Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Ways to use Amazon less this Christmas!

I have made a pledge this Christmas to NOT order anything from Amazon.

I know what you're saying...


I thought that too. Over the years, I have relied heavily on Amazon to provide me with presents for friends and family over various Christmastimes and birthdays. But I wanted to try to use the site less - you know, because of the whole not-paying-their-taxes and poor-working-conditions thing. 

I have bought around half of my Christmas presents, and have not used Amazon for a single purchase. How did I do that? Well, here are my tips for an Amazon-free Christmas:

1. Use your local high street 

Our high streets are dying, and we are the only ones who can save them. There are brilliant cheap stores such as Home Bargains, B&M, Primark, H&M, New Look, and so many more which stock some brilliant items for Christmas gifts. You don't have to go to the expensive stores when you go to the high street! Pick a few cheap stores and have a look around before considering buying the same things from Amazon... you'll be surprised how much you can get.

Here is a video from The Geordie Grandma showing you how to fill a stocking on a budget:

2. Support smaller companies

I'm guilty of wanting to buy big brands for myself and other people. One of the biggest appeals of Amazon is that you can get brand name items, like technology and clothes, for a cheaper price tag. However, by pledging to support even just one smaller company or creator, you can do a lot of good!

This year, I'm supporting a great vlogger and teen mum Mia Jeal by buying a piece of her merch. I've been watching her for a few months, and all of the money goes towards supporting her and her adorable baby Mabel. The £20 from her t-shirt means a lot more to her than £20 would to a massive company like Amazon.

3. Buy from and donate to charity shops

Charity shops are not just full of used items from someone's attic. Most charity chops nowadays have brand new items as well as lots of clothes and toys in great condition that other people have donated. There is a real mix of stuff, and you'll be amazed at how much you can pick up. Plus, the items will be a fraction of the price compared to Amazon!

Whilst you're at it, maybe think about donating a few items to one of your local shops, whether that be something you've had in your house collecting dust, or a brand new toy if you have a bit of money left in your budget. 

I hope you enjoyed this post! Even if you can't promise to completely forget about Amazon, buying a just a few things elsewhere can really make all the difference. 

Leave a comment if you're pledging to ditch Amazon this Christmas!

Thursday, 10 October 2019

My Year in Breakdowns

Around this time last year, I got my perfect job as a bookseller in Waterstones. I was fully aware that it was only a seasonal position, but I wasn't prepared for my reaction to being let go at the end of January. 

I have struggled with my mental health since I was a teenager, and have been on medication since I was 17. So, as you can imagine, I've had a few breakdowns before. 

This one was different.

I lost all sense of purpose in my life. I had graduated university a few months before, and after deciding to take a year out to work, I was left without any schedule or tasks to complete. I applied to multiple jobs, and all either rejected me or didn't reply at all. 

Then, something scarier happened.

My OCD evolved. 

My obsessions have always been easy to track. Work, school, the number 4, and a few other things. But suddenly, without any warning, my brain began to worry about my physical health.

I was convinced I was dying.

For anyone who has OCD, you will know what I mean when I say this thought consumed every waking moment of my day, to the point where I couldn't even bear to get dressed because I would be scared to look at my body in case I found something that shouldn't be there.

This, added on to my usual daily obsessions, destroyed my life.

The only thing I wanted to do was to pack a bag, get on a plane, and never come back. 


Seeing me struggle, my mum knew we needed to take action. I have had therapy on the NHS before - and though I adore our national health service - it was not a success. I had to wait 6 months or more even for a phone call assessment, and I knew I couldn't wait that long.

Then, my mum had an idea. She knew about this women's centre in our city that offers counselling, so I emailed them with my story. The next morning, they replied with an appointment for the next day, and after meeting my therapist she scheduled 12 weeks of sessions, and suggested since I was into writing that I join the women's creative writing group.

This women's centre changed my life.

Every week, I had a schedule! Creative writing on Wednesdays, and therapy on Thursdays. I was still applying to jobs, but slowly the interview offers starting coming in, and slowly the need I felt to run away and jump on a plane subsided. The women in the creative writing group were of all ages (from 30 to 80!) and even though I was the youngest, I felt so lucky to be there and listen to the lives of all those wonderful women. We even had a real lecturer from one of the city's universities teaching us. 

In this 12 weeks, I applied and got into my Masters degree, got a new job, wrote thousands of words, did my first public poetry reading, and made friends from all walks of life.

