Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore Review

Well hello! Long time no speak… Since the time of my last blog post, I’ve gotten married, started a new job and jetted off for the most beautiful 2 weeks in Sri Lanka for our honeymoon. Now, we’re back and fully settled into married life, and I have been able to up my reading once more!

I’ve also had a think about what it is I wanted to focus on in this space. I am no beauty queen, I cannot afford to buy new clothes every week, and I don’t feel like I can (or want to) write faithfully about these subjects any more. What I can do, however – and do frequently – is read. Buy books. Add to an ever-increasing TBR list and a Kindle that’s bursting with un-reads. I have an inability to walk past a bookshop without popping in ‘for a browse’ and coming out with a volume I just couldn’t leave behind. Going forward this blog will focus on books: my reviews of them, the books I want to read, general chatter and reflection. So, brew up a cuppa, get cosy in your reading chair and have a read of the first review of 2017: Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan.

Book Blind Dates 

I had been desperate to read this book for SUCH a long time! In November, I was at an event at the Biscuit Factory in Ouseburn and happened to walk past their pop-up Forum Books shop (sheer coincidence…ahem). There was a huge basket of ‘blind date’ books just staring at me, and after much deliberation, I picked up this unassuming brown paper package all tied up with string:

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How could you say no to that description?! Turns out I couldn’t, and I was so pleased when I unwrapped it to find Mr Penumbra looking back at me. (Also, on a side note – get yourself along to the Biscuit Factory. Art and books and a lovely coffee shop!)

The Review 

I have often thought that what I needed in my life was a 24 hour bookshop, so of course this book caught my eye! I also love books about books, and bookshops. Sloan’s writing is free-flowing, easy and very engaging; and it’s easy to lose, say, the best part of a day getting completely absorbed in this book. It’s also a funny read, without trying too hard at it. From the moment Mr Penumbra stepped from the shadows and asked Clay Jannon:

“What do you seek in these shelves?” 

I was hooked.

The book follows our protagonist Clay as he joins Mr Penumbra’s bookstore as the night clerk. A strange and mysterious place, frequented by a host of rather eccentric individuals and not many other visitors, it doesn’t take Clay long to stumble upon the bookshop’s secret and get pulled into a whole other world: a place of old books, e-books, and the battle between, and integration of; old and new. With Google alongside ancient texts and coding alongside catalogues, this book is just fun. It made me want to learn to code and write a book and buy a bookshop all at once. I read it in two sittings.

I enjoyed the characters who grace the pages of MP24HB – (it’s a long title to type out!) – in my mind, Penumbra was an eclectic combination of Dumbledore, Gandalf, Merlin from The Sorcerer’s Stone and my own Grandad. Clay is the unlikely hero alongside a modern-day (Google) wizard Kat; and the bookshop patrons are lovable in their quirkiness.

This book also contains one of my favourite lines in literature:

“Neel takes a sharp breath and I know exactly what it means: I have waited my whole life to walk through a secret passage built into a bookshelf.”

Festina Lente, friends – enjoy!

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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Although I’ve been a member of a book group in Whitley Bay for a couple of years now; during 2015 I’d not made it to many meetings. A mixture of crazy times at work and then no time at all at work meant that before I knew it, we’d arrived at Christmas and I was left with a somewhat guilty feeling of neglect. I vowed that this year I would make an effort to finish the books and attend the meetings – I don’t really have any excuses at the moment!

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February’s book was We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. The story follows Rosemary, the narrator, as she works through the story of how her sister disappeared from her life as a child – a story she’s never told before.

This had been on my radar for quite some time, and I was really looking forward to reading it…. so I was a little bit disappointed when I reached the end of the book and couldn’t figure out if I had actually enjoyed it or not. It certainly wasn’t one of those books that ‘grabbed’ me. There is a pretty big twist which crops up at 77 pages in; which I wasn’t expecting at all. It completely threw me off course and upended everything I was expecting from the story.

The book starts in the middle of her story; while Rosemary is an undergraduate at the University of California. A chance encounter (and brief jail stay) with a girl called Harlow leads Rosemary to share her story – or, at least; a version of her story with her. Having told this; Rosemary then admits to the reader that the story is not true – the truth is something she has never told anyone. The story then goes back to her beginning, at 5 years old, to the time when her sister was still in her life; and then finally comes back to present day.

