Frozen Greggs Producs

Do you all know of the wonder of Gregg’s? I am going to assume you do. Did you know that you can buy frozen Gregg’s products from Iceland? If not, you do now.

I feel like this is one of the greatest inventions of our time. A bit hungover? Don’t want to leave the house? Want something flaky and delicious? Oh, look, I have Gregg’s in the freezer. Into the oven, half an hour later, delicious scents wafting through your home, and voila! You have a cheese, bean and sausage bake (a personal favourite). Iceland even sells steak bakes, chicken bakes, vegetable bakes, corned beef bakes. All the motherfucking bakes. Oh, you would prefer a Scotch Pie? There you go. A sausage roll? Boom.

It is amazing, and all at the same (if not cheaper) price than you can purchase at Gregg’s. I always have some in stock. They are also excellent if you get in drunk and need to eat something – as long as you aren’t one of those people that pass out as soon as you get in.

I was pleased with this situation, until I went into Iceland one day, and something wonderful happened. Frozen Mince Pies. Like Christmas Mince Pies. I fucking love a sweet mince pie. There for sale. Six frozen, sweet mince pies, that you could make at home. Trust me, I bought a dozen (two packs of six, not 12 packs of six. I am not that greedy. Yet. Or that popular actually. Who knew that someone that raves about frozen Gregg’s products online wouldn’t be that popular?). I still have three in the freezer. Yes Christmas is over, but frozen Gregg’s is the gift that keeps giving all year round.

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Idiot Brain – Dean Burnett

 

Idiot Brain

I read The Guardian (yes, I am a bleeding heart liberal, so sue me), and often science articles by Dean Burnett came up. I always enjoyed them, and was usually even able to follow them. So, I started following him on Twitter and generally enjoying his chat, and he talked about a book he had had published. It was one of those books that I always intended to get around to reading, but never quite managed. However, it came up for sale for 99p on Amazon, so I finally made the time.

The book is an exploration of the brain, what parts of the brain are responsible for what, how the brain can explain our unconscious actions and reactions, what is amazing about the brain, what is stupid about the brain. The book wasn’t quite what I expected, I expected more case study type stories, you know the ones. Like the guy that had the railroad spike through his head – which is referenced – except ones I hadn’t heard before. In fact, I hadn’t heard one of them before, which was the incident which prompted research into the Dunning-Kruger effect. It had me in stitches. However, there wasn’t a lot of in-depth exploration of case studies which made the read more challenging for me.

This isn’t to say the book is complex, Burnett does an excellent job of explaining things clearly, using every day analogies to clarify his point, and if there is technical language which I couldn’t quite follow, well, it had to be in there. It is a book about Neuroscience after all. It is also funny, I laughed so many times reading it, which was something I didn’t expect. Although, I don’t know why, as his articles on The Guardian are generally humorous in tone.

He also has similar political beliefs to me, which probably aided my enjoyment of the book. I also want to say I learned a lot, but to be honest, I am probably not going to retain much more than a surface level understanding of what was discussed (and the reason for this, is also explained in the book). It did also help explain some of my behaviours, and helped me feel a less lot guilty about what I saw as personality flaws. (I.e. a desperate need to be liked, which is a bit of an issue in my day job).

If you have any sort of in-depth knowledge about Neuroscience, this probably isn’t going to be a book for you, but if like me, you only have a cursory understanding, this book is excellent teaching you new things,  enhancing your understanding of the brain, providing explanations for the daft things we all do, and giving you fun anecdotes and information to share at parties.

Overall, a solid 4 out of 5.

Dry January

If you know me, you know I drink too much. So, usually I attempt a Dry January, and normally I get about 3 and a half weeks in before I fail. So here we are, Day 10.

Pros: No hangovers, no next day spent cringing, no taste of ash in my mouth due to the drunken purchase of cigarettes, no (or fewer) heart palpitations (thanks, Anxiety!), no sense of dread, flat does not smell of cigarettes, the ability to be productive the next day. I could go on.

Cons: No drinking in the bath.

