The Sacred Everyday

Some time ago, I discovered the Harry Potter And The Sacred Text podcast. This was a wonderful discovery. HP and the Sacred Text takes one of my (and the world’s) most beloved series of books, and engaged with them in a thoughtful and inquisitive way, exploring the lessons and ideas the story has to offer us and providing tools for treating any text – and I would argue any part of life – as sacred.

Here’s how the founders and hosts, Vanessa and Casper, explain what they are trying to do with the podcast:

This podcast creates time in your week to think about life’s big questions. Because reading fiction doesn’t help us escape the world, it helps us live in it.

On this podcast, we ask: What if we read the books we love as if they were sacred texts? 

Each week, we explore a central theme through which to explore the characters and context, always grounding ourselves in the text. We’ll engage in traditional forms of sacred reading to unearth the hidden gifts within even the most mundane sentences.

Vanessa and Casper are so thoughtful and engaging in their exploration of Harry Potter and I have taken great joy and great comfort in approaching these much loved books in a new way.

I am also intrigued by the idea of viewing those things that might be considered ‘everyday’ as sacred, especially in light of my recent musings on my experience of religion and the church. When I was actively involved in the Christian church, one of the things I loved most about it was the chance to take a more considered approach to reading a text. I enjoyed the opportunity to explore deeper meanings and ideas and desperately wanted the change to question those ideas. The sacred practices shared on Harry Potter and the Sacred Text allow me to do just that.

On a recent episode, Vanessa beautifully broke down the elements they believe are necessary for applying this kind of sacred practice to wider contexts – not just the reading of any text but to things like writing or running – and I loved the simple clarity of it so much that I wanted to share it with you today.

  1. Faith – you must have faith that the more you do or engage with something the more gifts you will receive from it. If I persistently dedicate time to reading, writing, running, cooking or any other thing, then those things will reward me more and more.
  2. Rigour – the time you give to these things will be more rewarding still if you approach them with rigour. By ritualising the processes you use, the time you spend will be more focused and valuable. If I want to approach the reading of a text in a rigorous way, I can take notes and I can research or discuss the ideas that arise. If I want to approach my writing in a rigorous and sacred way, I can switch off my phone and focus my attention, I can carry out a mindfulness meditation before I begin.
  3. Community – find others to share the process with. By engaging in these practices alongside like-minded individuals – or even very un-like-minded individuals – you open up more opportunities for questioning, exploring and sharing ideas. If I share ideas about a text with people in my community, their ideas further enrich my own and open my mind to new perspectives. If I share my writing with other writers and readers, I will better understand the impact of my words and will be able to share the struggles and triumphs of the process.
  • I love the possibility that anything in life can be treated as sacred if we only give it the right attention and approach it with intention to do so. This is something I hope to explore and experiment with, especially with regards to writing.
  • I’d love to hear if you decide to give it a go (or decide to listen to the podcast!) too.
  • Believe Me – Social Media Tour

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    I will admit that when I’m looking for a new read thrillers are rarely my go to. In fact, they’re never my go to. But when Quercus contacted me to ask if I’d be interested in receiving a review copy of JP Delaney’s Believe Me, and I read the marketing blurb, I was intrigued.

    From the Quercus website:

    In this twisty psychological thriller from the New York Times and Sunday Times bestselling author of The Girl Before, an actress plays both sides of a murder investigation

    One aspiring actress from the UK pays for her acting class in New York the only way she can: as a decoy for a firm of divorce lawyers, hired to entrap straying husbands. When the police begin investigating one of her targets for murdering his wife – and potentially others – they ask her to help lure the suspect into a confession.

    But with the actress pretending to be someone she’s not, differentiating the decoy from the prey becomes impossible – and deadly.

    I’ve tried to step outside my reading comfort zone a bit more this year and here was an opportunity to do so again.

    I’m so glad I did.

    I started reading Believe Me as soon as it dropped through my letter box and it did not take long for me to feel completely hooked by the story. The opening pages set up a disturbing scenario, which you can’t help but want to understand, but the thing that really drew me into this narrative was the way in which the main character, Claire’s, interactions are, in part, presented like scripts. It really pulled me into the character’s mind seeing how her actor’s perspective influences how she experiences the various aspects of her somewhat unusual life, and these scripted interactions actually hold much greater significance than is initially apparent. Her theatrical tendencies were so appealing and there was one early description of being backstage that was particularly evocative, brilliantly illustrating Delaney’s skills as an atmospheric writer, as well as a storyteller.

    This compelling atmosphere becomes more intricate as the story progresses, building in layers as the mystery and tension set by the original scenario thickens. Descriptions of Claire’s acting classes add almost a sense of magical realism to the twisting tale in which she becomes entangled. This is only emphasised through the excellent use of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil) as a central plot device. Both beautiful and terrible, Baudelaire’s poems capture the essence of the evil Claire is confronting whilst increasing the enigma of who, exactly, is at its root.

    The story only becomes more compelling as it unfolds because it doesn’t actually unfold at all – it folds itself in tighter and tighter. Every time I though I was getting a sense for what was going on, something else happened that made me question what I thought I had just begun to figure out. There are so many twists in this tale that I began to feel I was getting whiplash! Each twist, often coming out of nowhere, is brutal and begins to paint an increasingly disturbing picture. At times I wanted to stop reading because what was being revealed seemed so horrifying but I just couldn’t put it down.

    By the end, I felt disturbed and relieved in equal measure because, although the mystery was unravelled and the loose ends tied up, I was left with the discomfiting feeling that all was not quite well, and I couldn’t help but wonder what path Claire’s life would take following her deep entanglement with such horror.