“… I don’t see how to go further forward without going back – back to the end of that story, back to when I returned to my family from my grandparents’ house. 

Which also happens to be the exact moment when the part I know how to tell ends and the part I’ve never told before begins.”

Although the way she jumps between periods of time and memory is a clever vehicle for telling her story; at times I did find myself feeling quite bored with the narrative and a little confused with what was going on. Rosemary’s brother Lowell is woven into the story but not fully explored; which I thought was a bit of a loss and could have added another interesting element to the book. That being said; there are some parts of the book which left a real impression and some quite beautifully written sentences throughout.

The nature of the twist is such that, in order to not give anything away, this review needs to stay fairly generic in detail. What I will say is that the book deals very cleverly with the whole concept of memory: the memories we retain from childhood; the way our mind can warp them, and the impression they can leave on us as adults. It also impresses upon the reader how the drive of money and power pushes industry; held up by science and experiments. The book lays out in fairly graphic detail the lengths that those in power will go to, in order maintain their position.

“An oft-told story is like a photograph in a family album; eventually, it replaces the moment it was meant to capture.”

On reflection; although I didn’t enjoy We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves as much as I was expecting (or hoping); when I was pulling my thoughts together to write this review, I found that it deals with a lot more, and makes you question a lot more; than I had originally thought.

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World Book Day 2016

Happy World Book Day!

Today marks a worldwide celebration of books and reading; in over 100 countries around the world. Amazing stuff! In the UK and Ireland; the main aim of World Book Day is to encourage young children to pick up a book and learn how much fun reading is. Across the country; hoards of schoolchildren have been sat in class dressed as Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, Mr Twit, The Cat in the Hat and numerous other characters from famous children’s literature.

I thought today would be a good day to look back at the books that I loved as a little girl, and that inspired me while I was growing up and moving on into secondary school. I always had my nose in a book when I was younger. I was probably the one you would have labelled as the ‘loner’ at school – didn’t really have many close friends, very happy to just sit and play and read by myself. Books were my escape and I remember thinking when I was very young that I wanted to be an author when I grew up. Now, here I am; all grown up (though not quite an author yet) and these books still leave a strong imprint on my mind. Continue reading World Book Day 2016

Run, Run, Run, As Fast As You Can….

Hello and happy hump day to you all! We’re so nearly at the middle of the week 🙂

Well, I have been somewhat lax in my training diaries of late – the last couple of weeks have been mad! Full of stag do, hen do and wedding prep fun. I had my hen weekend a couple of weekends ago; decamped to a big house in Windermere for lots of food and drink in one of my favourite parts of the world. Couldn’t have asked for more!

Training for the Northumberland Half Marathon (in 4.5 weeks!) is ticking along nicely. While Long Run Sunday was disrupted a bit by the hen do; last weekend saw my longest run since 2014. That in itself is a very scary thing to write – I can’t believe it has been that long!

Having built a base in January, getting used to running again and regaining my fitness; I started injecting some Fartlek training into my runs in February. Generally speaking; I would do a 4 mile loop around the Town Moor with 30s – 1 min – 30s – 1 min – 30s bursts in the middle. Not only do you get to feel like The Flash – at least for a little bit – you can feel the benefits of a Fartlek run pretty much straight away. On Sunday, I went out for what should have been a 7 mile steady training run. However; because it’s been so long since I ran around Jesmond Dene, I managed to get a *little* bit disoriented and ended up adding an extra mile on the end. Whoops! Though, I was a little worried that I might really struggle with that distance; so it’s good to know that I was able to go a little bit further than expected!

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This weekend brings Alnwick Cross Country; the most scenic of all North East Harrier League fixtures (in my humble opinion); followed by 9 miles of Long Run Sunday goodness. Then it’s off to Sunderland for some Mother’s Day food 🙂

Happy running!

Reflections on Redundancy

As I write this, I am listening to my neighbour’s decorator warbling the same – very out of tune – line from an 80’s classic (I believe it’s I Think We’re Alone Now), over, and over, and over….. He has been singing the same song for the last 3 days on and off, and has a cracking set of lungs on him.

How do I know this? Because I am currently out of work, and spending most of my days at home in front of my laptop; filling in job applications and sending emails to people who I hope will become key contacts and, ultimately, help me to secure my next job.

