Five of my Favourite Things About Autumn

Autumn has definitely arrived – the fire has been on, the heating set and I’ve even had cause to wear my coat. Autumn is my favourite season, and here are five reasons why.

1. Misty Mornings

I love the look of mist as the sun rises – equal parts spooky and beautiful. I don’t mean fog, the sort that’s a thick soup and makes driving precarious, but the kind of wispy mist that settles over the fields.

2. Lighting the Fire

The Boyfriend does love his log burner – he cleans it, builds up the fire ready to light, and then when the temperature drops low enough it’s ready to go. I love sitting in our living room and enjoying the warmth and the beauty of the fire. It’s really cozy and perfect for those chilly autumn evenings.

3. Tucking up Under a Blanket to Read

I read all the time, but there’s something about autumn days that makes it somehow more permissible to wrap up in a blanket with a hot water bottle and read. I love it when the wind is howling, the leaves blowing around, and I’m warm and cozy and a million miles away on other worlds, having great adventures.

4. The Colours

Autumn colours are my favourite. I love the dramatic blends of red, orange and yellow as the leaves start to turn. There’s something about the bright autumn sunshine that makes everything look even better, and I’m looking forwards to running on a few crisp autumn mornings very soon.

5. Hot Chocolate

I do enjoy a hot chocolate – it’s the only hot drink I like. And there are plenty of excuses for it as the evenings cool and the colder weather starts to pick up. There’s something really relaxing about sitting down with a hot chocolate, topped with a bit of cream, and warming your chilly fingers on the mug.

C is for ‘Cheesy Romance’

cbac

Cheesy Romance’


Though I love deep exploration of complex themes, engaging ideas, expertly drawn characters – there comes a time when you just want to read something easy and feel good.

When that time comes, I always head for the Amazon Kindle Top 100 Free Romance Books list.

My Kindle is still full of these sorts of books that I’ve never got round to reading, but I have a folder for them, and every so often I choose one to read. They’re usually short, mostly an hour or two’s worth of reading, and are usually self-published. They aren’t very good – mostly the sort of thing you don’t remember ten minutes later, let alone six months later.

I could pretty much tell you the story of all of them in three sentences: Hot man meets young woman with self esteem issues. Sex happens after some mishap/misunderstanding. They all live happily ever after.

There’s nothing that’s going to challenge, but that’s the point. It’s great to switch off your brain, cleanse your reading palate, and just enjoy something.

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I’m a particular fan of the wish-fulfillment ones where a waitress is pursued and romanced by a billionaire who’s utterly captivated by her for *insert reason here*. I pretty much laugh my head off all the way through reading them, but that’s enjoyment. Particularly because my sister reads them too, and loves to talk about the plot ins and outs, such as they are, and the sometimes laugh out loud funny sex scenes.

I know it’s not quite the enjoyment authors of these books are looking for, but in my own way, I do love these books. They aren’t great literature, but not everything has to be. Variety is the spice of life and all that.

Review: Queen of Hearts by Rhys Bowen

queen of heartsTitle: Queen of Hearts

Author: Rhys Bowen

Series: Her Royal Spyness Mysteries #8

Genre: Cozy Mystery

Summary (from Goodreads)

My mother, the glamorous and much-married actress, is hearing wedding bells once again—which is why she must hop across the pond for a quickie divorce in Reno. To offer my moral support, and since all expenses are paid by her new hubby-to-be, Max, I agree to make the voyage with her.

Crossing the Atlantic, with adventure in the air and wealthy men aboard, Mother all but forgets about Max and matrimony—especially when movie mogul Cy Goldman insists on casting her in his next picture.

Meanwhile, I find myself caught up in the secret investigation of a suspected jewel thief. Lucky for me, the lead investigator happens to be my dashing beau, Darcy!

Mother’s movie and Darcy’s larceny lead everyone to Cy’s Hollywood home, where the likes of Charlie Chaplin are hanging about and there’s enough romantic intrigue to fill a double feature. But we hardly get a chance to work out the sleeping arrangements before Cy turns up dead—as if there wasn’t enough drama already…

Review

Er, inaccurate summary. There definitely isn’t enough drama. Drama is hard to come by in the entire first half of the novel. I was a good five hours into the audiobook before the murder happened, which meant that the drama rather relied on the sexcapades of various characters, including Charlie Chaplin, who was not portrayed in a very positive light!

