melody too, which reminds me of a lullaby, and I have to say it has sent me to sleep on multiple occasions! (In a good way!) It just makes the listener feel so at-peace.

There is so much else I could say about this album! There are some other great songs that address different issues such as leaping into relationships, and also some really happy songs talking about the beauty of life, and the devotion of one's heart to another. I just think the lyrics are so beautiful.

To anyone who thinks it's just depressing, I would draw the example of 'Sadness' in the film 'Inside Out' - a personal fave of mine! Everyone has bad days, and sometimes the best thing isn't to ignore those days, or try to bottle those negative emotions away! People need to feel sad sometimes so that they can be more empathetic, and understand the bad days those around us have. Those who acknowledge their sad emotions as well as their joyful ones are a lot more in-touch with themselves, and it's not necessarily such a bad thing!

So really, I am writing this for 3 main reasons:
1. To thank Jamie Lawson and congratulate him on such a beautiful album. 
2. To thank Ed Sheeran for giving him the publicity he deserves! 
3. To get more people out there to go and listen to this album (if it isn't popular enough!), and to give the lyrics a chance! 

I hope you have enjoyed the slight change of topic I have brought with this blog post! If it has completely failed then don't worry, I will hop back into my book-filled comfort zone by next post! I'd love to hear from anyone else who loves this album as much as me :) 

Friday, 25 September 2015

This Term's Reading!

So, here I am, back at uni for my final year! It's really strange to be back in the city which used to feel like home, but now it feels so big and scary with all my friends having graduated! I'm going to try to limit the time I spend sitting in my room reading this year, as I have new house-mates to hopefully befriend! :) But my room would never feel complete without a nice collection of books, so I tasked Charlie with picking 25 books from my TBR jar to bring with me. 

I really like how they all sit on my fireplace! 

Here is the list:
(The Girl with All the Gifts - M.R.Carey, chosen before the 25)
1. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
2. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
3. The Missing Husband - Amanda Brooke
4. The Girl with the Pearl Earring - Tracy Chevalier
5. Belle de Jour
6. The Snapper - Roddy Doyle
7. Dream a Little Dream - Giovanna Fletcher
8. The Diary of a Nobody - George Grossmith
9. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
10. The Radleys - Matt Haig
11. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
12. The Game - Mandasue Heller
13. It Started with Paris - Cathy Keller
14. The Woman He Loved Before - Dorothy Koomson
15. Cold Heart- Lynda la Plante
16. The Secret Gardener - le Carre
17. Hector and the Search for Love - Francois LeLord
18. Masters of Sex - Thomas Maier
19. Love and War in the Apennines - Eric Newby
20. Us - David Nicholls
21. 1984 - George Orwell
22. Ketchup Clouds - Annabel Pitcher
23. The Dice Man - Luke Rhinehart
24. Eleanor and Park - Rainbow Rowell
25. Tipping the Velvet - Sarah Waters

I think Charlie did a great job, there is a really vast and different mix of things here, so there should be something to suit any mood I may have! I can't wait! :) 
Have you read any of these? I'd love to hear your views in the comments :)