Wednesday, 30 December 2015

2015 in Review, or Why I'm Not A Failure

In the hazy final days of December, where I've lost track of the days and it's normal to eat cheese straight from fridge at 10am, I get incredibly reflective. What was the year like? What do I want to do more of? What do I want to do less of? How have I grown?

I'm incredibly lucky that most Decembers I look back and say "This was my best year yet!" but there's no denying that that 2015 has been a challenging one. Work has been tougher than ever, my sister moved away (to Australia!), and I've been so focused on starting my own business that my social life has taken a big hit. Oh and I turned 30.

When I was 28, I thought a lot about what I needed to achieve before turning 30 and I posted a 30 Before 30 list. I set out with good intentions, but in June this year my birthday came and went with a lot of fanfare (I spent a week touring Scotland with pals eating seafood and drinking fizz) and not a jot of thought about the long forgotten list.

So what went wrong? I was careful to set specific goals (visit Highclere Castle), measurable ones (run 10k), achievable tasks (buy a watch - I did actually do that one). But despite setting myself up for success, I still failed.

I did not paint a portrait of my boyfriend, a ridiculous goal chosen following a moment of inspiration at the BP portrait award, despite the fact that I never paint. I did not cycle 50k, I don't even own a bike. I did not visit Highgate Cemetery, or shoot 30 portraits of friends, or write 30 letters.

Why? Because I'm simply not the same person who wrote that list. I am changing all the time. 30 feels so different to 28; I've moved house, changed jobs, made new friends. And there were books begging to be read.

Seeing that list of incomplete items made me feel like shit, like I couldn't even manage the most basic of tasks. It's so easy to focus on all the things we haven't done, to view ourselves as failures, to consider ourselves unable to succeed. It's a dangerous cycle because once we think we can't achieve, we don't bother to try.

However I refuse to consider myself a failure because, while I may not have made my own wine, I did loads of other stuff that wasn't on my list. So consider these my highlights of 2015 and a bit before then too:

  • I launched my own business as a wedding celebrant including a new website and brand design and I'm on track to double my business in year 3. Know someone who's getting married? Send 'em my way!
  • I started the Bookish Blether podcast with my awesome pal Nicola, and released an episode every fortnight without fail.

  • I was a bridesmaid at Lou's wedding. And my sister Fern's wedding. And Amy's wedding. All awesome, unforgettable days.

  • I maintained good strong relationships with my closest girl pals even though I live in London and they all live in Scotland (and now NZ and Mallorca). Here's us partying hard when four of them visited me in February.
  • I spent many lovely weekends hanging out in Somerset with my friend Kate (and her excellent children and beautiful dog) laughing, contemplating, setting the world to rights.
  • I bought a flat in Scotland with my sister.
  • I set a personal speed record while skiing in the Alps.
  • I got promoted and landed an exceptional, challenging, career defining project. At times I've felt out of my depth, like giving up, blamed myself for setbacks beyond my control. But 12 months in I can see that I've stretched myself a lot, learned to handle difficult situations, grown confidence in leading, and in saying no (probably the most useful word in a Project Manager's lexicon).
  • I learned to drive and bought a car AND fixed a coolant leak all by myself. Driving home for Christmas felt ACE.
  • I moved in with my incredible boyfriend and settled into our first home together in Crystal Palace
  • I held my shit together when my sister moved to Australia (just, there was a lot of public crying)
  • I read 52 books (I might squeeze in one more)
  • I mentored three kickass women who all got excellent jobs within 3 months and have since been promoted
  • I played at least 30 new board games (we are huge board game nerds)
  • I realised how much I missed studying and started a part time Diploma in Personal Coaching

So although I didn't bake 10 types of bread, or finish my patchwork quilt, nobody could say I've not been living a full life. It's easy to look back at our to-do lists and feel guilty about the things we haven't achieved but don't neglect the opportunity to see all the awesome stuff you've done instead. 

