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Conserve Cash October

In book, cinema, food, gym, shopping on September 29, 2011 at 4:55 pm

So, it’s the end of September. It’s been a great month – not least because of the amazing weather we got to see the month out. I’ve caught up with a ton of friends I don’t see enough of and it’s been wonderful. I don’t realise how little I see them until I do start seeing them, and then I realise how much I’ve missed them. From catching a chick-flick with Marv, to dinner with Donna, to Sunday coffee with Nicky to a networking-cum-free-champagne-turns-into-cocktails event with the girls and a night of crazy dancing to live music at the Jam House, I’ve gone out more over the past month than I normally do in three, particularly when you count the fact that Adam and I go to the movies and for dinner every week as a matter of course.

Plus, obviously, I’ve had a birthday, which means I went out for even more meals, and of course had my fantastic weekend away with more cocktails, fab food and posh afternoon teas. And I have loved it. It’s been brilliant to let my hair down and remind myself how many fantastic friends I have and how lucky I am. But, on the down-side, well, I have spent a bit. I’ve not been too bad on the shopping front (though I did get the gorgeous coat I was coveting. And the evening bag to match the birthday shoes. And some new gym stuff. And bedding. And candles and stuff to match. And a bit of jewellery. Okay, I take that back…) but I’ve spent a fortune on food and drink, generally being a social butterfly, and it’s made me take a pretty stern look at my finances.

I’m not going to dwell on it, because it’s been an awesome month and one I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, but I’m going to endeavour to make up for my loose purse-strings over the next four weeks. In fact, I’m going to take a leaf out of the book of Helga Henry. Helga’s coming to the end of what she dubbed No Shop September – which entailed exactly what you’d expect – and I am going to nick her idea and launch Conserve Cash October.

Less pigging out, more piggy bank

That’s with the obvious exception of two key direct debits – I can’t default on previously agreed commitments, they’ll send me to prison – which I’m going to really maximise to help me achieve my goal: my monthly gym membership, which I plan to step up a notch (I need to go some to shift these scones and daiquiris, believe me) and my unlimited cinema card.

The last movie I went to see was Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and I’ve gone a decent amount this month, watching the Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Friends With Benefits and I Don’t Know How She Does It (not on my cinema card but as part of a treat from Marverine so that doesn’t count), but with a host of new ones I have my eye on, including Abduction, In Time, The Three Muskateers and The Help, being due for release, I should be able to keep busy, and I’ll have to strive to ignore the lure of the various pizza places, bars, tapas restaurants and, naturally, the sweet counter, that stand between the car park and the screen.

Adam’s currently training for the BUPA Great Birmingham Run, which takes place in three weeks time. In theory, he’ll be on a mission not to eat too much before that to make sure his efforts are worthwhile, so with that in mind, I plan to work out a home-cooked menu (I envisage a lot of home-grown tomatoes playing a part) to boost energy levels and have him fighting fit, leaving both our wallets and waistlines thanking us for our dedication.

It’s only 31 days after all. From then on, with Christmas – so sorry to use the C word this early – skateboarding ever closer, it’ll be a case of going back to my common sense approach – always choosing somewhere to eat with a voucher code offer, or treating ourselves to a posher restaurant after a tough week, but making the most of our Gastrocard subscription to save some pennies.

My final cutback – and one I had never envisaged would be so out of hand – is that I WILL STOP BUYING E-BOOKS IN THE AMAZON KINDLE STORE. I’ve had my kindle for 16 days and I’ve spent getting on for £100 on books. happily, there’s a good 12 or so I’ve yet to read, so I figure if I spend the whole of October working, watching movies, working out and reading my way through my Kindle library, then it should be November in no time.

I suspect the harder part will be keeping those pennies somewhere sensible, rather than somehow hemmorhaging them elsewhere, as I am wont to do…

So there you go, I have announced an intention, and I shall try to fulfil it. However, there’s one more day of September left, and luckily for me, one more afternoon tea to be had. This one’s in aid of Acorns Hospice though, so my conscience, for once, is clear.

Book review: The Woman He Loved Before: Dorothy Koomson

In book on September 21, 2011 at 8:15 am

I’m very grateful to my friend Jade for introducing me to Dorothy Koomson’s novels three or so years ago. I devoured Marshmallows For Breakfast, My Best Friend’s Girl, The Cupid Effect and The Chocolate Run at high speed, loving the beautiful writing, the complex layers of the characters, the sensitively handled plots… and it’s hard to believe, but Koomson just gets better and better.

Goodnight, Beautiful remains to this day the most heart-breaking book I can remember reading – it’s certainly the only book that I’ve had to sit and cry for a full hour afterward, and been unable to summarise to anyone without welling up. And last year, The Ice Cream Girls explored new teritory, tackling a controversial topic, once again, one that I’d never really dwelled upon to make me sit back and think about the perception we have of authortity figures and boisterous teenagers. The thorough understanding, the careful layers of the plot that show the extent of the research, of the empathy that the author puts into her work, is eye-opening and jaw-dropping.

I’m not being helpful – I’m not telling you what the topics are, why some of the novels are so harrowing – I don’t want to ruin the reading for you, that’s why. Koomson’s been described as a new queen of chick-lit – but I think her novels go way beyond an enjoyable read. Parts are distressing, and all are thought-provoking, leaving you whizzing through the pages, anxious to find out what happens next, who did what, why they did that, if everything will be okay.

The Woman He Loved Before is the latest jewel in Koomson’s literary crown – one of those books that you close after reading the final sentence and sit and think ‘What if...’ What if I were LibbyWhat if I were Eve…Could I do that, would I be able to do that?

Libby is a very beautiful woman, with a husband she loves very much; Jack. Before he fell in love with Libby, Jack had been married to Eve, who had died. A car accident in the opening of the novel throws Libby’s life into sharp relief – everything she is, everything she thinks, is questioned. Police investigating the accident wonder how Jack’s second wife so narrowly escaped death, narrowly avoided ending up the same way as the first. And there are niggling memories, things that Libby can’t quite put her finger on, as she comes to terms with the effects of her accident, the scars it has left, and the damage it has caused to her relationship.

Recuperating at home, she comes across some personal possessions of Eve’s, revealing the life of the woman Jack loved before, and making her question everything she has been told, everything she’s ever thought and believed about her husband and his past.

The subject matter of the book makes grim reading at times – and it’s a credit to Koomson’s skills that it’s not easy to simply dismiss the plot as fiction. We know that this is a fictional novel, but we know that Koomson has lifted the lid on terrible things that happen to people that we tend not to dwell on, prefer not to think about. Like picking at a scab to expose the woud underneath, Koomson nudges away at the layers of Libby’s discovery and Eve’s secrets – it could have been left alone, but once it’s been started, however painful it is, it has to be finished.

I must’ve come up with eight theories as to what was going to happen at various points in the book. When one of those theories was correct, I gasped with horror; I’d hoped my imagination was running away with me.

Gripping and chilling, Koomson has explored an unpleasant, taboo world; the kind that we occasionally read in distressing newspaper reports and sleep a little less easily for.

This is a book that stays with you long after you reach The End, and one that presents a whole series of ‘What if’ questions about what you might be capable of under different circumstances. Luckily for most of us, it’s something we’ll never need to find out.

Book review: Before I Go To Sleep: SJ Watson

In book on September 20, 2011 at 5:33 pm

I have got to stop reading thrillers when I’m in bed – it’s not conducive to sweet dreams. I started Before I Go To Sleep on Sunday night, and after a couple of hours, as I turned the light out, was so tense that I almost just carried on reading. Last night, as I reached the final ‘pages’ – this being a Kindle it’s fair to say I had 20 per cent left to read – and shouted out my latest theories (poor Adam has to endure this with everything I read, I have to tell him what’s happening and what I think the outcome will be, just in case I’m right an can’t prove it) as the ultimate cliffhanger kicked in…the flashing page saying I’d run out of power appeared, leaving me on a knife-edge until 6.30am today.

(FYI, I was right about a bit of my theory, but very, very wrong in the main)

SJ Watson’s novel is a cracking debut – Christine wakes up to find that she doesn’t know where she is, and that she has no recollection of the night before. Turning over, she sees an older man wearing a wedding ring sleeping beside her, and creeps into the bathroom. Disgusted with herself for sleeping with a married man, a stranger, she tries to work out how to leave as she washes her hands… hands that are older, with a wedding ring on. Christine finds out, as she does every day, that she’s been married to Ben for 20 years, and that she has amnesia; every morning she wakes with no idea of who she is or who those around her are, all recollections of what she learned the day before erased…

A telephone conversation with the man who tells her he’s her doctor, that he’s been working with her to recover her memories, leads her to the journal she’s been keeping, and from there, Christine begins to find out who she is. Or is it who she’s been told she is?As flashes of memory strike out the of the blue, Christine records them, reading back over days and days of entries to piece together the life she had before the events that caused her memory loss, and to find out why it happened at all.

A chilling account, I was really drawn into this novel, desperate to find out what had happened, what accounts were true, which were lies, if the lies were to protect her, or to prevent her from moving on, who she could trust, and who even really exisited. A tense, tense thriller that really keeps you guessing, and then twists unpleasantly just as you think you’ve got your head around it.

This would make a great movie, so it’s no surprise to learn that Ridley Scott’s already earmarked it for production. I look forward to Watson’s second offering.

 

Kindle convert

In book, Uncategorized on September 19, 2011 at 9:21 am

Over the past couple of months I’ve debated the pros and cons of a Kindle:

Cons:

  • No gorgeous tactile, vibrant, glossy covers
  • No more crisp scent of fresh, unturned pages
  • The loss of that feeling that there are only a few pages left before you’re bereft…

Pros:

  • No more airline charges due to excessive baggage
  • No more watching helplessly as pages fall out and drift off due to overuse/hot and dry climates as the glue melts!
  • Not needing to allocate yet more space under the bed/in the study/in the attic/in my parents’ house

So, on my birthday last week, I was delighted when my boyfriend’s parents bought me a Kindle and I could stop procrastinating and mincing and just get on with it. And I am now very, very much in love with it.

The first realisation is I have a new, significantly more dangerous pro and con:

Pro:

  • No longer will I have that sensation of ‘what to do now…’ when I come to the end of a book and don’t have anything new to try… a quick flick through the Kindle store and I can have a whole new selection delivered to my device in seconds courtesy of wifi and whispernet.

Con:

  • This is going to cost me a freakin’ fortune. Already, I’ve unwittingly spent around £60 on titles in just six days, and I’m usually fairly sensible on the book-buying front. Now, whenever I read a recommendation or a review, I’m going to act immediately, rather than making a note and remembering to browse Amazon or head to Waterstones.

Case in point – this week on Twitter, Jane Green recommended SJ Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep. I was in the middle of Helen Smith’s Alison Wonderland at the time, so quickly hit the Kindle store, bought the kindle book, and resumed my reading. Last night, on finishing Smith’s novel, I began Before I Go to Sleep. I’m hooked – my mind’s already played out 20 different endings and I can’t wait to resume it tonight.

I think I’ll have to get into the habit of limiting the amount I order, but next on my list is either Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – which I wanted to re-read before I watch the movie this weekend, or The Sick Rose by Erin Kelly – having finally read The Poison Tree last week, I can’t wait to read her next offeirng.

Oh, it’s going to be problematic, I can just tell. In the meantime, my parents can throw a party to celebrate getting their spare room back.

Coming round to the Kindle

In book, random thoughts on August 10, 2011 at 2:01 pm

I love reading, always have, always will. Despite the attempted Great Book Amnesty of 2010, which saw me pick up books to give to charitry and then replace them back on the shelf reverently for about four days, when I swore I’d use libraries more and stop buying, I do in fact just keep on buying. And I have nowhere to keep them.

I’ve been toying with, and ultimately turning my nose up at, the idea of buying a Kindle for a while now. I love the whole experience of buying books – the smell of a book shop, the shiny, colourful, soft covers, browsing among them, reading the backs, the flyleafs, making my selections and then the anticipation of getting them home and beginning to devour them.

But this year I might have to succumb. Not only have I now filled half of my own and my parents’ homes with novels, I also can’t bear another year of cramming more books than clothes into my case for a fortnight’s holiday. Ten books, six pairs of shoes, 14 days’ clothes – one case. It just doesn’t go!

So, much as I’ll miss the feeling of fresh paper under my fingers, I think I’m going to have to give into technology. I have to think of all the extra  space I’m going to have. For shoes, maybe. Hmmm.

Still potty

In book, cinema, Uncategorized on June 17, 2011 at 6:34 pm

The countdown is on… It’s less than a month until the final instalment of the Harry Potter film franchise opens in cinemas and I am beside myself. Partly because the trailer suggests that the Deathly Hallows part 2 will be the most spectacular yet, but partly because it all ends (as the strapline says).

From this...

 

...to this

I have been a Harry Potter nutcase since I read the very first line of The Philosopher’s Stone, all those years ago, and I’m almost word-perfect on the novels and the movies. Like billions across the world, I’ve watched Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson grow up in front of me, and the characters who took shape in my head were steadily replaced with these young British actors. Admittedly, I spend too long lamenting the scenes that i feel were unjustly not included in the films (don’t get me started on Kreacher’s Tale), but I have loved every second I’ve spent re-reading and re-viewing the series and I know I shall be distraught once the closing credits roll on the last, and surely what must be the best, dramatic adventure on July 15th.

My friend Andrew, who understands, or at least endures, my Potter passion, recently gave me the entire, wonderful collection of all seven audiobooks, brilliantly narrated by Stephen Fry. I’d listened to all seven; I can’t even begin to work out how many hours worth; in four weeks.

So I was delighted to discover this morning that Cineworld is showing each of the seven films made to date over the preceeding seven nights (NB: If you’ve made tentative arrangments with me between 8th-15th July, consider them cancelled), but then I stumbled across some even better. brand new, more exciting news…news that has ignited a little flicker of hope in my sad, geeky, Potter-loving heart.

JK Rowling has a new project – http://www.pottermore.com – which is, we’re told, not a new book, but a new project, not directly related to the films.

There’s not too long to find out what it’s all about – JK Rowling will make the announcement on June 23rd – and such is the excitement around it that there’s already a countdown until the moment the plans are unveiled. Fansites such as Leaky Cauldron have been given a sneak preview and say that it is ‘breathtaking’, though they’re sworn to secrecy.

While many would like to see the next phase of Hogwarts, I’d love to see a prequel – see the antics of James, Lily, Sirius, Remus et al, and see the first war with Voldemort up until his first meeting with Harry. Time will tell. My friend Mark thinks we’re in for an animated series based on Hogwarts and the Potterverse – whatever it is, it’s exactly what I need to save me from not having any more Wizard fantasies to occupy me.

In the meantime, until June 23rd, or July 15th, here’s the final, fantastic, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows trailer – it gives me goosebumps and brings tears to my eyes – just imagine what I’m going to be like when I see it in all its iMax 3D glory… Merlin’s Pants!

And once I’ve recovered, there’s only one thing for it. My wand (a special Christmas present from The Boy)and I shall board the Hogwarts Express (or a Virgin jet) and head off to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida. It’s the only way…

The art of eating like a Frenchwoman

In book, diet, food, France, health on February 10, 2011 at 4:00 pm

I came across an interesting book recently and I had to buy it. Written by Mireille Guiliano, the CEO of Champagne Veuve Clicquot, French Women Don’t Get Fat claims to recondition eating habits so that you think and eat like a slender French mademoiselle. She has a point, I mused. On my trips to France, I only recall well-dressed, glamorous, slender ladies, and if this was going to help me join their ranks, well it was worth a shot.

So far, it’s making a lot of sense. Mme Guiliano is quite clear – the reason so many people are overweight is due to bad habits and big portions – shovelling food in while watching TV, while working at the laptop, grabbing breakfast on the go or by missing breakfast altogether and reaching for quick-fix snacks.

Her recommendation is to keep a food diary for three weeks so that you can spot patterns and ‘offenders’ in your diet, before undertaking a two day ‘Leek Soup’ preparation. You then enter the ‘recasting’ period – three months of changing your eating habits gradually.

I’m not yet half way through the book but I can see a great deal of logic in Mme Guiliano’s approach. Some have criticised her for being arrogant and accusatory, but as someone who is not overweight, but striving for improvement, I know I’m guilty of a lot of the ‘offences’ she flags up. My learnings so far, which I plan to start regulating pretty soon, are…

Turn meal times into an experience: Set the table, use glassware, napkins, candles. Make sitting down to a meal an enjoyable experience to look forward to. Take care of presentation, use more than one plate to choose from. Eat a little of each food, on its own, first, before you mix the flavours. Enjoy the flavours. Put your cutlery down between mouthfuls. Chew. Taste. Savour.  It doesn’t take a genius to see how this could work on so many levels – if you’ve gone to the trouble to make up a table for dinner, you’ll want to spend longer there, not wolf your food down without really tasting it. I do love creating ‘restaurant’ style table settings, but it’s something I only do for guests, yet sure enough, we’ll sit at the table and chat and eat for ages, rather than eating a whole meal in less than ten minutes. I can’t even remember what I had for lunch today, but I know I ate it at my computer. It might seem daft to make an effort for one person, but it’s something I’m going to try next week and see if it works. Mme Guiliano says TV, newspapers, books – multi tasking of any kind at mealtimes is not allowed, enabling you to concentrate on what you’re eating and how it satisfies you.

Shop for fresh produce every couple of days rather than doing a bumper monthly shop: This means you’ll pay more attention to the type of food you choose and its quality.

Shop at markets rather than supermarkets, and look for in-season foods: This is all about the quality of the food we eat. Looking, inspecting, choosing plump, rosy tomatoes rather than pre-packed versions. That, teamed with the added time you’ll be spending eating and enjoying the food, will, she claims, make you begin to appreciate quality over quantity and enjoy the preparation of a meal to savour more.

Drink more water – a big glass before bed and a big glass in the morning, in addition to your existing daily intake. We all know we’re meant to drink at least eight glasses of water, but many of us don’t. By adding just those two glasses will help ward off dehydration and aid well being – all part of recognising what our body needs as opposed to what it doesn’t.

So far, I’ve gathered that French women don’t forbid themselves from indulgences, but they do counteract them. Mme Guiliano says that if we want dessert and wine with dinner, of course we must have it, but try to resist the bread basket, or ensure you do 30 minutes’ exercise the following day.

Without keeping a diary for three weeks, I know what my ‘offenders’ are. Bread will always be a massive draw for me, but according to this guide, that doesn’t mean I can’t have it, it just means I should choose really beautiful, fresh bakery bread and limit my portions so that it becomes a luxurious treat that I’ll savour, rather than eat bog-standard slices of everyday off-the-shelf bread. Sounds damn good to me. Mme Guiliano says that if someone eats four slices a day, maybe they cut it back to three, then two. Eventually, she says, I may discover I only really need one to feel satisifed.

The same rule applies to chcolate. Mme G says that instead of compromising on taste and scoffing mediocre bars, choosing a small piece of really excellent quality chocolate and savouring each bite, will go a long way – that much I do agree with; my Dad gave me a box of miniature Green & Black’s bars in my Christmas stocking and one of those tiny 15g bars lasted through an entire movie, while a bar grabbed in the supermarket or petrol station would last a couple of minutes.

