Saturday, December 30, 2023

Peri-menopause and Fibroids

I've dithered around writing about this but as the year comes to an end it's been such a big feature, especially of the last few months, that I think I probably ought to if for no other reason that one day I'll hopefully be able to look back and think about how glad I am it's over.

There are a lot more books available on menopause and women's health than - well, ever, I suppose. It gets talked about more on television, and advertised more on social media - at least if you're a woman of a certain age, and most of my female contemporaries will make comments about their hot flushes and brain fog. There's a lot of talk about HRT - who it's working for, who's still struggling to get the right balance with it. But really I don't think much has changed. 

My mother, along with a lot of her contemporaries/sisters/the mothers of my teenage friends had a hysterectomy in her early 40s. It seemed to be the go-to option in the 1990s around here (they would all have been seeing the same handful of GPs, and referred to the same hospital) so there's a lack of family experience to call on. Even if that wasn't the case I'd have been away at university. Then home concentrating on jobs, a relationship that seemed serious at the time, and a busy social life when mum hit that age - I wouldn't have been paying any attention. When my grandmother hit that age my mother was living at the other end of the country raising a young family. Generations aren't gatekeeping this stuff, but we're not necessarily listening to each other either.

Regardless of vaguely progressive policies from employers (we have an App, how great are we!) the reality is still that a lot of women fear for their jobs - juggling teenage children, a suddenly unpredictable body and mind, a potential range of serious health issues that are embarrassing enough that nobody wants to talk about them, and added anxiety about sick leave, making mistakes, and being forced out of the workplace - it's not fun. My work is fairly good - mostly because there are a few middle-aged women around who are sympathetic and supportive. My previous job would have been impossible. 

I don't think the majority of my peri-menopause symptoms have been too bad - the weirdest ones are indigestion, splitting nails, an increased risk of static electric shocks, a need to write a lot more lists to remember what I'm doing, and so far manageable hot and cold flushes. Which is good because my GP hasn't been amazing about it so far. After several appointments with the practice gynecologist who insisted I was too young at 48, and then said any tests would be inconclusive at my age I did end up on an expedited endometriosis pathway. Expedited it still took more than a year to get a hospital appointment. It was not a good year due to extremely heavy periods that closer and longer.

Eventually there was an appointment with an examination and 4 attempts to take a biopsy sample. They failed and I had to go for another appointment for a hysteroscopy which is a perfectly foul procedure involving cameras, a lot of water, and entirely ineffective pain relief (they suggest you take paracetamol beforehand). It's painful, invasive, and undignified - nobody is much inclined to listen - medical opinion has been that a coil would fix everything but nobody (and my god have they tried) has managed to fit me with one. Despite making it very clear that I would not consent to another attempt the consultant was still offering to try until he had to admit that the position of the lemon-sized fibroid they found would make it impossible. 

He did get a useable biopsy sample, it instigated 7 weeks of heavy bleeding that landed me in A&E, I didn't get a blood transfusion but it was a very close thing. My iron and hemoglobin levels have not yet properly recovered. During all this I got a handful of contradictory letters. An appointment to have the fibroid sliced out - they will only do this under a local anesthetic here, then a letter to say it couldn't be done in one go so it was;t an appropriate treatment (relief). I can't have a hysterectomy because of previous scar tissue and other issues that haven't really been explained, there's a thing where they put miniature nails into the fibroid and hit it with an ultrasound but this often doesn't work depending on how firmly or otherwise the fibroid is attached - they have no idea how it'll go until they actually do the procedure. 

A chemically induced full menopause was an option but apparently, that's brutal until the right mix of HRT can be worked out. In the end, I was prescribed a newish drug that should mimic menopause but also has, I guess, an HRT element to it. I have started taking it today - side effects include initial heavy bleeding which I'm honestly terrified of. To me, that means floods of blood and clots every 10 - 15 minutes that make doing anything almost impossible for the 2 or 3 hours a day it often lasts and leaves me desperately tired and emotional as well as anemic. The interim pills I was prescribed have not been agreeing with me though, I have a follow up appointment in March to see how the first 3 months have been and a work week which should provide reasonable toilet access (this is the major consideration at the moment, and very hard to explain to anyone who hasn't experienced this sort of bleeding). It has to be now.