I have been thinking about writing this post for quite a while now; but for one reason or another have persisted in putting it off. Redundancy is a very personal thing to talk about; but ultimately is not something to be ashamed of and can, I believe, work out for the best in the long run. So, here are my reflections on redundancy, the effect it can have; and how to make the most out of the situation.

Take Time to Unwind 

Being told that you are being made redundant has most likely come as a huge shock – even if it hasn’t; that doesn’t stop the fear, anger and general disbelief from knocking the breath out of you. When you’re going through the process, it can feel like you’re gliding through it on autopilot. It’s not until you reach the end, have left your old office for the very last time, and are finally home; that the emotional toll really hits. Make sure you take some time to yourself to come to terms with the change, relax and recuperate; before going into anything new – you’ll thank yourself for giving your mind a rest in the long run.

Find the Positive in the Negative

Although at the time it may feel like everything is going wrong; on reflection, you may find that this turn of events is a blessing in disguise. Maybe you were actually feeling undervalued in your previous role; or perhaps you’d been thinking about taking the next step, but were afraid to commit to moving on. Redundancy means that all ties with your previous working life are cut; and you are free to make a fresh start, without the constant worry at the back of your mind that, perhaps, you weren’t doing the right thing after all.

Review, Reflect and Remind

This is a perfect opportunity to look back over your career to date, Continue reading Reflections on Redundancy

Sunday Strolls and Two Training Diaries

Bonjour friends! Hope you’re all well, and safe from the snow if you’re in the States! Apparently the storm is making its way across to us in the UK now…. but will be rain by the time it hits. Excellent! Wouldn’t expect anything else 🙂

Today has been a very satisfying Sunday. Started off with a nice early run; then went for a wander along Seaton Sluice beach with my beloved and finished up with a very late lunch at Ernest, a cafe-bar tucked away on an inconspicuous street in Ouseburn. We had just missed the end of their brunch menu; so I ordered the veggie chilli burger (delicious) while James opted for the chorizo and butternut squash taco. Mmmmm.

So, I fell at the first hurdle with my training diaries (zero puns) as I realised on Tuesday that I had forgotten to upload anything at all for last week! So, here is my diary for this week and the week before – neither is especially exciting in honesty though; so you haven’t missed much 🙂

W/C 11th January 

This one got off to a bit of a rocky start; as James was off work and struggling with a wisdom tooth extraction that became infected – ouch. We also had some pretty cold weather which hindered conditions underfoot, so a bit light on the running this week!

Wednesday – Tried to go out for a run; skidded to the end of my street and decided that it wasn’t worth a broken bone. Retreated back to our warm house for some ballet barre exercises and weights.

Thursday – SNOWDAY. I had booked a double at the gym – Bodycombat followed by Yogalates – however the snow brought our whole estate to a standstill; and there was no chance I’d get there in time. So, instead, I cancelled the classes and went out for a very slow 5K in our temporary winter wonderland. By 9.30 it was already turning to slush, so there was a lot of running through icy puddles, but it was very very fun 🙂

Saturday – More weights and core work at home.

Weekly mileage total: 3.1 miles

Weekly workout total: 3 sessions

W/C 17th January 

Another light week, no excuses but laziness really! Half Marathon countdown is exactly 10 weeks today (eek!) so still enough time to get back into good shape; but next week needs to see a bit of ramping up.

Wednesday: Spinning class at the gym. I haven’t been spinning for a good few months, and this session was with a new instructor who is not a fan of sitting down on the bike!! My heart was almost jumping out of my chest and I finished feeling like I might have actually died (I may be slightly prone to exaggeration when physically tired). I would hesitate to say I enjoyed it, but I definitely felt the benefit!

Friday: Barre work and weights at home. I used to do ballet in my late teens and I really miss it; so these exercises are a nice throwback to those days! There are some ballet classes running in Newcastle; I might have to carry out some further investigations….

Sunday: Long Run day. Today was about 4.5 miles around the Town Moor. It wasn’t what I’d call a ‘good’ run; but it was nice to be out – and I was back home by 10! Plus another mile and a half or so along the beach.

Weekly mileage total:  6 miles

Weekly workout total: 3 sessions

Next week, I have a wedding dress fitting (argh!) and my hair and makeup trials…. exciting! I also have no doubt these two things will give me a fresh kick up the behind and spur me on to a bit more action on the exercise front 🙂

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Cravings of the Literary Variety

For the last couple of days, I have had a very prominent craving. I am craving a book. A very specific kind of book.

