February Favourites


Disclaimer: this post is going to make it look like all I do is watch TV. I promise this is not the case.


Outlander
Oh, wow. I've been watching Outlander since back when it launched in 2014 and this month I dived into season 4. It's the most tense season to date, with plenty of horrifying moments in which I squirmed, barely able to watch. It's got all the suspense of a thriller, in a history setting, with fantasy elements and major romance plots. There's crossover appeal to say the least. I don't know what to do with myself until next year.

Mario Kart, Switch
At the start of my month, my lovely friend Jemima came to see me and she brought her Switch! We spent the day playing Mario Kart and had a great time. I don’t usually play video games but I’ve always loved Mario Kart and the Switch was so easy to use that I didn’t get frustrated trying to figure out the controls. I also think playing a game like this is such a great way to spend time with friends because you can chat without just chatting and it helped me focus my mind when my thoughts were all over the place.

Netflix Documentaries - Fyre and Abducted In Plain Sight.
This month I watched two captivating Netflix documentaries that are drastically different but equally captivating.

You might have seen the ads for Fyre, the documentary of the festival by the same name that completely flopped a few years ago. It led to the criminal charges of the organiser and a free for all on an island in the Bahamas. We’re talking the fight to survive with battles for food and water. It’s a miracle no one died.

Fyre is weirdly reminiscent of Tanacon (although admittedly, Fyre happened first). Imagine Shane Dawson but as an actual professional documentary maker. If you’ve ever doubted the power of a social media influencer, watch it. Essentially, the festival existed because of some models posting an orange tile on Instagram and it was torn down by a viral tweet of some sad looking cheese on toast. Mind. Blown.

In a very different tone, Abducted in Plain Sight is a true crime documentary about an American girl who was abducted (twice) by a family friend in the seventies. She was convinced she needed to have a baby with this man before she turned sixteen in order to save the alien race she was part of, otherwise they would blind and kill her family. Yeah. There’s nothing else like it and while it’s a tough watch, it’s one of the most interesting true crime stories I’ve come across in a while.

I prefer documentaries to be released as one hour to ninety minute ‘movie’ rather an as episodes. I don’t need cliffhangers and the same clips mashed together fifty different ways. I need details. Both of these were very engaging and I’d highly recommend giving them a watch.





Reading Vlog
I didn’t just watch lots of video content this month, I made some of my own too! I uploaded my first ever weekly reading vlog in February! It’s very cosy, with plenty of bookish chats from bed so do get into your pyjamas and watch along...




Coffee Shop Sundays
My lovely friend Ashleigh and I were lucky to spend two Sundays in coffee shops this month. We hit up St Martin’s Coffee Shop in Leicester which is an old favourite and discovered a newer plant-based cafe/restaurant called Prana. Located in the old bank building, this is one of the most aesthetic and comfortable places in the city. I’ll definitely be going back to sample the food!


French
I haven’t told many people that I’m trying to get back into learning French (to be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d stick to it) but in February I hit a 100 day streak on Duolingo so I think it’s safe to say this is something I am doing now. I did French GCSE but never continued it despite thoroughly enjoying it. Now, I have a playlist of French music and a daily goal. It’s not a race for me at all and I know I could be doing a lot more to immerse myself but for now a little bit every day suits me well.

March is going to be a busy month but I'm excited!
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The Thriller of the Year?

*This book was gifted to me by Pan Macmillan*


We all remember the year Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl took over the nation. It was contagious. Everywhere you looked, someone would have their head in a copy of the black book. A few of years on, it was Paula Hawkins’ The Girl On The Train. The Girlfriend by Michelle Frances was the ‘it thriller’ of 2017 and 2018 was dominated by A J Finn’s The Woman In The Window.

Every year, I make it my mission to find the thriller of the year as soon as possible. Last year, I waited it out to see if anything would overtake the hype for The Woman In The Window but the whirlwind only escalated and now it’s well into 2019 and I still haven’t read it. That’s not a good feeling, I can assure you.

The lesson I’ve learnt? Read it fast! Be the person who spreads the hype, not someone who feels so weighed down by it you’re scared to actually read the book. I’m calling it right now (or rather Pan Macmillan are calling it and I agree) - A Nearly Normal Family by M T Edvardsson is going to be the thriller of 2019.

Every murder case starts with a suspect. What if the suspect is your daughter? Would you believe her, or the evidence against her?

Originally published in Sweden in 2018, it takes the typical murder mystery and puts a new spin on it, or rather three. You hear from the accused’s father, the accused and then her mother across three parts. Twisting and turning like any good thriller does, you’ll be left guessing what really happened until the final line.