Now that's done with I get to do the really exciting bit - planning for 2016. I'm looking forward to blogging more, growing my celebrant business, working with new coaching clients, seeing where life takes me and my boyfriend. Above all, I'm determined to look back on 2016 and say "This was my best year yet!"

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

What I Read in September & October

This has been a weird Autumn. Not really cold, not really rainy, too many social plans, not enough hours on the sofa with a book and a hot chocolate (or cordials, I'm really into those these days). And now it's early November and a mist has descended upon us, but temperature wise we're still in the mid teens and it's not nearly bobble hat weather. What gives? 

This is my favourite time of year for digging into a rich, entrancing book or a short story collection and so there have been a few of those on the go. On a recent episode of my podcast, Bookish Blether, Nicola and I dug deep into our favourite Autumn reads.

Next week I'm off to America for a week in which I'll be visiting Washington, DC and NYC. Can't wait to hit up all those lovely stateside bookstores, kick some leaves and go wild in Sephora. I'm still on the fence about what to take with me, but my feeling is that it must be contextual and luckily I have no shortage of books set on the East Coast.

Check back in a month to see how that worked out, but in the meantime here's what I've read in September & October.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (Kindle) 10/10 

In the Man Booker nominated A Little Life we meet four friends Willem, Malcolm, JB and Jude at college and stick with them through the years as they grow up and their relationships change. Central to the group is Jude, a successful lawyer but emotionally reclusive, having suffered severe abuse throughout his childhood. Willem, Malcolm and JB accept him for who he is but try tirelessly to understand him and his actions, as well as the impact he has had on them.

Yanagihara's writing is stunning, and she has a real knack for dancing the reader back and forth through the decades. Her rich descriptions of New York locations, their homes, and JB's paintings left me wanting more, whilst simultaneously leaving me at times in tears and gasping for air.

This book will sticks with me for years, and fans of novels like The Interestings and Shotgun Lovesongs will enjoy immersing themselves in the world the friends inhabit, but will no doubt find it hard to leave them behind.

A slight word of warning, this book features strong and graphic descriptions of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, as well as of self-harm but don't let that put you off.

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume (Hardback) 7/10

Miri Ammerman is 13 years old when a place crashes into a river in the small town of Elizabeth, New Jersey. Over the next eight months two more planes crash throwing the town into a heightened state of fear. Is this mechanical failure, or perhaps some more sinister threat of an impending nuclear war?

The real story is here is Miri's coming of age experience. Despite it being an adult novel Blume shows she's still The One when it comes to portraying young love, family conflicts, evolving friendships. Mimi is surrounded by a raft of characters she feels mixed emotions about, particularly her first boyfriend who heroically rescues people from one of the planes, and her best friend who believes she has taken on the spirit of one of the victims.

Miri returns to Elizabeth 35 years later for a memorial and, while it was nice to see how her life had turned out, I was left feeling like I wanted to see more of how the crashes had impacted her throughout the years.

This is a good read for hardcore Judy Blume fans but didn't quite stack up for me the way some of her young adult books did. Most fascinating to me was the knowledge gleaned about the history of the aviation industry which left me feeling grateful that things have come such a long way!

Monsters by Emerald Fennell (Paperback) 9/10 

Despite the fact that this is YA fiction, it’s actually one of the darkest books I’ve ever read. It starts with an introduction to the main character, a lonely 12 year old girl who tells us her parents were chopped up by a boat rudder when she was 9, but she’s not that bothered (her words, not mine).

Every summer she is sent to stay with her horrible aunt and uncle at their hotel in a Cornish seaside town. When the body of a local woman appears washed up on the beach the town is thrown into fear, but not this little girl. Oh, no. She’s excited. She’s curious. She’s out to solve the mystery. And when a 13 year old boy called Miles comes to stay at the hotel, she finally has a friend to share her feelings with.