We are not short of them in our house. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we have books coming out of our ears; and I am in the middle of reading quite a few. My current victim is ‘The Year of Reading Dangerously’ by Andy Miller – his account of a year spent reading all the books that we all say we’ve read; or maybe sometimes even think we’ve read, but haven’t. His list includes titles like Middlemarch, Anna Karenina, Paradise Lost and 100 Years of Solitude. I would consider myself a well-read person; but I have read none of these. As much as I am enjoying his book; it is making me crave a good, solid classic…. I have to admit it’s been a while since I’ve read anything that falls under that category!

I have decided that I would like to undertake my own ‘List of Betterment‘ over the course of 2016. I have started putting together a list of both modern and older titles which I have always wanted to read; but never actually got around to reading. I will share that list with you another time; but for now I need to decide what to start with.

There has been a copy of Ulysses by James Joyce sat on my bookshelf since a ‘cultural’ trip to Dublin in 2011 (if spending the weekend in the Guinness and Jameson’s factory can be classed as cultural). It is, without a doubt, the thickest and most intimidating book I own. When I picked it up; I had visions of broadening my mind like a true intellectual on the flight back home. The reality was a stinking hangover and a very short attention span – I didn’t open it once. I got home, unpacked it and have been sneaking guilty glances at it ever since. I think, if Betterment is the aim; this is to be the first. I have to at least try. Having toyed with this idea for the last couple of days; this article then dropped into my inbox this morning. Although I can’t say I’ve taken much encouragement from it; I do think it has sealed the deal.

So if you need me any time over the next few weeks (or maybe months, who knows how it will go!) I will probably be sat in my little bookish corner trying to wade my way through this:

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Getting back on the horse: a training diary

Sunday afternoons. Made for blankets, cups of tea and roaring fires. Unfortunately, we have to brave an Ikea trip this afternoon; so that winter bliss is about to be thrown out in the freezing cold….never mind; I’ll enjoy the next few minutes while it lasts!

This week has marked my first week of getting back on the exercise horse. In just under 12 weeks; I will be walking down the aisle in what I hope will be a beautifully fitting white gown. 12 weeks today; I will be running my first half marathon in about 2 years. Unfortunately though; I bought the dress a  year ago and I haven’t trained consistently since then; so both of these images are probably a little way from being a reality!

I am not one for excessive dieting. I love food too much and I can’t function on a few hundred calories a day, especially if exercising – not to mention that it’s not a healthy or sustainable approach! What I am aiming for instead; is a more conscious attitude to what I’m putting in my mouth, combined with regular and varied exercise. I have cut out mid-week alcohol; although I am allowing myself to drink on a Friday/Saturday night. I think this in itself will have a big effect – even one week in I can feel a difference. I’ve also been keeping an eye on my carb intake, just for the first few weeks – no bread, more veggies and less potatoes and rice with my evening meals. I am actually pleasantly surprised that I’m still feeling full after tea. Chocolates are always a killer, especially this time of year – the house is overflowing with leftover chocolates and biscuits – but I am coping OK so far! I have allowed myself little bits; but again nothing excessive.

I thought it might help me to do a weekly review of my week’s exercise and how I felt – firstly; because if I write it down I will have something to look back on and compare for progress; secondly because if it’s out there in the public sphere then there are more eyes on me to know if I’m slacking! Haha. So, here is week 1:

Wednesday 

I hadn’t run since the previous weekend; so I went out on a just-under 5K loop from our house. No alcohol since the previous Saturday. This run felt good; for the first time since I’d started getting out again. Steady pace at around 9.20/mile. I even managed a sneaky sprint finish!

Thursday

I did a Bodycombat class at my gym; my first one. I wasn’t really sure what to expect; I thought it was a circuit-style class – but it’s actually martial arts inspired. Lots of punching and kicking! I was a bit nervous to begin with but soon got into the swing of it – proved by the fact that I did an upward punch so hard that I jarred my elbow and spent the rest of the day trying not to move it! I’m no karate kid, clearly 🙂 next class booked for next week.

Sunday

‘Long Run Sunday’ as it is traditionally known in our house; or used to be back when we were both training well! Today’s ‘long’ run was just over 4 miles. Not far compared to what I used to do, but relative to my current situation. The run itself was horrible – it was cold and windy, I couldn’t get my breath and had to stop 2 or 3 times. Average pace just over 10/mile.