Have you done this? If not, you should. I actually purchased an item to support my drunken activities in the bath. Here it is:

Bath Rack

Note – there is a space for a wine glass and a bottle. This is 100% one of the best purchases I have ever made.

I lie in the bath, drink wine, and watch trashy TV shows on my tablet. This is my favourite Sunday activity.

It is the best to be drunk the bath, you cheer on the characters in your trashy TV show, you splash a bit, you can check your phone and SnapChat. What isn’t there to love? Also, the reason I do it on a Sunday? So I can’t get too drunk, as I usually have work the next day, which makes it a deliciously guilty pleasure. So next time you are bored, on your own, get in the bath with a drink of your choice (I have tried wine, gin and tonic, beer, and an Aperol Spritz. They are all delightfully refreshing while reclining in a hot bath. You can also lie back and relax, read something, watch something, or day dream. You will not regret it.

(What you will regret is that bad-ass looking black bath bomb from Lush, which you think will let you pretend to be goth for a couple of hours on Christmas Eve. Your bath will need cleaned (ON CHRISTMAS DAY!), and when you leave the bath, you will not be clean. No. You will be covered in big black lumps which make it look like you have leprosy or worse.)

However, as this is Dry January, drinking in the bath will need to wait until February. Sigh. And with that beautiful bottle of red and a bottle of gin in the fridge just staring at me and feeling neglected. I hope they don’t go off…

Nevernight – Jay Kristoff

Nevernight

 

For my birthday, my wonderful colleagues all chipped in and got me a Waterstones voucher. They know me so well! Well, either that or I overshare – I suspect it is the latter.

So, off I trotted to Waterstones, and purchased 4 books for £26, due to their buy one, get one half price deal. The only downside is that one of the books was the second in a series, so I now need to buy the first one, however, one of the more successful purchases was the book above.

I had gone into Waterstones intending to buy different books, but as always I couldn’t find what I was looking for, either due to their selections or to my ineptitude at finding my way around a bookstore. Take your pick. I found one book off my ever growing to-read list, which was in the ‘Buy one, get one half price’ selection, and so I made my way up stairs to the Sci-Fi/Fantasy area and picked up three more. I intended to pick up one more, but couldn’t limit myself. Story of my life (in books). This is all a long winded way of saying, I had never heard of ‘Nevernight’, didn’t know what to expect, and generally wasn’t all that excited about reading it.

Upon starting the book my first impressions weren’t great. I struggled to get through the first 50-75 pages, which may be been partially due to my excessive drinking over the Christmas period (read – getting drunk and passing out), and my compulsive playing of Zelda. Initially, I found the book, pretentious, try-hard, Scott Lynch without the talent, and I found myself wondering who would read something like this and enjoy it, never mind publish it. And then. And then…something happened.

All of a sudden, I fell in love. The footnotes became funny, rather than tedious, the world building pulled together, and the main character, just the right side of likeable to make you root for her. Talented enough that she wasn’t frustrating, trying hard enough that you knew she had to work for it. Beautiful synchronicity.

Enough mystery to pull you forward, enough questions answered to continue encouraging you to read. Strings of the story pulling together, enough description that the world building had been sufficiently explored by the author, but tightly written enough that it didn’t feel like too much information, and this is a big book.

The story follows a girl, Mia. She is a member of the elite, but at 10 years old, her world shatters. Her father is hung for treason, her mother jailed, and her father’s killers try to kill Mia, but she escapes. This section of her life, before she goes to a school for assassins, is told simultaneously to the main story line. I liked this structure, as you didn’t feel you were reading just to find out more about her past, and you didn’t feel like masses of information was being withheld for tension building purposes. It was a natural flow. The author would also reuse previous passages to illustrate parallels, and once again, initially, I found this irritating, but then it became a really wonderful literary technique, which added so much.

Once Mia has reached the school, you find out about her classmates, her tutors, and the lessons. These are written well enough that they aren’t boring, but there is enough information to help you understand her development through this period. Her exploration of her world and learning through this time is wonderful, and the author certainly doesn’t shy away from brutal, bloody scenes, or tender (and quite frankly hot) sex scenes.