All of it makes me angry about the lack of research, lack of options, and lack of understanding for women in my position. The only place where there's much discussion of the new medication is Mumsnet - it's inconclusive but on balance encouraging - it might work, or at least if it doesn't do everything it promises it might do enough. we're half the worlds population, and a significant proportion of us will not sail through menopause. We deserve better treatment and we deserve it now. 

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Happy Solstice and Basler Brunsli

I love deep midwinter and proper dark - I wouldn't mind it being a bit colder but at least it; 's saving me some money on heating, and the solstice seems like a natural time to celebrate - more so this year as my day off has fallen on it. I've been sorting out the last bit of Christmas preparation and that feels right too - this year's business is essentially wound up for me now (personally, not at work sadly).

I might read the first chapter of The Dark Is Rising tonight and follow it through in real time again, or I might not - I'm not putting any pressure on myself to do anything more than deal with the day job until New Year. 

The biggest job of the day has been bagging up all the Christmas biscuits I've been making over the last week or so ready to be given out to people over the next couple of days - lots of them for work. I was having a quick bedtime look through Anja Dunk's Advent book last night (for the rum and oatmeal truffles that a friend really liked and which I made today but not very well I think, I don't love them) when I saw the recipe for Basler Brunsli/ spiced chocolate hearts, an originally Swiss biscuit that has apparently been adopted with enthusiasm in Germany.

I can see why. I made them because they're gluten-free, something my repertoire lacks. I'm going to be adopting them with enthusiasm too. They're quick, simple as long as you have a food processor, delicious, and they keep well.

You need 200g of dark chocolate, 250g of ground almonds, 75g of light brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1 tbsp of Kirsch or brandy, 2 egg whites, a pinch of fine sea salt, about 2 tbsp of demerara sugar, and some icing sugar for rolling them out with.

Blitz the chocolate in the processor until it resembles coarse sand, and everything else apart from the demerara and icing sugars, and mix until the dough comes together. This is a sticky dough but it doesn't need much handling so it could be worse. Divide your dough into 2, generously sprinkle some of the demerara on your work surface and roll the dough to about 1 cm thick. Cut with a smallish heart cutter - Anja's recipe says it makes 50, I got 30 so I think I was using a larger cutter but I'm okay with that, and place on a baking tray about 1cm apart. They don't spread much which is also nice. Carry on with the second half of the dough and then the leftovers. 

Bake for about 15 minutes at 130C fan oven (which is what I have) 150 conventional. They're ready when they feel dry-ish to touch but are still soft. They firm up as they cool. This is a chewy, crunchy, biscuit with a deep chocolate flavour nicely complimented by the cinnamon and fudgy demerara notes. They're not overly pretty and I like them as a potential mince pie alternative if mince pies aren't your thing but you still want to do a bit of baking. Mostly though they're great with my coffee and looking forward I see this as the fate of any plain easter chocolate that comes my way. 

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Suddenly At His Residence - Christina Brand

This is my second nomination for Cross Examining Crime's reprint of the year. I wasn't totally convinced by the first Christina Brand I read, but I really liked 'Suddenly at His Residence', maybe because I was ready for her style and characters, and maybe because this was a slightly earlier book with slightly different mannerisms. 

Sir Richard March's grandchildren have taken their various leaves from blitzed London to gather at Swanswater, the family home for the anniversary of their grandmother's birthday. When she was alive Sir Richard was happily carrying on a suburban sort of an affair with Belle, whom he's now married too. She is tasked with maintaining Swanswater as a shrine to Serefita who had been a glamourous, though maybe not overly talented, ballet dancer.

The grandchildren mostly lost their parents in the First World War so Sir Richard and Belle also stand as parent figures, and for Peta, daughter of the eldest son there's the chance of a sizable inheritance which is making her hopes of a romance with the young family solicitor complicated. There's also Philip, married to Ellen, who's having an affair with his cousin Claire, and Edward, Belle's grandson who has worked himself into the belief that he's got serious Freudian issues to resolve.

Not then a particularly happy family party that gathers. Their various squabbles and the revelation of the Philip/Claire/Ellen situation to an outraged Sir Richard has him deciding to change his will as a matter of urgency. Unfortunately by the morning, he's dead and the new will is missing. The family are forced to concede that one of them is guilty and there's a nerve-wracking time finding out who, and what their motivation was.