Weekly mileage total:  7 miles

Weekly workout total: 3 sessions

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday you lovely lot! Off to Ikea…..wish me luck…..

 

There Goes 2015: A Final Month Round-Up

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Happy new year everyone! Well done, you have made it through the first 2 days back at work and have almost reached the hump 🙂

I’ve not really blogged much of late; due to a variety of different reasons and other things taking over my life! Before I start throwing myself into the habitual New Year Resolutions zone, I thought I would spend today doing a bit of a December round up; as it was quite a busy month!

We’ll start with the crappy part – right at the beginning of December; I was made redundant. It was a bit of a shock, but not completely unexpected; and all things accounted for I think it really was more of a positive thing than a negative thing to have happened. I had been with my previous company since I left university; and although I had been through some great times with them and had learnt a lot from my experience there, I was ready to move on. So, I am taking the opportunity to take stock; gather myself together and get on with finding something new and exciting and fun! This might deserve a bit of a post all of its own at some point, on the list of things I’ve written to do while I’ve got the advantage of not being in work! 🙂

Right, now that is out of the way – on to all of the December festivities that were had!

My mam, sister and I had an afternoon at Kirkley Hall at the beginning of December, for a Christmas Wreath Making Workshop. This is something I’ve wanted to do ever since I read this post on So You’re Getting Married in 2014, and it did not disappoint!

To start with, we were taken through how to make the mossy base and wire it to the copper ring. Watch out for the earwigs! Once that was done, we layered the foliage base using different kinds of branches and leaves. Then, finally, it was time for decoration with pine cones, cinnamon sticks and dried oranges. As the piece de resistance; a beautiful big bow and a generous spraying of glitter to finish it off. I have to admit that I was really pleased with the result; despite a couple of (almost hidden) bald patches and a few scratches where I’d lost a battle with the holly leaves! I think we’ll be making this a yearly event 🙂

That same week, I had the annual Jools Holland its-now-officially-Christmas night out with a few friends. We go along to see his show every year at City Hall, and it officially marks the beginning of our festive season! This year was spectacular as usual. I can’t get my head around how someone can play piano so well, so fast! KT Tunstall and Ruby Turner were there as guests and by the end of the night we were all up on our feet singing along. Sorry about that, unfortunate guy sat next to me. I never said I could sing…..

The following week was my ex-works Christmas party, which I had already booked and paid up for; so I went along for some food, drinks and dancing! Unfortunately, there wasn’t very much food, and the dancing was replaced by more drinks :-/ Needless to say, the day after was messy, painful and emotional; and I would rather not talk about it at all thank you very much! I spent most of the day hiding from the world; moving only to the sofa to take up this position:

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Dark times; dark times indeed.

I spent the week leading up to Christmas catching up with friends and spending some quality time with Mr Knox, in between preparing the house for a McFarlane family invasion – our first year hosting Christmas! Then, on Christmas Eve, it was time for It’s A Wonderful Life at Tyneside Cinema. One of my most favourite fixtures of the holiday season; and guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye of even the most Ebenezer of Scrooges! At the end of the showing; everyone always claps – it’s lovely 🙂

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Christmas Day itself came and went in a blur of cooking, presents and prosecco. The best kind of days! We had a lovely relaxing time with the family. Once the parents had retreated back home and my niece was asleep; myself, James and my sister sat down for my first game of Monopoly in about 3 years. Seems I’ve become a lot more competitive since last time I played! Still didn’t win though….

We spent New Year’s Eve at home with a few friends. The plan had been to head out to a restaurant for some food and a couple of drinks; unfortunately, however, we were a bit messed around and so in the end we decided against it and braved the supermarkets instead for a feast of pulled pork, garlic bread, salad and veg. Mmmmmm!

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Jools Holland’s Hootenanny on the TV, obvs!

P.S. This is what happens when you try to get a ‘nice photo’ with my other half….sigh:

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And that, as they say, was that! Here we are in 2016; year of the wedding. Eeeek! More on that to come…..

Here’s to 2016!

 

 

Merry Christmas Everyone!

As I write this, I am lounging on the sofa at my mam and dad’s; new book in one hand and a nice big cup of tea in the other. Bliss!

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas, filled with plenty of good food and good company! We had the family round to ours yesterday – our first year hosting! I feel so grown up 😊

Enjoy the rest of your Boxing Day lovely folk!

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