Category Archives: Uncategorized

World Book Day 2018

Before I had Phoebe, I always imagined that I’d be really into planning dress up and coming up with costume ideas for World Book Day. After all, books and fancy dress are two of my “things”. Then she arrived and, who knew toddlers could be so opinionated and their mothers so tired that making a World Book Day costume for a preschooler would become a hassle rather than pure fun?

This year, Phoebe wanted to dress up as Kwazii from the Octonauts, but she watches that as her sole TV privilege (then spends the rest of her time role-playing it with me generally cast in the role of a Colossal Squid or Sperm Whale, thanks daughter dearest) instead of reading the books and I was a bit fundamental about insisting that for World Book Day she dressed as a book character. I was willing to compromise at dressing as a Pirate because she does love The Night Pirates with the rough, tough little girl pirates who steal the grown up pirates’ treasure but in the end, she decided that she would like to dress as…..

Room on the broom costumeThe Witch from Room on The Broom. I think she was expecting the full cauldron, cat, dog, bird and frog works, but I didn’t have the stamina for that. It’s hard enough finding a broomstick in February! She had a nice time making an exact replica wand herself (with a little help), and already had the skirt and t shirt. The cloak and hat will come for Halloween and dress up play, and since the cloak is reversible, she can play Little Red Riding Hood in it as well.

I think she looks very proud of her work in the end. I’d imagine she’s cast a lot of spells at nursery today!

 

 

Ten Secret Santa and Stocking Filler books for under £15

It’s that time of year again. You know, less than a month to Christmas and a lack of ideas for secret santa presents or stocking fillers has you panic buying “funny secret santa presents” like stressticles or office voodoo dolls which the recipient will throw in the bin by January 1st. I’m here to make a plea that you save the planet from the extra plastic waste, and for under £15 buy them book that they will enjoy for at least three hours, if not a lot longer.

The best bit? These will all be available at your local bookshop for a last minute Christmas gift.

La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust

For readers of a certain age (my age) the release of La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman , the first in a new trilogy which is set to be a companion to his Northern Lights trilogy was probably the publishing event of the year. Hailed as a tidal wave of imagination, though darker and more savage than the original trilogy, it’s a safe bet for any lover of fantasy.

 

 

 

The Power

The most powerful work of speculative fiction that I’ve read in a long time, Naomi Alderman’s The Power is a must read for any fan of Margaret Atwood. I keep meaning to write a review of this, but my mind is still processing the emotions I felt reading it. It’s a safe present for any woman who hasn’t read it, and it’s always interesting to listen to people’s post-read dissections.

 

 

The Wildlife Gardener

I was delighted to see the new edition of Kate Bradbury’s best-selling The Wildlife Gardener publish this year and swiftly bought myself a copy. It’s the perfect present for any gardener or wildlife enthusiast, and gives fun, practical advice for creating a home for wildlife in what outside space you have available. Saving the planet starts here, folks.

 

 

The Lost Words

Remember when Oxford University Press decided that children no longer needed to be able to look up words like acorn and bramble in the dictionary? Well that outrageous act inspired Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris to create The Lost Words, this beautifully illustrated volume of poetry. A spell book which reminds adults and children alike about the power of words, reading the poems brings the words back to life and gives nature power and relevance for a new generation.

 

Lincoln in the Bardo

Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2017, and shortlisted for multiple awards and honours besides, Lincoln in the Bardo is a safe fiction bet for anyone who likes to read the current big novel. This first novel is an experimental work of fiction, a story of love after death which looks at a problem which faces all humans, how do you find the courage to love when it means you will face loss?

 

 

Hortense and the Shadow

A beautifully illustrated picture book, with a story in the tradition of the old fairy tales, Hortense and the Shadow is dark and exhilarating at the same time. This is set to become an instant children’s classic which adults will love as well. I’ll be adding it to my collection.

 

 

 

Last Stop on The Reindeer Express

I loved Last Stop on the Reindeer Express so much when it published that I bought it only a month later to read with my daughter on Christmas Eve. It would make an ideal Christmas present for any picture book lover or younger gift recipient. A little girl who is missing her Daddy discovers a world within a post box and goes on a beautifully illustrated lift the flap and peep through the pages adventure. I can’t wait to read it as a family before Santa visits.

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

In case you worried that you’d run out of presents to buy for Harry Potter fans, the launch of the Fantastic Beasts film franchise has also lead to the publication of this beautiful Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them book which reminds me of the Tolkein’s bestiary that I had as a child, with the names, descriptions and magical illustrations of all the fantasy creatures you encounter in the Potter novels.