I liked this so much because almost everybody is unbearable with the possible exceptions, in my opinion, of Ellen, Stephen, and maybe Belle - the outsiders in the March family. They bicker, suspect each other, plot, come together to protect each other, and generally behave as a family does. Except that one of them is a murderer. Their manners and actions are as callous as you might expect from the same generation today (although a relationship with your cousin would be unacceptable) and the ending is appropriate as well as dramatic - if heavy on the symbolism. 

In short it's a book that really resonated - and heavens, would it make a fabulous change to another Agatha Christie adaptation. I will watch the new one, I'll enjoy it, but we don't really need it, whereas here we have a plot and a set of characters that really do lend themselves to the darker interpretations of Christie we keep getting. 'Suddenly at His Residence' has a genuine emotional punch beneath it's flippancy and I loved it. 

Saturday, December 9, 2023

In A Lonely Place - Dorothy B. Hughes

It turns out that it's almost exactly 13 years since I first read 'In A Lonely Place', it's stayed with me ever since, and after this summer's reprint, I've been recommending it to anyone who stands still long enough at work. Kate's reprint of the year awards has been the perfect excuse to revisit. 

Dorothy B. Hughes is a fabulous writer of Noir who deserves the same kind of recognition as Raymond Chandler, but hasn't yet got it. Her books are available, but not in a collectible smart set, or even reliably in paperback. As 'In A Lonely Place' is easily available right now, and also quite short it's a very good place to start though. 

It’s not without faults; the end is sort of rushed and not entirely convincing but basically it’s a thrilling, chilling, very hard-boiled, and nicely twisting story. It opens in the middle of a sea fog with a man watching a woman thinking about how he might approach her, how she wouldn’t be scared – at first. This is Los Angeles in 1947 and a serial killer is on the loose, every month a girl is raped, strangled, and dumped and he’s clever enough to leave no traces. This is the situation when two old war comrades meet, Dix Steele and Brub Nikolais. They flew together in the air corps – for one man the war was the high point of his life and he’s come out without a job or purpose. The other has put it behind him, is married, and an up-and-coming detective. I can’t say anything else without giving far too much away and hope I haven’t done so already.

From the very first page, it seemed clear who the guilty party was going to be, it also seemed equally likely that this was a red herring – which Hughes is a mistress of. She's very capable of wrong-footing me which is something I love in this context. Atmosphere and the ability to create a palpable sense of tension are her other strong points - reading that opening scene as a woman you immediately know how the girl in the book feels walking down a dark street becoming aware of a man's step behind her in the fog. If I ever doubted how his pleasure in her fear is described the internet has since proven over and again that she was spot on. 

It was a slightly different world when I first read this book, I'm not sure I fully appreciated how Hughes captures the misogyny of her anti-hero but it really struck me this time. As a reader I was constantly aware of his mood, his anger, the threat he poses - it's a masterclass.

This is a dark, tense, entertaining read which provides an excellent antidote to seasonal gaiety. You will not regret giving Hughes a chance, it's a perfect bit of Noir. There's also a film version with Humphrey Bogart which is worth searching out after reading the book. It's different but still good. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Shetland Wool Adventures Volume 5

There will still be time to get a copy of this before Christmas, and I highly recommend it. Mine arrived today - more treats from Shetland which are making me feel as spoilt as I am homesick. 

There's a slight change of format to this Wool Adventures Journal - there's only 4 patterns this time, all of them appealing, but as I mentioned a week or 2 back, the Noness beret is the one that I'm really keen to get started on. There are lots of recipes from 2 excellent cooks - Misa Hay (whose journal it is) and Elizabeth Atia, and some really great articles, plus great book reviews of course. 

One of the featured walks is around my patch of Shetland, and anybody who's stayed at Burrastow House will have the added kick of some familiar views. There's also a piece on Angela Harding who visited Fair Isle and Shetland this summer - she lives in Rutland which is the next county over from Leicestershire and my 50th birthday present is going to be one of the prints inspired by her stay on the westside. 

It's sitting face to the wall at the moment, the framers didn't wrap it and it seemed silly to use lots of my own paper, but I'm very carefully not looking at it until next Wednesday when it's officially mine. The interview with Harding feels well timed - sometimes a thing really does feel like it could have been written specifically with me/you in mind. 

Altogether you get a lot for your money here and support a brilliant local business at the same time. Do check them out HERE

Friday, December 1, 2023

Wild Shetland - Brydon Thomason

I thought I'd be taking the weekend off from blogging, but there was something amazing waiting for me when I got home and in turn I can't wait to share it with you. It's also made me feel like December really will change up the litany of bad news that November contained. Fingers crossed anyway.

