Tag Archives: review

Family Film Time – October 2017

Every week we have enforced family film watching time. Its partly to try and have a couple of hours down time, partly to be able to share our love of film with our kids, partly to have a tradition we hopefully will continue in the future. We take turns to pick. The participants are currently 39, 38, 7 and 4.

I’ve got a bit behind with these!

Mr Bean’s Holiday

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I’ve learnt from this that for Mr Bean to work, your children need to know who he is. Otherwise they just think he’s a very strange man, doing odd things, and they don’t understand what the hell is going on. I think having been exposed to Mr Bean in TV format, is essential to ‘get’ the film.

So what I’m saying is we didn’t even get to the end of it. My children were baffled and fed up with it.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip

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I missed this one. I am not too sad to be honest. Alvin and the Chipmunks are very annoying (I loved the cartoon when I was little though). The kids absolutely LOVED it. Of course they did.

Secret Life of Pets

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This is a really nice film. It’s not annoying for the adults watching.

The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep

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Honestly, this film looked quite sweet. I fell asleep for most of it though. Oops.

Wayne’s World

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Yes, we let our small children watch Wayne’s World. The language is inappropriate. Some of the jokes are inappropriate. But now my children say things like “Yes way!” in response to “No way!”, so totally worth it.

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Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

Rebecca Skloot has written a triumphant book about Henrietta Lacks and her immortal cells that have revolutionised cell biology. Skloot has turned the scientific story of an exceptional cell line into a deeply human story about family, loss, and understanding.

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In case you don’t know the story of these amazing HeLa cells, from the back of the book:

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists knew her as HeLa. Born a poor, black tobacco farmer, her cancer cells – taken without her knowledge – became a multimillion-dollar industry and one of the most important tools in medicine. Yet Henrietta’s family did not learn of her ‘immortality’ until more than 20 years after her death, with devastating consequences… Balancing the beauty and drama of scientific discovery with dark questions about who owns the stuff our bodies are made of, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is an extraordinary detective story in search of the soul and story of a real woman, whose cells live on today in all four corners of the world.

Henrietta died in 1951, and it wasn’t until the 1970s that her family became aware of the HeLa cell line. They then spent over 20 years without any real understanding of what it meant for their mothers cells to be essential for medical testing. They heard stories about them being cloned, sent to space, blown up in atom bombs, mixed with animal DNA, all sorts of things. None of them understood the science, and they imagined all sorts of horrific scenarios. The family were also aware that some people had made an awful lot of money by selling these cells from their mother.

“… If our mother so important to science, why can’t we get health insurance?”

Lawrence Lacks, Henrietta’s son.

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lunchtime reading!

Eventually, Skloot wins the trust of the Lacks family, particularly Deborah Lacks, Henrietta’s daughter. This is in the early 2000s. It’s not an easy trust to win, but eventually Deborah begins to join Skloot on research visits, and they begin to uncover the truth about what happened to Henrietta Lacks. The chapters where Deborah, and her brother Zakariyya, go to meet a researcher and see their mother’s cells under the microscope for the first time is incredibly moving.

Deborah then goes with Skloot to the institution her sister lived and died in and finds they have her autopsy records and a photograph of her. This is part of the human story of the Lacks family, and is connected to the HeLa cell story because Deborah may have known more about her sister if her mother hadn’t died so young. It’s so real the pain and suffering Deborah has been through. It’s completely heartbreaking. She has had to grow up without a mother, as well as trying to understand what happened to her mother after her death, and then discovering information about her sister, is incredible.

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prosecco and campari to help with evening reading. 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks manages to be a fantastic introduction to the very basics of cell biology and how research is carried out on cells. It’s a wonderful story of scientific discovery and advancement. It is equally a moving story of family and loss. Thirdly it deals with medical ethics – the ethics of cells being taken from patients without any consent, the fact that people have made millions from the cells while the family have stayed very, very poor, and the fact that this is a story of a white, male establishment taking advantage of a poor, black woman.

Lawrence fell back in his chair and stared into his lap, his smile collapsing. After a long quiet moment, he turned and looked into my eyes.

“Can you tell me what my mama’s cells really did?” he whispered. “I know they did something important, but nobody tells us nothing.”

When I asked if he knew what a cell was, he stared at his feet as if I’d called on him in class and he hadn’t done his homework.

“Kinda,” he said. “Not really.”

I have barely any knowledge of biology (physics is my specialist science knowledge topic!) and I found this book fascinating. Just learning about the impact Henrietta’s cells have had on the world would be a brilliant story – it’s just made even better by all the other aspects. I would really highly recommend it. I can’t wait to try and track down the TV movie made of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks earlier this year – staring Oprah and Rose Byrne!