This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor

Adam Kay is a comedian and former junior doctor, and This is Going to Hurt is his frank memoir of life on the front line of the NHS. Hilarious and heart-breaking, it gives you an insight into what life is really like for the junior doctors keeping us and the NHS ticking along.

 

 

Daemon Voices: Essays on Storytelling

I always find it fascinating when an author I admire writes an exposition on their craft. Philip Pullman is indisputably something of a master storyteller, and in Daemon Voices, a collection of thirty essays, he lets his readers peer behind the veil to learn about his views on storytelling, including such topics as the origins of his own stories, the art of writing, and the storytellers who have meant the most to him. A great gift for readers, and aspiring writers.

Peter Rabbit: Mischief and Mayhem, Henley River and Rowing Museum

To say that Phoebe has an obsession with Peter Rabbit is something of an understatement. She lives and breathes Peter Rabbit, be it the books, the TV series with Nimah Cussack that I enjoyed as a child and found on Amazon, or the Nickelodeon series which created the admirable Lily Bobtail to go alongside the traditional male characters.

She wakes up in the morning and tells me she’s dreamt about Peter Rabbit, runs around the house looking for the fierce bad rabbit, and shows me the best places to hide from Mr McGregor after we’ve stolen radishes from his garden. At the end of all this, she falls asleep cuddling Benjamin Bunny.

You can imagine then that when I saw that Henley River and Rowing Museum were running a Peter Rabbit: Mischief and Mayhem exhibition, with everything from original Beatrix Potter illustrations and vintage toys, to interactive exhibits ideal for tiny rabbit addicts.

We had a lovely day at the museum. The ground floor exhibition area had a fairly traditional museum display with beautiful original illustrations, vintage toys, first edition books etc. in glass cabinets, which would have the potential to be a little dull for your typical toddler, but the museum had added a lovely little reading area, colouring table and post office in which children could write letters to their favourite Beatrix Potter characters. They also had a shelf of cuddly toys based on Beatrix Potter characters so the little ones could choose a friend to look around with, Phoebe chose Squirrel Nutkin (or Scwerl Nutkah, if you will).

Upstairs, there was a wonderful hands on exhibit for little children. They could serve customers in Ginger and Pickles shop, peg washing on Mrs Tiggywinkle’s line, plant and harvest carrots in Mr McGregor’s garden, play in Peter Rabbit’s burrow, and play puppets with Mr Tod, Tommy Brock and Diggory Delvet in a puppet theatre.

The museum entry cost about £25 for two adults, with free entry for children. On the face of it, that’s a pretty expensive day out, but this gives you entry to the museum for a year, and I’m already planning to go back to check out their Wind in the Willows exhibition. I was really impressed by how child friendly the exhibit was so, I’ll be keeping an eye out for what else is coming up in the future.

 

The Best Love Letter in Literature

If you took a straw poll to determine the greatest love letter in literature, I’d wager that Frederick Wentworth’s letter to Anne Elliot towards the end of Jane Austen’s Persuasion would come out on top.

Estranged former lovers, Anne harbours a massive flame for Frederick Wentworth but has resigned herself to the fact that he doesn’t feel the same after she gave him up eight years before. Until she receives this hastily written, unsigned letter which is personally delivered with a meaningful look….

Frederick Wentworth's Letter to Anne Elliot

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan


For the Classics Challenge 2016, February edition, I decided to hunt through my to read pile (part of my bid to spend less money on books by reading the ones I already have, rocket science, I know) and came up with Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse. I may or may not have been swayed to choose this modern classic, ranked 41 in Le Monde’s 100 books of the century, because its short length matched the shortness of the month….

Bonjour Tristesse, narrated by seventeen year old Cecile, tells the events of a summer she spends on the French Riviera with her vain, self-indulgent father and his mistress, Elsa. When Anne, a family friend, comes to stay and threatens Cecile’s cosy, vapid existence and bourgeoning love affair with a local boy, she begins plotting to be rid of her.

As classics go, this novel is small but perfectly formed. Although she initially appears naïve and innocent, Cecile is one of the most detestable narrators I’ve ever encountered- loaded with a raging Electra complex, vindictive and self-excusing. The skill with which Sagan manipulates the reader’s feelings from supporting Cecile and seeing Anne as the villain of the piece at the novel’s opening to a total inversion of this by the end. When you consider that Sagan was only 18 when she wrote this novel… pretty incredible.

If you’re looking to dip a toe in the classics with an accessible read, or a fan of unreliable narrators and characters that you love to hate, this is a great read for you.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.” Persuasion by Jane Austen

In the past, I may have compared Jane Austen to porridge. Not that I have anything against porridge per se, or Jane Austen really, but there are only so many marriage plots that you can really embrace before you feel a little jaded.