I still have bad days. I still wonder what if I had got on that plane? even just for a split second. 

But I don't want to run away anymore. I want to run towards all of the opportunities that I have been so grateful to receive. 

My mental illness does not control me. With the help of therapy, new medication, and my family, I am able to control my mental illness in a way I never thought possible at the start of the year. 

And you will be able to do the same. I promise. If you are struggling, reach out, because you never know who is there to help until you search for them. 

My name is Hannah, and I have anxiety, depression, and OCD. 

My name is Hannah, and I am a Masters student, writer, daughter, sister, and girlfriend.

I am not defined by my breakdowns. 

Sunday, 11 August 2019

REVIEW: ...And a Happy New Year? by Holly Bourne

Photograph by me

Title: ...And a Happy New Year?
Author: Holly Bourne
Publisher: Usborne
Release Date: 1st November 2016
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Page Count: 224
Original Language: English
Format Read: Hardcover
Other books in series: Yes! The Spinster Club series
Movie Adaptation: N/A

Buy: Here, Here

I read this book as part of my #14books14days #14daybookchallenge on Twitter.

Same bench. Same view. Same girls. and yet totally different girls...
Evie, Amber and Lottie are having a New Year party to remember.
10... 9... 8...
For the first time since leaving college, all three girls are back together. It's time for fun and flirting, snogs and shots.
7... 6... 5...
(And not tears or tantrums or terrible secrets.)
4... 3... 2... 1
Because everything's going great for these girls - Spinster Club forever! Right?

I freaking love Holly Bourne. She was amongst the first panel of authors I ever saw at an event, and her books mean a lot to me. I read her during my first year of university, which if anyone has been keeping up with the blog for a couple of years knows, it wasn't the greatest time of my life. 

The Spinster Club girls rock. I love their passion, their loyalty to one another, and their feminism. Feminism is tough to talk about, and even harder to write about, because there will always be someone in the back of the room who says stuff like "women have all of the rights now!" "why can't you just call it equality?" "stop being angry man-hating, bra-burning, frigid women!". 

Obviously, feminism is a lot more nuanced than this. But my point is, Holly Bourne writes about feminism brilliantly. She's one of the best in the business. 

I'll be completely honest with you. This book (which is number 3.5 of the Spinster Club series, marking it's end) is not my favourite of the lot. I love the Spinster Club, and I adore how Holly writes, but this one just wasn't for me. There was a lot of crying and arguing, which is pretty realistic to what goes on at teenage house parties where alcohol is involved, but the character development just wasn't there for me like it was in the other books.

Perhaps this particular book in the series just wasn't for me - like I say, I love the other books. Despite this, I found myself really enjoying it, and as always, Holly's writing keeps me on that emotional rollercoaster - which is exactly what a book is supposed to do. 

That rollercoaster is pretty fun. 

Don't let me put you off reading this book. I still gave it 4 stars on Goodreads! As with every book series, not everyone will like every single book. However, this doesn't stop you from loving the series as a whole, or loving the author. 

I will always love the Spinster Club!

Friday, 9 August 2019

REVIEW: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Photograph by me

Title: Persepolis
Author: Marjane Satrapi
Publisher: Vintage
Release Date: 6th March 2008
Genre: Graphic Novel / Memoir
Page Count: 343
Original Language: French
Format Read: Paperback
Other books in series: N/A
Movie Adaptation: Yes! 

Buy: Here, Here

I read this book as part of my #14books14days #14daybookchallenge on Twitter.

The intelligent and outspoken child of radical Marxists, and the great-grandfather of Iran's last emperor, Satrapi bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country. Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. 

This has been on my shelf for a LONG time. A few years ago I had a big graphic novel haul, and Persepolis was one of the novels I bought. Like all book bloggers, I have a huge 'to-be-read' pile, and so I decided to see if I could read this in a day.

Let's just say that it wasn't a difficult task. I absolutely devoured this book.

This was such an educational experience for me. I'm a white, British woman, so my history lessons in school were limited to Western wars. However, Satrapi documents her life during the Iran-Iraq war. Since a lot of my blog readers are around my age, and probably know as little about it all as I did before reading Persepolis, I thought I would break it down:

  • Iraq invaded Iran on the 22nd September 1980, in an attempt to replace Iran with a Persian Gulf state.
  • Iraq also wanted Iran's oil. This is a very important detail.
  • The US, Britain, France, Soviet Union, and most of the Arab countries supported Iraq.
  • There were also a lot of border disputes (Iranians needing Visas to leave the country for example, which were very rarely handed out).
  • There was devastation in Iran. Bombs, chemical weapons, and targeted attacks on civilians were just some of the tactics used by Iraq to annex Iran.
  • It is estimated that over 500,000 Iraqi and Iranian soldiers died, as well as many killed and injured civilians. 