Ten Books I’m Thankful For

I’ve seen a few bloggers take part in this – it is part of The Broke and The Bookish’s top ten tuesdays. The theme is due to it being thanksgiving in the states. There’s a lot more non-fiction in this list than I was expecting before I starting trying to write it.

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Matilda – Roald Dahl. I loved this book when I was a child (along with most other Roald Dahl books). Matilda taught me that reading books is ace and there can be power in thinking and using your brain. I was also a massive library fan so I loved Matilda’s use of the library!

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In Search Of Schrodingers Cat – John Gribbin. This one made me certain I wanted to pursue physics for my degree. Along with A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking, and many other popular physics books – I couldn’t read enough of them when I was a teenager.  I don’t read so many now, but still love them when I do (I can’t even remember the last one I read, but I have 5 or 6 on my shelves waiting to be picked up!)

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Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernieres. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but this novel is the first time I read a book and just wept through the last few pages. It blew my mind to realise a book could emotionally move me like this. I was about 19 when I read it! I’d always been a big reader, but just hadn’t read the right stuff apparently.

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The Demon-Haunted World – Carl Sagan. Here Sagan sets out why more people learning about the scientific method would be better for humanity. People would be better equipped to protect themselves from pseudoscience and fraudsters. I love it and would still recommend everyone buys a copy for a teenager they know, or just anyone who hasn’t read it!

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Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman – Richard Feynman. This collection of stories about Feynman’s life is full of fun and physics. Feynman is a curious man and his zest for life comes across in every story. It challenged the stereotype of the quiet geek physicist for me.

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The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck. Another story that I will never forget – especially the incredible final scene. I was so moved by that, and equally shocked. This novel is a moving portrait of human suffering.

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The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins. I’ve always been an atheist as an adult, but The God Delusion really cemented a lot of my ideas. I don’t always agree with Dawkins – especially not in recent years with some of the bobbins he comes out with, especially on twitter. but I adored reading The God Delusion.

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Riders – Jilly Cooper. This book is in here because I’ve found that knowledge of Rupert Campbell-Black and co. is a helpful female bonding experience. This saucy tale is also a great read. I’ve read the whole series. and would quite like to know other authors who write a good story with some rude bits. *rubs thighs* 😀

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Delusions of Gender – Cordelia Fine (review and review!). I picked this up because I wanted to understand more about how I could help the girls I teach have more confidence with their physics and maths ability. As well as helping me with this, it also told me so much about myself. Particularly the description of girls who like maths and science, and how often they reject traditional female stereotype characteristics. It’s much more complex than I can suggest in one sentence, but essentially I read loads of it mouth agape reading about myself. My daughter was also a toddler when I read Delusions of Gender, and there is a whole section on gender and children. Living with my pink princess walking stereotype it really helped me. I am not a pink princess type of person (huge understatement) and I really have struggled to have a daughter who is girly to the extreme. I loved every minute of reading Delusions.

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I could easily link reading Delusions of Gender with a sort of feminist reawakening I’ve had in the last few years. I could also have put How to be a Woman – Caitlin Moran – accessible, funny feminism, or Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me (review). All brilliant books that I wish I could remember word for word to recite to people.

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Hope In The Dark – Rebecca Solnit (review). I’ve chosen this Solnit book because I feel like this one has educated me about activism. It’s a beautiful book that sets out hope as being essential. It details how small acts of activism have inspired huge political, environmental, and social changes.

It was nice looking back at books that have really meant a lot to me over the years. Let’s hear yours!

 

Prudence and the Crow September 2017

I got my first book from Prudence and the Crow in September. I was looking for an affordable, monthly book surprise in the post, and after looking at lots of options decided on Prudence and the Crow. They have a great name. You get a book chosen for you. You get some little bookish treats. The book is secondhand and this is probably what makes it more affordable. It costs £15 a month.

I had stated when I signed up that I would like to read more BAME authors and I quite like sci-fi, and I ended up with My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due. I can’t wait to read it (though I know it probably won’t be for a while!). I also got this lovely book sleeve – a great bonus because I keep thinking I need something to help keep my books from getting damaged in my bag.

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As well as the book and the fabric sleeve, there were some sweets, teabags, postcards, labels, and a few other bits too.

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The packaging was nice too, though the fragile sticker didn’t seem to have been taken notice of, and the packaging was a bit battered when it arrived – but everything inside was fine.