The end of the book – well, I will let you read it yourself – is wonderful, and the next day I immediately went into town to buy the next book. Alas, Waterstones did not have it on their shelves, however, I have a pile of books to read (physical and on my Kindle), so it will have to wait another day.

Overall, I give this 4 out of 5. It was fantastic, but not quite brilliant enough for 5 stars, but I am looking forward to reading the next in the series.

I am Legend – Richard Matheson

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At University I had a bit of a reputation for reading vampire novels, and I am not sure why. Potentially because of my love for ‘Interview with the Vampire’, and ‘The Vampire Lestat’. Books which I have not read for years, although, this year I am allowing myself to re-read books, so I may swing back around, but it was because of this nostalgia, that when I came across this book in the charity shop for 50p, published by my favourite publishers, I figured why not.

I am really glad I did, as although the book is an older novel, it is a refreshing look at the tradition of vampire novels and takes an interesting approach.

The premise is a man is trapped in his house, the lone survivor of humanity in a world full of vampires, and he is trying to survive. As I started reading it, I wondered how this book could remain interesting over 160 pages and so, but it really does. The book pulled me in and kept me engrossed through the constant difficulties the protagonist faces.

Sometimes I find with books, that the author takes the whole pushing the character to extremes through a series of gruelling set or circumstances too far. That it can feel forced, unnatural and makes for grim reading, but when it is done well, as it was here, it is fantastic to read. The character felt real (although a bit dated and sexist – both in terms of the masculine portrayal of the man, but also how the man reacted towards women), a person struggling with their own demons in a world filled with literal demons.

The approach taken to the vampire genre here is scientific (literally), which made it a far more interesting read than many other vampire novels and the ending was perfect. Would definitely recommend.

On Beauty – Zadie Smith

 

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This is the first Zadie Smith book that I have read, as although I saw and loved the TV adaptation of ‘White Teeth’, I have never read it, so when I saw this book in the charity shop for 50p, I had to buy it.

However, I found it quite disappointing, as while the prose was fantastic, I felt that the plot fell flat. Perhaps this was because I am not the target demographic for the book, as a lot of the plot takes place in and around a US college campus, as well as focusing on family dynamics, which isn’t where I am currently. I also sensed that there was nuance in family and college incidents, situations and interactions that I was missing, and this probably contributed to my lack of enjoyment.

It follows the lives of a family through standard and unusual life changing moments, based primarily on the East Coast of the US, with some scenes set in England. The father is a professor, which is why a lot of the plot takes place in and around a college campus and college politics. This is also interwoven with another family, who hold opposing politics, and therefore are rivals.

The characters were well drawn and believable, but they all felt slightly too disconnected for me. It felt as though they all acted independently and the only reason they happened to know each other is because they were in a novel together.

The plot was interesting, but it didn’t drive me forward and make me want to complete the book. It felt quite slow, lackadaisical, and dull. If you have enjoyed Zadie Smith novels in the past, I suspect you would enjoy this, but definitely not for me.

The Girls – Emma Cline

The Girls

This week’s book is ‘The Girls’ by Emma Cline, which has been subject to much critical acclaim and appearing on many bestseller lists. I am not sure where I came across it, but I must have been reading a book blog, or some article, as there was a screen shot of it on my phone. When I finished all my books and went into Waterstones, I looked everywhere for this, and any number of books on my to-read list (2 sides of A4, and counting), and could not find it. Turns out it was downstairs, right by the front door, and it was a hardback. Good spot, Amy.