This is the short version, but there is so much more to the story. What Marjane Satrapi does is invite the reader to come inside her childhood home, and not only see the reality and attitudes during this war, but the private reality and attitudes between herself and her family and friends. 

At age 14, Satrapi is sent by her parents to Austria to study. They let her go, away from the death and destruction and fear. 

However, away from the war, her life is still full of fear, destruction. This time, loneliness is added to the mix. 

This graphic novel is just incredible. The way she brings everything to life - the falling bombs, her mental health, the timeline of the war itself - I felt like I had to know what happened next. I needed to stay with her, until the very end. 

She discusses all of the taboos that Westerners take for granted too. From wearing a veil correctly to having sex with your partner before marriage, or even just walking with your partner down the street. 

As well as the raging war, there was a social war on women. The way all of this is revealed and goes hand-in-hand with each other is fascinating. 

There is no doubt in my mind that everyone reading this blog post should go and read Persepolis when you're done. Educate yourself, understand what your country did or didn't do in relation to the war, and read the stories of the Iranian people who had to live through it all.

You may get upset. You may get angry. You may get passionate. These are the responses you should have. Read this book, and hope that no one has to write an autobiography like this again. 

Thursday, 8 August 2019

REVIEW: Geography Club by Brent Hartinger

Photograph by me

Title: Geography Club
Author: Brent Hartinger
Publisher: Harper Tempest
Release Date: 1st March 2003
Genre: Teen Fiction
Page Count: 226
Original Language: English 
Format Read: Paperback
Other books in series: N/A
Movie Adaptation: Yes! 

Buy: Here, Here

I read this as part of my #14books14days #14daybookchallenge on Twitter.

Russel is still going on dates with girls, Kevin would do anything to prevent his teammates on the baseball team finding out. Min and Terese tell everyone they're just really good friends. But after a while, the truth's too hard to hide - at least from each other - so they for the "Geography Club". Nobody else will come. Why would they want to? Their secret should be safe.

I have already seen the movie adaptation of Geography Club, but it was a few years ago, and I came across the original book while searching for material for my university dissertation. So, I decided to take it off my shelf and try it.

I was not disappointed.

This is a book about LGBT teens, all from different cliques in high school. They find they're way to each other, and after an awkward conversation in a pizza place that turns into a magical one, they form the Geography Club. Of course, no actual geography is learned here. It is a cover-up for a safe place for them to meet and not be caught together.

This book is about way more than just gay teens hiding from straight teens. And strangely, the Geography Club is much more than a secret gays-only club. It is about life in high school. Actually, strip that back, and its about being a teenager. 

Its about how hiding who you are can impact other people's lives, and that sometimes you'll do anything to keep a secret... even hurting other people who are struggling.

Another theme in this book, which is really important, is bullying. Brian, the least popular guy in school, is subject to torture every single day by the jocks, who just happen to be friends of Kevin - Russel's secret boyfriend. The book lets us see how Russel deals with this situation, as he's caught between wanting to stop the bullying, but not wanting to upset Kevin.

I was completely blown away by the care and grace in which these serious topics are talked about and explored. Geography Club is about tough subjects, but the writing is also seriously funny and engaging. Sexuality, bullying, dating, friendship, and sex are written about freely, and in such a real way.

I highly recommend the book and the movie adaptation! 5 stars, obviously. 

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

REVIEW: We should all be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Photograph by me

Title: We Should all be Feminists
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publisher: 4th Estate 
Release Date: 9th October 2014
Genre: Speech
Page Count: 48
Original Language: English 
Format Read: Paperback

Buy: Here, Here

I read this book as part of my #14books14days #14daybookchallenge on Twitter.

"The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognising how we are. Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn't have the weight of gender expectations."

This book is adapted from Adichie's TEDx talk about how gender is perceived in the twenty-first century, and how feminism is perceived especially in Lagos, Nigeria. She notices these injustices, however small - a waiter greeting the men and not the women in the party, presenting a tip and it being assumed that the man was in charge of the money in the relationship, and 'feminism' being seen as a dirty, man-hating word.

I have had this book on my shelves for some time, and I'm so glad I finally got around to reading it. 