I was completely hooked by the father's perspective and actually disheartened when we had to move onto the second part of the story but the flickering perspectives give you just enough information to ask a hundred more questions before ripping you out of your comfort zone again.

A Nearly Normal Family is due to be released in July, perfectly in time for the summer holidays and (hopefully) some good weather to read outside. There’s something magical about reading a haunting book on a beautiful day, and let’s face it, we’re all weirdly a fan of the twisted, psychotic minds of characters that are so far removed from everyday reality. We all sit there, completely sucked in, our hands clenched around the battered pages of the book.

Let’s not forget, A Nearly Normal Family is translated from Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles. Remind you of anything? Anyone remember the wildly successful The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Whatever they put in the water in Sweden, it’s working. This thriller is also a monster. At last count, it’s sold in over 30 territories, not to mention it’s been commended by thriller goddess Karin Slaughter.

Don’t let it pass you by.
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Recommending Feminist YA


Laura Bates

Feminist author, Laura Bates is known for her non-fiction titles Everyday Sexism and Girl Up and the famous Everyday Sexism project. I was so inspired after reading Everyday Sexism that I instantly handed my kindle over to my boyfriend and he started reading it then and there, becoming as much a fan of Bates and her writing as I. When I found out she was turning to fiction, I was thrilled, but also a little nervous. Not every author can pull off the transition from non-fiction to fiction with flair, but I shouldn’t have worried. The Burning is didactic without being patronising. Emotional without losing hope.

Fire is like a rumour. You might think you’ve extinguished it but one creeping, red tendril, one single wisp of smoke is enough to let it leap back into life again. Especially if someone is watching, waiting to fan the flames ...

Anna moves to Scotland to start a new life after something horrible happens at her school in Birmingham. She’s immediately wrapped up in a history project that has her studying the treatment of women as witches hundreds of years ago and can’t help but notice the parallels between the way women were treated historically and today. When her secrets follow her to Scotland, Anna feels the burn of rumours and has to figure out how to handle her life falling apart when her and her mum are still grieving her dad.

You’re kept in Anna’s head throughout, and even though I’m quite a bit older than her, I still found myself wondering what I would do in her situation. The frustration and unfairness of it all stings. I wasn’t such a fan of the inserted visions of alleged witch, Maggie, but that could be because I have a grudge against italicised excerpts in general. I loved the vivid settings and appreciated Scotland and Birmingham as an alternative to London. All round, this is is a well-thought out and wonderfully executed first fiction novel.



Holly Bourne
Considering she blurbed The Burning, Holly Bourne is the natural go-to for feminist YA. Well known for the Spinster Club books, all of Bourne’s characters approach feminism in a different way, showing there’s no one size fits all approach. Despite their wildly different lives, the issues are always relevant to them in some way. I’m a big fan of the pop culture references, appreciation for food and integration of other heavy topics such as mental health. Bourne also writes for adults and her novel How Do You Like Me Now? looks at self comparison, having it all and the expectations put on women. I bet even her shopping lists are feminist.
Top pick: It Only Happens In The Movies





Louise O’Neill
If you’re looking for something that will punch you in the face, Louise O’Neill’s books will do just that. Never afraid to shy away from dark subject matter, O’Neill’s books ask the question, what if? What if girls grew up in schools where men decided their fate? What if a girl was raped and photos were taken - would she be the victim or the joke? They can be hard to face at times, but that’s exactly why we need to read these books. As both an adult author and YA, O’Neill writes broadly and defiantly in every new book. Her reimaging of The Little Mermaid takes the story back to its original roots and puts a feminist spin on it. It’s like nothing else you’ll find in your local library or bookshop.
Top pick: The Surface Breaks





Laura Steven
Although Laura Steven is more of a newbie in the feminist YA world, she’s definitely made a mark with her debut, The Exact Opposite of Okay. Taking a political spin and discussing the laws that put women at risk through the confident Izzy O’Neill gives Steven’s writing a balance of shock and hilarity. When private photos of Izzy and a politician's son spread across the nation, Izzy goes through something terrible and makes something epic out of it. I can’t wait to see her return in A Girl Called Shameless.
Top pick: The Exact Opposite of Okay


These are just a handful of the fabulous YA writers I’ve been reading and if you’re new to this world, I hope you find lots of books you love here. Feel free to recommend some of your own favourite feminist authors and spread the word!
You can see THREE of these authors speak at an International Women's Day event on Friday 8th March! Details here: https://www.waterstones.com/events/international-womens-day-laura-bates-holly-bourne-laura-steven-and-laura-coryton-in-conversation/london-piccadilly

Make sure you continue to follow the blog tour for The Burning.