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I’m expecting my October post any time soon. Hopefully I’ll be just as happy with this one. 🙂

 

 

Book Review: Queen of Spades – Michael Shou-Yung Shum

I received a pre-release copy of Queen of Spades from Netgalley. It’s a reworking of Pushkin’s The Queen of Spades – a book I also didn’t know anything about. So after reading this I have got a copy of the Pushkin version to read so I can compare the two.

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Queen of Spades is a book with a slightly, magical-leaning look at gambling. It’s set in a pacific north west USA town (Twilight country in my mind), in a casino called The Royal. We focus on a dealer called Arturo Chang and his obsession with a mysterious Countess who comes to the Royal every night to watch the high stakes game Faro. She rarely gambles, though does occasionally, and no one can figure out her system.

I’m not a gambler, I don’t go to casinos and I don’t know the rules of these games. Queen of Spades doesn’t require any of this knowledge and it doesn’t get bogged down with the games. We learn early on that there is one legendary game of Faro played at the Royal, and we are building up to this game and its consequences.

You get to know a whole cast of characters who are all associated with The Royal and it’s a really enjoyable read. There’s a dealer with a gambling problem, his ex-wife who attends a support group for gamblers, his bookie and his bookie’s goons – who really just want to open a salon and gym! It’s nice to read something about such different characters to the ones I normally read about.

I enjoyed reading Queen of Spades and recommend it of you want an interesting look into a world of gamblers.

Rebellion Punk Festival, Blackpool, 2017

This year was the first time I’d attended Rebellion Punk Festival in quite a number of years. I attended every one of the first 10 festivals. It’s had a number of name changes over the years: Holidays In The Sun, and Wasted. It’s also changed places between Blackpool and Morecambe several times. I was 16 at the first one in 1996. Since then I’ve been to a few, but I haven’t been for about 8 years or so, until this year. I’ve fancied going back for a few years, and the addition of Slaves to the line up is what really convinced me this was the right year.

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I approached it with caution because there’s a huge danger that this sort of festival is nothing more than a nostalgia fest with bands playing a set they perfected in 1978 and haven’t changed a note of since. That’s clearly quite unfair of me… but it’s not far wrong for some bands. And this is fine, if you want the nostalgia hit, the few days journey back to your youth. You can definitely get that experience here. With 5 stages , 4 full days of gigs, and most bands getting from 20 – 40 minutes a set, there’s a LOT of music to be heard. If you want your rebellion to be shouty, white, bald men in their 50s, you can probably get through the weekend seeing nothing but this. This is what I very much want to avoid. If that’s your thing – go enjoy, and have a great time!

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Shouty, feminist, hardcore punk from Petrol Girls. Brilliant. Note sequin shorts.

 

So, I approached Rebellion with caution. And when I say caution, I mean with extreme levels of preparation that involved highlighters and codes. I prepared well and consequently had a Rebellion festival full of diverse, new, exciting bands. Bands full of women too. It was great!

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Poly-esters. A great group from Blackpool.

So what did I do? Firstly I made a spotify playlist with every band I could find that were playing the festival. A few issues:

  • some I couldn’t find on spotify at all (lots of quite small bands on the introducing stage),
  • some have a common band name and I couldn’t identify the correct band. Bands: name yourselves to avoid this! it’s really frustrating to want to listen to you but being unable to because of your common name.
  • some I just got wrong – seemed clear when I suddenly got rap or dance music.
    I listened to this for a few weeks and identified some must-see bands that I liked the sound of.
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Some morris dancers enjoying the sunshine.

I then looked up every band to just have a look at them, make sure I’d go the correct band and make sure they were on my playlist. I was looking for bands I liked the sound of, and I was also looking for any female musicians (I’d covered female singers in my first  listen through the playlist). I was also looking for any BAME musicians. Is this weird? No, it’s really not. I love punk, but punk is so very white and male. I want to support women and BAME artists. I want to make sure I’m there giving them more of a crowd, loving what I hear, and helping them progress higher up the billing so more people hear them. (I’ve looked at my sexist listening habits before – here, have a look.)

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Youth Man

When you do an analysis like this it’s quite shocking how most women in bands are billed in the first half of the day i.e. not headliners. And the number of BAME artists is embarrassing. Or it should be embarrassing, but you get the feeling a lot of people don’t think about it or don’t care.

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A pathological level of planning.  Don’t worry, I put the graveyard picture on facebook 😉

Now based on my knowledge about the bands and having listened to as many as I could, I identified bands I had to see, and ones I wouldn’t mind seeing. Because of my criteria a lot of the bands I wanted to see were on early afternoon, which is also great because you see loads of awesome bands, then can relax a bit and have a bit of a party without having to be Schedule Girl (yes, I mean you can have a few drinks). This may, or may not, be evidenced here:

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Me and Caz. I’m trying to get my eye make up in the photo.