Not only does Chimamanda talk about how women are unfairly treated, but how sons are raised to be afraid of emotions and told that they are superior to women:

"We do a great disservice to boys in how we raise them. We stifle the humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way. Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside this cage."

"We teach boys to be afraid of fear, of weakness, of vulnerability. We teach them to mask their true selves, because they have to be, in Nigerian-speak, a hard man."

This should be required reading for everyone. It is an introduction to feminism, accessible for everyone, and so effective in helping us to understand where the roots of the problems are when talking about gender roles and gender expectations. 

I loved this. It is a short read, but such a powerful one. 5 stars!

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

REVIEW: Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell

Photograph by me

Title: Kindred Spirits
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Release Date: 25th February 2016
Genre: Teen and YA Short Story
Page Count: 62
Original Language: English 
Format Read: Paperback
Other books in series: N/A
Movie Adaptation: N/A 

Buy: Here (It's only £1!!)

If you broke Elena's heart, Star Wars would spill out. So when she decides to queue outside her local cinema to see the new movie, she's expecting a celebration with crowds of people who love Han, Luke and Leia just as much as she does. What she's not expecting is to be last in line of only three people, to have to pee into a collectable Star Wars cup behind a dumpster or to meet that unlikely someone who just might truly understand the way she feels.

I read this book as part of my #14books14days #14daybookchallenge.

First of all, I just want to say how CUTE this book is. We all have that one movie series, or book series, or hobby or something else that we are obsessed with. I should know, my social media handles and blog name is BOOK FANGIRLING. We have this wonderful culture of going all-in on what we love and sharing that love with people from all over the world, and this is the exact love we feel from Elena.

I didn't grow up with Star Wars. My younger brother loved it when he was little, so I watched the originals with him whilst asking a million questions. It's safe to say I never really 'got' Star Wars, and my brother got very annoyed with me. 

No matter how little I know about it, Elena shares her love of Star Wars with Tory, Gabe, and the reader. So I ended up waiting in the line with them, and being excited for the characters each day they got closer to seeing the movie. I loved this aspect of the book.

Ultimately, this is a story about three people waiting in line to see a film. But underneath is this wonderful commentary on human behaviour; how awkward we are at establishing relationships, how common ground can save a conversation, and how everything links back to love. 

One of my favourite recurring moments was Elena's mom driving past the movie theatre every few hours, handing Elena various items such as a plate of food, a hot water bottle, and a huge cup of coffee to make her need to pee during the night, trying to get her to come back home. This is exactly the sort of thing my mum would do... if she even allowed me to camp outside in the first place!

Kindred Spirits is a short and accessible book, full of positivity, the brilliant side to fan culture, and of course... a lot of pee.

5 stars!

Sunday, 4 August 2019

REVIEW: No one is too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg

Photograph of book by me

Title: No One is too Small to Make a Difference
Author: Greta Thunberg
Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: 30th May 2019
Genre: Speech Collection
Page Count: 68
Original Language: English
Format Read: Paperback

Buy: Here, Here 

I'm sure everyone knows who Greta Thunberg is, but if not, I am going to tell you about this wonderful human being. 

On the 20th August 2018, Greta decided to skip school in protest of the Swedish government for not playing their role in helping to combat climate change. This started a School Strike for the Climate, which involved her sitting outside the government building for 3 weeks during school hours. Over the past few months, more than 20,000 students from over 200 cities have staged protests in support of Greta. 

She will not stop until the adults listen. 

No One is too Small to Make a Difference is a collection of her speeches at marches, the UN Climate Change Conference, the World Economic Forum, and so on. At only 16 years old, she is travelling the world (not by plane - by train, bus, and eco-friendly boats using renewable energy) and telling some of the world's most powerful people to stop stalling and to start saving our planet. 

As well as dropping some shocking, but scientifically true facts (like the IPCC stating that we have to aim below a 1.5 degree celsius warming target), her speeches also address the bad press she has received about not going to school. In response, she says this:

"We are school-striking because we have done our homework."

Photo of Greta Thunberg [belongs to The Independent]

This is a brilliant collection of her speeches, which reveals a lot of climate statistics. I'm going to write some here, because Greta (and I) want you to panic:

  1. We need to limit our planet warming to only 1.5 degrees celsius over pre-industrial levels.
  2. In the next 12 years, we need to cut our CO2 emissions by 50%.
  3. Developed countries like Sweden and the UK need to reduce their emissions by 15% each year.
  4. These figures do not account for equity (letting third world countries industrialise while we cut our emissions).
  5. We are going through a sixth mass extinction, with around 200 species going extinct every single day.

