Category Archives: Books + Brews

books + brews: the Valentines pile

February 14, 2016

I am not a fan of Valentines day. At all. BUT I love love, and reading books about love…so I’m not about to miss the chance to scribble pink and red hearts all over everything and throw down my favourite reads. They’re all old, but that’s not the point. I heart them greatly.

pouring champagne |

In fact, one the greatest things about not giving myself a Goodreads book challenge target this year, has been the headspace to re-read favourite books if I want to. I never had any problem with it as a teenager, but that’s probably because I hadn’t set reading lists of 30, 40, 50 new books in a year.

And it turns out, because I’m have ‘upholder’ tendencies, that would greatly explain why I can’t make a list and then ignore it, no matter how arbitrary. Oh, I just said I’d read more new books this year than last? Better get on it… or not, this year, because no such list (for me) exists. And that’s a relief. Because I’m about to re-read these favourites…

1. Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell
Maybe I love this one because it has good memories of being dragged to Barnes and Noble by my friend Maggie (who is a children’s librarian and has great taste in books) and essentially had my love of YA legitimised by this wonderful person. Or maybe it’s because this book is excellent, and Rainbow Rowell is the shizz. A bit of both, perhaps? Or maybe because we’re all sort of Cath and we all grew up writing fanfiction (oh sure you didn’t), and following twins Cath and Wren through their College coming-of-age is being fulfilled a little…somehow.

2. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Do I even have to explain this? I’ve been in love with Mr Darcy and his haughtiness since I was eleven. The dancing, the wit, the empire waist necklines! The bitchy Bingley sisters, the manners, the longing looks over pianos! In the words of Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail, “read it, I guarantee you’ll love it.”

3. Will Grayson, Will Grayson – John Green & David Levithan
I get that this isn’t most people’s favourite John Green love story, but the idea that two very different Will Graysons exist, and will meet, is so much fun to watch unfold. Didn’t everyone know a Tiny when they were in school? Or were you not that lucky? A high school YA love story, it was a great introduction to LGBT YA…and frankly, I need more of it in my life (feel free to suggest any of your favourites in the comments…)

4. On Green Dolphin Street – Sebastian Faulks
Shot through with my favourite jazz songs, a certain smokiness and the tug between diplomat and journalist, this Faulks novel (narrowly) won out over the Girl at the Lion D’or for a spot on this list. It’s set after the second war (as most of his books are – or during or between two…). Mary van der Linden, her diplomat husband and journalist Frank Renzo meet against the backdrop of the 1960 election, lingering McCarthyism, the cold war and burgeoning race relations in the US. Nostalgic and a bit heartbreaking.

5. The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffeneger
When I first read this book, I couldn’t have loved Claire and Henry any harder. Everything that I had ever felt about longing and love in our (then transatlantic) relationship had been condensed into this perfect, terrifying, gorgeous story about what happens when someone you love can be thrown through time – and away from you – without warning. Planes aren’t time machines, but god, did I get it. My copy is dog-eared and thoroughly well-loved, though not as dog-eared as the several I’ve already given away through the years. Also, I have never wanted to live in Chicago more than when I read this book.

“Do you ever miss him?
Every day. Every minute.
Every minute, she says.
Yes, it’s that way, isn’t it?”

Isn’t it. Let me know your favourite reads about l-o-v-e in a comment below (or on instagram!).

Books + brews: the versions of us

January 24, 2016

the versions of us and hot chocolate and blankets snowy weather hot chocolate |

snowy weather hot chocolate |


BREW: the fattest, tastiest hot chocolate (real cream and real chocolate…dec.a.dent)
BOOK: The Versions of Us – Laura Barnett

This books+brews is dedicated to the storm that has not graced us in the UK with its presence, but I’m living vicariously through my East Coast friends who are literally up to their waists in snow. What do you need when it’s snowy? Real hot chocolate. I’m talking double cream, milk and grated dark chocolate…none of yer cadburys powder here.

And here’s the perfect book to curl up with while the storm rages outside. I’ll always love a ‘what if?’ book – Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life was one of my favourite reads of 2014, so if you haven’t read that either it should definitely be on your list. The Versions of Us is pretty ambitious: three versions of Eva and Jim make their way through their respective lives… and it’s interesting to consider the idea that no matter what, the large events in your life may be fated to happen in some manner, whichever road you chose that leads you there. All three Eva and Jims were at Cambridge, all three ended up in New York at some point, all three in the book are fated to meet. Actually, because of this mirroring in their stories, and the use of so many similar names, The Versions of Us is a little confusing in the beginning – wait, is this the version where Jim does X or is that Version 2? is Eva married in this one? Balls. Flip back a bit, won’t you? There was, I have to admit, an embarrassing amount of re-reading the first few chapters like a table of contents, but as their stories began to diverge more, it became a little easier to keep the strands separate.