The book is a review copy of Wild Shetland from published by the Shetland Times. It's currently reprinting so I'm feeling even luckier to have been sent a copy. Brydon Thomason is a photographer and wildlife guide in Shetland - follow his Facebook page for samples of his work - this collection is fabulous. 

It's a splendid coffee table book for anyone with an interest in nature photography or Shetland, it's also a seasonal guide to both the biggest, best, and most iconic wildlife you might see in the islands along with some of the smaller things you might ordinarily overlook. It also has plenty of elegantly presented information about both subjects and place. 

I will always think of Shetland as home, and much as I miss the summers with their long hours of daylight and the few luminous hours of twilight in between, in many ways it's the winters I miss most, both for the rare calm days of grace, the dark, and for storms you can't ignore. Winter might well be my favourite section of this book.

Anyway - if it sounds like something you might like - and I cannot enthuse enough about some of the images in here - keep an eye on The Shetland Times website for when it's back in stock. You can order through Waterstones too when it's back in stock but they don't do the lovely wrapping that The Shetland Times does when they send things out.  

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Foula, Island West of the Sun and Shetland Wool Adventures

It's been quite a month and one that I won't be sorry to see the back of. I'm still distinctly anemic, my dad broke his hand, mum's second cataract operation didn't work very well... the list goes on. But here's to looking forward. I've got my Christmas tree, an advent calendar ready to go, and a treatment plan with the gynecology department at my local hospital, and there's always a slim chance that at least one of my parents will accept they might need to slow down for a little bit and be sensible. 

There's a new Shetland Wool Adventures Journal in the offing in time for Christmas too - I write for this and love it, it's a great journal with patterns, recipes, and all sorts of insights into life and creativity in Shetland. Any volume would make an excellent present for the knitter, cook, or Shetland fan in your life. My Christmas knitting is about done and I'm very much looking forward to planning my next projects - which will mostly be for me. A new jumper is likely, but I've also really got the beret/tam knitting bug and I see something tempting in the preview HERE. Misa's Cookbook is also brilliant - consider buying that too.

A different sort of Shetland adventure is the Northus reprint of Sheila Gear's Foula, Island West of the Sun - I genuinely think this is a lost classic of nature writing as well as a deeply personal biography of an extraordinary woman. It's come back to mind because in it Sheila writes about preparing a traditional yule bread. I've struggled for a while to find any sort of recipe for this, but I've been speaking to the Foula Heritage group and they've given me a bit more information so I'm going to have a go at making it. It would have been baked on a griddle pan over an open fire which might be a challenge to replicate, but I have some reading to do and things to try - the crucial thing is that I have the flavourings and a few books with references to play with. 

Buy Foula Island West of the Sun here and support a really lovely independent publisher.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Book Tokens

probably because I work in a bookshop nobody ever gives me book tokens, which is a shame because I love them. They're something we sell a lot of at this time of year, but they're also something I find myself recommending a lot to harrassed present givers who almost all have the same light bulb moment, so I'll add them to my gift suggestions here.

National Book Tokens can be used in any participating shop, but only for books. As far as I'm aware in the UK The Works doesn't take them, but any independent book shop will and it's a great way to support them. The only reason I wouldn't buy them is if they were for youngish children who might really want toys or stationery - which most bookshops also sell because disappointing small children isn't fun for us. 

If you have a good independent local bookshop, or know that your intended recipient has, that does its own gift vouchers it's a great way to support them and whilst I work for a national chain I strongly believe we all do better when there's more choice and good local competition - or perhaps more accurately, the independent shops around us can do things we can't which means a richer literary scene for everyone if we support them. The local bookshop scene across the English and Scottish borders is fabulous, and a testament to what supportive communities will get. 

The advantage of buying a voucher for a big chain are that most people will be reasonably close to a branch in Mainland UK and you get a wide range of games, jigsaws and other bits to choose from if you're not entirely sure books are what will be wanted. 

I like getting tokens because it's something to open, and then there's the anticipation of what I'll buy, followed by my final choice - it's nice to have something that can only be spent on a self-indulgence with no thoughts of saving or using it for a sensible cause (my front door apparently doesn't meet current fire regulations and will need work done to bring it up to code in the new year). 

I like giving gift tokens because I can direct the spending of whoever is getting it - normally the children of friends who have given me instructions - whilst still providing the excitement of getting a choice. Or because I know I'm passing on the same pleasure I get from them. 