If this doesn't scare you, nothing will.

Of course, the point that Greta makes is that it isn't just individual people that need to change. Her plea goes out to governments, industrial companies, the powerful people who own the 100 companies most responsible for world climate change. They are the people who can make the biggest difference, and our responsibility as individuals is to make adjustments to our lives, however small, that can reduce our carbon footprint. 

I am so happy that young people like Greta Thunberg exist. I knew about global warming and our impact on the planet already, but reading Greta's book has educated me even more. Seeing the science and the numbers on the page is incredible. We all need to read this.

And if you don't think we should be listening to a 16 year-old girl? Well, neither does Greta:

"... I agree with you, I'm too young to do this. We children shouldn't have to do this. But since almost no one is doing anything, and our very future is at risk, we feel like we have to continue."

So, adults. Let's do something.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

REVIEW: Grave Matter by Juno Dawson

photo by me

Title: Grave Matter
Author: Juno Dawson
Illustrator: Alex T Smith
Publisher: Barrington Stoke
Release Date: 15th October 2017
Genre: Young Adult Gothic
Page Count: 96
Original Language: English 
Format Read: Paperback
Other books in series: N/A
Movie Adaptation: N/A 

Buy: Here, Here, Here

I was sent a review copy of Grave Matter in 2017 for an honest review from the publishers. I decided to read it as part of my #14books14days #14dayreadingchallenge and this was my choice for day two!

Since the crash, since Eliza died, Samuel can't find a way to go on. His need to see his love again is overwhelming, and so he ventures into the strange, terrifying world of Hoodoo. Samuel is about to make a pact with powers he cannot comprehend, let alone control...

This is one of the shorter of Juno Dawson's novels, because it is part of a super-readable young adult collection. This makes it more accessible to readers of all ages who want to dive into YA, and the pages are even a thick pale yellow, so you can't see the 'ghost' of the words on the other side of the page. This allows people with dyslexia to access young adult books too, because they can not often read on plain white paper. I think this is a brilliant idea!

Grave Matter is one of those gems that grabs you from the start, and keeps hold of you until the very end. I love gothic literature, and to see the classic themes in a young adult book made me so happy! The illustrations done by Alex T Smith are incredible, and they really brought the story to life. This is one of my favourite pieces of art from the book:

photo by me

The Milk Man was my favourite character - he had a name that wouldn't arouse suspicion. Everyone knows a milk man is harmless! Yet you never really see a milk man; they come very early in the morning, know every street in every neighbourhood. One minute they are there, the next they are gone. This is like The Milk Man in the story. He knows everything and everyone, disappears in a flash, and has the recipe for the drink that can bring a loved one back to life.

The message he sends is clear:

"Where there is life there must also be death - for every gift a sacrifice."

But will Samuel listen?

I think this is a perfect book for readers of all ages and abilities, and I gladly gave it 5 stars on goodreads! Although, I could never give Juno Dawson anything less.

See you tomorrow for day three of my challenge!

Friday, 2 August 2019

REVIEW: Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

photo by me

Title: Anna and the Swallow Man
Author: Gavriel Savit
Publisher: Random House Children's
Release Date: 26th January 2016
Genre: Young Adult historical fiction
Page Count: 240
Original Language: English 
Format Read: Hardcover
Other books in series: N/A
Movie Adaptation: N/A 

On the 6th November 1939, Anna's father had to go away for a few hours. He left shortly after 11 o'clock. He did not come back again.

I bought this book a couple of years ago, and I thought it would be the perfect first read for my #14books14days challenge. I was not wrong.

Anna is a seven year-old girl living in Krakow whose father went away and never came back. Locked out of her home, she hides in the bushes of the streets until a tall, lanky, mysterious man approaches her. He hands her a cookie, she asks him some questions, and their journey together begins. She knows him only as Swallow Man, as he can speak Bird, and he makes Anna give up her name to survive. 

This is a story about how you can run away from war, but can never run from who you are.

I absolutely adored this book. I didn't know what to expect, and yet once I started I couldn't stop reading it. You feel as though you are running through the forests with the characters, feeling the same hunger in your stomach as them, and catching the chill of the wind as they bed down for the night. More importantly, you feel as though you want to hide under a cushion with the book in hand, keeping Anna, Swallow Man, and Reb Herschel from the Wolves (German soldiers) and Bears (Soviet soldiers). 