What was the result? My Rebellion was all about Girls and Glitter and Sequins and (most importantly) new and diverse, brilliant music. I’m going to highlight a few stand out acts.

The Tuts are a fun, political, intelligent, poppy punk band. I adored watching them really early on the first day. Their lead singer was wearing what looked like a sequined ice dancers costume. The drummer had a fluffy pink outfit. Frankly punk rock could do with more sequined clothes and fluffy outfits.

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The Tuts. Fantastic and great of you like your punk with added pop!

Petrol Girls were another band I was very much looking forward to. I first heard about them when I was reading Nasty Women by 404Ink (link to review). Ren Aldridge, the singer from Petrol Girls writes one of the essays – one of my favourites – about gendered violence in punk. Loved them. They are shouty, feminist, political, activists, and sound great. You will get a bit of a talking to in between songs about important issues, and I love them even more for this. To take their platform and use it as they want. Excellent!

Youth Man remind me a bit of Death From Above 1979. They are probably the least stereotypical punk band I have seen at the festival and they were noisy and brilliant.

Slaves were spectacular. I heard a lot of people grumbling and worrying about Slaves headlining in the Friday night spot. There was much concern about there only being two of them. How will they ‘fill the stage’? With their energetic awesomeness of course! I told everyone they should put their worries aside and go and see them, though I was secretly hoping that everyone would give it a miss and I would have them all to myself… I think the real issue for a lot of people was that Slaves are relatively unknown in the world of punk, and that caused unease. The next day I spoke to so many of these worriers who were blown away by Slaves set. Epic.

I enjoyed the Blink-182 like pop punk of Fat Randall, who had travelled from Dubai. Scumbrians on the introducing stage delivered an energetic blast of hardcore punk to a packed room. Also on the Introducing Stage were Pizza Tramp. I mean, I’m sold on the name already. They were funny AND good, and so blinking fast. The room was full and I was glad I bought a tshirt before their set because the merch stand was heaving afterwards. They did one song five times. Five times, but it was ok because it lasted about thirty seconds.

Final shout out to Screech Bats. I saw some of their set and they win the award for Band I Most Want To Be In. They were all dressed in black, with tattoos, amazing make up, and they were just so punk rock glamorous.

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Slaves did not disappoint.

I missed a lot of bands I would quite like to have seen – this is the nature of having fun at a festival! I was gutted to miss The Kenneths. They were on super early one day and I just didn’t realise how early until it was too late.

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Lovely Blackpool. May have forgotten to mention it’s my home town!

I had a lovely time at Rebellion. It landed just after I’d had a huge bereavement and so I was very worried I wouldn’t get through the whole weekend. I was prepared to leave if I needed to (and I did miss the Sunday evening) but actually it was a welcome escape from the general state of my head at that time. I would definitely recommend a visit if you like the genre, and if you just want a big nostalgia experience then you can do that too, there’s a Rebellion Festival for everyone!

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Frankly rocking my Sleaford Mods tshirt. They would make a great headliner for next year Rebellion! I’m so punk rock with my tomato and avocado toast in a lovely cafe: Shaw’s on Clifton St. Best cafe in Blackpool that I’ve ever been to!

 

Full list of bands I saw:

  • The Soap Girls
  • The Tuts
  • Army of Skanks
  • Pears
  • Revolt-chix
  • Evil Blizzard
  • The Jellycats
  • Rubella Ballet
  • Teenage Bottlerocket
  • The Pukes
  • Poly-esters
  • Brains All Gone
  • Screech Bats
  • The Featherz
  • Youth Man
  • Petrol Girls
  • Fat Randall
  • Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes
  • Real McKenzies
  • Slaves
  • Radical Dance Faction
  • Citizen Fish
  • Anger Flares
  • Duncan Reid and the Big Heads
  • Scream
  • Angelic Upstarts
  • Jordan (interview)
  • Buzzbomb
  • Headstone Horrors
  • Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies
  • The Franklys
  • Scumbrians
  • Band For Disease Control and Prevention
  • Pizzatramp
  • The Creepshow

 

 

 

The Mid Year Freak Out! Tag

I haven’t been tagged by anyone to answer these questions. I have just seen the tag and liked the idea of summing up my reading for this year with these questions 😀
So far this year I have read 42 books – way above my target, and around double what I have managed for the last few years, each year. I’ve managed this by just fitting in a bit of reading where I can: waiting for the kettle to boil, 20 mins in the morning, a bit at lunchtime etc. and I’ve been watching less TV! Not none… I’ve had to watch American Gods and The Handmaid’s Tale, and University Challenge and Only Connect obvs. 

