28 Sept 2023

One Minute Book Reviews: What I’ve Been Reading This Summer

Summer reading

There's dragons, there's love stories, there's planes sinking to the bottom of the ocean. We travel to America, to Singapore and everywhere in between. Here's everything I've been reading this summer:

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld

This was fun! It does what says it on the tin – a romantic comedy, but between a ‘normal’ person and an international star. Sally, a writer working for a legendary late-night comedy show swears off love, fed up of average men dating beautiful, accomplished women but not vice versa. But then she works with Noah, a pop idol, for a week and they click instantly. Would someone like him ever date someone like her? I liked the three very different parts – comedy show in New York, email train and romance during lockdown. It made it stand out from the usual genre format. Slick and funny. 4/5

The Vintage Shop of Second Chances by Libby Page 

Libby Page has become my go-to for light-hearted, not-to-taxing but still-with-a-little-reality reads. If that’s a genre. I like that she writes about real women and real female friendships. Her novels are great if you want an uplifting read that isn’t about romance. I saved this to read during our holiday in Frome, Somerset because that’s also where the novel is set. Based around a fictional vintage clothes shop, this is about three women of different ages who are desperately searching for a chance to start again. It celebrates the power of friends, community and excellent clothes during hard times. 3.5/5

Drowning: The Rescue of Flight 1421 by T.J. Newman

If you happen to have just watched Hijack on Apple TV and want something to read in a similar vein, this would be a good place to start. A slightly bonkers-but-just-about-still-believable thriller that doesn’t let up from page one. Flight 1421 crashes into the ocean six minutes after take-off. Most passengers escape onto the lifeboats but 12 are still trapped inside when the plane sinks to the bottom of the ocean and lands, half-teetering, on the edge of an underwater cliff. Cue an absurd, race-against-low-oxygen rescue mission that is highly entertaining. 4/5 

Last One At The Party by Bethany Clift 

The majority of the human race is wiped out by a virus and a woman in her thirties finds herself alone in London, a city now filled with rotting corpses and burning pyres. She is woefully unequipped to deal with the new world she finds herself in and I loved that about her. She’s not a protagonist who just happens to have skills or knowledge that makes them perfectly set up to survive the end of the world, she is every one of us. She checks Instagram to see if anyone else is still alive, she has no idea how to survive without power and she has spent her whole life conforming to other people. The question is, who will she be now she is truly alone? I have thought about this book a lot since I finished reading it. I found it disturbing because it felt very realistic; I didn’t doubt any detail of the new world the protagonist found herself in and it was richly detailed (perhaps don’t read whilst eating). But I also thought it was brilliant story with a big character arc, and a fresh take on the post-apocalyptic genre. I would love to read a sequel, or another story set in the same world. 5/5

Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci 

A charming little memoir about a life in and out of the kitchen, written by actor and food obsessive, Stanley Tucci. If you’re a foodie or enjoy food writing, I would definitely recommend this regardless of whether you have an interest in Tucci as an actor. This is a lovely book full of anecdotes and reflections about food and the joys of life. Plus a few great tales involving some big names. 3.5/5

Summer reading

Summer reading

Summer reading

Everything’s Fine by Cecilia Rabess 

Set in the years between Barack Obama becoming president and Donald Trump becoming president, we follow the relationship between Josh & Jess, two analysts working at Goldman Sachs in New York and explore whether it is possible for a black liberal woman and a white conservative man to be happily in love. It considers how far one can separate a person from their beliefs, and how important shared values are in a relationship. This was a brilliant, clever, socially astute book. I have thought about the ending a lot since finishing, and there is a scene involving a maga hat that was so brilliant and haunting. I would highly recommend. 5/5

In Such Tremendous Heat by Kehinde Fadipe

Three Nigerian expat women living in Singapore all have their lives upturned by the arrival of a stranger. I had mixed feelings on this one; I enjoyed the Singapore setting and the rich array of characters, but I thought the plot was a bit thin on the ground. The link between one of the women and the stranger was tenuous at best and I didn’t find their connection particularly believable. I think ultimately, I just expected more to happen and I’m not sure the characters were interesting enough to make up for the lack of plot. 2.5/5

Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros  

I came because of the internet and stayed for the grumpy dragons. This was pure escapism, and I was here for it. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I do have a bit of a weak spot for this style of book. At Basgiath War College, Violet is joining hundreds of candidates striving to become elite dragon riders. You either graduate or die. She’s smaller than everyone else, most people would kill her for being the general’s daughter and war is looming outside the college walls. And she has to train alongside her sworn enemy (who is inconveniently attractive). It is technically an adult book but reminded me a lot of some of the really great YA books I grew up with (think Hunger Games, Divergent). My only gripe was I found the two explicit sex scenes just a bit cringey and out of place, perhaps because it was reminding me of other YA books. Otherwise, absorbing world building, sassy dragons, great enemies-to-lovers storyline, and I have the sequel on pre-order. 4.5/5 

Book Lovers by Emily Henry 

Alright, so I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I was tired, it was summer – I wanted a ‘beach read’ for want of a better phrase but there can be a lot of poorly written-shite in that genre so I didn’t have particularly high expectations. A literary agent and book editor – New Yorkers and professional ‘enemies’ – end up spending the summer in the same small town. They keep bumping into each other and it would be a meet-cute if not for the fact they have met many times before and it’s never been cute. It was funny, I really loved the characters and their banter, and it gave me a lot of nostalgia for watching American rom coms as a teenager. That kind of vibe. I can see why people rate Emily Henry. 4/5

This Could Be Everything by Eva Rice 

Set in Notting Hill in 1990, 19-year-old February Kingdom is hiding away from the world as she grieves the loss of her parents and her twin sister. Then one day, she finds a canary in her kitchen, and it sparks a glimmer of hope in her. Just as she starts to find her way out of the darkness, her aunt starts an affair with a married American drama teacher. This is a gentle coming-of-age story about hope, love and finding reasons to keep going, with a lot of nostalgia for times gone by. An enjoyable read. 4/5

Happy reading folks x 

26 Sept 2023

My Go-To Banana Bread

My Go-To Banana Bread Recipe

 Bake Off is back today and there were two black bananas sat forlornly in the fruit bowl. What was I supposed to do?! 

It is practically illegal for that familiar tune and tent to appear on your TV screens and there not be a sweet treat sat in front of you. Me? Enabler? Dunno what you mean. 

You'll need: 

2 x bananas, preferably ripe ones but it'll still be delicious if not. 

100g unsalted butter, softened in the microwave for about 10-15 seconds if straight out the fridge  

150g plain flour

150g caster sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 large eggs 

2 tbsp milk, whatever kind you have in the fridge, dairy or vegan both work. 

1 generous tbsp demerara sugar

100g Diary Milk chocolate (this is my personal preference, but obviously, other milk/dark chocolate works)

My Go-To Banana Bread Recipe

My Go-To Banana Bread Recipe

Preheat your oven to 160c (for a fan oven, adjust accordingly for your own). Grease a 2lb loaf tin and line the bottom with baking parchment. 

Mash your bananas in a bowl and then add all the ingredients apart from the chocolate and demerara sugar. Mix (by hand if you have muscles, electric hand whisk or in a stand mixer) until combined and smoothish. 

Chop the Diary Milk chocolate into little chunks. Maybe chop some into large chunks so you get the occasional bite of gooey chocolatiness but don't do this with all the chocolate otherwise it will all sink to the bottom of the cake. I mean, this isn't necessarily a bad thing so if that floats your boat, then go for it. 

Fold the chocolate into your batter. 

Pour the batter into the loaf tin. Sprinkle over the demerara sugar; this will create a lovely caramelised, crunchy topping. 