So grab a blanket and a mug of something warm, and join me in pretending that there are soft, silent flakes of frozen water vapour falling from the dull London sky. Maybe grab a journal too, because you are no doubt going to fall down a thought wormhole of your own, thinking of choices made and roads untaken. Pro tip: not being able to leave the house is good when you get to the end of this book, because you’re going to want to hide your puffy, red eyes for a little bit. (I for one am glad I chose not to read the last twenty pages or so on the tube. Because that would have been concerning for anyone remotely near me when I started ugly crying).

Next books+brews: will I have managed to get more than 1/4 into The Witches: Salem 1692? Will I just end up reading fangirl for the 20th time, because I need my Rainbow Rowell hit? Will I actually branch out from hot drinks and finally make some fancy cocktails? Whoo knows. You don’t yet, so you should probably come back soon and see…oh and drop me a comment on your way – tell me what you’re reading :)

PS: the beautiful cover was designed by Sinem Erkas who also did that amazing Where’d you Go Bernadette cover…

books + Brews: TBR 2016

January 4, 2016


Brew: vanilla Swiss Miss hot chocolate

– The Life & Death of Sophie Stark, Anna North
– Into the Woods, John Yorke
– The Final Empire – Mistborn book 1, Brandon Sanderson
– The Versions of Us, Laura Barnett
– The Witches: Salem 1962, Stacy Schiff
– Where my Heart Used to Beat, Sebastian Faulks
– Pistache, Sebastian Faulks
– A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson]

(And cheatingly, Why not Me by Mindy Kaling, which was actually my last read of 2015)

Just finished The Life and Death of Sophie Stark yesterday and ate up every second of it – a really compelling read, and a brutally/wonderfully unsympathetic female lead. A really great one to pick up – devoured this in a couple of days (thank you Christmas break!) Just getting stuck into the Witches by Stacy Schiff, a non-fiction book attempting to unravel the mysteries of the Salem witch trials…and so far I’m loving it. Though I think I should stop reading it before bed… what’s on your TBR pile for 2016 so far? Share away!

Books + Brews: 2015 shelf

December 29, 2015


Books (in reading order January – December):

The Geography of you and me – Jennifer E. Smith
The Manifesto on How to be Interesting – Holly Bourne
Murder Most Unladylike – Robin Stevens
Geek Girl (Geek Drama) – Holly Smale
How to Survive your Sisters – Ellie Campbell
The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton
The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell
The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg
A Possible Life – Sebastian Faulks
Singling out the Couples – Stella Duffy
The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
Arsenic for Tea – Robin Stevens
Death Keeps His Court, the Rule of Richard the II – Anselm Audley
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
Since You’ve Been Gone – Morgan Matson
Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey
Home – Toni Morrison
Trains and Lovers – Alexander McCall Smith
Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari
Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen – Susan Gregg Gilmore
The Most of Norah Ephron – Norah Ephron
Me Before You – JoJo Moyes
Asking For It – Louise O’Neill
Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng
Career of Evil – Robert Galbraith
Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert
Essentialism – Greg McKeown
The Humans – Matt Haig
We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Because You’ll Never Meet Me – Leah Thomas
My Own Story – Emmeline Pankhurst
Creativity Inc – Ed Catmull

2015 has been an interesting year in books for me. This year I let myself get back to reading whatever I wanted, just for me, which probably sounds odd to most people (don’t you always read books just for you?) but makes sense in light of some interning and work I did in the last few years before 2015, which meant I read a lot of things for other people. I was obviously more than happy to do at the time, but it certainly made this year (and getting back to reading whatever I felt like, whenever I felt like it) feel fresher and better than ever.