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    Believe Me was a quick and compulsive read which I didn’t know what to expect from, even after I’d finished. If you’re after an easy but addictive story, with more twists than your average rollercoaster and and edge of tension that will linger after you turn the final page, then I recommend you pick up a copy.

     

    Thanks to Quercus for the review copy. You can find out what some other fabulous bloggers and Instagrammers though of Believe Me by following the Quercus Social Media tour. 

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    The Long Awaited Music Of Words

    Being a mood reader, there are not often books that I eagerly anticipate the release of; that I cannot wait to get my hands on and that I clamour for an early copy of. I usually browse in bookshops or see what takes my fancy on Bookstagram and pick up what takes my fancy. But this is one of those rare books I have been waiting for for a long time.

    This week saw the release of C.G. Drews’ (aka Paper Fury‘s) A Thousand Perfect Notes, into the wild. I have followed Cait’s blog for years and she never fails to make me smile and always makes me want cake. Her blog is full of enthusiastic shouting about books, relatable moaning about the misunderstood difficulties of bookworm life, lots of extolling the virtues of desserts and the odd insight into her writing life. I have lurked in the background (no, it’s not creepy, I promise), watching her tenaciously work towards her dream of becoming a published author. This year that dream became a reality and I am over the moon for her. I also could not WAIT to get my hands on her book baby and devour every word.

    I was amazingly blessed to be sent an ARC but, I’ll be honest, I had a moment of panic. What if I didn’t like it?! Here was a book I had been eagerly anticipating from a writer who, unlike most other authors I read, I actually occasionally interact with on her blog and on social media. If I didn’t like it what would I SAY?! It turns out I needn’t have worried. I read it practically in one sitting (that pesky thing called work got in the way of a true binge read) and I absolutely loved it.

    Here is a story that is shot through with passion, heartache, friendship, and hope. The characters sing off the page, along with Beck’s music, and the relationships between them were so heartfelt and real. The Maestro, Beck and Joey’s violently obsessive and overpowering mother, is a truly terrifying figure but she also has such a believable vulnerability that begins, ever so slightly, to bleed through her vicious exterior, that even whilst I wanted to run screaming from her I also wanted to reach for her and try to bring that humanity out.

    Beck is so lost within his incredible talent, heartbreak, and longing for a dream of his own, that I wanted to take his hand and hold him tight. I was so moved by his uncertainty and passion, and his relationship with his sparkly little sister is just so beautiful. A fabulously rendered sibling bond; equal parts love and irritation.

    When August bounced across the page it was like a crescendo and a splash of colour. She is such a beautifully vivid character and I loved the glimpses into her quirky life:

    “There are a few cats and a goat but we’re only babysitting the llama.”

    “Naturally.”

    August is a much needed balm to the pain and heartache of Beck’s reality and their unlikely but burgeoning friendship is so wonderful to read.

    There were highs, there were lows, there were points when I wanted to climb in between the pages, squeeze myself into the story and find a way to make everything ok. I laughed out loud. I cried. And when it was over I kept trying to turn the page in the hopes there would be more. This is one of my favourite reads so far this year. If you’re on the hunt for an immersive YA contemporary read, this is it.

    Thank you to NetGalley and Hachette for the ARCs.

    The Joy of A Moment

    Yesterday, I walked in the spring sunshine with snow swirling round me on a wintry wind. I watched my spaniel companion try to catch snowflakes in her mouth and leap amongst the tussocks with sheer joy and abandon. I had taken my kindle with me because I was so engrossed in my current read (A Thousand Perfect Notes by C G Drews), and so I walked through two worlds, alternately losing myself in the music woven into the words of the story and revelling in the beauty of the snowy, sunny, spring world around me. I had the works of some of my favourite composers playing in my ears, the twining melodies and harmonies lifting me from the inside and somehow heightening the many and varied beauties around me. All these little, everyday things, in which I found such delight, came together, as I reached a small rise at the edge of the field, and I felt a profound moment of joy and peace.

    In the chaos of everyday life, and particularly through the struggles of coping with mental illness, it is so easy to forget what an exquisitely beautiful place the world is, and just how miraculous it is that we exist at all. As the height of that poignant moment passed, and settled into a quiet contentment, I found myself wishing I had a way to catch that peace and carry it with me, a way to hold it inside me somehow and bring it out when I needed it.

    I have a lot of joy in my life. I am exceptionally lucky in my friends and family, my love and livelihood. And yet I sometimes lose myself. I become mired in worry and fear and an unfounded conviction that life is just too difficult and I can’t do it, despite evidence to the contrary. I have come to realise that this is one of the reasons I write – one of the reasons I want to write more: so I can capture those moments of joy and peace, and so hold on to them. So I can capture those moments of panic and fear, and so let them go. Writing has the magical property of allowing me to do both.

    I have recently been practising (albeit sporadically) mindful writing, a concept I discovered through the book ‘The Joy of Mindful Writing’ by Joy Kenward. I have found it invaluable in helping me focus on those small moments and recalling past joys. I have found that the exercises help me feel centred – in a way that other mindful practices have not – and have the dual benefit of getting me to write and getting me to engage in some meditative practice. If you’re looking for a way to combine creativity, particularly writing, with mindfulness, I would highly recommend giving this book a read.

    I really just wanted to write this today as a reminder, both to myself and to anyone who happens to be reading, that there is joy to be found in the everyday, even when life is hard or the world seems dark or you just feel lost. When you notice it, do what you can to catch it and carry it with you.