You walk beside them, and see how life is from their ill-fitting shoes. Normally, we wouldn't be that happy about a strange man taking a young girl away from her hometown and into a forest to cross borders, but he makes Anna feel safe, and so we feel the same safety. He looks after her; forages for food, befriends people in towns to secure gifts, and becomes her father without question. 

As the book says: a daughter is no good without a father, and a father is no good without a daughter. 

Although the cover may lead you to believe it is a children's book, it can be found in the young adult section of bookshops. This book is suitable for people ages 13 and over, as there are some strong images of death and (attempted) child sexual assault. This paragraph is heartbreaking to read, but so important:

"It was all she could think of when they first came upon one of the mass graves. Perhaps it was the angle of the light, or perhaps the snow was similarly powdery and sparse, but more than likely what made her think of the discarded office equipment was the peculiar blend of organisation and chaos that reigned there."

There are some more graphic scenes, but if you think you can handle reading it, I would fully recommend it. 5 stars!

Anna knows the Swallow Man is heading for somewhere specific, but we don't find out until the very end. I won't spoil it for you, but here is the biggest lesson to come out of this book, which the Swallow Man himself tells us:

"Human beings are the best hope in the world of other human beings to survive."

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

14 Books in 14 Days Reading Challenge!

Get ready for an intense reading challenge!

I have been slacking in many areas of my life recently - I'm not ashamed to admit it! But the areas that make me the saddest that I'm not keeping up with are reading and blogging.

That's why, for the next 2 weeks starting tomorrow, Thursday 1st August, I will be reading one book every day.

I got this idea after watching a video by Ruby Granger, a booktuber who tried this challenge. Here is the video of her second week, but you can watch both parts on her channel.

Now, I wanted to take this challenge seriously, because let's face it; my Goodreads counter needs some help if I want to hit my target for this year! But more importantly, this is a really interesting experiment and I'd love to see if I can actually do it. I had a few ideas of how I was going to do this challenge:

  1. The books have to be short enough so I can realistically read each one in a day.
  2. They should be across a wide range of genres so I can get the most out of this.
  3. I will review the books here, on instagram, and on goodreads.

I will be sharing my experience on social media, using the hashtags #14dayreadingchallenge #14books14days - so anyone who wants to join in, even on one day, can find me easily! 

Happy reading!

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Welcome Back, Gentleman Jack!

Behind her back, she's Gentleman Jack
A Yorkshire lady of renown
Ever so fine, won't toe the line
Speak her name, Gentleman Frown.

At Shibden Hall she had them all
The fairer sex fell under her spell
Dapper and bright, she held them tight
Handsome Anne seduced them well.

Gentleman Jack, oh Gentleman Jack

Watch your back, you're under attack
Their husbands are coming, you'd better start running
For nobody likes a Jack-the-lass.

Jack-the-lass, Jack-the-lass

No one likes a Jack-the-lass
The code is cracked, your bags are packed
The knives are out for Gentleman Jack!

Tonight, there will be a television show airing at 9pm on the BBC that has been over 20 years in the making... well, if you're counting the time when television didn't exist, it's actually almost 200 years in the making.

You may not have heard of Anne Lister before, and there is a reason for that. Up until now, her name has only been mentioned in hushed tones. In fact, after speaking to a few sources, even the tour guides at Shibden Hall in Yorkshire, Anne Lister's home, did not talk about her for years.

Suranne Jones as Anne Walker (left) and the real Anne (right)

This has all changed, thankfully! Anne Lister is a very important historical figure, but simply because she was a gay woman, she is never talked about in schools or most history books of the Victorian era. This kind of censorship is the reason it has taken Sally Wainwright over 20 years to get Anne's story to television - because no one wanted to risk putting a show about a real life lesbian on air.

I'll give you a brief overview, but if you want to know more and read along whilst watching the show, click here to buy the BBC companion biography by Sally Wainwright herself!

Anne Lister was born into the wealthy Lister family of Shibden, Yorkshire. When she was a teenager, she got sent to school but was kicked out (possibly because of the relationship between her and Eliza Raine) so began to seek out her own education. This led her to being very clever, as well as very rich, so she was able to travel the world alone and live to tell the tale. 

She was very different to every other woman at the time. She wore only black men's clothes, had a better education than most women, and she was also an incredible businesswoman. She inherited the Shibden coal mines, and collected taxes when other men couldn't, and was very masculine in her activities. She did not want to be a man, and we know this from her diary - she was simply exhausted by the lack of things women could do at the time, so she fought it.

