Thursday, 7 November 2013

The Book Lover Survey

For some reason or another I've never done a 'tag' post, which is quite strange as I quite like reading them and they're a really nice and simple idea. I spotted this tag over on Jennie's blog Sail Boat, and thought that I'd jump on board (pun highly intended). Jennie's blog is also one that I've been reading for years, which tends to make me feel a bit stalkerish, but I do love her photography and her pet rabbit. So cute!

Anyway, away from the fangirling and onto the tag!

Do you remember how you developed a love for reading?
I remember my parents reading to me before bed when I was very young, and then as my reading skills grew I began to get impatient with them and just started reading on my own. I think it just took off from there and I began to devour books. I looked forward to trips to the local library and would take out lots of books from the school library too. Some of my friends have mentioned in the past that my family home isn't as full of books as they would have thought, and that's because my family have always been a big champion of libraries and borrowing books. And that scene in Beauty and the Beast where he gives her the library? Yep, that's my favourite bit. Libraries are pretty damn magical, and that's why whenever I hear about another one being forced to close, I get a little bit sad. Boo to the government. Maybe I should make a placard?

Where do you usually read?
I love reading in bed. So comfy and the best place to wind down, unless you're reading a really exciting book and you just can't put it down so you end up reading into the early hours. Many a tired morning has been made from reading until 3am.

I actually found it really difficult to read in other places during my English degree, as I would just associate reading with lying on my bed relaxing. Sitting in a hard chair in the freezing or boiling hot library (depending on what mood it was in) was a challenge, especially when I had to analyse the writing instead of just enjoy it.

Do you prefer to read one book at a time or several at once?
When I was at uni I got used to reading a few books at a time (and pretending that I'd read a few too!), but outside of studying I just like to have one book on the go, otherwise one gets neglected or I forget what's happening in the storyline.

What is your favourite genre?
Definitely dystopian fiction or books with really big themes in them like, WHAT IS LIFE? and such. I love the His Dark Materials trilogy for the whole religion/science debate and basically anything Margaret Atwood writes. For she is god.

Is there a genre you will not read?
Any book that has a pastel coloured cover, so basically chick lit. I've tried reading a few and they just tend to be too fluffy for me or I get annoyed with the main character.

Do you have a favourite book?
Oooh, a difficult question. This has definitely changed quite a few times as others have come in and bumped my previous favourites off the top spot. I have some favourites that I haven't read again for fear of not liking them anymore (Northern Lights) but this if my current list of all time top favourites - The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Grapes of Wrath, Kafka on the Shore, The Poisonwood Bible, Never Let me Go, Oryx and Crake, and Brave New World. But there's probably more...

What is your least favourite book?
Oooh I've read a few stinkers over the years of my degree (sorry English lecturers), but I've also subjected myself to a few ones that were also pretty awful in my eyes. So much so that I wrote a blog post about them!

What is the longest book you have ever?
When I was at school I would deliberately choose books by their thickness, and the thicker the better. I think I was just being a show-off, as I thought that the big books would make me look more intelligent. Some of my favourite books are pretty hefty though like The Grapes of Wrath and The Poisonwood Bible, but I think the biggest might have been one of the Harry Potters - probably Order of the Phoenix. But that just means you get to stay in the world of the story that little bit longer.

What was the last book you bought?
I took a trip to Oxfam the other day to look for some books for the #bloggerbookswap that I'm taking part in and ended up buying one for myself. Such are the hazards of entering a bookshop. I'm actually on a book ban as I have a ridiculous amount of books that I've never read sat on my shelf, but I picked up Girl, Interrupted as I'd been meaning to read it for some time after watching the film. And the book is always better than the film. Unless it's Atonement.

Do you prefer library books or buying books?
I think I've already mentioned this, but I really do like borrowing books and libraries are so important to so many communities and towns. Plus, when you borrow books you get to enjoy all the little quirks that come with a library book, like seeing who last checked it out, (curse you barcodes for taking this small pleasure away!) or where they've stopped and folded down the corner of a page.

What are you currently reading?
I'm currently reading a book of short stories about roller derby called Derby Shorts. Yes, it has an amazing pun for a title. I think I'll do a review on it too as it combines my two loves at the moment. Although I am keen to get started on Girl, Interrupted.

Let me know if you're going to do this tag too, as I really enjoy reading about what other people love about books!

Thursday, 31 October 2013

IL2L Blogger Event

While I wouldn't call myself a fashion blogger, I really do enjoy reading lots of fashion blogs and spending hours shopping online in search of that perfect outfit. So when online fashion boutique iL2L invited me to their blogger event a few weeks ago, I RSVP'd pretty quickly.