    Wishing you all a peaceful week.

    Share a Story

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    Hello lovely people. It’s been a whole month since I last spent any time in my little corner of the internet; I kept thinking about writing various posts but never actually managed to get around to doing it, partly because it’s been ridiculously busy and partly because I’ve had a bit of a rough mental health patch (ironic since my last blog series was all about mental health). But I’m here at last because it’s World Book Day and I couldn’t let it pass without a post.

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    World Book Day is one of my favourite days. A whole day dedicated to celebrating books, and stories and reading – what more could a bookworm ask for? Aside from maybe the day off work to read…(a girl can dream). This year, I’m looking forward to my first World Book Day as Whole School Literacy Coordinator. We’ve not got anything spectacular planned but I’m still excited that my job for the day will be to talk about books, read with students, and do what I can to encourage staff and students alike to share stories. It’s absolutely freezing outside and curling up with a good book and a mug of something warm seems like the ideal way to spend these snowy days but if I have to leave the house I’m glad it’s to do something book related!

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    The theme for this year’s World Book Day is “Share a Story” and I think it’s such a lovely concept. I’ve had great fun designing some lessons for KS3 and KS4 classes to get them thinking about the power of storytelling. (Shameless plug alert: if you’re planning last minute lessons you can get the powerpoint here and here.) I’ve been thinking a lot about how storytelling has evolved over time and how we are in fact surrounded by stories. Everyone and everything has a story and tells a story, from the history of the wheel that eventually evolved into the car or bike or bus you are getting to school or work in, to the ways we choose to dress or decorate our homes, stories are woven inextricably into everyday life – they are both mundane and magical. It’s so fascinating when you stop to think about all the millions of tiny stories that intersect with your own. I feel a bit like Alice falling down the rabbit hole when I consider it and I both want to keep on falling and worry that I might never stop!

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    As usual, my own winding way of storytelling on this blog has lost it’s thread a little, but I hope you will take the time to consider the myriad of stories surrounding you today. You never know, you might discover something wonderful and unexpected.

    I will be talking to students and colleagues about reading, and doing some reading and writing of my own. How will you be sharing stories today?

    It’s #TimeToTalk Recommended Reads – Anxiety Journal

    This is just a quick little recommendation, as I’ve only just come across it myself but thought it still seemed worth a share.

    The Anxiety Journal is actually something my lovely husband found and suggested to me, and I’m so glad he did. It is another beautifully presented book, very simply formatted, with lots of white space, which makes it a lovely, calming book to flick through.

    It provides a combination of insightful quotes, thoughtful reflections and exercises, and simple illustrations. I have found it the perfect book to end the day with. Just before bed I can sit and open it to any page and use what’s printed there to help me take stock, reflect on the day, and deal with any anxiety or panic that may have built up. Combined with a scented candle, a warm drink, and some quiet music, it makes for a lovely bedtime routine.

    ***

    If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health then please don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. You are not alone and help is available. By opening up and starting the conversation we can move forward together and look to a mentally healthy future. Below are links to a range of fantastic organisations that can provide information, advice and services.

    The Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org

    Mind – http://www.mind.org.uk

    Young Minds – http://www.youngminds.org.uk

    Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) – https://www.papyrus-uk.org

    Self Harm UK – https://www.selfharm.co.uk

    Time to Change – http://www.time-to-change.org.uk

    Rethink Mental Illness – http://www.rethink.org

    American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – https://www.afsp.org

    Please do not struggle alone.

    2017’s Top Ten(ish) Books

    I did not read as many books in 2017 as I would have liked. In fact, I was a whole 20 books of meeting my Goodreads challenge! In spite of that, 2017 was a really good reading year and I discovered some new favourite authors and some new favourite books. I can never pick ONE favourite book but it takes something special for a book to worm its way onto my favourites list and this year at least TWO of the books I read made the cut…possibly even three. I’m undecided.

    Anyway, I thought I would recap my year in books by sharing my top ten reads from 2017…but then I couldn’t quite whittle it down so it’s my top eleven. Who’s even counting?!

    I have never really listened to audiobooks. I like to hold the actual book and savour the words in my own time. I’ve also previously struggled to find narrations that don’t annoy me. This year, however, saw the addition of a puppy to our family and with her arrival went a good chunk of my peaceful reading time. So I decided to give audiobooks another try to stave off the story withdrawal, since I can listen to them whilst I walk the pup. And now I’m hooked. It still all depends on the narration, as there have been a couple of books that I haven’t got more than a few minutes into before giving up through sheer annoyance at the narrator’s voice, but here are four audiobooks which not only had excellent narration but were also outstanding stories in and of themselves.

    How To Stop Time – Matt Haig

    Matt Haig is one of those authors who I have been meaning to read for forever. I’ve followed him on Twitter for a while and have a huge amount of respect and gratitude for his openness about mental illness and the way in which he offers support and encouragement to those who are struggling with their own mental health. I’ve read a few of his books this year and he has quickly become a favourite author.

    How To Stop Time is a beautiful, eloquent portrait of what it means to be human: to want, to feel, to fear, to contemplate, to search, to love. Haig weaves and paints prose that reads like poetry until you are so enraptured by the image before that you hardly notice that he also wields words like a sword, until the moment when it pierces right to the heart of something you didn’t even know you were holding inside you. With compelling characters and an intriguing, twisting storyline, this is a tale to get lost in. The story, much like Haig himself, is endlessly quotable and is a veritable treasure trove of wisdom. This was the one downside of listening on audiobook: there were so many points when I wanted to stop and write down or just re-hear a quote (not really achievable when out walking an energetic puppy). With the help of Goodreads I managed to track down some favourites:

    “Whenever I see someone reading a book, especially if it is someone I don’t expect, I feel civilisation has become a little safer.”