To go with that was a cast of absolutely vapid characters. Even our heroine and hero were pretty boring, petty and driven by money. They can’t get married because Darcy wants to keep Georgie ‘the way she deserves’ – an excuse so ridiculous it has to be a forced reason to keep them apart. Because there really isn’t a good reason to keep them apart, except for perpetuation of the ‘romantic tension’ in later episodes of the series. Quote marks because there wasn’t really any romantic tension – Darcy was only in the book for about five minutes, and he didn’t do a great deal in that time.

There was some good intrigue with the story of the jewel thief, and a couple of mildly entertaining moments, but they were overshadowed by the fact that the characters were at best unmemorable, at worst unpleasant. If this is the eighth book of the series, I really don’t know how any reader has lasted this long with it.

An extra star for an excellent performance by Katherine Kellgren, but I’d avoid this unless you’re a massive fan.

Rating: 2/5

Weekly Round Up #11

Weekly Round Up #11 (06/10 – 12/10)

It’s been a slow week of recovering from the trials of the half-marathon this week. My legs were understandably achy, and my feet suffering from a touch of tendonitis. But it’s a testament to my improved stamina and fitness that I felt almost recovered by thursday.

Then at the weekend I came down with a strange cold/flu virus that had me feeling very weird. Consequently a large portion of the weekend was spent in front of the television, watching bad films I’d mostly seen before, and wishing my temperature would lower so I stopped feeling like my heart was going to beat out of my chest. It wasn’t pleasant, and I’m only just starting to feel properly myself at time of writing almost a week later.

Still, between the illness and the aches there were things going on. On tuesday, Mum and I went to pop-up choir with my old piano teacher and family friend. It’s for an arts festival that’s taking place in our hometown – a bunch of amateurs coming together to sing some songs for about an hour during the festival. We did Words by the BeeGees and You Are Not Alone (version I know by Michael Jackson, but it wasn’t his name on the music) and a rather shaky version of the Hallelujah chorus, which we will apparently be performing with some ukeleles. I can’t even begin to imagine…

The weather has been pretty grotty, skipping past autumn, straight to winter by the feel of it, but it’s been a perfect excuse to get the fire going, and I’ve enjoyed snuggling on the sofa with the Boyfriend to the gentle crackle of burning wood, in the soft light of the flames. Terribly romantic, which, given that the Boyfriend doesn’t have a romantic bone in his body, is rather lost on him!

Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

lies we tell ourselvesTitle: Lies We Tell Ourselves

Author: Robin Talley

Series: N/A

Genre: YA Historical/LGBT

Received for review from the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads)

In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.”

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.

Review

I find it both horrendous that events as those depicted in this novel happened in living memory, but also a reminder that we’ve made incredible progress towards acceptance and freedom in the past half a century. We may be far from perfect, but the British and American public are fortunate to live in countries that are vastly changed for the better.

Talley doesn’t hold back in her presentation of desegregation – the first few chapters are a relentless assault of abuse, violence, and ill-treatment of Sarah and her friends by their white peers. Worse are the reactions of the staff, who at best turn a blind eye, at worst actively punish the black pupils in their classes for things that are not their fault.

Even worse in some ways is Sarah’s parents’ naivety – they reprimand their daughter for receiving detention after detention, telling her she should be setting an example. These people who’ve challenged their children to be pioneers without understanding exactly what that means. The quiet bravery of Sarah and her sister Ruth is remarkable – all the more so because it’s utterly convincing. There were almost certainly a few Sarahs in the real battle for integration of schools.

The choice to have Sarah and Linda also fighting with their burgeoning feelings for each other also helps to bring in a more modern context. With laws regarding gay marriage being very much part of the public conscience at the moment, I think young people reading this – who have a lot of difficulty imagining a time where black people were treated as hideously as they were in the 1950s, I know, I’ve taught To Kill a Mockingbird for four years – will better empathise with and understand the struggles of the 1950s because of their innate, cultural understanding of gay rights.

Sarah’s inner battle with her own feelings is particularly emotive, as her struggle to reconcile her religious beliefs with her ‘sinful’ desires echoes much of the language used by those who fight against equal marriage rights. Her gradual realisation that God loves her the way she is, is an emotional journey that I hope will bring a few readers to the same conclusion.