I think it’ll take a bit of discipline, but I think if I stick to it, I could make some pretty significant changes once I’ve finished this book. I’ll keep you posted…

 

 

 

 

 

Witch watching

In book, cinema, Uncategorized on September 1, 2010 at 11:48 am

I’ve just watched the trailer for the final instalments of the Harry Potter movie series. It looks amazing, I got goosebumps and my eyes prickled with tears – and it’s only two and a half minutes long.

November 19th will see the first part of the Deathly Hallows released, with its conclusion not landing in cinemas until July 2011. I have high, high hopes for it. If I’d had my way, the Half Blood Prince would have been divided too; I was so disappointed at how much had to be cut from my favourite book of the series, and every time I watch it, I lament the loss of some of the scenes I think were vital.

JK Rowling is my heroine. I am in absolute awe of her creativity and imagination. Last night I started re-reading the series (I do this every year) and even know I know every twist and turn in the plot, I still seek little clues and hints to impress myself, as well as the red herrings – I remember telling everyone who would listen (both of them) how Ollivander was an anagram of An Evil Lord, and (spoiler alert) he wasn’t. There you go.

From the moment I read the opening lines of The Philosopher’s Stone, I was hooked, and on three occasions I queued up at midnight to get the final three books in the series and didn’t go to bed, such was my desire to find out what happened next.

When I closed the Deathly Hallows, I actually felt bereft. I am voracious reader and have read countless chronicles, but nothing, from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and CS Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia to Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy or Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, has made me sit there wondering what the hell I’m going to read next and how it can possibly compare.

Already having watched the last movie I know that so much won’t and can’t be adhered to from the Deathly Hallows, but that won’t stop me being more excited by its release than anything else since the Half Blood Prince. Just 78 days to wait…

Buy the book

In book, random thoughts, shopping on August 2, 2010 at 9:38 am

I have been a bit overcome by guilt at the amount of books I have put into storage at my parents’ house because I don’t have room for them. Quite why I think that they have is beyond me.

Yesterday, filled with good intentions, I went to their spare room, AKA my library, and started to sort them, I plan to give some to charity. But there is no getting away from the fact that I have an addiction to books and almost see it as criminal to get rid of them, even if it is to give them to a new home.

I don’t feel I can in all conscience give away the Jane Austens, the Bronte sisters’ work, nor that of Dickens, Hardy, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Marvell, Elliot (both George and T.S) or Woolf. Also, Steinbeck, Orwell both Martin and Kingsley Amis have escaped the cull. Fay Weldon and Margaret Atwood formed a big part of my late teens, and as for the Chronicles of Narnia, the Harry Potter books, Lord of the Rings or the His Dark Materials trilogy; well, you can forget the idea of me handing those over to anyone.

My chick-lit, I decided, would not be spared the cull. Except for Jane Green of course – in fact, I have bought and hidden her latest work to take on holiday (book cull fail). But I couldn’t part with Marian Keyes’ treasures, nor those of Lisa Jewell or Sophie Kinsella, I know I’ll read them again and again when the mood strikes me… And having bought Dorothy Koomson’s The Ice Cream Girls this weekend, I know I’ll wind up re-reading all of hers this summer, including the heart breaking Goodnight Beautiful which made me cry for a week in Barbados.

So far, I’ve only managed to squirrel away about 30 novels – those that I cannot remember the plots of clearly didn’t make the grade, while some I’ve actually got duplicates of!

Operation Book Cull is very much a work in progress. There are 12 shelves, all stacked back three and four rows deep and crammed to capacity. I expect to rediscover much-loved favourites and toss ones that I didn’t like. I am not thinking about how much cash I must have spent over the past 20 years when my Dad kept saying ‘why don’t you join a library?’

The question is, why didn’t I join a library?