    “Everything is going to be all right. Or, if not, everything is going to be, so let’s not worry.”

    “A problem with living in the twenty-first century….. we are made to feel poor on thirty thousand pounds a year. To feel poorly travelled if we have only been to ten other countries. To feel old if we have a wrinkle. To feel ugly if we aren’t photo shopped and filtered.”

    “Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.”

    “We have the knowledge to realise we are just a mess of quanta and particles, like everything else is, and yet we keep trying to separate ourselves from the universe we live in, to give ourselves a meaning above that of a tree or a rock or a cat or a turtle.”

    Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

    Eleanor Oliphant is one of the most discomforting and yet endearing characters I have every come across. From very early on in the book I was intrigued by Eleanor’s unique way of seeing and operating in the world and desperate to understand more about her and her history. Raymond is a wonderfully loveable character and the development of his unlikely friendship with Eleanor is heartwarming – I loved every second of seeing it grow. Eleanor Oliphant is darkly comic in its exploration of the impacts of childhood trauma and the story raised both laughs and tears. I have to give special mention to Cathleen McCarron for her excellent narration of this tale – she really brought the characters to life and I so enjoyed listening to her unspool this story.

    Although I have never experienced anything like what Eleanor has been through, I still found a lot to relate to in her character. Honeyman’s writing is amusing and highly relevant to so much human experience, here are just a few of my favourite quotes:

    “A philosophical question: if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? And if a woman who’s wholly alone occasionally talks to a pot plant, is she certifiable? I think that it is perfectly normal to talk to oneself occasionally. It’s not as though I’m expecting a reply. I’m fully aware that Polly is a houseplant.”

    “I simply didn’t know how to make things better. I could not solve the puzzle of me.”

    “In principle and reality, libraries are life-enhancing palaces of wonder.”

    “There are days when I feel so lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether me to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar. A strong gust of wind could dislodge me completely, and I’d lift off and blow away, like one of those seeds in a dandelion clock. The threads tighten slightly from Monday to Friday.”

    “Sometimes you simply needed someone kind to sit with you while you dealt with things.”

    “LOL could go and take a running jump. I wasn’t made for illiteracy; it simply didn’t come naturally.”

    “If I’m ever unsure as to the correct course of action, I’ll think, “What would a ferret do?” or, “How would a salamander respond to this situation?” Invariably, I find the right answer.”

    “My phone doesn’t ring often—it makes me jump when it does—and it’s usually people asking if I’ve been mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance. I whisper I know where you live to them, and hang up the phone very, very gently.”

    The Keeper Of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan

    The Keeper Of Lost Things is a wonderful story of loss, love, finding and letting go. I was captivated by the idea of lost things being carefully collected and catalogued, eventually to be reunited with their owners and the cast of characters had the added charm of being lost on their own ways as well. The alternating narratives across different character’s perspectives and time provides a breadcrumb trail through the story – the connection there the whole time but just out of reach and understanding, until right towards the end. Happiness and heartache in almost equal measure make the story compelling and thoroughly enjoyable.

    “Her grandmother had once told her that one could blame ugliness on one’s genes and ignorance on one’s education, but there was absolutely no excuse whatsoever for being dull.”

    “Common decency, good manners, kindness and hard work were treated as peculiarities”

    “A hush is a dangerous thing. Silence is solid and dependable, but a hush is expectant, like a pregnant pause; it invites mischief, like a loose thread begging to be pulled.”

    The Bear And The Nightingale – Katherine Arden

    This is one of my absolute favourite books, not just of 2017 but ever. I listened to the audiobook and was so utterly enraptured by the story that I am dying to get hold of a hardcopy so I can reread it and savour every word again. The first in the Winternight trilogy and voted best Sci-Fi and Fantasy book of 2017, The Bear And The Nightingale is one of those rare reads that is so immersive and enchanting that you forget you are reading (or in my case, listening) at all. I could feel the icy breath of the Russian winter with every turn of phrase and the magic seemed so real I felt Morozko himself dogged my footsteps. Here is a world caught in balance between the realities of harsh, arctic winters and the old, fantastical magic woven into centuries old folklore. It made me want to learn Russian and read every folk and fairytale I could get my hands on, and I did not want to leave the realm of the winter-king.

    Arden’s prose is so lyrical it weaves a spell all of its own and her characters are so well developed that they step into being with barely the lift of an imaginary finger. The story was exquisitely narrated by Kathleen Gati and her voice only added to the wonder of the story. When I started listening I hadn’t realised it was the first of a trilogy so my excitement was palpable when I noticed The Girl In The Tower will be gracing bookshelves any day now. If I were to recommend any book from 2017, it would be this one.

    “Wild birds die in cages.”

    “Nay, it is the coming storm. The first sign is fear. The second is always fire. Your people are afraid, and now the fires burn.”

    “It is a cruel task, to frighten people in God’s name.”

    “But I think you should be careful, Batyushka, that God does not speak in the voice of your own wishing.”

    Dear Ijeawele: A Femenist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

    I discovered Adichie through TED talks when I stumbled across her talk ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ and read her book of the same title off the back of it. I am yet to read any of her novels but immediately picked up Dear Ijeawele when I saw it and enjoyed it even more that We Should All Be Feminists. Both books should be required reading for everyone but Dear Ijeawele especially spoke to something deep in the heart of me. Direct, perceptive, and wryly amusing, Adichie’s letter to her friend gets to the root of what it is to be a woman in the 21st century.