But perhaps the best character and the best journey is that taken by Linda. Her journey from angry segregationist to a girl who defies her classmates and her father is a difficult one to read – largely because you know she doesn’t believe a word she says, but also understand why she says it. It doesn’t take long for the allusions about Linda’s father to build up a terrible picture, and that combined with the peer pressure of Linda’s classmates does leave you questioning whether, in her position, you would have behaved any less terribly. You find yourself mentally urging her to do the right thing, disappointed when she doesn’t, but ultimately wondering if you could have been as brave and as strong as she needs to be.

Through Linda, Talley reminds us of the terrible power of silence, and the sort of strength it takes to speak out. And it’s a reminder to those of us in the majority like Linda, that we have our own part to play in battles for equality and Human Rights. It’s easy to sit back and let things happen when it isn’t directly impacting you, but if everyone did that, nothing would ever change. Sarah and her friends have to be brave in being the first black children to attend white school; the white pupils have to be brave to defy their friends and cultural expectation, to accept and embrace the change.

Stories like Lies We Tell Ourselves are important, because they bring these historical events to life, reminding us the cost of complacency when it comes to big, important things like Human Rights. There are countries in the world today whose people live in not dissimilar conditions to 1950s America, people who for reasons of race or religion are treated as inferior to others and we shouldn’t forget their struggles. And within our own borders there are issues that impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Lies We Tell Ourselves puts us inside one of those issues and the viewpoints of both sides, challenging us to change our views, be more empathic and speak out when it counts.

Rating: 5/5

Cover Lust #34 – Wraith

Cover Lust #34 – Wraith by Susan Kaye Quinn

wraith

Susan Kaye Quinn is an example to all Indie authors. I mean, look at the sexy on that!

There’s loads to love here – the black and white with just a dash of red (very Sin City), that smouldering look, that Brave hair, sexy leather jackets, the hint of futuristic city in the background, the strange metallic texture, the red smoke pouring from her hand. I just love it.

I’ve got the first series of this sat on my Kindle waiting for an opportune moment to be read. With this coming out shortly, I think that moment is definitely now!

What covers are you lusting after this week?

Podcasts I Listen To Part #2

Click here for Part #1

artworks-000050418927-mgmwq3-cropThe Penguin Podcast

A great book podcast, this showcases a diverse range of literature, from Literary Fiction to Middle Grade Sci-Fi. Typically, the podcast is split into three or four sections, showcasing different books, writers and topics relating to publication.

I’ve heard of so many great writers on the podcast – including Hannah Beckerman, author of The Dead Wife’s Handbook. Not all the books featured are to my taste, but that’s because Penguin publishes so many different books – and it’s always interesting to hear about how a book was written and the writing process, no matter what book it is.

ISBW_logoI Should Be Writing

When I first started looking at Podcasts to listen to, this one came up again and again on ‘great podcasts for writers’ lists. At first I couldn’t quite get into the informal, barely edited style, but I think now that’s half the charm of it. I’m so invested in Mur, the host, as a person – it’s almost like having your favourite aunty dispensing sage writing advice on every topic imaginable.

My favourite thing about this podcast is the range of guests who are interviewed. Just the other day I listened to an interview with Seanan Mcguire, who, as Mira Grant, is one of my favourite writers. It was great to hear some insights into her writing process.

28438Zombie Response Team

I do think these guys are slightly nuts – definitely hardcore survivalists anyway. They talk about a lot of different survival situations, under the umbrella of ‘Zombie Apocalypse Survival.’ So, for a podcast with that title, they don’t talk about Zombies all that often.

The survivalist advice though is really interesting. I’m listening as I’m typing to how to store and preserve water. I probably won’t ever have cause to use it in my real life (I hope not anyway!) but it’s really useful stuff to know for dystopian fiction and characters in survival situations.

kermodeMark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Film Reviews

I hardly ever get to go to the cinema. There isn’t one really near here, and it’s a big expense for a film that might not be worth it. So I get my film fix from listening to this.

I do love the bickering relationship between Kermode and Mayo, and I find myself generally agreeing with the views they espouse on the films I have seen. And because I’ve listened to this, I can hold my own in conversations about film, even when I haven’t seen any of them.

The History Hourhistory

I am interested in history, but I hate reading history books. I often find them dry and hard work, end up skipping big chunks to look at the pictures. The History Hour replaces history books with lively segments on different periods of history – from serious pieces about wars, to more lighthearted sections about music.

The fact that all the stories are brought to life by people who experienced the events in some ways makes it all the more interesting and engaging. It’s not massively detailed, but it does give you a starting point and an overview, so if you are interested, you know what other questions to ask the history books or the internet.

Stay tuned for Part #3!