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January Favourites


It didn’t occur to me to blog about my January Favourites until I read and loved similar blog posts by Ashleigh from A Frolic Through Fiction and Jemima from Be Aware of Books. Not only is it a cool way to look back and see the phases I went through in 2019, but it’s a great chance to reflect on the small things that have brought a smile to my face this month. Make sure you go and check out Ashleigh and Jemima’s posts and then come back and let’s talk about the things that defined my January.



Yoga
I kicked off the year with the ambition to get into yoga. I’ve tried it a few times before. You know how it goes, you’re twisting about on the living room floor thinking why isn’t this relaxing? All the tutorials I’ve ever found online are either too easy or too hard. Until January, when I discovered Yoga with Adriene and instantly went online to buy myself a yoga mat. She’s one of the most popular yoga instructors on YouTube and every January runs a 30 day home yoga practice. Instead of choosing Dedicate, the 2019 series, I took part in Yoga Camp which launched in 2016. I chose this one to start because each session has a positive affirmation and as you go through, Adriene talks about toxic thoughts and showing up for yourself.

As well as aiming to improve my flexibility and fitness a little bit, it helped me to get more in control of my thoughts and to stretch my body every day. It felt so good to release the tension of sitting at a desk all day and I feel so much better for it. I’ll definitely be moving onto another series on her channel for February - this is hopefully just the beginning of yoga for me!



Suits
I couldn’t not mention Suits. Since November it has become such a big part of my life. I never thought I’d like it because when it comes to TV shows, I’m picky. I thought it’d be boring, male dominated and in the same vein as House of Cards. It turned out to be clever, funny and pretty diverse and feminist!

If you don’t know much about it, it follows the story of Mike Ross, a guy without a law degree who manages to get a job at one of the top firms in New York. From keeping his secret, to developing new relationships and trying to save the firm countless times, Suits combines the intelligent detail of Prison Break with a sense of humour that has made me fall in love with it. Now I’m pretty much caught up so February will definitely feel empty without it.


Marie Kondo

After binge-watching her new Netflix show, Marie Kondo showed me the light! I spent January decluttering and cleaning my flat. I unhauled 150 books and gave them to a local charity, two local schools and a local charity shop, as well as getting rid of a further 15 bin bags worth of stuff. I'm hoping to move to a new flat this year so this has definitely lifted a weight of my shoulders in relation to that.



Leena Norms
I’ve known about Leena for years, watching her on Book Break, being aware of her in the publishing industry and watching the occasional video on her booktube channel. This January she posted a couple of videos that really caught my attention, including why she’s not shopping in 2019, 30 books Marie Kondo couldn’t make her part with and how to beat your imposter syndrome. Now I’m addicted and will click on all of her uploads! I feel like our opinions on many topics are similar and I love how in depth she will go into some topics. She’s hilarious, blunt and a little bit all over the place (all good qualities).

Lentil and Bean Chilli
Last year I got really into baking but it didn’t do me a lot of good so this year I’m trying to move more towards cooking. In January, by accident, Patrick and I discovered a new favourite meal. Usually when we make chilli, we make it with a fake-meat mince and kidney beans but our pledge to eat less meat substitutes and our own stupidity of not buying kidney beans led to an experiment that has brought me so much happiness. Let me share this joy with you.

You need: brown rice, 1 red onion, 1 (or a few) garlic cloves, 1 tin of green lentils (drained), 1 tin of chopped tomatoes, 1 tin of butter beans (drained), 1 tin of black beans (seriously, drain those tins), a pack of chilli spice, or your own combination and my extra special ingredient is chilli rock salt. Just put the rice on to boil, fry the veg and garlic, add the tins, add the spices and devour it. It takes half an hour from start to finish and makes enough for four portions. Thank me later.

Editing
If you’ve made it this far - YAY! That’s how I felt when I reached the halfway point of my first round of edits on my WIP. I’ve been editing since the start of December and have found that at points it’s taken me longer to edit than it did to write the first draft. Whenever I draft, I let the words flow, but now it feels like every word counts and forcing myself through all of the challenges is painful so these small milestones keep me focused!

There we go! If you’re wondering why no books have cropped up, then here’s my reading wrap up to explain it all…



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My Dad and his Mate Stewart Went Vegan for a Month - Here's What Happened

Pan Macmillan gifted these two copies of The 28 Day Vegan Plan.

