Thursday, 25 October 2012

Bookworm: Love...From Both Sides, by Nick Spalding

This brief piece of fiction opens with the phrase "Oh God, her breath smells like the gates of Hell have opened." From then onwards this book didn't fail to keep me laughing.

The story focusses on the love lives of Laura and Jamie describing a host of dating disasters and terrible tales from both the male and the female perspective.

We hear what sorts of issues men get themselves into via Jamie's blog entries and women's worries from Laura's diary entries, addressed to her Mum.

Although this book was very short (one of a selection of short comical life experience offerings from the author) it never felt things were rushed. Stories were told in such a way you couldn't help but relate, laugh and picture the scenes/characters being described in front of you.

Just as the fictional tale started to feel it was going down 'cheesy' territory, Spalding brings it back and has you sniggering again.

Good parts
Makes you laugh throughout
Likable main characters
You want to carry on reading more funny tales after it ends

Not so great bits
Perhaps a tad too short
Said to be based on real dating experiences of the writer's friends and family, but some parts feel a tad far fetched.

Enjoyed whilst flying on my holiday and then hungrily consumed on my first morning on the beach, this was an ideal easy read. Really recommend if you need a bit of a giggle.

I'm planning to download all the others now!

Bookworm: The Last Telegram, by Liz Trenow

Trenow's book is described as the tale of a young woman who falls in love with a Jewish boy during World War Two.

The story I ended up reading was therefore not what I'd expected. However once I'd completed this piece of fiction I realised this was not necessarily a bad thing.

Focussing on the life of Lily, the book starts and ends on the present day, when our main character is an elderly woman.

You're then taken back in time to her childhood, Lily becoming a woman, the war and how life was in England. The Last Telegram centres around Lily's family and their silk business.

I enjoyed the interesting snippets at the start of each chapter on silk - how it's made, its history and the like.
Due to the descriptions offered, I expected the story to be set in Germany, during the times of Hitler and hear all about the romance between Lily and her Jewish love. However it turned out this book had many other stories to tell.

This the author's first novel and I devoured it in two days. It's likely this was down to me reading lots as I had bad weather on my holiday and didn't have much to do but read! However, this fiction did keep you hooked, with strong characters, romance and sad times too.

Trenow's story surprises you, it doesn't provide what you think and I found it offered me interesting snippets of history.

Good parts
Surprises you
Good characters
Lots of emotions from one book
Interesting. Feel learn about history and silk making, something I wouldn't typically have read up on

Not so great
Do feel at times how many bad things can happen to one person
Ending felt a bit rushed

My Grandma was German and from what I know she fell in love with my Grandad who had a Polish/Jewish background. This too was during the war. Perhaps this added to my interest in the tale, it certainly added to a longstanding regret of mine to never have got the whole story whilst my grandparents were still alive that's for sure.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Bookworm: The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

On a few occasions I’d seen this book in various forms – either on the shelf in a bookstore, somebody holding the paperback on the train or within a list on Kindle. It wasn’t until recently I reread the book’s blurb after seeing it on my Kindle recommended list and actually thought it didn’t sound too bad and offered something different to what I’ve read in a while.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the result. Morton provides something different in her dark fairytale mystery, which switches between present day and then back to two different periods in the past.

Admittedly when I first started reading the story – and in fact for quite some time – I found this book quite tough to get into, there are just so many characters! At times you do feel you have to remind yourself who is who and which character they are related to. Unfortunately with reading this on a Kindle it’s also not as easy as a paperback to just flick back a few pages/chapters and find the passage referring to said character to refresh your memory.

One thing I loved about Morton’s story is the constant reference throughout to ‘Eliza Makepeace’s’ fairytales – I found them so enchanting, with a dark twist. Also the way the history of Nell and where she truly comes from is told throughout her granddaughter’s modern day detective work, Nell’s own discoveries and the actual past itself is very clever and makes for an addictive read.

At times, the book does feel a little long and that the story is almost never-ending. Regardless, you still want to read on and find out the answers and the real truth of what happened and the true character behind each person featured.

There are lots of twists and turns throughout – some of which, granted, are a tad predictable and easily guessed. Morton keeps you captivated though and her descriptions are very strong and well written – many times I could picture myself in the cold, grimy room where Eliza lived as a young child, or sitting on the bench admiring the beautiful forgotten garden itself.