Normally, I am not a fan of a hardback, due to the higher price point than a paper back, but I splurged, so desperate was I to read this book. When I first started reading, I got really sucked in and my initial impression is that it was loosely based around the Charles Manson murders, and the women that surrounded him, similar to ‘Aquarius’ (a TV show I only watched one episode of, mostly for David Duchovny), but when I discussed it with people, they just said, more loosely, that they had heard it was based around a cult. Either way, you have a young girl that gets sucked into a situation with older women (really just teenagers themselves), centred round a charismatic male leader.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, but to me it didn’t quite live up to its promise. The prose is wonderful, and the author has this knack of catching the every day experience, the small, in between things, and the things we take for granted. But what my initial takeaway was is the way she has captured the teenage girl experience. It was like I was back there, living that life again. For example, there is this quote about the protagonist, “She was lost in that deep and certain sense that there was nothing beyond her own experience”, and I have been there. I have been that girl, who only realised her ignorance years later. It made me think of that Oscar Wilde quote, “The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything”, and this is an idea that is represented through the book. You do think you know everything at that age. But as I read that line (the Cline line, not the Wilde line), I felt my heart clench as I could relate to it so much. The descriptions of how the world was, how you view things at that age, it was so accurate.

The novel itself flicks from the modern day, with the protagonist as an older, middle aged woman, back to her younger self, in 1969 when she became friends with a group of girls who idolise an older man, a wannabe musician, and they all live on a dilapidated, run down range, living hand to mouth. The protagonist reflects on her memories, which are brought back by interacting with the son of a friend, who makes reference to her having been in a cult when she was younger. As we explore how she joined that world, the author starts to create a sense that anyone could be forgotten from their own life, and brings forward the desperation of trying to find somewhere to fit in. To find a place in the world, and the actions people will take, and the lengths they will go to get there.

It is also clear from the beginning of the book what the ending will be, what having joined this cult will lead to. There is no mystery, apart from the detail, which really is what everyone wants to know. It builds up a pleasant anticipation of the horror that is to come, and you wonder how far the protagonist will go, what she will do to find her place in this world. There are also comparisons drawn between the hectic, disordered world that she wants to be a part of, and the organised everyday world where everyone else is, and it becomes clear that everyone else is just pretending, that everyone else is just trying to find their own way, but the protagonist is oblivious to this. So focused is she on getting back to what she considers ‘the real world’, where people are real and authentic.

While the plot of the novel is about the cult and the protagonists entry into this world, I felt that the novel isn’t so much about this, but about what it is like to be a woman, a teen girl, and the pressure placed on women to conform, to be accommodating, to be nice and pretty and to fit in, and how even in the rejection of that, you can still find yourself still living in the same gender roles. That women feel they can’t have things unless they are told, whereas men will just take them. There is also a scene set in the modern day, which illustrates that these gender roles still exist, albeit in a different form, and while it is easy to think that these kind of situations only happened in the past, in a more innocent time, they happen in modern day too, just under a modern and different guise. That women can be strong and yet still taken advantage of, led astray because of what they think they want, and what they need to do to get it.  Their ability to let someone else, anyone else, make the decisions for them. To take the responsibilities off their shoulders as a way of removing their own failings.

The way that the author merged these ideas of women, of feminism, into the story worked, but I felt that while the book started out really well, and I fell in love with the prose and the unique way of looking at the world, I felt the plot used to explore the above fell a bit flat. The final ‘burst’, where we find out what happened, is narrated by a character who wasn’t even there, and although it is clear parts of it are coming from their imagination, it feels frustratingly false. Even in court transcripts of such an event, there wouldn’t be such detail, and although I know it was fiction, this just felt like it didn’t fit. There were too many unanswered questions at the end, it didn’t tie up properly, and while I enjoyed the novel for its insights into people, women, teen girls, the metaphors, the language, the fluency of the prose, but overall I feel as though the story overall was lacking. That it was used as a vehicle for the larger ideas expressed around women in our society.

I would recommend the book, and it is an engrossing read with a wonderful glimpse into the past, and another way of life, but I didn’t live up to my expectations. I would give it a 7 out of 10, and you should put it on your reading list.

The next book is ‘Olive Kitteridge’ by Elizabeth Strout, (I love that surname!), but the post may not be up next Sunday as I am off to New York(!!!) for a week, so will get it up the following Sunday.

Amy