Although I was vaguely aware of iL2L before the event, it was great to actually meet the people behind the online brand and have a chat about some of the things that go on behind the scenes. Being able to try on some of the leather jackets was also a bonus, as that can be one of the drawbacks of making a big purchase online.

Everyone enjoyed the cupcakes and Bellinis, but the hair and makeup ladies were probably my favourite part of the event. I've had some awful 'makeovers' in the past where the makeup artist just doesn't listen to you at all so I was a bit nervous, but Abbie was great and I was so happy at the end! I loved the vampy ombre lip and my skin has never looked so flawless. I haven't been able to recreate it since.

To match the makeup I requested a big quiff and ponytail from hairstylist Charlotte who also did a great job with my thin and flat hair. A lot of hairspray was used! It was such a shame that I had nowhere to go after the event apart from home. I felt very glammed up sat on my sofa watching TV.

Thanks to the marketing team behind iL2L for such a fun event. I had a fab time and enjoyed chatting with some fellow bloggers. I shall also cherish my personal fashion illustration (such a nice little touch) and the leftover cupcakes that I was burdened with...

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A Trip To Blackpool

Blackpool is definitely one of those places that I just assume everyone from the north has visited, so when my best friend from uni said that she'd never been, a trip to the seaside was soon on the cards.

Blackpool has a bit of a bad reputation, but when I was a kid I didn't care about some of the run down shops or questionable souvenirs, it had big rides, candyfloss and flashing lights. To me it was a paradise and I happily spent hours putting two pences into the slot machines just to win a plastic keyring. 

The regeneration of the pier in recent years has definitely helped its appearance, and we enjoyed strolling up and down / running away from massive seagulls.

I am wearing the snuggliest coat in these pictures. It's from Miss Selfridges and it is just perfect. Exactly what I have been looking for in a winter jacket for such a long time. 

As it's soon approaching Halloween, we also took a visit to The Blackpool Tower Dungeon, which was a bit of an experience! Some of it was funny, some of it was cringey and some of it was quite scary! The whole thing was definitely aimed at families with younger children, although there were a couple of 'adult jokes' that would have gone straight over their heads. Some great special effects added to the creepiness, but overall it was just a bit of fun. Apart from the ride at the end - which was truly awful but we got a hilarious photo out of it.

After our visit to the dungeon we headed to the central pier for some seaside treats (chips and gravy, and sugary donuts) and headed back to the train station as it was getting dark. 

I really love some of the above shots - I just love the innate 'northern' quality of them. It's also made me become more interested in portraiture, as I normally feel really embarrassed taking pictures of people without them knowing! 

Thank you Blackpool, you are lovely to take photos of!
Disclaimer - The Blackpool Tower Dungeon gave me two guest tickets for review purposes, but I have given an honest review of my experience.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Do I Have to Wear Fishnets to Play Roller Derby?

In short - no, but the longer answer is one that I've been thinking about for a while now.

For some people the stereotype of roller derby as a performance sport made up of face paints, costumes, personas and eyeliner is what attracts them to it in the first place. It's somewhere where you can become someone else on track, dress up and be part of a tight knit group. It welcomes those who feel excluded from more traditional sports for one reason or another. Overall, it just looks like a lot of fun.

And it is, but as the sport tries to put more of a focus on its athleticism rather than its uniform, do we have a responsibility as skaters to move away from the fake names and fishnets?

With these included it can be hard to explain to the uninitiated. The fake names don't sound dissimilar to some you would find in a burlesque line up, whilst the short shorts are, well, pretty short, which makes it difficult to get people to focus on the blood, sweat and tears involved rather than the amount of leg on show. Throw in some loud music being played over the bouts and the skate outs and flags, and it begins to smack of a staged performance.

But what's so bad about women turning to costumes, make up and fake names to boost their confidence and feel good about themselves? Isn't that what we've always done? Should we think less of those who have to rely on a bit of war paint to feel confident in comparison to those who just skate in a pair of sports leggings and get on with it? For some people maybe just the lacing up of the skates is all that they need to boost their confidence, but for others there needs to be a physical mask and transformation before they can happily skate out.

You could argue that instead of seeing this act of dressing up as a form of liberation and empowerment, it's just another example of how we, as women, have internalised the idea that the main priority for each and every one of us is our appearance. And more importantly, how others see us. So then this dressing up is really always for the audience rather than the skater? Also, why does female empowerment seem to be synonymous with getting undressed? Can't we do it with our clothes on?

However, this notion is in the same category as the supposed idea that women only wear makeup for men (or just anyone they want to find them attractive, I guess) but this is an argument that is constantly refuted, as people repeatedly say that they wear makeup for a number of reasons and attracting a mate is not the raison dêtre. Sometimes they just like it. Sometimes it just makes them feel nice even if no one sees it. And sometimes it's just really pretty.

At the moment the WFTDA rules for uniforms in flat-track roller derby don't really go beyond team colours, numbers and not having safety pins on your shirt, and I don't know if they should. To take away the punny names and personas would be to take away something of the underground/grassroots essence of roller derby itself. I guess it's always been a bit edgy and different and that's why people find comfort and community in it away from mainstream sports. If it's struggling to be taken seriously in the world of sport because of others' preconceptions then why should roller derby have to change to fit in with that rather than the other way around? Who decides what makes a 'true sport' anyway? The definition of sport is just 'an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment' which definitely applies to roller derby.

If it's the fishnets and face paints that is encouraging more women into sport and inspires confidence, then why not? Because we need to make it easier and more accessible for women to take up a sport.

So if dyeing your hair purple and wearing rainbow socks is your thing, then that's cool with me. If you don't know the difference between eyeshadows and eyeliners then that's cool with me too. It's all about freedom of choice and maybe we should just leave it at that.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The Print Room - Shop Opening!

On Saturday I popped back to Yorkshire for the launch party of my best friend's new shop. It actually only feels like yesterday that we were sat in our A level art class together, tormenting our teacher and treating it like our own personal coffee morning, when really that was five years ago! And who could forget the tradition of Pot Noodle Tuesday, which essentially meant that we bought a Pot Noodle after double art every Tuesday. I'd like to think that our tastes have become a little more refined over the years...

Now, with a first class degree in Printed Textiles and Surface Pattern Design under her belt, my friend Kate Mills has opened a rather wonderful art gallery stroke gift shop in Keighley, West Yorkshire called The Print Room. I'm sure the pictures can do the talking, but her work is just lovely and she has chosen some great pieces from other local artists to sell in The Print Room.

I just love the font that she has chosen for the shop and how this is carried all the way through, even to the little stickers. You've got to love a bit of consistent branding! The layout is clean and fresh, leaving room for each piece to tell its own story. Less is more.

Me and Kate have very similar tastes, so obviously I love the cute gifts and stationery she has chosen to sell in her shop from Bread & Jam. The cute notebooks and pencil cases almost makes me wish I was heading back to school again, and I adore the cute little phrases on these mugs!

I also loved some of the ceramics on display. Basically, I love this shop and would like everyone to go visit it and buy lots of lovely arty things so that my friend can make lots of money doing the thing she loves. Thank you.

There's nothing better than owning a little piece of unique artwork. I can't wait to go back and buy a really big framed print for my flat. As a lot of our walls are quite plain, a lovely piece of art will just finish the room off and remind me of my ever so lovely arty friend.

And whilst I save up for my big print, I sneakily picked up this little print. HOW lovely is it. Just look at all those colours and textures, and ooooh shiny! My own little original Kate Mills.

If you're ever in West Yorkshire do take a trip to this lovely little shop down the Royal Arcade in Keighley

The Print Room Opening Times
Monday - CLOSED
Tuesday - 10am - 4pm
Wednesday - 10am - 5pm
Thursday - 10am - 5pm
Friday - 10am - 5pm
Saturday - 10am - 5pm
Sunday - CLOSED

Friday, 9 August 2013

Life's Too Short to Read Bad Books

Whenever I pick up a book I make a commitment to see it through to the end. No matter if I hate it or find it tedious or boring, I've got to read it right up until the very last page. I don't know whether this is because I feel like I'm doing a disservice to the author by just giving up, or I just enjoy the satisfaction of adding another book to my 'Read' pile. I actually think it's a combination of the two, although the fact that a book is a chore to continue should really be a slight on the writer and not the reader.

In a bid to break this habit, which definitely inhibits my enjoyment of reading, I've decided to share with you some of the books that I've wasted time finishing. The enjoyment of a book or a particular genre is of course subjective, but alongside some great works of fiction there are definitely some questionable pieces. And there's no point wasting time on a bad book.

Life's too short to read bad books

The Painter of Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein

I picked this one up from the 'Free Books Shelf' on my work experience at DK Books - it's basically a bookcase where press copies, misprints and other unwanted books go to be picked up by others. It looked interesting as it's a historical fiction piece set in 20th Century China, but I found it really tedious. And this is not a thin book! At almost 500 pages long I battled through it, and followed the journey of Chinese painter Pan Yuliang through her life as a concubine and then an art student. Whilst I enjoyed some of Epstein's poetic descriptions and quotes, I found the romantic aspect of it quite dry. I'm not really one for romantic epics at all

The Island by Victoria Hislop

I remember someone recommending a book of the same name to me, but it turns out that I bought the wrong one. I think I was supposed to buy this one by Aldous Huxley instead, which is definitely more my cup of tea. The one I read however, really dragged and I found it incredibly boring. It's basically a love story set on a Greek island at the time when those suffering from leprosy were banished from mainland Greece. It managed to win an award from Richard & Judy's Book Club in 2006 (wooo!) and sold lots of copies, but I spent most of it thinking 'It's got to get better at some point. It's got to get better'. It spans four generations through wars and various tragedies but it felt clunky and cliched. This is also a 500 page-er. *whelp*

A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon

This is by the same author who wrote The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which I read in school and must read again, but it didn't live up to expectations. The main character is George, a 57 year-old who has just begun his retirement and starts to lose grip on reality after finding a suspicious lesion on his hip. The prose is boring and monotonous and flits about from scene to scene. Not a patch on his previous work and definitely a spot of don't bother.

This Book Will Save Your Life by A.M. Homes

I really want to say something scathing like 'This Book Will Make You Want to End Your Life Just So You Don't Have to Read it Anymore', but that's a little too harsh. Haha. It wasn't that bad, but with such a strong title you expect the story to be a little more life affirming. It's hard to relate to a wealthy LA man who's main problem is that his dietitian doesn't allow him to eat anything nice at all. Maybe I'm remembering it wrong, but it didn't have much to give aside from the usual 'money is bad, people are good' adage.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Don't believe the hype. Or do, if that's what you're into. I don't even like crime/detective novels, but I LOVE watching them, but only the good ones like Luther that pop up once in a while. I read this because my boyfriend bought it and everyone was reading it. I got bored after THAT middle part but I did want to know how it ended. Very unsatisfying.

And this is why I tend to stay away from award lists and shortlists and nominations and all of that. Just because a small awards panel deems it a 'must-read', doesn't mean that it's going to be the same for everyone - or am I stating the obvious? Although I have wrongly shied away from over hyped books in the past, such as the first Harry Potter book and the Hunger Games - both of which I thoroughly enjoyed! My best bet for book recommendations is from friends who know which type of book I enjoy, but then I don't want to get stuck in one genre.

From now on I'll definitely put down a book I'm not enjoying. It's not worth wasting time on a bad book, don't you agree?

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Beach Books

For me, a beach book is just any book you take to the beach, just like a beach body is just your body -but on a beach... It doesn't have to be a specific genre or type of book, just one you want to read! So I'm going to share with you the books that I took on holiday with me last week. Of no particular genre of course.

That being said, I actually did choose some 'lighter' books to enjoy in the sweltering heat. But I am quite snooty with 'chick lit'. Admittedly, the heat does tend to make it difficult to focus on a difficult and convoluted plot line, which is why I chose to take Mirand Hart's 'Is It Just Me?' with me instead. I had been meaning to read this one for a while but never felt like shelling out for the hardback. Instead I picked this one up along with Caitlin Moran's 'Moranthology' in a Waterstone's 'Buy One Get One Half Price Offer'.

Hart's book is a kind of memoir/general musings on various topics kind of book. I did enjoy a lot of it and laughed out loud on public transport as the blurb predicts, but I did find some of it a bit un-funny in between. In her book Hart speaks to the character of her teenage self, filling her in on what the future holds. Whilst this did work at some points, at other times it felt a bit forced and didn't quite work. However, it stays true to the voice of the Miranda we enjoy on screen and makes us feel less alone in the awful embarrassing experiences of life. Like falling into a bin or having a Spanish man shout 'Too white! Too white!' at your pale legs. No? Just me then...

Following Hart, I swiftly moved onto Moran's 'Moranthology'. I was almost expecting a similar book to 'How to Be a Woman', so I was surprised to find that it was just a collection of some of her old columns, even though this isn't explicitly stated on the book jacket. I just picked it up because I thought I would enjoy it, and I wasn't wrong. Although I haven't seen Sherlock or much of Doctor Who (both of which Moran is a very big fan) I did enjoy a lot of her writing on various topics, both nodding emphatically and laughing throughout. HOWEVER, sometimes it felt like she was being a bit too kooky and wild and try-hard funny. I think reading the entire book in one day was a bit of a Moran-overdose.

Then I plunged into the depths of some glorious fiction. Like many books I eventually get around to reading, I've probably had them on a big 'To Read' book for a very long time, and Alex Garland's 'The Beach' was no exception. I'd watched the film when it was first released on DVD many moons ago (I was probably too young to have watched it) but I found it fascinating and (rightfully) horrifying. I didn't realise it was based on a book until many years later, and I'm glad that I'd finally gotten around to reading it. The main character, Richard, is definitely an anti-hero of sorts - at times you're repulsed by his actions but then pity him in the next paragraph and root for his survival. A great take on the idea of an idyllic utopia with a hard focus on travelling and tourism. A great read which I raced through.

Finally I picked up 'The Night Circus' by Erin Morgenstern. I'd seen this do the blogger rounds a while back, but I was sceptical as to whether I would actually enjoy it or not. I read the majority of this on the plane back, and whilst I did find some parts rightfully magical and fascinating, I found the central plot a bit messy and half-done. In the acknowledgements, Morgenstern admits that in the original draftings the plot was messy, but I felt that this was still true in the final cut. The fact that some of the characters still aren't sure what's going on, and that this is passed off as part of the magic didn't really settle for me at all. And although the female protagonist is written as a strong character with her own magical abilities and powers, the romance aspect was all too 'damsel in distress' for my liking. However, I don't regret finishing it to the end.

And there we have it - my four beach books from a week in Spain. It definitely broke my 'book fast' where I didn't really feel like picking up a book for a while! I didn't even read this much at uni where I had to read (blag) 2-3 books a week. Not sure what to tackle next in my 'To Read' pile, but there's plenty in it!

Wooo books!

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Red Hot World Buffet – Head Chef’s Table

A couple of weeks ago I was kindly invited to dine at the Head Chef’s table at Red Hot World Buffet in Leeds. Now for me, buffets tend to be more of a ‘eat as much as you can up until you can’t anymore’ affair, so I was interested to see what else Red Hot had to offer away from the usual ‘quantity over quality’ that’s usually associated with buffets.

Even though I arrived late to the table and had missed the cocktails and the first two courses, the serving staff and chef made sure I caught up with everyone else and brought out everything that I had missed. Nothing greater than people encouraging you to eat with plate after plate of food!

I really enjoyed the fruity cocktail (from Red Hot’s new drinks menu) and it tasted just like holiday, if that’s possible! This was followed by salmon sushi (delicious) and a potato tikki (a tad too spicy for me). Both plates were just the right size for starters and began to show off the wide variety of the menu.

The next course was a seafood risotto, but I opted for the vegetarian option (asparagus and sundried tomato) as I’m really not a big fan of prawns anymore. The risotto was just the right consistency – creamy enough but not too heavy, with a handful of steamed vegetables making a perfect accompaniment. Chicken teppanyaki with noodles followed (a favourite dish of mine) but it didn’t particularly wow me – just a nice standard sweet yet sour chicken dish.

A palate cleanser of fresh raspberry sorbet soon followed this, which was delightfully tart and refreshing. I thought the sorbet was the dessert, so I was surprised to see another dessert dish making its way towards me. This time it was a plate of pancakes with each of us having a different topping. My pancakes had the black forest gateau topping, which everyone else was eyeing up! (I saw you Sammie *wink*) The dark chocolate shavings were delicious and contrasted well with the sweetness of the cherries – always a winner combination.

It was at this point that I was getting quite full, but the waiters just kept on bringing out more desserts! Out came a course of petits fours with mini crème brulees, brownies and cheesecakes. These are my top three desserts so I just had to power through. The crème brulee was deliciously crunchy on top, whilst the passion fruit cheesecake had just enough zing on top of a buttery biscuit base (sorry, couldn’t help myself…)

This was then followed by a midori jelly shot and mini macaroons, but I think I’d had quite enough alcohol and sugar by that point. These extra additions definitely added that holiday feel to the experience, where the friendly waiters really want to show off their cooking and make sure their guests have a great time – with added alcohol!

Overall I was pretty impressed by the offerings from Red Hot World Buffet, and I definitely felt like I’d been taken on a world tour of their menu. The six courses showed a balance of quality and quantity, and it has definitely made me think again about asking the chefs to specifically cook up a dish the next time I visit. These are expertly trained five-star chefs we’re talking about!

My only criticism would be the décor of the restaurants, which I’m not a big fan of as I find it too garish and mismatched. The toilets in the Leeds restaurant are also in need of some work and upkeep. But other than that, the food was really well prepared and the staff were very attentive. My wine glass was never empty *hic*.

Thanks to Red Hot WorldBuffet for the invitation and I’m sure I’ll see you again soon. I think I’ll try out one of the take-home cakes next time, but that could be dangerous...!

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