My not-quite-antipathy of Jane Austen has been compounded by the fact that I found Northanger Abbey one of the most irritating books I’ve ever read. But after being given a beautiful folio box set of Austen’s collected works for my 30th birthday, and deciding that Daniel Defoe’s The Storm (a groundbreaking work of 18th century journalism… apparently) was a little too dry to start off the 2016 Classics Challenge, I decided to try Persuasion to see whether Austen, or I, had improved with age.

And, do you know, maybe we have? For one thing, I enjoyed it. While, as with many a marriage plot, the story is fairly light and predictable, Jane Austen’s claws are out in a way that they just aren’t in her other books. Pretentious and vapid characters are mercilessly mocked, while the Cinderella-ish, sensible and practical heroine (who is feared to have lost her bloom at twenty-eight… I know…) gets her happy ending (and her bloom back).

Any Austen novel will always be considered among the classics, but I really do think this has a little more zest than her other books. Though it still has characters rigidly observing and believing in the class structure of the time, it doesn’t pull any punches on the subject of snobbery and seems quite forward thinking for the time, at least where the “ideal marriage” and roles of women are concerned.

Obviously I would recommend this to Jane Austen fans, but for anyone who wants to read probably the earliest, and most certainly one of the best, fictional love letters in English literature needs to check this out.

 

Book Cover Beauty Pageant

Exciting news for those who like to judge books by their covers. Yep, me too. The New York Public Library has undertaken a huge digitization project to make over 185,000 of their book covers, maps, illustrations and other images available to anyone. And they are free from copyright.

Definitely worth a browse. Just look at some of these beauties:

 

 

The Killing of Polly Carter by Robert Thorogood

I’ve never seen Death in Paradise, but I am a big fan of murder mystery novels, so I was excited to be review The Killing of Polly Carter by Robert Thorogood, who originated the BBC series and the detective Richard Poole.

The second in a new series of Richard Poole novels published by MIRA Harlequin, it tracks back in the timeline of the original detective (spoiler for the TV series- Wikipedia tells me he was killed off so the actor could spend more time with his family) in Death in Paradise as he investigates the apparent suicide of world famous supermodel Polly Carter on Saint-Marie. Being a murder mystery, it naturally isn’t too long before foul play is suspected.

Murder mysteries are, by their very nature, pretty formulaic. Even when you’re not reading locked room mysteries, they have a fairly limited cast of characters, nearly all of whom are suspects, and the test of the author’s skill is to play the reader like a fish, throwing out red herrings and characterisation as bait. The problem with The Killing of Polly Carter, for me, was that it didn’t do either of these especially successfully.

It is a proud tradition for the lead detective in murder mystery novels to be quirky but brilliant, but while Richard Poole is quirky in a heavily stereotypical, Englishman-abroad sort of way, I was unconvinced of his brilliance. “Clues” were nodded to heavily, while red herrings, alongside detective insight. were in short supply. This was compounded by an unnecessarily large team of detectives (there was a ratio of about four detectives to seven suspects) swarmed over the novel making limited progress. Throw in an unengaging subplot involving the lead detective’s strained relationship with his parents, couple that with a summary of the murder which was very much at odds with the initial description, and  for me, any sparks of interest were lost.

I think that part of the problem in this respect was that the novel was written almost as a storyline for a TV episode which gave basic stage directions as to the layout of the scenery but which still needed the set designer and wardrobe department to come in and fill in the colour, then the actors to inject their own sense of personality from the limited description which had been provided. The Caribbean setting was certainly a novelty, but for me, the plot didn’t live up to the promise of the setting.

Maybe one to read on a Caribbean holiday, but I prefer my murder mysteries with a few more chills and thrills.

Harry Potter Parenting Hacks

True, they may have had five children under the age of seven at one point, but it occurred to me earlier (after three days of disrupted sleep, while singing Morningtown Ride for the seventeenth time in an hour and pacing the house with my overtired, teething baby) that Molly and Arthur Weasley probably had it pretty easy. Why? Magic my friends. Raising a baby is much easier if you can wave a magic wand and get things happening.

