Sunday, 17 July 2016

A Weekend In Edinburgh

At the start of April (yes, this post is long overdue) Thomas and I visited Edinburgh for the weekend. We got the sleeper train up and were disgorged into a grey and rainy Edinburgh dawn. Luckily, our ace Airbnb hosts let us check into our Old Town apartment straight away. After a cheeky nap and some breakfast, we felt prepared to begin our exploration of the medieval side of the city, upon which my first reaction was.... "Why did no one tell me how beautiful Edinburgh is?!"
Ok, so it's famously beautiful, and Thomas has been trying to get me to visit ever since we met, but still... I was blindsided by just how lovely it was. The Old Town particularly is completely unlike any other place I've visited in the UK, instead feeling a lot more continental: Prague particularly sprung to mind, but there's also a hint of Amsterdam in the tall, narrow, gabled buildings. 

As is our wont, we spent an enormous amount of time diving into bookshops, and I have to hand it to Edinburgh, it does bookshops extremely well. From the narrow, dusty shelves packed with secondhand treasure at Armchair Books in the Old Town, to the chic Golden Hare Books, an absolute gem of a place in Stockbridge, we browsed them all. My favourite, though, was Word Power, hands down the best radical bookshop I've ever been in. I came out with teetering stacks of books - from non-fiction about fat activism to YA novels with trans and intersex protagonists, Word Power had it all.
In between buying books we sampled amazing vegan cuisine at Henderson's in the New Town, ate vegan sorbet from Mary's Milk Bar, climbed endless steps, walked through parks and up Calton Hill, and I had a cracking evening in the pub with the lovely Gwen (meeting internet people is just the best). Unfortunately, Thomas was recovering from a particularly unpleasant bout of flu so we had to take things easier than we'd perhaps otherwise have done. This meant no trip to Leith, no Arthur's Seat... oh well, we'll just have to go back soon. Post-Brexit, Thomas is plotting a move back to Scotland, so perhaps our next visit will be a more permanent one.

Monday, 11 July 2016

What I've Been Reading Recently

Rivers Of London & Whispers Underground
Ben Aaronovitch
Rating: ***½ 
Being a fan of both urban fantasy and crime novels, I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to read Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers Of London series, but it took getting the books into stock at work to prod me into finally picking them up. They're far from perfect - at times the humour verges on the silly and puerile (I don't think, for instance, that the reader needs to always be told when Peter Grant, the protagonist, has an erection, and am also unsure why he apparently suffers from priapism more suited to a teenage boy), and they tread on some decidedly dodgy ground when it comes to race - but they're very readable, the combination of police procedural and magic being well handled and entertainingly written. 

Vinegar Girl
Anne Tyler
Rating: ***
Anne Tyler's take on the oft-adapted The Taming Of The Shrew is a fresh and witty approach to Shakespeare's classic comedy. Moving the action to suburban Baltimore (of course), her Kate is a cynical and unfulfilled young woman with a father trying to marry her off to his research assistant, so said assistant can get a green card. Avoiding the more unsavoury aspects of the original - most notably the wife beating - and replacing them with gentle family rom-com scenes makes Vinegar Girl* an enjoyable if not especially challenging read.
Modern Lovers
Emma Straub
Rating: ****
Modern Loversis a terrifically enjoyable comedy of manners set in Brooklyn following the fortunes of a group of friends from college who now find themselves with college-aged children of their own. Not a great deal happens, in the sense that nothing enormously dramatic occurs (well, apart from an arrest, a fire and a couple of breakdowns), but the characters are enormously engaging and I was very much invested in the journeys they all go on, separately and together. This would make a great beach read for anyone looking for smart, funny writing that's a cut above the usual summer bestsellers.

Life Moves Pretty Fast
Hadley Freeman
Rating: ****
Life Moves Pretty Fast is a collection of essays - always funny, often poignant - about the great teen movies of the 1980s: Dirty Dancing, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Pretty In Pink, etc. Subtitled 'The Lessons We Learned From Eighties Movies (And Why We Don't Learn Them From Movies Anymore)', each chapter looks at a different iconic film. From discussion with the stars, writers and directors, to personal anecdote, to looking at the changes to the Hollywood studio system that means such films couldn't be made now, Freeman dissects the movies that meant so much to her as a teen. My favourite chapter, predictably, was the one on Dirty Dancing, which focuses on the pro-choice message behind the film and ponders why abortion is a dirty word in mainstream movies today.

Scoot Over Skinny: The Fat Non-Fiction Anthology
ed. Donna Jarrell & Ira Sukrungruang
Rating: **

Oh, I had such high hopes for Scoot Over Skinny , which I picked up in a secondhand bookstore in Toronto last summer. An anthology of fat writers, writing about fat: it sounds great, right? Wrong. It started well and the first few essays, while not amazing, were pretty good. But then it went terribly wrong. The fat shame and fat hate included herein was depressing: there are pieces about bariatric surgery, about ‘hogging’ (a delightful practice wherein bros pick up, have sex with, and then shame fat women),  I suspect that actually many of the writers weren’t fat: David Sedaris is included, for one thing, and his piece about his sister, Amy, wearing a fat suit is just bizarre in its lack of relevance. The only thing that made me glad to read it was a superb essay by Sondra Solovay. “I cannot talk about fat politics without exploring race, sex, and other forms of discrimination…” she begins, before slaying with a completely on-point look at intersectionality and fat politics. I’ve made copies of this essay: the rest of the book will be swiftly donated.
The Woman In Cabin 10
Ruth Ware
Rating: **
I loved Ruth Ware's debut, In A Dark, Dark Wood, so had high hopes for The Woman In Cabin 10*. Unfortunately those high hopes weren't really met. Travel journalist Lo, traumatised by a violent break-in at home, leaps at the chance of reporting on the launch of a luxurious Scandinavian cruise. Stuck on the ship, with the wifi down ("teething problems"), the scene is set for a classic murder mystery. Sadly, despite the promising set-up, it all gets a bit overwrought and hysterical. Hinting at mental illness - a mention of past trauma here, a glimpse of medication there - has become a convenient short-cut to make your narrator both unreliable to the reader and to other characters, hence ramping up the tension as people refuse to believe what they say. Or so the theory goes, I suppose. Instead it comes across as lazy writing, and ableist to boot.