    A quick and compelling read, it’s one to shove into the hands of anyone and everyone. Politely of course.

    “Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not “if only.” Not “as long as.” I matter equally. Full stop.”

    “If she likes makeup, let her wear it. If she likes fashion, let her dress up. But if she doesn’t like either, let her be. Don’t think that raising her feminist means forcing her to reject femininity. Feminism and femininity are not mutually exclusive.”

    “Because you are a girl” is never a reason for anything. Ever.”

    “We teach girls to be likeable, to be nice, to be false. And we do not teach boys the same. This is dangerous. Many sexual predators have capitalized on this. Many girls remain silent when abused because they want to be nice. Many girls spend too much time trying to be “nice” to people who do them harm. Many girls think of the “feelings” of those who are hurting them. This is the catastrophic consequence of likeability. We have a world full of women who are unable to exhale fully because they have for so long been conditioned to fold themselves into shapes to make themselves likeable.”

    Me Before You – Jojo Moyes

    Not ordinarily one to reach for contemporary reads, I was pleasantly surprised by Me Before You. In fact, I loved it. I absolutely adored Louisa Clark and quickly wanted to make friends with her and sit down for a cuppa and a heart to heart. The story itself is also engrossing, being both heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure. I think what I loved most about this book though was that it didn’t succumb to the temptation to make everything all right in the end. There was something viscerally real about the stories understanding that love does not automatically make everything ok and that sometimes a happy ending doesn’t seem all that happy or look at all how you pictured it. I haven’t yet read the sequel to this book but and very much looking forward to it.

    “You only get one life. It’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible.”

    “I will never, ever regret the things I’ve done. Because most days, all you have are places in your memory that you can go to.”

    “I hadn’t realized that music could unlock things in you, could transport you to somewhere even the composer hadn’t predicted. It left an imprint in the air around you, as if you carried its remnants with you when you went.”

    “You can only actually help someone who wants to be helped.”

    The Princess Saves Herself In This One – Amanda Lovelace

    I love a good poetry collection and this one really hit the spot. Gritty, unashamedly honest and beautiful, there is something profoundly relatable in Lovelace’s poetry, in spite of the differences in my personal experiences. I don’t really have an awful lot more to say about this one because I find poetry to be a very personal thing. It does deal with some very difficult and potentially triggering issues but I found The Princess Saves Herself In This One to be validating and inspiring.

    “ah, life—

    the thing

    that happens

    to us

    while we’re off

    somewhere else

    blowing on

    dandelions

    & wishing

    ourselves into

    the pages of

    our favorite

    fairy tales.”

    “repeat after me:

    you owe

    no one

    your forgiveness.

    – except maybe yourself.”

    “once upon a time, the princess rose from the ashes her dragon lovers made of her & crowned herself the mother-fucking queen of herself.   – how’s that for a happily ever after?”

    “fiction:

    the ocean

    i dive

    headfirst

    into

    when i

    can

    no longer

    breathe

    in

    reality.

    – a mermaid escapist II.”

    Blankets – Craig Thompson

    Much like audiobooks, I’ve never really got into graphic novels but I’ve had a couple by Craig Thompson on my bookshelves for ages that my husband read and loved. So, over Christmas, I thought I’d give them a go and found I really enjoyed them. Blankets in particular was an excellent read with Thompson’s graphics really bringing the story and the characters’ struggles to life. The tale is both moving and thought provoking on a subject I have always found interesting and challenging: the tensions between the sense of belonging and the expectations present within a religion or religious community. The characters in Thompson’s story are imperfect and therefore very real. Whilst I’m not sure they will ever have the same richness as stories written in prose, I’ll definitely be trying more graphic novels as there they offer something unique.

    “How satisfying it is to leave a mark on a blank surface. To make a map of my movement – no matter how temporary.”

    “Sometimes, upon waking, the residual dream can be more appealing that reality, and one is reluctant to give it up. For a while, you feel like a ghost — Not fully materialized, and unable to manipulate your surroundings. Or else, it is the dream that haunts you. You wait with the promise of the next dream.”

    “On my first visit to the public library, I was like a kid at a candy store where all the candy was free.”

    “At night, lying on your back and staring at the falling snow, it’s easy to imagine oneself soaring through the stars.”

    Reasons To Stay Alive – Matt Haig

    Another wonderful book from Matt Haig; very different from the first mentioned in this post but just as profound. Haig’s unflinching account of his experiences of depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and suicidal thoughts is raw, moving, and strangely uplifting. He gets right to the heart of what it is to be trapped in your own mind and the horrifying experience of not being able to be fully present in your own life, even when it’s a wonderful one. Reasons To Stay Alive gives you just that; as well as truly nailing the torment of mental illness, Haig’s account also provides a funny, even joyful reminder of what it is to truly love, and why we should strive to stay alive even when it seems the dark is closing in. It is a tale of survival as much as of struggle and reading it felt like being offered a hand to hold and hearing, in the voice of a friend, that we are never truly alone.

    Recommended reading for all.

    “THE WORLD IS increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more? How do you sell an anti-ageing moisturiser? You make someone worry about ageing. How do you get people to vote for a political party? You make them worry about immigration. How do you get them to buy insurance? By making them worry about everything. How do you get them to have plastic surgery? By highlighting their physical flaws. How do you get them to watch a TV show? By making them worry about missing out. How do you get them to buy a new smartphone? By making them feel like they are being left behind. To be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act. To be happy with your own non-upgraded existence. To be comfortable with our messy, human selves, would not be good for business.”