You end the book feeling satisfied, happy and still left with that feeling of magic. Morton does well to tie everything together in many ways - the storylines, the characters, the time periods and the novel versus the fairytales.

Good points
Something different
Well written
Engaging storyline

Not so great
Too many characters
Perhaps could be a little shorter
Some bits are rather predictable

Overall a good read and certainly worthwhile on Kindle as it's hardly any cost where it's a bit older now. The best way to sum it up for me is like a grown up fairytale for adults. Magical and enchanting!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

One for the girls

When I was little I went to a local playschool, then as I grew up I attended standard state infant, junior and secondary schools.

My schools weren’t the best and certainly had their faults. I struggled with maths a little in junior school and my Mum ended up doing extra practice with me at home to help (I used to dread that times table tape!) In my secondary school I used to enjoy French but after our first year we were given one replacement cover teacher after another and our class had some pretty testing children so our language classes suffered.

At secondary school I decided to pick a selection of additional subjects for my ‘options’ including Food Technology and History.

I knew from a young age that I loved writing and I was a real bookworm, so I read books and wrote practice stories and newspaper articles non-stop. To help gain further qualifications for my planned writing career I attended sixth form college, where I chose to study English Language, Sociology and Media Studies, and also did a side of General Studies. I took part in a writing course and wrote for the college magazine.

Then after discovering having a degree would really help me in my future career as a journalist (my ambition since I was about 10 years of age), I went to University and came away with a 2:1 BA (Hons) in English Language and Linguistics, again doing additional courses along the way.

In my career I’ve worked my way up throughout various positions and at one point managed my own team. Last week we got told at my latest company about some changes in the business, one of which resulted in us now having a female CEO. Something which I feel can only lead to positive changes.

Why am I telling you all this? Today I found out via Twitter that it is ‘International Day of the Girl’

All these points throughout my educational life, I think I can pretty much say I’ve taken for granted. In that I’ve taken for granted the fact that I have access to such an education and a whole host of opportunities in front of me.

Today is all part of work by Plan UK and has been set up by the UN to raise awareness of girls and the possibilities we should have and how much we can achieve. I didn’t realise this but “globally, one in three girls is denied a secondary education by the daily realities of poverty, discrimination and violence”.

Plan UK in fact having a petition right now (which I of course have signed) to help ensure girls across the world have the right to an education and get the opportunities in learning they deserve.

I know we often look back over some things learnt at school as skills we feel we’ll never use, or we look fondly back over memories of making new friends and fun times at school and perhaps not the learning. But just imagine for one minute not having that option, not being able to read or write properly, not learning about other countries, religions, processes, histories and more. It makes for a pretty dire life and world indeed.

You can sign the petition here

Melican at the theatre: Shakers by John Godber and Jane Thornton.

Last night I visited the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch, my local theatre.

I used to attend this venue as a young child on school outings and for pantomimes, but nowadays find I tend to visit to watch something a little different. Because it’s a local theatre I find I’m a lot more open to just trying out what they’ve got on and recent years have seen me watch Shirley Valentine, Busting Out, the Rocky Horror Show and the Vagina Monologues to name a few.

This time I was here to see Shakers. A play set in a nightclub, where the audience are told how things really are by four young women who work there.

The four waitresses – Adele, Carole, Mel and Nicky are played by Natasha Moore (who was also in the Rocky Horror Show), Lucy Thornston, Laure Pitt-Pulford and Rachel Dawson. In fact the whole show centres around these four and there are no other characters or indeed props onstage, bar the nightclub set/scenery.

At first I was unsure when I realised the lack of other scenes and actors/actresses as it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. However, I was soon pleasantly surprised and having a good giggle.

Although the show is only running for two weeks we had been able to get tickets in the third row, so had a great view. This also meant we could clearly see all the mannerisms of the characters and their faces, which was fantastic.

I was really impressed at the actresses acting out of different visitors to the club, in particular when they became some of the male punters. The stance, expressions and general mannerisms were spot on and I found myself in hysterics (this seems to be a regular occurrence now when I attend this theatre!)

What really wowed us was how quickly the cast switched from being ‘City boys’, ‘posh yuppies’, ‘arrogant cheating bigwigs’, ‘young Essex girls partying’, ‘canoodling couples’ and lots more, and then turned round and became their main character of a nightclub waitress.

There are also some deeper moments in the play when the characters come to the forward of the stage and give us an insight into their own private lives and how they’ve ended up doing this job. I found each of them very moving.

Overall I really enjoyed the show, yet again another production from the theatre which challenged my expectations and left me experiencing a range of emotions and witnessing some great acting skills. I’m now looking forward to see what I can go and watch next!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Hidden wardrobe wonders

I’ve blogged before about how therapeutic I find it when I have a clean and tidy home and recently I’ve found an even better feeling – sorting out your wardrobe!

I was on a shopping trip with my Mum on the weekend to help her build a new wardrobe of outfits and I ended up coming home with more (2 pairs of heels, 3 pairs of boots, fake fur gilet, 1 top, 1 dress, 1 cardigan and 1 jumper)! As a result my boyfriend helpfully reminded me of the fact that the clothes and footwear I currently have don’t fit in my wardrobes, let alone adding more to them…

As I looked at my bedroom floor covered in clothes, bag and shoes that had been discarded after giving up on trying to squash them into the cupboards, I had to agree. I genuinely had needed some boots as the ones I had were scuffed and letting in water when it rained, so I promised I would throw out the old to make room for the new.

This is where it all started on Sunday afternoon aiming to throw out some old boots and 5 hours, 6 large bags and 1 bin liner later I’d cleared out my whole wardrobe! I sorted through bags, nightwear, jumpers, tops, cardigans, coats, dresses, trousers, shoes, boots and sandals and found lots of it I haven’t worn in months, maybe years, or they were in such a sorry state there was no sense in keeping them.

I’d woken up on Sunday feeling guilty as I’d gotten up late and skipped spinning and I was worrying I was going to waste the day. Granted I was exhausted by the evening but I’d managed to get so much done – a few sets of washing, cleaning my flat and doing this huge wardrobe sort out. I felt great.

Last week I kept feeling fed up and down and couldn’t snap out of this mood, but since organising all my clothes, shoes and accessories (and being in clean flat) I’ve felt so much calmer and more upbeat. May make me sound sad and a little odd, but it’s true.

The best bit through all this though? Acquiring a new wardrobe – no not just from my purchases on Saturday at the Essex retail heaven that is Lakeside, but from rediscovered items found in the dark depths of my cupboards and long forgotten.

I’ve found perfectly good black knee high, kitten heel boots that I’d forgotten about (I’ve had them for years now and for whatever reason didn’t wear them much), I’ve found two really cute dresses for work (still with the tags on) and some ‘city shorts’ again still sporting their store tag. My gym gear is no longer stuffed down the side of my bed between the frame and the bedside table – it fits on a shelf all of its own. I don’t have to carefully pull items from a pile stuffed into the wardrobe and hurriedly slam the door shut before everything falls out.

No, I’ve spent every morning so far this week carefully selecting outfits to wear to work, knowing exactly where said items will be. I’ve picked out which coat looks best, now my hall cupboard isn’t crammed full of too many old and unworn jackets and I’ve received numerous compliments!

At my office we’re pretty much allowed to wear what we want (obviously smarter when meeting clients) and when I first joined I missed wearing my ‘office’ wear I’d accumulated over the years. However I soon got used to the more relaxed approach, but unfortunately this also involved me wearing similar outfits each day (usually consisting of jeans and whatever top I could get out the cupboard the easiest). Now I feel like I’m making an effort again and actually wearing nice things regardless of whether I am seeing a client or not.

It’s odd how a new outfit or a bit of organisation at home can influence other areas of your life, but what I’ve really loved is finding these hidden gems in my wardrobe.

The only problem now is trying to stick to this setup now and keeping everything neat and tidy, particularly when you’re someone like me who loves a bit of retail therapy. However, discovering that I have enough ‘work dresses’ for well over 2 weeks straight, without wearing the same thing twice, I think I’ll be alright for now…

Friday, 5 October 2012

Bookworm: Me Before You by JoJo Moyes


I have literally just finished this book on my lunchbreak and thank goodness I read it whilst in a public place, I've had to hold myself together as it is!