As I said, it’s a really dark book and I think readers will either love or hate it. For me, I felt gripped from page one and there were enough shocks and horrors to keep me that way until the end. It’s quite a short book so could easily be gobbled up in a day or two, highly recommended for a creepy, rainy, weekend read!

Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes (Kindle) 9/10 

This short story collection is a brilliant look at what it means to be in your twenties and not quite altogether yet. From first loves to first jobs, breakups to breakdowns, Lauren Holmes accurately depicts what it means to growing up, changing your mind, and the drama of the every day.

Favourite stories included 'I Will Crawl to Raleigh if I Have To', on being desperate to dump someone and 'How Am I Supposed to Talk to You?' on weird parental relationships.

As a collection it's an easy, relatable read, and should be straight on your Christmas wishlist! I'll be over here eagerly awaiting whatever Lauren Holmes comes up with next.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (Kindle) 9/10 

Fates and Furies follows young couple Lancelot "Lotto" and Mathilde Satterwhite throughout their 24 year marriage. Married after just two weeks, theirs is a relationship that their friends don't understand, and that seemingly no  struggle can derail; despite living in poverty endless days are filled with dinner parties and frolicking.

Lotto is a struggling actor who finds his true calling in writing plays, and as he ages charisma becomes arrogance, ego and self-delusion, to the extent that I almost didn't want to read another word. He is quite insufferable.

And yet when meek Mathilde's voice came to the fore I found myself gripped all over again. The second half is where this book really packs a punch as secrets and betrayals are revealed. Whilst reading I felt gentle reminders of The Great Gatsby, The Interestings, Gone Girl and the film Blue Valentine, all of which I love. I wouldn't want to know any of the characters in Fates and Furies, but I know they'll stick with me for a long time. This is such a wonderful read, pick up a copy asap!

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi (Paperback) 6/10) 

In this modern retelling of Snow White we meet Boy Novak, a young woman who leaves behind her abusive father in New York and heads to a small town in Massachusetts to start a new life. When she marries a local man she becomes a stepmother to his beautiful daughter Snow, and later a mother to their own child, Bird.

However, Bird is born with darker skin than her parents, exposing a family secret and forcing the family to confront their obsession with aesthetic appearance.

Oyeyemi's writing here is deeply poetic and I found myself drawn in very quickly to such an enchanting tale. It's very fairytale-esque but not outlandishly so, you won't constantly be thinking of the seven dwarves.

Whilst I found the first two thirds really gripping I sadly felt it lost it's way a little towards the end, only regaining my interest in the final 20 pages. I'm still glad a read it though, as a modern retelling of a fairytale was one of the goals on the 2015 Read Harder challenge.

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling (Paperback) 8/10 

Ugh, why did this book have to be so short? I want to read 5000 pages of Mindy anecdotes!

This follow up to 2011's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? features more brilliant tales from one of my favourite TV writers including How to Get Your Own TV Show (and Nearly Die of Anxiety!), Some Thoughts on Weddings and the excellent Things to Bring to My Dinner Party which prompted me to do a lot of introspective thinking about my own approach to social gatherings.

The book also includes her fantastic Harvard Law School Class Day speech which is the kind of thing I can only dream of seeing

Most interesting is her take on her show, The Mindy Project, being ditched by Fox but finding a new home at Hulu. Since then the show has gotten a lot sexier with more ripe language, no bad thing, there are regular megalols in our house when it's on.

Not on Fire, but Burning by Greg Hrbek (Paperback) 7/10 

Twenty year old Skyler witnesses an event that causes the Golden Gate Bridge to collapse into a mushroom cloud and runs as fast as she can, but not fast enough to get to her baby brother Dorian.

Fast forward 8 years and he lives with parents who try to pretend she never existed, across the street from an elderly neighbour who takes in a Muslim orphan at a time when racial tensions are high and most have been shipped to territories in the desert.