Suranne Jones as Anne Lister and Sophie Rundle as Ann Walker

She wrote 5 million words in her diary, and a sixth of them were in code she had created with Eliza made of Ancient Greek and other numerals. The coded words told all about her relationships with other women, a scandal at the time! (Bear in mind people already had suspicions, which is how she got the nickname Gentleman Jack, which is supposed to be offensive but Anne brushed it off). 

When they were found by John Lister after her death, despite others saying he needed to burn the diaries, he kept them safe behind a panel in the Hall and they are still being translated today. In fact, they were being translated second by second, even when the cameras were rolling for the television show! The cast and crew were the first people to hear the new translations of this code!

And I am so glad John kept them, because now we have this wonderful first hand account of both Anne's life and the life of pre-Victorian and Victorian society. The television show allows us to join Anne in the 1830's, when she met Ann Walker, who became her 'wife' and who she was with until her death in 1840, when she never recovered from a fever.

Why do I think Anne Lister's story is so important? 

Because it shows people, on prime time television, that the LGBT+ community was always here, and it is not just a trend. Because Anne gave us a detailed account of life during the early 1800's, and this is seriously exciting for historians as well as gay women. Because lesbians deserve to be main characters, and not just forgotten about on the side.

Anne, you may have been silenced for many years, but we are bringing you home. 

Monday, 25 February 2019

Blog Tour: Enchantee by Gita Trelease

cover photo from goodreads

Paris in 1789 is a labyrinth of twisted streets, filled with beggars, thieves, revolutionaries – and magicians . . . When smallpox kills her parents, seventeen-year-old Camille is left to provide for her frail sister and her volatile brother. In desperation, she survives by using the modest magic she learnt from her mother; a cursed talent to use which costs Camille dearly. But when her brother disappears Camille decides to pursue a richer, more dangerous mark: the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette herself.

Using dark magic Camille transforms herself into the ‘Baroness de la Fontaine‘ and presents herself at the court of Versaille, where she soon finds herself swept up in a dizzying life of riches, finery and suitors. But Camille’s resentment of the rich is at odds with the allure of their glamour and excess, and she soon discovers that she’s not the only one leading a double life...

I have a really exciting book to share with you today. As part of the blog tour, I have been gifted a copy of Enchantee by Macmillan Press, and to celebrate I thought I would do something fun.

So, because I am a bit of a French speaker myself, I'm going to share some of the magical things that helped me learn French when I was younger. 

1. Tot's TV

This show was all about puppets, including a girl called Tilly who spoke French to the young audience (such as myself) and introduced the basics. I loved this show, and it even had an element of magic in it! The gang had a magic bag - la sac magique - that they took everywhere with them. Here is a taster episode about them visiting a cat shelter:

2. KidSpeak French Computer Game

Before Babbel, there was KidSpeak! This was pretty much my favourite thing EVER as a child. It was a computer game that had a character called Claudine, who introduced songs and games to learn the french basics. No matter what age you age, I would 100% recommend this if you are starting to learn French. The songs were so catchy that I managed to memorise them and understand the alphabet, animals, birthday song, food, and school supplies. Seriously, check this video of the songs out:

3. Listening to songs in French

Actually listening to French music is a brilliant way to pick up the language quicker, since many people find their listening skills for a foreign language often lets them down. It works even better when you know the song in English and can follow what they're saying. I find that Disney songs sound even more magical in French, and most of us know the classics so it is easy to follow along. Here are a few of my favourites with the lyrics and translations:

And there you go! You don't need to know French to be able to read Enchantee, but I have provided a few tips that work like magic. Pick up a copy for yourself!

Bonne nuit! (Good night!)

Friday, 1 February 2019

Starting my 2019 Resolutions in February

Both gifs used in this post are not mine

I have never been the sort of person to stick to resolutions, and I'm sure a lot of people can relate. I try to make one resolution each about the following things in my life: reading, writing, health, and work. This is what they usually look like:

1. Read at least one book a week
2. Write that book! And publish it!
3. Do lots of exercise and stop taking my anxiety medication
4. Get a fabulous job that pays lots of money

Obviously, they are not realistic resolutions to complete in the space of just one year, and most of them are actually not within my control. I can write an entire book, but it may not be good enough/ready to be published, as well as the fact that publishing usually takes more than a few months. Coming off my anxiety medication is definitely not realistic, because whilst I may go a few months feeling okay I have been known to crash quickly.