If like me you love books that get your emotions going you will love this book.

I'd seen Me Before You previously on the shelf in shops and on my Recommended List on my Kindle. To be honest with you, I thought it looked like a predictable chick lit offering and disregarded it.

A friend at work was part way through reading it recently and recommended it to me. Thank goodness she did and I decided to give it a go.

I've found I couldn't put this book down and on seeing how close I was to finishing it this morning on my commute in, I've been impatient to get on my break to carry on reading! In fact I think I've now finished this fictional tale before my friend who suggested I try it!

The story focusses on Louisa Clark, she's a pretty ordinary girl who is very set in her ways, unadventurous and not very ambitious. She's been in a relationship for seven years with with a boyfriend she's just 'comfortable' with.

Louisa is the forgotten one in her family and holds a dark secret, which you wouldn't expect.

Moyes is great at building her characters and I could picture each of them - the Traynors, Katrina, Patrick, Louisa's parents and even the area they all live in.

I don't want to give anything away but Louisa ends up working for the Traynor family and has to care for Will, a quadraplegic since a fateful accident when he was younger.

Whatever you're thinking, don't. Throughout I kept second guessing what was going to happen next and how people were going to act. Yes granted there is one obvious storyline you will guess as a reader but any other expectations I had were squashed.

A mix of laugh, tears and hope this book covers it all. Dare I say it, it may be the next PS I Love You.

Moyes does not offer a feel good predictable read as you'd expect from the cover and blurb.

Good points
Strong likeable characters
Good storyline, lots of twists
Not what you expect
Don't want to put it down

Not so wonderful
From the outset one part is pretty obvious in this story
Getting to the end - I didn't want to finish
It will make you sad!

As you've probably gathered by now yes I would recommend this, yes I'm a soppy mess and yes I will be looking into what else this author has to offer.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Itching to talk about eczema

Ever since a young age I’ve had an urge to scratch, my skin so itchy I literally want to claw it away. The severity of the discomfort has altered throughout my life, as has the areas on my body where it occurs, but I can’t escape it, I have eczema.

I first started getting eczema as a young child, in the creases behind my knees and the creases on the inside of my arms. Areas prone to getting extra hot obviously based on where they are located and my eczema used to flare up whenever the sun came out. I can remember many school lunchtimes sitting on the grass and feeling sad as I felt the familiar tingle and then the urge to scratch scratch scratch. I would scratch so much in fact I’d make my skin bleed and the area would get little bumps on the surface.

Later on I seemed to find my eczema not just in the heat but also when I had lots of dairy products such as eggs and cheese, although thank goodness it was now just on the inside of my arms and not my legs. I should add I have a friend who got it on her face, so I know I don’t have it to the worst extent it could be.

Then as I got older stress played a big part, during some tough times at University I found it appeared round the back of my arm and was incredibly sore rather than simply itchy.

Even though you know with eczema you need to try not to scratch it and you know how sore it gets when you do, you literally cannot stop yourself.

I’ve had various creams over the years and can remember this awful stuff my Mum got when I was little that I had to bathe in – it would go all lumpy in the bath water and smelt awful!

Now bad diet and alcohol seems to be prompting this latest outburst and my arm is getting unbearably itchy. The cream I have doesn’t seem to work, so I think a trip to the doctor is going to have to take place pretty soon. As soon as I get slightly anxious too I start to scratch.

The worst bit is I’ve even started doing it in my sleep. So that when I wake up I have rolled my pyjama sleeve up and had a good old claw at my arm throughout the night!

What is annoying about this skin condition is the fact it usually comes along with asthma and hayfever (I have both of these too), you’re told most people grow out of it after childhood (no such luck) and it varies from person to person so there is no real way of knowing what causes it or how to stop it.

I even found recently watching a health program which tries to combat health issues with diet they looked at a young boy with sever eczema and even hearing his story made me start scraping at my skin.

According to the National Eczema Society in the UK, one in five children and one in twelve adults have eczema.

I think I have atopic eczema from all the descriptions, yet people seem to think you only have it as a child. Just my luck – could have had wrinkle-free skin, no fear or some other beneficial childhood trait. No, I get the skin condition!

If anyone has any tips or things that have worked for them, please do share in the comment box below!