This year there were a lot of great, funny reads (Geek Girl, The Wells & Wong books) and gut-punching reads (Asking for It, Elizabeth is Missing, and to an extent, Me Before You) and some others that were just okay, a solid 3 stars-wouldn’t-read-again. There were a surprising number of non-fiction books in the form of productivity and management reads (The Power of Habit, Essentialism, Creativity Inc), all of which I know I’ll keep dipping in and out of, and one of which lead me to my now favourite podcast. There were also a few essential feminism texts that I can’t believe I had left until now to actually read (We Should all be Feminists, My Own Story, The Bell Jar). There were surprising disappointments (The Goldfinch – nothing but a downward, irredeemable spiral of misery for 700+ pages – The Humans, Modern Romance and The Miniaturist, which I thought was fine, but not the amazing book everyone portrayed it to be). Books I’d enjoyed, but knew I would, because I already have many books by the authors on my shelves (A Possible Life, Home). And ‘That One That Was Pure Poetry, Picked Up On A Whim In Dar Es Salaam’ (Singling out the Couples).

And then. My stand-out favourites of the year: Big MagicThe Bone Clocks, Everything I Never Told You, Because You’ll Never Meet MeCreativity Inc. Each one so very different, but I loved and possibly needed right at that moment. So while I was one book shy of my 33 book aim for the year, I’m still content. I’d chosen the number at random after reading 36 books in 2014 (and feeling as though I rushed a few just for the sake of ticking off a number). I read more widely this year than I probably have ever done (given that I’ve always been more obsessed with novels and plays). I brought physical books back towards the end of the year after being obsessed with my kindle (the price! the ease!) but then realising I wanted to a) take photos of and enjoy the physical books and b) didn’t feel like I was retaining too much from reading on the kindle. (Not a problem when it’s a forgettable mid-range novel, more frustrating when it’s something you want to be able to reference again).

What did you read this year? What were your standout favourites? Can’t wait to get stuck into the TBR pile for 2016…

books + brews: The humans

December 6, 2015

Book review of The Humans by Matt Haig Book review of The Humans by Matt Haig

Book review of the Humans by Matt Haig


BREW: standard Sunday decaff Yorkshire tea (I promise the Brews will get more interesting)
BOOK: The Humans – Matt Haig

The Humans was one of those books I’d had on my TBR list for what felt like yonks, and yet I’d never somehow gotten round to reading it. I’d followed the author on Twitter. Then unfollowed. Then seen a retweet and followed again. Then eventually…well, you get the drift. Then the truly lovely Jo got in touch and said did I fancy coming along to a book club? Oh and the book is The Humans. Perfect!

So, perhaps I’d built this book up a bit too much in my head already, but I have to say I was a little disappointed. A Vonnadorian alien is sent from his planet (where there is no pain, no death, no effort to life) to destroy a Cambridge Professor’s evidence of cracking the secret of prime numbers and thus, preventing humans from advancing far beyond their current capabilities. While I enjoyed it a little, I spent most of the book feeling as though the author had once kept a notebook of all the interesting or quirky or profound things he had ever thought about being a human and this was a fairly thin sketch of a plot that enabled him to put them all in the same place. So many loose ends or too-quickly-resolved issues would bug me while I read. If you think about it as an allegory of depression and mental health, it gets a little more interesting, but the alien himself actually discounts this two thirds into the book. He’s not a human who has a problem…no, he’s really an alien. Oh.

The best part was the burgeoning relationships between Professor Martin’s family and his alien doppelganger (though, how quickly does he overcome his initial horror of Isabel’s face? What?), but overall, I was a little sad at how little I cared for the book. Ah, expectation, you are cruel. But, on a positive note, I met some very nice people through it and had a very good couple of hours chatting (plus, first mulled wine of the season!)…so, if for nothing else, I’m rather glad I read it…

Books + brews: Career of evil

October 29, 2015


BREW: countless Utica Coffee Roasting decaff lattes
BOOK: Career of Evil – Robert Galbraith

Is anyone else so bad at horror tension that they couldn’t watch the whole of Scream? Anyone? Oh. I’m not a regular crime-reading person, but I do love a good thriller now and then. Which is weird, because I have legit screamed when people I already knew were in my flat have opened the door and said hello. (I just was just concentrating very hard on making a cup of tea, okay?)

So it wasn’t the wisest decision to read the opening chapters of RG’s darkest of the Cormoran Strike series in a room on my own, late at night ‘before I go to sleep‘. ‘To help me drop off‘. Wiser decisions I have made before. It’s the sharpest, twistiest of the novels, with far more emotion (oh my gosh, will they won’t they? WHY are they? WHY ARE THEY NOT?). I love this series so much, I actually pre-ordered the book to have it on the release-day while we were on holiday in the US.

In this, the third of the series, there are some Robin revelations, and more plot twists than you can brandish a knife at. And there are lots of knives in this particular book. But the twist that had me most was the VERY LAST LINE. WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO MY EMOTIONS ROBERT GALBRAITH? In retrospect, I felt the final third of the book a little too drawn out, but the pace doesn’t drop so you don’t really notice you feel that way until you actually find out whodunnit. If you love a well-written thriller with two finely carved protagonists (including the wonderfully layered female joint-lead Robin), then why haven’t you started reading these yet?

…just, you know, don’t do it on your own.

books + brews: the most of norah ephron

October 11, 2015


Books + Brews: Nora Ephron |

BREW: dirty chai, Damson & Co
BOOK: The Most of Norah Ephron – Norah Ephron

Ah Nora. The Nora. Screenwriter, Director and Producer of some of my favourite films…Do I know You’ve Got Mail backwards? Why, yes, yes I do, because Tom Hanks carrying a goldfish in a little bag is the cutest thing ever, and I desperately wanted Meg Ryan’s hair. And bookshop. Was the soundtrack to When Harry Met Sally teenage-me’s gateway jazz album of choice? Absolutely. She could make you fall in love with cities you’d never before wished to go to, and her people who inhabited them. So when this book came my way on twitter after a casual competition RT (thank you @alisonbarrow!), that pretty much made my week <3 Wellesley alumna, wit, word wizard…someone who always ended an article with the perfect sentence. Nora Ephron was everything I wished to be as a writer and creative woman.

So while I knew the more recent articles and commencement speeches and films, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed dipping into this book on the commute and on coffee stops, and learning more about her early days in journalism at the New York Post, her navigation of feminism and Wellesley-related hang-ups. Admittedly, some of the early stories can be as frustrating as they are tantalising. Like being at a dinner party with a table of guests, half of whose names you didn’t catch and it’s now just a liiiittle too late to ask them because it would be rude, and half the time you have no idea who they are and what they’re referring to. What I mean to say is, even though I studied American politics and history, a quarter of the cast of her early political columns are unknown to me and that can be a little vexing with a style so familiar and knowing as hers.

That said, there are about 50 turned down ‘remember this quote’ page corners, and it pairs excellently with a decaff dirty chai and a few moments to yourself. Dip in, put down, dip in, put down. If you’re in soho, Damson & Co froth the world’s most perfect milk. ☕️? 10/10, would drink again, etc, etc.

Books + Brews*: Arsenic for Tea

August 16, 2015

BREW: Dunkin Donuts hot chocolate

BOOK: Arsenic for Tea – Robin Stevens

When I think of summer reading, I think of cycling to the library, loading up on Asterix, Jane Austen and books with first names for titles and dragging them, blankets, snacks, and half the series of Mallory Towers into a teepee in the garden. My mum could whip up a teepee in minutes. And you’d usually find me there, all snack carcasses and finished books, come rain or shine. So when I started reading the Wells and Wong series, and realised it is basically Mallory Towers with murder (but you know, better than my description), and that it is technically summer even though you’d never know it from the weather, I thought…why not bring out the teepee…?

It may not surprise you to learn that I am now much too big for a bamboo stick teepee. This was disappointment number 1. Disappointment number 2 is realising that Keurig cup hot chocolate does not taste the same if it hasn’t been made with a Keurig machine. This is my plan for drinking all the Dunkin Hot Chocolate whilst not in the US scuppered, I tell thee. But back to the books. I am in utter love with this series: Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are schoolgirl detectives extraordinaire, running around Deepdean School for Girls attempting to solve crimes and forming a secret detective agency. Narrated by Hazel, an international student from Hong Kong, it’s as much a wonderful study of the absurdities of British people and their education system in the 30’s as it is a romp of a read. They’re also fantastic books for when you decide you really should have read the Bell Jar by now, and frankly things look a bit bleak afterwards until there are more shrimps and bunbreaks in your life. If you’re a fan of mini female Watsons and Holmes’ mixed with a tiny dash of Enid Blyton, then these books are absolutely for you.


* Books + Brews: a new, hopefully-regular bit on the blog where I talk about what [books] I’m reading now and accompanying [brews]. Brews loosely termed here to mean some sort of tea/coffee/cocktail/beverage. Because what is a book without a brew, yes? Also, it was probably odd to start off with hot chocolate. Oh well.