13 Minutes
Sarah Pinborough
Rating: ***½ 
13 Minutes* is an above-average psychological thriller for a YA audience which reminded me of Megan Abbott's books, if Abbott was from Lancashire instead of the USA. When Tasha, the most popular girl at school, is pulled from an icy river and revived, it begins a chain of events that lead to tragedy. Told through multiple first person narration - mainly Becca, Tasha's one-time best friend - but also Tasha herself, transcripts of counselling sessions, text messages and diary excerpts, the book slowly reveals its secrets, before pulling a bait-and-switch on the reader just when you think you have it all figured out.

The Fire Child
S K Tremayne
Rating: *
Warning, this review contains spoilers because this book is so bad I want to save you all from having to read it. As I said above in my review of The Woman In Cabin 10, I am seriously tired of lazy "is she mad/is it real?" plotting in psychological thrillers, and The Fire Childhas this in spades. The plot is ludicrous: woman is swept off her feet by a rich widow, marries him weeks later and is whisked to his palatial but past-its-best family home in an isolated valley in Cornwall. So far, so Du Maurier. Unfortunately, Tremayne is very much in the "tell, don't show" school of writing, so we are told that Rachel finds the house sinister, but not shown why that should be so. We're also told that she loves the house passionately (after a few weeks?) but again, not shown why. She constantly bangs on about wanting to 'heal' Jamie, her new stepson, but we're not shown any attempt from her to do so, apart from an ill-advised visit to a psychologist. As for her husband, events escalate ridiculously quickly - there's no sense of creeping menace, just BAM, he's a bad guy because we're told he is. All this and some shitty, lazy writing about poor areas of London (Rachel has 'escaped' from a 'terrible upbringing' being working class. It later transpires that some of it was pretty terrible, but the character talking about the escape doesn't know this at the time, it's literally just terrible because people wear high-vis vests and drink cheap larger). Truly, one of the worst books I've read in a while.

* These books were kindly provided by the publishers via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 4 July 2016

The Buyer's Archive: June

Since February last year I've been keeping a record of all my clothing purchases in an effort to track what works and what doesn't and - in theory - cut down on my spending.

In June 2015 I spent a grand total of £39.98 on three things: a pair of sunglasses (worn constantly), a pair of chunky wooden-soled sandals (LOVE them but haven't worn them yet this summer) and a pair of polka dot shorts, which ended up in a charity bag unworn. What did June 2016 have in store (no pun intended) for me? I'll tell you one thing, I bought a lot more than just three items.

Cat t-shirt, H&M £7.99 (not online)
LOOK at this t-shirt. It's amazing, right? The sad little cat looks so much like our new cat that I can't bear it. Unfortunately Missy had a huge freak-out when she saw this hanging on the wardrobe door, so I'm not sure whether I'll ever be able to wear it!

Polka dot skirt, C&A 7
It's a jersey skater skirt with polka dots, and it cost about £6. Of course I needed to buy it when we were in Nijmegen. Also, I love that C&A still exists in the Netherlands.

Fjallraven Kanken backpack, via eBay £40  
Because apparently I'm a total hipster cliche. I've had my eye on the Kanken bag for a while so when I saw this one going for a steal on eBay, I jumped into the auction at the last moment and nabbed it. Of course, the moment I did so I decided I'd rather have the yellow one. Typical.

Striped t-shirt, H&M £5 (not online)
I'd tried this on and rejected it when it was full price, but at £5 in the sale I can forgive its imperfections (mostly to do with weird shoulders).

Pleated skirt, Sue Ryder Vintage £9
I bought this on what feels like the last sunny day we had, when I popped up to Nottingham to meet Becky and Laura. Turquoise is my favourite summer colour and, if we ever get some nice weather again, I'll team it with a black t-shirt and the wooden sandals I bought last June.

Polka dot high-waist bikini bottoms, Yours £12
The matching bikini top to fit terribly - both too big and too small at the same time, which I wouldn't have thought possible until I put it on. But I adored these bikini bottoms, which I knew would make up half of the fatkini of my dreams, so I began a search for a plain black bikini top...

Black bikini top, Debenhams £26.50
Not willing to pay the ridiculous amounts charged for Bravissimo bikini tops, I took a punt on one from Debenhams. They only go up to a G cup, which is quite a few sizes smaller than my own bra size, but in a bikini that matters a lot less and this, from their own-brand range, fits perfectly well for its purpose; lounging by the pool with a book in one hand and a drink in the other.

T-bar shoes (not pictured), ASOS £14 with 30% discount code & Organic cotton striped top (not pictured), La Redoute £10.50
I forgot about both of these when taking pictures - oops. The shoes are exactly what I've been looking for (wish they did them in black, too, though) and the top... well, it's yet another long sleeved stripey top. You've seen plenty of them in Buyer's Archives!

All of which comes to a total of £131.99 for nine items. Not terrible, but not great either. However, with the exception of the pleated skirt (which so far has proven far too summery for our shitty June weather), they're all items I know I will get a ton of wear out of.

Check out the #buyersarchive hashtag on Twitter/Instagram to see posts from everyone taking part, which usually includes Elise (of course), HazelKezzieDonnaLucy and Charlotte.