Don’t believe me? Let’s review the evidence.

ron weasley baby mandrake

 

Sleeping Draughts

A moral grey area, but need I say any more? The Weasleys had access to safe, effective sleeping potions. I’m not talking your Draught of Living Death type of potion here, just a drop or two of standard sleeping draught on the tip of a dummy and everyone’s happy. No more overtired baby, and the job’s a good ‘un. True, the baby would have to consume a small amount of flobberworm mucous as part of the potion, but let’s face it, babies have been known to put worse in their mouths.

the choice between what is right and what is easy

Time-Turner

You might need special permission from the Ministry of Magic to use one, but if Hermione Granger’s academic record was considered sufficient justification then I’m pretty sure that having five children under the age of seven (and two more not much older) would be enough to get you authorisation.  I’d hate to be the Minister of Magic who said it wasn’t. This one is less ethically tricky than the sleeping draught, your children are taken care of by their parent, but you plan your day carefully so that you can head to a quiet room, turn back time and nap for five hours before moving on to the next crisis. Prison and mortal peril are on their living room clock for a reason, just saying.

ron weasley piss off

Housework Charms

Mrs Weasley’s knitting does itself and the potatoes peel themselves. I daresay she had similar charms for nappy changing, clothes washing and folding. Imagine how much more you’d get done (and how much money you’d save) if you could just tell your garden to get on with growing vegetables which then cook themselves into a healthy dinner, wool that makes itself into clothes which then wash themselves… all while the dusting is getting itself done. I mean, come on, it’s practically cheating, isn’t it? No wonder she has time to make her own toffee and read Witches’ Weekly.dobby finger click

 

The Summoning Charm

I’ve always thought that this was potentially one of the most useful spells in the Harry Potter universe. Especially for the new mother. You left the nappy rash cream downstairs? Accio Weleda! The baby’s thrown up milk and you can’t find the muslin that you had two damn seconds ago? Accio burp cloth. Poo crisis but you can’t leave the baby unattended to get them clean clothes? Accio baby grow! Keep your wand handy and you will never lose anything again. And it’s no trouble if you’re across the room and spot your baby about to put something deadly in their mouth. Just summon it out of their chubby little fists then distract them with a tiny snowstorm you’ve conjoured up.

tumblr_nym9oagUx31ujqscto4_500

Undetectable Extension Charm

Remember Hermione’s tiny beaded handbag? The one in which she packed everything she, Harry and Ron would need to escape the wedding and fight Voldemort? Yeah, well imagine being able to use that. You’d never run out of storage space in the house again. The toy box would never overflow so that you had to stack toys on top and then dig around for ages to find the favourite teething toy of a sleepy baby which is somehow hidden under a rustley sensory blanket, the jingliest jingle bells and a drumkit… Also, you could pack everything you needed into a small, stylish handbag and sashay out with your baby and pram without being bowed under the weight of baby paraphernalia. No need to have that internal debate about whether to take the second change of clothes… you could even take a change for yourself. Not that you’d need it, you could probably magic the milk vomit off your robes.

So, as I see it, the wizards have this parenting malarkey tied up. But it’s all good. My Hogwarts letter is due any day now…. Any day. In the meantime, well played Wizards. Well played.

Best Secret Santa books of 2015

The Mindfulness Colouring Book has been everywhere this year. Practicing mindfulness has been credited with reduced stress levels and improved focus, but really speaking, who doesn’t love a colouring book? The Mindfulness Colouring Book is a grown up twist on everyone’s favourite childhood pastime full of the kind of beautiful patterns you used to draw for yourself then carefully colour in.

 

 

 


I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones tv series, so I was very excited to hear about the Game of Scones: All Men Must Dine cookery book when it was announced a few years ago. I’m even more excited now that it’s been released, full of recipes like Tyrion’s Shortbread, and Jamie and Cersei’s Family Mess. On a similar note, Breaking Bad fans might like the Baking Bad cookbook

 

 

 


The Magpie and the Wardrobe is an enchanting collection of folklore, traditional recipes and quirky facts tumbled together in a beautifully designed book. With a chapter for each month of the year, there’s something to interest everyone. For example, did you know that people started hanging glass baubles in their windows to trap witches?

 

 

 

 


Doing Good Better is a must read for anyone who wants to make a positive difference in the world. It challenges the reader to re-examine their assumptions about altruism to take an evidence based approach to charity. Effective altruism is rapidly becoming a hot topic.

 

 

 

 


Versions of Us is one of only two fiction books I’ve put on this list as I think that it’s quite a subtle area of interest to judge when buying a Secret Santa present, but I couldn’t resist this book which has been described as a bit of a literary sliding doors and asks the question, what if you had said yes?

 

 

 

 


Britannia Obscura takes an alternative look at Britain, exploring different ways of engaging with the landscape- via networks of caves, through the skies, by canal and around leylines- and exploring the worlds of people who experience the country through these. This would be an unusual gift for ramblers or map fanatics.

 

 

 

 


The other fiction book I’ve put on this list is the newly released, illustrated Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone. The illustrations are just perfect, and it would make the perfect gift for Harry Potter fans young and old. I can’t wait to start reading this with Phoebe when she’s older.