Monday, November 27, 2023

The Iliad - Emily Wilson

This is a mildly embarrassing confession, but although I've read The Odyssey, I haven't read Emily Wilson's translation yet - despite having had it on my shelf for a while. I was reminded about this last week when someone returned a copy because they didn't like the deckled edge. A quick look on Wikipedia suggests they're not alone and that the misconception that it's a printing error instead of a design choice is a common one. I'm not overly fond of deckled edges either, but I do like it here with it's nod to our historical obsession with the Greek and Roman classics. 

Wilson's Odyssey was, and remains, a hit. The youth are also really into Marcus Aurelias, and locally I'm pushing Ovid's Metamorphoses because I really enjoyed it and it's so relevant to a lot of the very popular mythology retellings around at the moment. It's not really surprising that Wilson's Iliad would fly off the shelves either, and yet I don't know that I ever expected to see young women come in for a £30 hardback on publication day and leave with it and Bea Fitzgerald's 'Girl Goddess Queen' under their arms - but I did. 

The Iliad is currently being reprinted so it's not easily available online if you want a physical copy (that big website doesn't have it) but there are plenty around in actual bookshops and this might be on more teen wishlists than you imagine. And just generally on more wishlists. I got over-excited and bought my copy straight away - now I really need to make sure I read it before it comes out in paperback...

Girl Goddess Queen is a funny and smart take on the Hades and Persephone myth appropriate for teens and above - as an adult reader there were some repetitive bits I thought could have been cut, but that's most YA books for me. I really liked the combination of banter and historical detail on ancient Greek buildings and customs. 

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Stir up Sunday

I'm finally beginning to feel like all the meds are doing some good and that I might be able to leave not just my sofa, but even my flat for longer than it takes to collect my post - which will be nice. 

I had planned to spend this weekend doing pre-birthday and Christmas things including starting some biscuit baking. None of that has happened and whilst in the greater scheme of things it doesn't really matter it's something I look forward to; a tradition that reclaims a bit of Christmas spirit from the madness of Christmas in retail. 

It's probably why I have such a weakness for books about Christmas - I have the River Cottage one, Nigella Lawson's take on it, Kate Young's Little Library version (a definite favourite) a Gingerbread cookbook bought for £3 in The Works a long time ago that's surprisingly good, Annie Rigg's Gifts From the Kitchen, Anja Dunk's Advent, and a whole lot more with Chrismas chapters. 

I have never hosted a Christmas - although I've helped with a few, and maybe never will for more than 2 of us, and have very mixed feelings about the day itself. There's never enough time to enjoy it properly, it really should still be a 12 day festival season, and it brings up a lot of complicated memories. This year it's the absence of my friend Lorna who discovered she had cancer in January. The last things we did together before we knew she was ill were Christmas shopping and present swapping. I have just finished the coffee she bought me and have almost burnt through the candle she gave me with it. She's very much on my mind as is the family she left behind.

The mixed emotions Christmas brings as we get older are part of why I've found making my own traditions around the season so important. Puddings were made at the beginning of the month, a little earlier than actual Stir Up Sunday - and it's not too late to make one yet if you want a crack at it. It makes your kitchen smell amazing. 

Not that it matters what the traditions are so much as that we make time to share good things with the people we care about whilst we can. The specifics evolve anyway as life keeps changing and maybe my biggest constant will end up being to buy myself another Christmas-themed book each year and daydream about the perfect celebration whilst reading biscuit recipes. Lizzie Collingham's The Biscuit, The History of a Very British Indulgence is therefore my recommendation of the day. 


Saturday, November 25, 2023

Renard Press Christmas Cards

This week went seriously sideways on Thursday when I ended up in A&E and then admitted to gynecology. A month ago, or 5 weeks on Monday, I had a hysteroscopy (it's a camera shoved into your uterus with a whole lot of fluid) and biopsy. I've had very heavy bleeding ever since, so I'm now noticeably anaemic, very run down, and blood tests showed infection markers. I've had a hysteroscopy before, the aftermath was nowhere near this dramatic, I'm very fed up with being told that what's happening is normal. If it is then I certainly didn't give informed consent. I'm also fed up feeling useless at a busy time of year.