The fact of the matter is, I always set the bar too high. Pair that with the cold and depressing month of January where all you want to do is hide underneath your duvet, and you have the recipe for instant failure.

This year, I decided to focus on getting through January without tremendous pressure, and instead set some more realistic goals for February and beyond. Here is what I have decided to commit myself to:

Reading: I have set my target on Goodreads to 45 - the lowest I have ever set it. This adds up to just under a book a week, and instead of buying lots of books, I will support my local library more often.

Writing: This February, I will finish a book that I am already working on. I will get the first draft done, and the editing can come later. I will set myself a target of 2 pages a day.

Health: This includes both physical and mental health. I am going to set specific days to do yoga during the morning, and a day a week to do something more physical, whatever that may be. The first thing I eat every day will be a piece of fruit, but I will not force myself to monitor my intake all of the time. I will also find a more intense way to combat my anxiety, because it is time to take back control of my life.

Career: I will find another part-time job (I have just been let go from my seasonal work) and even if it isn't perfect it will be enjoyable and will pay enough so that I can live comfortably and travel often.

Hobbies: I will take up the violin again, perhaps find a choir to join in my area, and I will indulge myself in all of the beautiful art I can find. I will also go and watch movies more often, because they make me happy.

Extra: I will be less reliant on social media for my life standards, and maybe will even delete a few apps from my phone.

So there you go! I will update you with how my resolutions are going, but I know that by being less harsh on myself, I will automatically be more successful.

Why don't you have a go? Create some resolutions for yourself in February, and be kinder to yourself in 2019.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Review: The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton by Anstey Harris

Image result for the truths and triumphs of grace atherton
Cover photo provided by Simon and Schuster

Title: The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton
Author: Anstey Harris
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Release Date: 10th January 2019
Genre: Adult Fiction
Page Count: 368 
Original Language: English
Format Read: Paperback
Other books in series: N/A
Movie Adaptation: N/A 

I borrowed an early-release copy of The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton from my place of work, and I am so glad I got to read it before it was officially released out into the world. I picked it up because it was recommended for people who enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and I have to say that for once, the comparison was helpful.

Grace Atherton has an exciting life. She is involved in an eight year affair with David, a married man, and they are deeply in love. They spend weekends in a beautiful apartment in Paris, and then go their separate ways, and Grace goes back to her life as the owner of a music shop. 

Everything is perfect, until David saves a woman from falling to her death on the train tracks, and the whole world wants to know the identity of the Metro Hero. When they finally identify him, his wife and children find out about the affair, and Grace's life comes crashing down.

This book was exactly the kind I needed to kick-start my 2019. You go into the story believing that Grace's life is consumed by her relationship with David and that is all the novel will focus on, but what you actually find is a beautiful story about friendship and finding those people who will go the extra mile to help you achieve your goals. 

Grace is a cello player and a music school drop-out, and the secret behind why she was forced to leave is slowly revealed to us. It is shocking, but allows us to understand the character of Grace and her motivations for the decisions she makes. I'm so glad that romance fell off her list of priorities, because this book deserves to be more than a broken woman stuck in an affair with a married man.

The plot was character driven (my favourite kind of plot!) and there were brilliant contrasts between the three friends. There is Grace, a heart-broken woman in her 30's who didn't know where her life is heading, her school-girl employee Nadia, and old regular customer Mr Williams. The difference in age and circumstance brought different perspectives to the story - especially with Nadia being a teenage soon-to-be mum and Mr Williams an older gay man. These are perspectives you rarely see in books or television, and I really appreciated the range of characters that Anstey Harris brought to us.

Overall, this book was beautifully written, with almost a musical flare in descriptions of the key settings such as Paris and Italy, to the point where I could taste the bread and cheeses. It is a surprising book that points out the flaws in human beings, but also shows how beautifully in-tune we can be with one another.

About the Author

Anstey Harris is based by the seaside in south-east England where she lives with her violinmaker husband and two dogs. She teaches creative writing in the community, local schools, and as an associate lecturer for Christchurch University in Canterbury.

Anstey HarrisAnstey writes about the things that make people tick, the things that bind us and the things that can rip us apart. In 2015, she won the H G Wells Short Story Prize for her story, Ruby. In novels, Anstey tries to celebrate uplifting ideas and prove that life is good and that happiness is available to everyone once we work out where to look (usually inside ourselves).