When a pool party ends in a boy being punched, Dorian finds himself in the increasingly unsettling position of trying to find his personal truth though anger. Ultimately here is the tale of a young boy who feels his hatred of another is justified when it comes from a place of love for his sister.

I found this book really engaging and even heart-breaking at times but was sometimes left feeling confused by switching perspectives and tenses. Recommended for a longer reading session, not dipping in and out on the commute.

After the Crash by Michel Bussi (Paperback) 8/10

December 1980 and a plane crashes in the Alps killing everyone on board except a three-month-old baby girl who is thrown from the plane. Within hours two families come forward to claim her, and court proceedings must determine custody.

Eighteen years later Marc is having doubts about his sister Lylie's identity and armed with the diary of the private investigator who tried to solve the case, he sets out to find the truth.

This book is translated from French and has all the traits of a good thriller; aging boozy detective, woodland hideouts, secretive grandmas.

I enjoyed this  a lot and with plenty of twists and turns this is a great wintery read. It's also highly recommended addition to your Christmas gift lists for any thriller addicts in your family.

What have you been reading lately? Be sure to send me recommendations on Twitter @hollyjunesmith

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

What I Read in July & August

As if it's September. Where is this damn year going? I've been busy with work, busy with my wedding celebrant business, and also busy reading despite one or two slumps. Throughout June, July and August I took part in Paperback Summer, a challenge to only read paperbacks which was mainly a success bar the odd Kindle detour.

I don't think I've read as much this summer as I'd like, but it's been distinctly light on the holiday front, and distinctly heavy on the partying front, neither of which are conducive to quality time with my books.

I'm looking forward to Autumn (like most readers I know!) and having more nights on my sofa under a cosy blanket. Here's what I've been reading, with a few YOU MUST READ THIS recommendations.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematorium by Caitlin Doughty (Paperback) 10/10

I’m a huge fan of books about popular science books about death and dying, so I knew this would be a must-read! Caitlin Doughty is mortician and the founder of The Order of the Good Death, a group of funeral industry professionals who aim to challenge cultural perceptions of death.

In her book she shares her experience of how she came to be a mortician, and how her work has challenged her beliefs about the funeral industry. She really knows her stuff, and is careful to include lots of perspectives from different cultures, an an excellent commentary on how we've become a society who shy away from death.

Even if you’re not as morbid as I am, I strongly encourage you to read this book and start thinking about what you want to happen when you’re gone. It’s never too early to think about, but can easily be too late!

Bedbugs by Ben H. Winters (Paperback) 7/10

Not gonna lie, Bedbugs is creepy as fuck. A woman moves into a new apartment with her husband and their young daughter, a huge place, perfect location, under their budget, too good to be true. Soon she starts to discover bites on her skin, but her husband and daughter don’t have a mark on them, and a pest control team can’t find any evidence of bedbugs.

I read this in bed (not the smartest move ever!) in a morning during the summer edition of the 24 in 48 readathon, and was completely gripped to the point that I then started to think I was seeing bedbugs. One of the coolest things about this book is that the page margins occasionally have a black speck printed on them which really adds to the creep factor.

Though the ending lost it’s way a bit for me, I still enjoyed the reading experience overall and would recommend it for readers who are looking for something a bit dark as we head into the winter months.

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler (Paperback) 10/10

This had been on my radar for a while but in the end I bought it because it’s a reasonably short 317 pages and I wanted something I knew I’d get through during the 24 in 48 readathon. I’m SO SO SO SO SO glad I picked it up because it’s an utterly beautiful portrayal of the often painful reality of adult friendships (a.k.a. totally my jam).

Henry, Lee, Kip and Ronny grew up together but also grew apart. When a wedding calls them all back to their hometown, hidden feelings are brought to the surface, and old rivalries and secrets are revealed. The characters are all so human and relatable, I felt I could have been reading about friends. What haunts them at night are the questions we may often ask ourselves; should I have moved away? Should I have stayed? What if I'd earned more money? What if I'd earned less?