Bake for 1 hour, or until whatever you're poking your cake with comes out clean. Again, adjust timings for your own oven. The top will be brown but if it looks like it's browning a little too much, whack some foil over the top and keep going.  

Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before carefully decanting onto a cooling rack. It will still be steaming inside for a while longer but I'm not going to stop you from diving in. Enjoy! 

My Go-To Banana Bread Recipe

24 Sept 2023

In defence of routine, predictability, the little things

The little things

Do you remember when I used to start most blog posts with ‘I’m currently sat in café…’? Yeaaaah, some things don’t change, because yup, I’m currently sat in a café, hot chocolate perched next to me despite the fact it is 30c outside. I have learned my lesson from previous years and did not immediately get hyped about autumn the moment 1st September rolled around. There is always a final hurrah for summer so I’m still floating around in lightweight dresses and jumpsuits and trying to embrace the ice creams before my favourite ‘ber’ months kick into action. 

I feel like I’m here, but not fully present in this space if that makes sense. Figuring out how to juggle everything with a young child is a never-ending learning curve. I feel like ultimately, the answer is that everything will always be a juggle and I will simultaneously feel like I am on top of everything and on top of nothing, my brain space continuously tugged and yanked in multiple directions. 

I’m not quite sure how to finish the short story I’m writing; I think I just need to leave it alone for a bit to figure itself out so, whilst I’m sat in front of my laptop, I thought I’d write an old-school blog post. The type where I just throw thoughts at a page without much foreplaning.

I have been keeping a diary this year. An old-school page-for-each-day Paperchase (RIP) journal that I write in every night – just a few notes about what happened that day. I was motivated by not wanting to forget the minute details of Alfie and the ways he changes and develops all the time and, if I’m honest, because it slightly freaked me out how much sleep deprivation was affecting my perception of time and how I remembered things. I wanted a physical record to check when I felt a little like I was losing my mind. 

Thankfully, our sleep quality has improved since the start of the year and I trust my memory a lot more again, but the need to capture details of Alfie remains. Recently, I had a flick through things I have recorded and was struck by a) how many details even a non-sleep deprived person can forget so quickly and b) by how many of our weeks look, well, the same. 

There is predictability in our lives at the moment. The days Alfie goes to nursery, who gets up with him on which day, likewise, who does bedtime, the one afternoon a week I sit in a café with my laptop, the day the weekly shop comes, the activities and lunches I cycle through on the days I look after Alfie; there’s variation but the bones of it look the same week in, week out. 

I think my pre-baby self may have looked at this from the outside and wondered if life was boring. It probably would be to some people. But I’ve been surprised by how much contentment I am finding in our current routine. It is predictable but it’s also full of all these little joyous moments that make up a pretty lovely life. I’ve always been a big believer in appreciating and soaking up the little things but there’s nothing like a global pandemic and the fog of early parenthood to give you a brutal reminder of just how important the little things can be. The small, joyous moments of the day-to-day are what have got me through the last few years, particularly when spiralling around amongst the darker moments of sleep deprivation, and I have even more of a renewed appreciation for them now that I am no longer woken up every 1-2 hours. 

I think we need the routine. ‘A routine baggy enough to live in’ as Matt Haig says, but a routine all the same. I want the lovely surprises that life can throw at you, but I also am enjoying knowing what’s coming next week if I’m honest. I think after the uncertainty of the Covid years and the uncertainty of the trying to conceive-pregnancy-childbirth-newborn years, I was craving a bit of predictability. I’m also finding that leaning into all the aspects of our current phase of life, make everything so much easier. Accepting that life with a toddler often is repetitive and slow with sudden bursts of utter chaos, and just going with it. Savouring the fleeting moments where he does something totally new like it’s no big deal. Seizing the brief moments where I can squeeze in couple time, exercise, reading, baking, writing; the things that fill my cup. None of it is big or exciting but I’m pretty convinced that if you’re happy with the small stuff, with the day-to-day, then the big and exciting stuff is just a lovely bonus.