I feel like a case study from Caroline Criado Perez's Invisible Women, or a sofa bound side character in a Victorian novel. Peri-menopause is giving me a very different perspective on that stereotype. I'm not sure that Invisible Women, which makes me literally want to set fire to the patriarchy, is the best Christmas present, although it's an important book that I'd encourage anyone to read. Winter is a very good time for Victorian novels though, and if you're lucky enough to have down time between Christmas and New Year, Wilkie Collins, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Mrs Oliphant, Anthony Trollope - all sound choices. 

Today's recommendation though is Renard Presses splendid Christmas Cards this year it's Hans Christian Anderson's The Fir Tree, beautifully printed and ready to disturb anyone unfamiliar with Hans Christian Anderson's storytelling. Renard have a really interesting list of older oddities and gems along with great contemporary fiction, especially if you're looking for queer voices, but I particularly love the Christmas book/card. It's the perfect thing to send that's more than a card, but isn't quite in full on present territory with the obligations and expectations that can bring. Also, they're just a really cool bookish thing that people like me really love getting. 


Wednesday, November 22, 2023


Twelve new stories, twelve great writers, one Agatha Christie. This is another book that did well last Christmas in hardback and is now doing quite well in paperback for this autumn. I managed the rare self-restraint of waiting for the paperback to come out, then entirely predictably did nothing about reading it until this week. 

Now I am reading it I really like it. I'm not exactly scaling back on present buying this year, but there's not much that many of my friends want or need that they haven't already got. I'm opting for things like well chosen (I hope) paperbacks and good quality coffee, biscuits, and other small indulgences (if anyone wants to give me a Terry's chocolate orange I'm very fond of them). 

Marple strikes me as an excellent small gift too. I'm more of a fan of Agatha Christie on the screen than in book form - she's amazing at plots, but not, in my opinion - though I'm not going to fight anyone on this, so good at character, but she's the Queen and I do enjoy her. I don't generally love other people taking on an author's characters but the detection club did it back in the day, and Christie's characters have long taken on their own lives. 

The 12 writers here are interesting, and not necessarily obvious choices either which really helps - they come from across genres so although there are a few crime writers on the list there are also names that I associate with science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction. And then I've really enjoyed the stories I've read so far - so this should be a winner for crime lovers, curiosity lovers, and fans of classic crime. 

I also recommend looking up the Detection Club titles, Ask A Policeman is particularly fun in that the writers involved swap their detectives and write some splendid pastiches of each other's work. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Brutto - Russell Norman

It's a terrible admission to make, but not only do I not own a copy of Polpo, I've never even really read it. Brutto came in briefly at the beginning of the month and then disappeared, it turned up again today and after a very brief glance bought it, then spent my lunch break looking at it in more depth. 

It looks amazing - it had me at Cucumber, Mint, and Celery leaf salad, and sealed the deal with a BaccalĂ  recipe - because yes, I have some salt cod to use and a lack of a good Spanish recipe for Bacaloa. I didn't realise it was an Italian thing too so this is lucky. 

Basically, the book is exactly what it says - a (simple) Florentine cookbook - full of food that sounds exactly the kind of thing I want to eat and is entirely accessible to the home cook. There are drinks too. That's everything I want from a cookbook. 

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Lost Realms - Thomas Williams

Amy Jeff's Storyland (lovely children;s edition now available) was a big hit in hardback my first Christmas back in bookshops, and then a bigger hit in paperback last year. Thomas William's Lost Realms feels like an obvious choice if you want to follow that interest in the early medieval world, it's ticking over at the moment, and I think that by the end of the year it'll prove to have been a considerable hit.

I haven't read my copy yet because it was immediately claimed by my husband - he says it's excellent. It concentrates on the forgotten kingdoms of ancient Britain - the ones '..that hover in the twilight between history and fable, whose stories hum with gods and miracles..' That was enough to sell me on it. Reviews have been excellent as well which is also encouraging, and what little I have read suggests that there's plenty of the sort of vigorous debunking that's always fun to read. It probably doesn't hurt that it's Anglo-Saxon adjacent given my current enthusiasm either. 

Saturday, November 18, 2023

The Winter Spirits; Ghostly Tales for Frosty Nights

I love a good ghost story, and as I've said (more than once) they're not just for Halloween - or perhaps it's more accurate to say that spooky season is from when the clocks go back and until they jump forward again.

The Haunting Season is a shop favourite for us, and Winter Spirits looks set to follow it. There are three (at least) excellent reasons to buy this - there's the great cover, shallow - but it looks splendid and that's a consideration for a potential present. