Book Reviews | June 2017

As some of you may know, I’m currently doing a reading challenge to read 40 books in a year, after falling way short of my 52 books target last year. To be honest this year is going pretty abysmally too – at the halfway point of the year I’ve read 14 books, about 6 behind schedule, so I have some catching up to do if I’m going to make it to 40 by the end of the year.

In the meantime, this is my 6-month mark review of the best books I’ve read in the last three months (yes I know it’s a bit late – I’ve been busy!). And what I have lacked in quantity, I have certainly made up for in quality…

The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro

The Buried Giant was not what I expected at all, even though I’m not sure what I was expecting. Set in a mythical version of medieval England, the novel reads very much like a fairytale, full of knights and dragons and humble underdogs determined to fulfil a quest. But underneath the hero tale is a beautiful allegory about memory – about whether we would be best off without or worst memories, or whether losing them would diminish our sense of self. Like Never Let Me Go it’s slow moving at times but beautifully written, and I’m still not sure what to think of the ending. If you have any opinions on it, let me know.

The Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides

The tone of this book puts me in mind of The Catcher in the Rye – even though the subject of the title are the five Lisbon sisters, the book is really about the group of men recalling their teen years who provide the plural narration of the novel. The boys are painfully predictable, romanticising the sisters as mysterious, ethereal beings who they lust after from a distance. Through the novel they seem to be wrestling with the mystery of why the sisters killed themselves, but the conclusion I took is that the reasons are as complicated as the girls themselves, who the boys never took the time to know.

On the Road – Jack Kerouac

I re-read this book literally on the road, flying along Cuban highways in dilapidated retro cars squashed in next to strangers who just happened to be going the same way. I’ve always found On The Road strangely therapeutic; it’s fast-paced, rambling, nonsensical at times, and yet like most Beat literature it is these very qualities that make reading it kind of magical. The characters might be irresponsible, self-indulgent narcissists, but at its core this book captures what it’s like to be young and disillusioned and directionless, and to throw yourself into life regardless.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernières

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin has been one of my favourite books ever since I read it for my A-Levels and fell completely in love with it. I hate the blurb of my copy as it undersells the book as some soppy, clichéd story of star-crossed lovers that you’ve heard a million times before, whereas in reality it is so much more. Corelli and Pelagia’s romance is intertwined with the atrocities of the Second World War, hilariously quick-witted jibes at the political figures of the time, and Carlo, one of the most beautifully tragic characters you will ever come across. Seriously, his character introduction is one of the most moving pieces of prose ever written.

The Coma – Alex Garland

I picked this novel by Alex Garland up cheap on Amazon, a couple of years after reading The Beach and loving it. The Coma by comparison is a short story, but packs a lot in to what becomes a seriously trippy novel. The novel begins with the protagonist getting attacked on the tube and beaten into a coma, and we spend the rest of the story following him around his consciousness as he tries to wake up, only ever half-sure if what we are reading is reality or imagination.

Oh, and a little-known fact? The ‘random words’ he screams in his head aren’t really random. Read the first letters of each word…

What have you been reading recently? Let me know in the comments, and follow me on Goodreads.

Leeds Gin Festival 2017

A Night at Leeds Gin Festival

Those who know me will know that gin is my go-to drink of choice, and that over time I’ve become a bit of a gin snob. I love trying new brands and going to tastings, so when Gin Festival came to Leeds it was basically my ideal night out.

The festival brings together over 100 gins across four bars in one venue, with some brands attending in person to do masterclasses and free tasters, so it’s a fantastic opportunity to try out some top quality gins that you won’t stumble across in your average pub. I’ve found some of my favourite gin brands at events like this and Gin Festival was no different! I have a preference for light, fruity gins so if you have a similar palate, this is what I recommend you try. Continue reading

Leeds Dock

Leeds Diary Dates: July 2017

Can someone tell me how we’re halfway through the year already? It feels unacceptable that it’s July, especially as the weather recently has been distinctly un-summery. Instead of breezing around in floaty dresses, I’ve spent the last fortnight cowering from the rain under my slightly broken umbrella that is way too frail to cope with the winds around Granary Wharf.

That’s not to say there haven’t been some bright moments in June – I attended a fab rum event at Call Lane Social for Leeds Loves Cocktails, tried out the spectacular brunch at Ham & Friends, and went to The Botanist this week to taste a few highlights from their new summer menu. The best day of the month was watching one of my oldest friends get married – the venue was amazing, my friend looked the happiest I’ve ever seen her, and everyone spent a large portion of the day sat outside in the hot sunshine getting slowly drunk. It was perfect.

So what’s coming up in July? It’s actually looking like a fairly quiet month in terms of stuff I want to go to, which actually suits me just fine as I have a new job and a weekend in London to keep me entertained. Here are a few things I’d like to show my face at… Continue reading

Statue in Plaza del Carmen, Camaguey, Cuba

3 Ridiculous Stories From Travelling As a Woman in Cuba

I’ve always been fairly lucky as a a female traveller. I’ve rarely encountered hostility or harassment as a result of being a woman with the audacity to travel without a male chaperone, and while women shouldn’t have to feel grateful for being left alone to go about their business…that’s not the world we live in. So I have always appreciated my good fortune.

But in Cuba, things were a little different. For a start, there was the catcalling. This happened to varying degrees depending on which city we were in, but at its worst it seemed that every corner we turned there was a new shout, and we hated feeling forced to look at the ground, to pull our jackets across our chests and make ourselves smaller. But there were also the more subtle things – the men in bars who would not take a hint, the unsolicited advice, the slightly incredulous “So it’s just the two of you?” comments. It wasn’t the majority by a long shot, but more so than anywhere else I’ve been I encountered men (‘not all men!’) who just didn’t seem to want to believe that two adult women could travel around without any help. For the first time in my life, I felt like travelling was a feminist act.

If you’re still not convinced, let me tell you a few little stories about my experience as a woman backpacking in Cuba. Cringes guaranteed. Continue reading

Tapas at Ambiente, Leeds

6 Leeds Restaurants I Always Go Back To

When you live somewhere for a while, even a big city with countless culinary options, you find yourself wandering back to the same places for your dinners, your morning coffees and your after-work drinks. Sometimes I feel guilty for doing it, like I’m being incredibly dull and unimaginative returning to the same restaurants when there are currently new places popping up in Leeds almost every week. Surely I should be trying to get reservations for that launch night, or clamouring to be the first person in the new bar everyone’s talking about?

But there are some places that deserve repeat custom. When you’re in a rush, stressed from a long day or nervously heading out for a promising date, there’s something undeniably comforting about sitting down and knowing that, whatever else happens, you’re going to get a great meal. Here are the restaurants in Leeds I go back to again and again. Continue reading

Convent of St Francis of Assisi in Trinidad, Cuba

Two Weeks in Cuba: The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful

Way back in April, I jetted off to Cuba for a two-week adventure around a country that has been on my bucket list for years. With no solid plans in place beyond three nights of accommodation in Havana, one of my best travel buddies and I improvised our way around Cuba with no internet for a whole fortnight, staying in casa particulares arranged by our host in Havana and car sharing between towns in ancient collectivos (if you don’t know what either of those terms mean, check out my know-before-you-go guide to Cuba). Once we’d subtracted flying time we had thirteen full days to see as much as we could – this is how we chose to spend our time.

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Leeds Diary Dates: June 2017

Right now I’m sat in bed with a mug of tea and my book, enjoying a relaxed bank holiday Monday. It’s been a quiet but beneficial bank holiday, spending time with friends in the sun and catching up on some much needed sleep, and though I’m not looking forward to going back to work I at least feel equipped to deal with it.

So what’s on the cards for June? Well, I’m trying to organise myself a little solo getaway for summer, even if it’s just a few days off for a city break, and I’ve got an exciting but terrifying work project to tackle at work. In my free time I’ve got some great events to distract my brain with – here’s where I plan to be this month…

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