Cast your mind back to the start of 2018, when you couldn't believe another year had flown by. Everyone was talking about Dry January and new year's resolutions and there was my dad getting all of the hits on my blog with his 28 Day Alcohol Free Diary. Believe me, I was more surprised than anyone. people actually care about my dad and his fad diets and personal experiments?!

This year, Dad (let’s call him Matt from here on) decided to take things to the next level. Not only did he rope in a mate, but he took the plunge and took on both Dry January and Veganuary with the help of Kim Julie Hansen’s 28 Day Vegan Plan. I interviewed both Matt and Stewart at the end of the month to review how it went. Here’s what they had to say...

WHY


Matt: Other than the fact that I'm a curious person, there are three main reasons why I wanted to go vegan for a month.

  1. My daughter is vegan and I thought it’d be interesting to live a month in her world.
  2. From a health perspective, I was intrigued to eat a more plant based diet and how it would make me feel.
  3. I wanted to know how easy or difficult it would be.
I never planned to turn vegan. The aim was always to do a month and then review how I felt about these changes I’d made and see if there was anything I’d like to carry forward.
Stewart (L) and Matt (R)
Stewart: I’ve read quite a lot of endurance athlete books, including one about ultramarathoner Scott Jurek. He’s very high profile and in his autobiography he talks a lot about going vegan and plant based power. It always interested me. On top of that, my cousin is vegan because she thinks it’s the right thing to do for the environment and the animals. Both my interest in plant power and knowing about the environmental and ethical impact of eating meat drove me to Veganuary.

EXPECTATIONS


Matt: I thought it might be difficult and I imagined myself going hungry, not knowing what to eat and missing meat. I worried about feeling lethargic and having this extra complication in my life but then I thought… go on, try it anyway.

Stewart: I was open minded but I thought there’d be a few challenges like missing meat, getting enough of the right kinds of foods for my high volume of exercise and finding the right kind of recipes to keep me interested.

REALITY


Matt: It was none of the things I expected. For one, I didn’t particularly miss meat and I didn’t feel deprived. From a health point of view, I felt exactly the same as before - no better, no worse than my regular diet. Ultimately, it wasn’t as big of a fuss as I thought it would be.

Stewart hits the gym
Stewart: It turned out easier than I thought and my wife was really good. She investigated vegan recipes and did a lot of cooking. I did lose a bit of weight but I think that was because of not drinking, eating plant based and all the exercise I did combined. Interestingly, I have more muscle mass now than I had when I finished the Iron Man. The thing I really noticed was how people’s views and opinions around veganism were strong and often unfounded. I tried not to be preachy at all but people were giving their opinions whether they were invited to or not.

WHAT DID YOU EAT?

BREAKFAST
Matt: This was easy, I just had porridge with almond milk instead of cow’s milk.

Stewart: This was very easy. Prior to doing this I’d have porridge oats with almond milk or soy milk so that was still a viable option. I’ve got a nutribullet and I’m into doing breakfast smoothies and they’re easy to do on the go. I freeze fruit and vegetables before they go off so I’m not wasting anything.

LUNCH
Matt: Lunch was the hardest. At home I often had baked beans on toast but out and about was more of a challenge. I took fruit and nuts out with me but I did have to think ahead so I wouldn’t go hungry around lunchtime. While there are options for eating out, there aren’t many and they can be hard to get hold of. I was lucky to try a Greggs sausage roll and I enjoyed it. It’s just a shame that most stores either don’t have them yet or sell out before lunchtime.

DINNER
Matt: For dinner, I had a mix of whole foods, such as making my own vegetable casserole, and convenient foods, like meat substitutes for when I was in a rush. The meals I enjoyed the most were vegetable curry and burritos. Both were dead easy to make and I genuinely enjoyed them. Quorn was straightforward to use as a meat replacement and I didn’t mind it, like Quorn mince in chili is fine. My vegetable stews were alright but I overdosed at the beginning when I wanted to be super healthy and eat lots of vegetables so I quickly learnt that I needed a balance.

Stewart: I thought I’d eat lots of salads and I did eat some, I had a lots of other things too and ended up throwing chickpeas into everything because they’re nice and filling. I liked having spag bol with meat substitutes and because of sauces it tasted the same. My favourite meal was vegan chilli. It had lots of texture, lots of flavour, and it was quick, easy and convenient. I also discovered a new love for mushrooms and avocados.

Stewart completing an Iron Man in Maastricht

THE CHALLENGES


Matt: Eating out was a little bit trickier. At home it didn’t bother me, but if I’m paying good money to eat out, it’s hard to choose something different to what you instinctively want. I did have one particularly bad experience when I was charged £15 for a plate of vegetables… Then again, I had a good experience ordering an Indian takeaway. Other than that, the only real challenge I felt was getting a bit bored and frustrated in the final few days.

Stewart: Socialising and eating out was one of the biggest challenges. One of the Sundays I met with friends and we took the kids out before a pub lunch. The only thing on the menu I could have was tomato soup. I had two big bowls. They all thought it was hilarious. I also went to a dinner party where my friend Donna was lovely and cooked a load of vegan food. It was all great until the dessert which was horrendous. It tasted like an energy gel…

HOW IT CHANGED YOUR LIFE


Matt: It makes you think twice about what you put in your mouth. That’s a good habit to continue!

The biggest thing that will change because of this is, surprisingly, how I drink my coffee. It sounds daft but one month as a vegan has changed my coffee drinking habit for the rest of my life. I’ve had milk in my coffee but now I prefer it black. That’s probably because your taste buds naturally adapt and change. I appreciate proper coffee now.
Nice armpits Dad
I’ll definitely eat less meat. Me and my wife have talked about having meat free days as there are lots of alternatives and you don’t need it every day. When we do get meat, I’ll see it more as a treat and pay more for ethically sourced meat. I have no desire to go back to processed meats like sausages or bacon but I’m a realist so maybe I’ll slip from time to time. I’m glad I did this experiment - I learnt a lot. It turns out, it’s not that hard to be vegan.
Stewart: I felt good being vegan and I want to eat less meat and a lot more fruit and veg from now on. Even though Veganuary is over, during the week where I get the option I take the vegan one. It’s not any effort - maybe because I’m now better at finding the food. I also drink my coffee black now, I continue to have porridge with plant milks and I always choose soy yoghurt over dairy yoghurt because it’s much nicer.

On the first day of eating meat and drinking again I had massive Wagyu steak, red wine, cheese board and some port. It was very tasty but I woke up the next day with a horrific hangover and I felt dirty. It was weird. It felt wrong on some level. It cemented in my mind, that I should be eating less of this stuff and eating more vegan food.

THE BOOK


Matt: Even though the book claims to be a 28 day vegan plan and is marketed towards Veganuary, it wasn’t what I was expecting. I thought it would be about the health effects of a plant based diet, but really it went more into the personal journey of the author and offered a more complex plan than you needed. For instance, it had 28 different breakfasts, 28 different lunches, 28 different dinners… Who has that much variety, ever? Really, I think this book would be more beneficial to someone who has been vegan for a few months and wants to rely less on meat substitutes and turn to more whole foods.

I also thought it was a little preachy in places and went off on tangents about journaling, blogging and the author’s life. While I respected the journey she’s been on and think it’s brilliant she’s channelled her energies into a book, I was looking for something more practical from a 28 day vegan plan.

Stewart: I wasn’t particularly inspired by the recipes or content in the book and I think that was partly because the author approaches veganism for different reasons than me. It’s better aimed at someone who has done veganuary and wants guidance in the next steps. It was useful as an emergency crutch if I was desperate for ideas and I used the recipes to find out about ingredients I could use in my meals. In an ideal world, I would have loved a book with an athletic perspective and more information about how to balance a plant based diet.

FINAL THOUGHTS


Matt: I'm really glad I did Veganuary, it really makes you stop and think about what you put in your mouth. The pleasant side effect of this was that considered eating combined with a heavy training month saw me drop 6lb in the month. It's also a great excuse to eat Bonneville dark chocolate...

Stewart: I can see why a lot of athletes have embraced veganism. Getting started is hard but once you learn the basics it gets easier. Lots of press and social media come at veganism from a place of negativity and fear but I think if they showed it from a more encouraging light, more people might give it a go. People come to it from different points of view and can sometimes appear against it but then have a silent interest.

There is a stigma around men and veganism but it didn’t phase me. I’ve got involved in pilates and at work I once had to pose like Hugh Jackman with some natural essential oils. Basically, I have a weird second job as a bloke doing ‘women’s’ stuff so veganism fits in perfectly with my brand.


If you are interested in giving veganism a go or want to learn more about it, here are some resources.

Books
How Not To Die - Gene Stone and Michael Greger

Documentaries
Forks over Knives - Netflix
Cowspiracy  - Netflix

Try Challenge 22 and give veganism a go with mentorship, advise on recipes and more! All completely free. https://www.challenge22.com/challenge22/
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