    “Wherever you are, at any moment, try and find something beautiful. A face, a line out of a poem, the clouds out of a window, some graffiti, a wind farm. Beauty cleans the mind.”

    “And most of all, books. They were, in and of themselves, reasons to stay alive. Every book written is the product of a human mind in a particular state. Add all the books together and you get the end sum of humanity. Every time I read a great book I felt I was reading a kind of map, a treasure map, and the treasure I was being directed to was in actual fact myself.”

    “Maybe love is just about finding the person you can be your weird self with.”

    “To other people, it sometimes seems like nothing at all. You are walking around with your head on fire and no one can see the flames.”

    “You can be a depressive and be happy, just as you can be a sober alcoholic.”

    The Power – Naomi Alderman

    The Power is one of those books that I started shoving into everyone’s hands the moment I finished reading it. Before I finished reading it in fact. It is undoubtedly one of the most powerful and disturbing books I have ever read and it made me think about our world in a different way. It woke me up to some uncomfortable truths – some of which I had been aware of but somehow seemed to have accepted as just being the reality of things, and some to do with my own thinking which I was saddened to realise existed in my own thought patterns. Graphic, visceral, and haunting, it provides a frightening portrait of society, past, present, and…future? One can only hope not. With themes similar to those in The Handmaids Tale, The Power strikes at the heart of some of the most vivid fears, hopes, and tortures of being female, in any society, in any age. Whilst part of me wanted some of the storylines to be more rounded and developed, the messages of the book were sharp as a blade and I found it interesting to discuss the story with friends, both male and female, and everyone seemed to have taken something different from it. Above all else, it really seemed to highlight the dangers of power: in anybody’s hands.

    “This is the trouble with history. You can’t see what’s not there. You can look at an empty space and see that something’s missing, but there’s no way to know what it was.”

    “One of them says, ‘Why did they do it?’

    And the other answers, ‘Because they could.’

    That is the only answer there ever is.”

    “Gender is a shell game. What is a man? Whatever a woman isn’t. What is a woman? Whatever a man is not, Tap on it and it’s hollow. Look under the shells: it’s not there.”

    “the highest among us aren’t always the wisest…”

    “We’re only pretending everything is normal because we don’t know what else to do.”

    Strange The Dreamer – Laini Taylor

    Strange The Dreamer was one of my most anticipated reads of 2017 and it did not disappoint. Taylor’s writing is rich, magical, and utterly mesmerising and her latest, long awaited, book is wonderful and beautifully strange: a dream in every sense. Uplifting and heartbreaking and utterly fantastic – stepping into this story is to have tour imagination ripped open in the best possible way, to find stars and flowers and terribly beautiful monsters waiting above. I didn’t think that Taylor would be able to beat the magic she wove with her Daughter Of Smoke And Bone trilogy but with Strange The Dreamer she did just that and I did not want to leave Dreamer’s Weep.

    “”You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

    “Beautiful and full of monsters?”

    “All the best stories are.””

    “It was impossible, of course. But when did that ever stop any dreamer from dreaming.”

    “I turned my nightmares into fireflies and caught them in a jar.”

    “And that’s how you go on. You lay laughter over the dark parts. The more dark parts, the more you have to laugh. With defiance, with abandon, with hysteria, any way you can.”

    “You think good people can’t hate?” she asked. “You think good people don’t kill?”[…]”Good people do all the things bad people do, Lazlo. It’s just that when they do them, they call it justice.”

    “Without his books, his room felt like a body with its hearts cut out.”

    “There was a man who loved the moon, but whenever he tried to embrace her, she broke into a thousand pieces and left him drenched, with empty arms.”

    “The library knows its own mind… When it steals a boy, we let it keep him.”

    So there you have it, my top reads of 2017. I highly recommend that you pop off and read every one of them immediately. Just the thing to brighten up the wet, cold start we’re having to 2018.

    Happy reading!

    Sacred Stories

    Every now and again we come across a story that sticks with us. Words or characters that speak to our experiences or our hopes or our fears; a tale that brings us comfort or inspiration. For me, finding a story like that is akin to a spiritual experience: in the moment that story moves me or speaks to me, I feel a deep connection with something beyond myself. “It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone.”

    When I’m asked what my favourite book is I can never answer, because there are just too many. I could list ten…or maybe twenty…favourite books and series but narrowing it down beyond that is simply impossible. There are, however, undoubtedly some books that really stand out. One of those, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the Harry Potter series.

    I put off reading this series for a long time when it first came out, unconvinced that it would be for me. When I eventually gave in, the first three books had been published and I was quickly hooked. I devoured those first books and waited impatiently for the next…and the next and the next and the next. I loved them because here was a world I could completely immerse myself in and characters I could relate to. But it was not on first reading that I came to adore this series. Or even the second. In fact, it is probably only in the last few years, on my umpteenth re-read (I have no idea how many times I’ve actually read them now – I stopped counting after 10…) that they have some to mean so much to me. Because reading them now, as an adult, not only do I still love immersing myself in that magical world, not only do the characters seem so relatable, but the story itself speaks to me on a whole new level. There is so much wisdom and comfort in it and I keep finding new things to love.

    The first time I read it The Deathly Hallows was one of my least favourite books of the series but on my last re-read it was one of my favourites. There’s always something more to find and I always seem to find what I need.

    I’ve recently discovered (and been binge listening to) the Harry Potter and The Sacred Text podcast which has opened up yet another incredible layer of these amazing stories to me. I absolutely love it. Working from the question “What if we read the books we love as if they were sacred?“, the hosts , Vanessa and Casper, are reading through the Harry Potter series and looking at one chapter each episode through a given theme. They then use traditional practices from different religions to examine the text as if it were sacred.

    I have always taken great joy in finding connection and meaning in the stories I love and that shape my life, and listening to this podcast has given me a new opportunity to do this with a series that has brought me so much comfort and inspiration already. It feels very communal, especially since Vanessa and Casper invite their listeners to contribute their own ideas, and actively listen and respond to those contributions. I often wish I were in the room with them whilst they discuss the chapter. I strongly recommend any HP fans to give the podcast a listen. It really is fabulous and brings the magic home.

    Are there any books or series that are especially important to you? Have you ever read a non-religious/spiritual text as though it were sacred? I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts in the comments.

    2016: A Year of Books

    It’s that time again; we’re saying goodbye to the old year and hello to the new. There has been a lot about 2016 which has been unpleasant, worrying, and sad, and I’m making an effort to remember that it hasn’t all been bad by any stretch. We’ve had some wonderful adventures and happy news throughout the year and I have been blessed, as I am every year, with opportunities and love. It’s also been a brilliant year for reading! (So it definitely can’t have been that bad.😉) At the beginning of the year I set myself a challenge to read 100 books, and I managed it (just)! I’ve actually just finished my 101st book of 2016 so I even managed to beat my goal. I thought I’d share with you my reading year and recommend some of my favourites. Here’s a round up of my year in books (be warned, it’s lengthy!)…


    I started the year with some brilliant books: I devoured Illuminae and read the whole thing cover to cover on New Year’s Day. It’s definitely one of the most original books I’ve read in terms of execution of an idea and I found it compelling to read a story told in such an unique way. 

    I also read, and adored, Patrick Rothfuss’ The Slow Regard of Silent Things. I so enjoyed heading back to this world (Rothfuss is a genius of the genre) and I found this tale told from Auri’s perspective to be haunting and moving. It’s not an continuation of the Kingkiller Chronicles and I know many were disappointed because of this, but I found it utterly enchanting and a true testament to Rothfuss’ skill and imagination. 

    Another favourite was Uprooted, a truly engrossing fantasy. I loved how unusual the magic was in this story and loved the characters and how they developed throughout. I’ve lent this to many people, all of whom have loved it. (It’s also one of the most beautiful books on my shelves!)

    I enjoyed revisiting an old favourite series  in The Black Magician trilogy – The High Lord is one of my favourite characters. 

    Bird by Bird was one of my favourite reads of the year. It really made me want to write more of my own and made me feel like it wouldn’t matter if it turned out to be utter tripe, as long as I had the courage to actually write it! I haven’t done as much writing as I had hoped but thei book certainly spurred me on to write more than I’ve ever managed before.

    My mum lent me a copy of The Phantom Tollbooth and I thouroughly enjoyed it. A fantastical world filled with entertaining word play. A great fun read!

    A couple of highly recommended books on bookstagram that made my reading list this year were Queen of Shadows and Shatter Me. I really enjoyed Queen of Shadows, in fact I loved the whole series – Caleana is a great character! Unfortunately, I did not feel so positive about Shatter Me. I can’t quite put my finger on it but it just didn’t grab me. I normally enjoy reading YA but this one just felt too young, somehow. I know many people loved it though and it’s an interesting premise so I’d still give it a go.

    I enjoyed The Martian immensely and it’s one of the few books that I have read AFTER I’ve seen the film. It’s funny and somehow still profound: I just love Watney’s dry humour. I’d also highly recommend the film as a really try interpretation of the book – Matt Damon is excellent!

    The Catcher In The Rye is on that I have been meaning to read for an absolute age and the couple of times I started it I just wasn’t in the right mood. Not the case this time! I always think it’s worth persevering with classics if they don’t quite grab you the first time, as I have found with many that when I eventually get my brain to engage then I really enjoy them.

    Ah, so many good ones in this little batch! The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet is a compelling and original story which Infound incredibly thoroughly gut provoking. It’s sci-for as I’ve never read it before and I completely fell in love with the crew of the Wayfarer. I’m excited to read the sequel in 2017!

    I finally got around to reading a couple of children’s classics which I had never read before: Peter Pan and A Little Princess. Both were wonderful! Peter Pan is wonderfully weird and fantastical but the classic story which many of us grew up with (regardless of whether you’d read the book or not) doesn’t fail to engross, even as an adult reader. A Little Princess is completely enchanting and has some of the most beautiful lines and turns of phrase in it. I grew up loving the film adaptation of this book, my favourite part of which was always the magical transformation of the attic – it was just as magical, if not more so, in the book! Loved it!

    I also have to mention Girl of Ink and Stars – this book is utterly wonderful. You cannot help but fall in love with the characters and the island, and the storyline strikes the perfect balance between being vividly real and disturbingly fantastical.

    Two more favourites from this year were Rebel Of The Sands and The Reader On The 6:27. Rebel Of The Sands is magical and bursting with imagination. It’s so brilliantly written that everything leaps out at you – you can almost feel the heat rippling off the page and constantly expect to find grains of sand trickling into your lap. Read it.

    I continued my re-reading of Harry Potter over the summer which is always a favourite of mine. If you’ve not yet read this series then you should give it a go.

    Queen of The Tearling was a great new fantasy read and, again, I’m excited to read the next in the series in 2017. 

    The Red Notebook is a really lovely story – great for fans of The Storied Life of AJ Fikry!