1. BEST BOOK YOU’VE READ SO FAR IN 2017?

Impossible to pick one, and difficult to narrow it down because I’ve really enjoyed a lot of books I’ve read this year. The top ones have to be the ones I gave 5*s to. You might not believe it, but I’m quite stingy with my 5*s!!! (click through for reviews):

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2. BEST SEQUEL OF 2017 SO FAR?

I’ve not strictly read anything that’s a sequel so far this year. I’ve been meaning to read Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword for a while after reading Ancillary Justice a few years ago. I’m going to have to pick John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in from The Cold. I’m on a (very slow) mission to read all of Le Carre’s books. So that’s book 3 done… in 4 years. Might need to get a few more out of the way soon!

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3. NEW RELEASE YOU HAVEN’T READ YET, BUT WANT TO?

Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ I’ve had my eye on this all year but haven’t got a copy yet.

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Out of the books I own, that I haven’t read yet, that are also quite new, these are the ones I most want to try but haven’t got round to yet:

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4. MOST ANTICIPATED RELEASE OF THE SECOND HALF OF 2017?

One book I’m looking forward to is The Book Of Joan – Lidia Yuknavitch although I don’t think it’s out in the UK until 2018? It’s been described as:

a genre-defying masterpiece that may very well rewire your brain

See? sounds awesome!

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Also, The Mother of All Questions – Rebecca Solnit, a follow up collection of essays, on feminism, to Me Explain Things To Me. 

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5. BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT?

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor. Click through to the review if you must! I much prefer liking books!

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6. BIGGEST SURPRISE?

Frankenstein – Mary Shelly. I really enjoyed it, and I didn’t mention it in my review, but reading a bit about Mary Shelly herself was fascinating.  I really want to read Romantic Outlaws – Charlotte Gordon now too – especially after a friend also recommended it to me a while before I  read Frankenstein. It’s about Mary Shelly and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft.

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7. FAVORITE NEW AUTHOR (DEBUT OR NEW TO YOU) ?

I’m going to choose Celeste Ng and Lauren Berry. Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You is just beautifully written and I can’t wait for her next book Little Fires Everywhere. Lauren Berry’s Living The Dream was hilarious and one of the funniest, most relatable books I’ve read in ages.

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8. NEWEST FICTIONAL CRUSH?

Hmmmm might have to be Shadow Moon from American Gods, probably more influenced by the TV show than the book!

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He’s no Rupert Campbell-Black or Richard Sharpe though, obvs.

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9. NEWEST FAVOURITE CHARACTER?

I’m going with Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith. She’s a strong and determined character and she grows into a kind and thoughtful woman over the course of the novel. Also, she loves books.

10. BOOK THAT MADE YOU CRY?

Without doubt this award has to go to Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. I sobbed through the last 20 pages and wasn’t much better at various other stages of the book. There was something about the main character having my name, probably being around my age, and being unable to get on with a career as a scientist… also trying to make sure your female children aren’t held back by societal sexism, while trying to not damage them and also not ignoring your other kids! Such a good book.

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Runner up for this has to be Beloved – Toni Morrison. Such a beautiful, moving book.

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11. BOOK THAT MADE YOU HAPPY?

I’m not sure about any of them making me particularly happy, but plenty made me laugh.

I’ve read two of David Sedaris’ novels this year: Me Talk Pretty One Day, and Holidays On Ice. He can be completely hilarious. One part of Me Talk Pretty One Day had me uncontrollably laughing.

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Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut made me smile a lot. And Bel Canto by Ann Patchett was the novel that made me feel the  happiest, I guess.

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12. FAVOURITE BOOK TO MOVIE ADAPTATION YOU’VE SEEN THIS YEAR?

 

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13. FAVOURITE REVIEW YOU’VE WRITTEN THIS YEAR?

I’m going with Men Explain Things to Me – Rebecca Solnit. I loved the book, I loved the artwork in it by Ana Teresa Fernandez – some of which I included in the review, and I loved using this gif:

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14. MOST BEAUTIFUL BOOK YOU BOUGHT OR RECEIVED SO FAR THIS YEAR

I’ll just put these beauties here with a gorgeous peony.

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15. WHAT BOOKS DO YOU NEED TO READ BY THE END OF THE YEAR?

So many… here’s a shortlist:

and I have started, but need to finish:

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If you want to do this tag? Consider yourself tagged by me and just get on with it!

Let me know your answers to these questions in the comments or leave me a link to your post.

Thanks for reading!