Ugh, just thinking about it makes me want to re-read it!

I don’t know why I love books like this so much, I just do. My boyfriend thinks it’s because I live far away from my closest friends and cherish getting back together with them so much that I like to live vicariously through characters doing the same in my books. He is probably right.

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty (Paperback) 8/10

Last year I really enjoyed the audiobook of one of Moriarty's other books, Little Lies, in which she expertly tells a story of a death at a parent's evening through a variety of perspectives, and so I was interested to read some of her older books

The Husband's Secret tells the story of Cecilia, a happily married mother of three, who discovers an envelope in her loft marked 'to be opened in the event of my death' in her husband's handwriting.

Spoiler alert, she opens it.

And just like that, a secret is revealed that affects not only Cecilia and her husband, but their friends and families too. The cast of characters is a great mix of likable and loathable and though The Husband's Secret was a little predictable in parts, I still enjoyed reading it a lot. It's been out for a few years now and I often see it in charity shops so pick up a copy there for a good gossipy read!

Bream Gives Me Hiccups: And Other Stories by Jesse Eisenberg (Kindle) 8/10

Fans of Simon Rich, David Sedaris and BJ Novak will love Jesse Eisenberg's new sharp-witted short story collection.

Featuring restaurant reviews from a precocious nine-year-old, manageable tongue twisters and the obscenely funny self-help chapter; 'Smiling Tricks Your Brain into Thinking it's Happy', Eisenberg demonstrates great skill in finding the humour in mundane every day interactions.

A few of the stories are quite US centric, but don't let that put you off. I'm already looking forward to his next book and this would be a great addition to Christmas wishlists, for those of you who’ve already started.

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson (Kindle) 8/10

I've been a huge fan of Jenny Lawson since I first read about the day she gifted her husband a giant metal chicken she named Beyonce for their wedding anniversary. Since then she's tackled metal health with a rare comedic honesty that reassures us no matter how fucked up things get, there are still things to laugh about.

In her new book Furiously Happy, Jenny shares some of the highs and lows from her battle with mental health problems including awkward conversations with her psychiatrist, sleeping so hard her arms zoned out, and, best of all, how she came to be the owner of not one but TWO taxidermy racoons.

"Furiously Happy" is a mantra we should all live by, And thank god Jenny Lawson is here to teach us how.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

What I Read in March 2015

Well hello there! I've been a bit behind on my reviews lately, partly because I've been reading a lot, partly because I'm on a major project at work that is kicking my butt, and partly because my laptop is becoming rather ancient and unusable and it's a royal pain to use. I'm hoping to get a new one soon!

Right now (late April) I'm in a bit of a reading slump. The last few books I've read haven't gripped me, so it's been nice to reflect back on March which featured two books that will likely make it into my 2015 Top 10.

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum (Kindle) - 9/10

If you've listed to a recent Bookish Blether episode, you'll have already heard me banging on about how much I LOVED Hausfrau. And yet, love is an odd term, because it's not an easy book by any means.

Anna is an American housewife, living in Zurich with her husband and 3 children, struggling to get by with a basic grasp of the local language, no friends, and no life of her own. In an attempt to fit in she joins a German class, only to find herself embroiled in a passionate affair with a fellow student that sparks a shocking chain of events that cannot be undone.

Anna seeks solace in therapy, which gives the book an interesting pace as she attempts to make sense of her feelings and her behaviour. Despite finding her actions immoral, and her attitude grating, I loved this book because I just couldn't hate Anna. I'm a fan of unlikable women in fiction, and it's so beautifully written that I found myself captivated by her cavalier attitude to her misdemeanors. Hausfrau is a book that has stuck with me for weeks after I finished it. If you've read it, let's talk about it!

Ostrich by Matt Greene (Hardback) - 7/10

Ostrich has been on my bookcase for a couple of years now, bought during a YA spree. It's a beautiful coming of age story, about 13 year old Alex who has had brain surgery, is confused by his hamster, and is falling in love, all while his parents are falling out of it.

Ostrich tackles illness in such a sweet way, without been heart-wrenchingly sad like a lot of YA can be. Alex's relationship with his parents is explored delicately, as he enters that stage of his life where he sees them as more than just his parents, and tries to find out what has gone wrong in their marriage. There's an absolutely brilliant bit where his Dad takes him driving for the first time that is alone worth picking up this book for.

Full of charm and wit, I found myself doing a proper giggle during several parts of Ostrich - always entertaining when you are on the train to work!

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (Paperback) - 6/10

This was my book club pick for March, and you've no doubt seen a bajillion people reading/talking/tweeting about it.

It's impossible to say much about The Girl on the Train without giving away major plot points, so I'll simply say it's about Rachel, who takes the same train each day and has a growing obsession with the a row of houses she passes, and the lives of their residents.

Whilst this was an enjoyable read, and certainly a page-turner, I felt a bit disappointed as the second half seemed to lose it's way. Following the success of Gone Girl, there's been a huge market for thrillers with unreliable narrators. If that's your jam, you'll get a kick out of this book but sadly it wasn't for me.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (Kindle) 10/10

I really loved E. Lockhart’s book We Were Liars last year, so I was really keen to read more of her stuff.

Our heroine, Frankie Landau-Banks, is 15 and goes to the same posh co-ed boarding school her father attended years ago. Returning to school after summer she finds her looks have seemingly improved and suddenly she is popular, has a boyfriend Matthew, and a seat at the best table in the cafeteria.

Yet as Frankie gets closer to Matthew and his friends, she starts to uncover a secret society within the school, an Old Boys Club that nobody will tell her anything about. Frankie only wants to be an equal, and is outraged by the way she sees girls being treated differently to boys. She sets out to uncover the society and reveal their scheming ways.

As a life-long fan of boarding school dramas, it’s no surprise that I loved this book. Frankie is a rousing inspiration, the book is well paced, and I reckon it's is a must-read for any budding feminists out there. If you know a teenage girl, get a copy into her hands ASAP!

Not a bad month all things considered. Hopefully I'll be out of my slump soon and back with some interesting reviews from April! What have you been reading lately? Let me know in the comments or come chat to me on Twitter.

Need more regular updates about what I've been reading and buying? I have a podcast now, check out Bookish Blether and subscribe to never miss an episode.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Podcast Recommendations (and a bit of news!)

I've been a huge fan of podcasts for years but recently I've added a few new ones to my list of favourites. Perhaps you got really into podcasts listening to Serial* at the tail end of 2014 but aren't sure what to listen to next. Or perhaps you're a podcast addict who's always on the look out for more to listen to. Either way, this is the post for you!

Start Up 

This is an absolute must-listen for anyone interested in tech/business/start up culture. It's a podcast by Alex Blumberg, and follows his journey to start a new podcasting company. Alex has previously worked on This American Life so he knows his stuff when it comes to production, but does he know how to start a business? Each episode takes us through a process like choosing a name for your business, hiring a team, or finding investors. It's absolutely brilliant, and tells you the warts and all stuff that other start ups won't.

Episode 1:

Reply All

This is the first podcast launched by the start up that Alex Blumberg starts in Start Up (above, and meta) and it's a great show about internet things. Episodes are around 20 mins and cover anything from brand new app trends to weird stuff from the days of dial-up. It has quickly become a firm favourite and makes me really excited to get out of bed on Wednesdays.

PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman also used to produce another fab internet themed podcast called TL;DR which is also worth a listen.

Episode 1:

Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase

Betty is an air stewardess for a major American airline and in this podcast she shares stories from the sky and her travels, and interviews with the crew. Betty is so charming and sweet and just has a great way of telling stories from a job that I suppose lots of people might find uninteresting. She finds humour in everything (like cleaning up poop!) and because she travels a lot, you get to hear about parts of the world you might never visit. 

I've only recently discovered this podcast, and the first episode I listened to was Butt to Butt or Crotch to Crotch but I've since gone back and listened to a lot of previous episodes, all of which are equally awesome.


Criminal is the first podcast I recommend when people tell me how much they loved Serial. Each episode focuses on a different true-crime story ranging from crop theft to counterfeiting to cover-ups. It's gripping and sad and frustrating, as the reality of crime often is.

Episodes are monthly so it's not quite a regular fix, but there's a great back catalogue you can go and get stuck into RIGHT NOW.

Episode 1:

Pappy's Flatshare Slamdown

Comedy fans will love this panel-style show about two flatmates, Tom and Ben, and their landlord Matthew, as they battle it out to see who must take care of menial household tasks like cleaning the windows and paying the council tax bill. They are joined by other comedians each week and past guests have included the likes of Aisling Bea, Adam Buxton, and David O'Doherty. It's pure silly fun, and I promise their jingles will be stuck in your head for ages (in a good way).


Call Your Girlfriend is:

a) The best Robyn song of all time and also my favourite song of all time and should be yours too
b) A new(ish) podcast from two awesome ladies
c) A mantra for life
d) All of the above

OBVIOUSLY, the answer is D! But in this case, it's especially B as the Call Your Girlfriend podcast is brought to you by long distance best pals Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow who check in regularly to catch up about popular culture, important issues currently affecting women, Kanye news and basically anything else that takes their fancy. I love this podcast so much because it's such a rare joy to hear two women just having a conversation and being insightful and silly and doing it on their terms. There should be more of this in the world!

This episode is a CORKER (confronting trolls and naming your baby Nutella):

And lastly want to tell you about a BRAND NEW podcast that just launched called Bookish Blether. It's hosted by yours truly (THAT'S ME!!!) and my awesome pal Nicola who loves books just as much as I do. Each episode we'll be talking about a different bookish topic, as well as sharing reviews, recommendations, and news from the world of books.

Here's Episode 1. Be sure and let us know what you think and follow us on Twitter at @BookishBlether and on Tumblr for extra bookishness. 

Those are just a few of my current favourites. Do let me know what you think if you listen to them, or if you have any recommendations of your own!

*I'm assuming most people who read this will have listened to Serial or at least heard of it by now, but if you haven't, I DEFINITELY recommend it too!

Saturday, 3 January 2015

What I Read In December 2014

Apart from the fact that it's Christmas and you get to drink fizz at 10am and eat entire chocolate oranges in one sitting, clearly the best thing about going home for a break is that you get a lot of reading done. In fact, 3 of the 6 books I read in December were read in the last 10 days of the month, an excellent way to end an excellent year.

I hope you all got lots of bookish treats under your trees!

Here's what I've been reading over the past month:

Etta and Otto and Russell and James - Emma Hooper (Kindle) 9/10

A spellbinding debut, I've was unable to put Emma and Otto and Russell and James down and think it will deserve a place on every bookshelf in 2015.

The book follows 82 year old Etta as she embarks on a mission to walk 2000 miles to see the ocean for the first time, leaving behind her loving husband Otto and their neighbour Russell. It flits between what is happening now and what happened over 60 years ago, when the three first met as teenagers. It is a beautiful exploration of love and longing, and how feelings both do and do not change as we get older.

I loved Etta's sense of purpose, Otto's belief in her mission, and Russell's unwavering faith in them both. The characters felt vulnerable and naive in their youth, and yet refused to be beaten down by the Depression, war, loss, and the remoteness of their lives in rural Saskatchewan.

I miss these characters so much already!

Pretty Honest: The Straight-Talking Beauty Companion - Sali Hughes (Hardback) 9/10

I'm not really a classic "beauty" fan, I have a few products I consistently use, and don't experiment too much with anything else, mainly because I don't know how to use things properly. Pretty Honest has completely changed that for me.

It's a frank and honest look at the reality of what products actually do, whether you need them at all, and how to use them if so. It's completely changed my relationship with my face and given me the confidence to pay attention to my skin, something that I feel I really out to be doing more of as I approach 30. I should probably mention that this book did prompt me to go to Boots and splash out on some new products.

Whether you are already beauty obsessed, or like me you feel a bit confused by it all, this book is definitely worth an investment. It also has sections on teenage skin, older skin, pregnancy and wedding makeup, so it's the kind of book I'll go back to again and again.

The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion (Paperback) 7/10

In 2003 Joan's daughter is hospitalised with suspected pneumonia and is gravely ill. Following a visit, she and her husband John return home, where he suffers a heart attack and dies just before dinner. This book is the year that follows, as Joan struggles with her grief, at times refusing to believe that John has died and rethinking her actions as if she can change the past.

This was my last book club read of 2014 and the first of Joan's books I've had read. Though I didn't love it as much as some of the other books I read this month, it's undoubtedly a great piece of work.

Joan's writing is much revered and she certainly has a knack for capturing the small realities of grief. It is an achingly beautiful book and a must read for anyone interested in how we cope with loss and change. I know I'll read it again next time I am coming to terms with a bereavement.

Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel (Kindle) 9/10

Twenty years after an outbreak of Georgia Flu has killed off 99% of the population, Station Eleven follows those who have survived, and their continuing struggle to do so. The Travelling Symphony are a group of musicians and actors, making their way between the settlements which remain and spreading the word of Shakespeare, while elsewhere a new community is flourishing in an abandoned airport.

I loved the way the story jumped back and forth between timelines, and how the author explored the interconnected lives of the main characters slowly and tenderly. I thought the depiction of life years after such an epidemic was frighteningly realistic, from remembering the unthinkable "internet" to discovering a house unopened for twenty years. Unlike the horror in most post-apocalyptic novels, Mandel depicts a world where there is equally as much to admire as there is to fear and more than anything the book made me feel hopeful.

Station Eleven is a hauntingly beautiful novel that I couldn't stop thinking about, and I hope everyone will pick it up now that it's out in paperback.

The Bear - Claire Cameron (Kindle) 6/10

I'd had this on my wishlist for ages after hearing about it on the Book Riot podcast and finally picked it up when I saw it was cheap on Kindle.

It's the story of five year old Anna and her brother, affectionately named Stick, who is two. On a camping trip with their parents a bear visits their camp and wreaks havoc upon their tent, their stuff, and their parents. Anna must escape, and quickly, taking Stick with her and starting a fight for their survival.

It has been likened to Emma Donoghue's bestseller Room, in that it's told from the perspective of a 5 year old but where I loved that mechanic in Room, at times I found it a little hard to follow in The Bear and had to re-read a few sections.

The Woman Who Stole My Life - Marian Keyes (Hardback) 10/10

It's pretty embarrassing that this is the first of Marian Keyes' books that I've read, because she's written a LOT and they've been recommended before. I picked this up at a reading she did in Waterstones in December, her first in 5 years and she spoke so wonderfully about her experiences that informed the book. She was kind enough to sign the book "To the Smith girls" and so my Mum and sisters have all had a read too.

It's the story of Stella, a forty something woman recovering from an accident that changed her life completely, reshaped how she feels about men, and took her into a career she never thought possible. I don't want to reveal much more except to say that the book had me absolutely honking with laughter at several points.

Marian writes dialogue in a way that is so charming and funny that you feel like you know the characters in real life. I'll definitely be adding more Marian Keyes books to my to-read pile in 2015, this was a perfect book to end the year with.

So that's it! 65 books down for 2014, not bad at all. I'm looking forward to cracking on with my to-read pile in 2015 and will keep sharing reviews. Do let me know if you've read anything of these books, and let's have a chat on Twitter - I'm @hollyjunesmith!