    I am not normally one for non-fiction or biographies but I had to give I am Malala a chance and I was not disappointed. I already knew something of Malala’s story but reading it in her own words was truly moving and made me feel proudly fortunate. I was also so struck by what an incredible man her father is – we need more men like him in the world.

    I was excited to receive The Graces in my Illumicrate box in July and really enjoyed reading it. I felt it took a little while to get going but was one of those I couldn’t quite put down.

    Sleeping Giants was initially a cover but (so pretty!) but I was really pleased to have picked it up. It has echos of Illumicrate but is adult sci-if rather than YA. I also enjoyed reading a sci-fi that was set entirely on Earth!

    I had so much fun reading all the new wizard of world books released by Pottermore this year – I loved reading a bit more about some of my favourite characters, particularly McGonagall. If you’re a HP fan and haven’t read these yet then you should go and read them. They’re inexpensive, quick to read, and a delightful trip back to the wizard of world.

    Other favourites from this bunch were Ted Hughes’ poetry collection, Crow, and the recently published Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, which it inspired. Both were dark, profound and deeply moving. Anyone who has grieved will find something of truth in these pages and it is strangely comforting.

    Pax is one of my absolute favourites from this year. A thoroughly moving story about a boy and his best friend, who happens to be a fox. It’s a lovely tale but the thing that struck me much was how TRUE the pages from Pax’s perspective felt. That might sound strange, after all how on earth would I know what a fox’s perspective would sound like, and yet it felt completely right. It wa the perfect autumn read.

    My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises joins Pax on my absolute favourites of 2016 list. This book was charming, magical, relatable, and laugh-out-loud funny. I have bought at least 3 copies to give to other people and cannot recommend it highly enough.

    Probably the most controversial book I’ve read this year is Harry Potter and The Cursed Child. I have seen such mixed reviews about it: some love it, some hate it, some have gone so far as to say they feel betrayed by JK for putting her name to it(?!). As far as I’m concerned it was great fun! It was NOT the 8th Harry Potter book but I never expected it to be. It was fun to return to Hogwarts; it was fun to imagine the possible futures of my favourite characters; it was fun to see something of the next generation of witches and wizards. Yes, there were some slightly questionable plot points, yes, it did read a little like fan fiction – but, honestly, I still loved it. I would happily read it again and I really, really hope I get to see the play at some point.

    My last big batch of reading from 2016 included some of my Christmas favourites: A Christmas Carol is to this day the only Dicken’s book I have read all the way through. I hope to change this in 2017 as I really do love this book and although Dicken’s writing is incredibly wordy I think it is beautiful.

    Chasers of the Light was a Christmas present and I absolutely loved it. Simple, but stunning, poetry typed on found paper – a joy to read.


    My 100th book of the year was The Snow Child which has been on my bedside table for 2 years waiting to be read. This tale is achingly sad but beautifully written. It is a haunting tale and Ivey perfectly evokes the ethereality of deep winter and human desire for connection and love.

    As well as reading my 100 books, I’ve also had another great fun year on bookstagram! Here are my #bestnine from 2016…


    There’s clearly a favoured theme since I haven’t stuck to one theme all year but these all got the most likes. I haven’t decided what I might do with bookstagram in 2017 (to stick with one theme or keep a messy feed, that is the question…) but I do know that I still love this online bookish community. The pictures are beautiful and inspiring and the people are kind and encouraging. It’s a great little creative outlet and I look forward to another bookish year being a par of it.

    So there you have it, my year in books! I hope you had a wonderful year, whether it was bookish or not. Please leave any of your own recommendations/favourite reads of 2016 in the comments.

    Whatever your 2016 was like I wish you all the happiest of New Years, and love, peace, and joy for 2017.

    Ticking Along Nicely

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    November has got off to a lovely start. I was completely spoilt for my birthday, with tons of books, clothes, books, games, books, chocolate, and other goodies, but more importantly with the love and time of lots of my favourite people. We talked, we ate, we danced, we watched fireworks: it was perfect.

    The first week of November has also seen the beginning of my first ever NaNoWriMo – I’m not embarking on a whole novel or even aiming for 50,000 words, I simply want to improve and increase my writing practice. So far I’ve outlined a handful of short story and poetry ideas and today I actually started writing one! It feels good to write.

    With all the birthday busyness, planning/writing time, and a hectic start to the half term, I haven’t done as much reading as I normally would. I got a stack of amazing books for my birthday to add to my already humongous TBR pile and yesterday I decided to crack into one of them: My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises. I’m about a quarter of the way in and I’m completely in love with this quirky story. It’s original, funny, and moving in so many ways and I have come across some real gems to add to my ever growing list of favourite quotes. Most of them are about grandmothers. I’ve found them especially appealing because I’ve been thinking about and missing my own Gran a lot recently – I can’t quite believe how long she’s been gone – and so many of these beautiful lines reflect exactly how I feel about her or are exactly the sorts of things she would do or say. So to round off my little ‘Ticking Along Nicely’ post, I thought I’d share a few with you.

    “Having a grandmother  is like having an army. This is a grandchild’s ultimate privilege: knowing that someone is on your side, always, whatever the details. Even when you are wrong. Especially then, in fact.”

    “A grandmother is both a sword and a shield.”

    “Only different people change the world,” Granny used to say. “No one normal has ever changed a crapping thing.”

    “There’s something special about a grandmother’s house. You never forget how it smells.”

    “It’s much more difficult to have conflict when there are cookies around.”

    I highly recommend picking up this book, especially if you have a grandmother you love (and especially if that grandmother is a little eccentric).

    I hope your November is going as well as mine.

    x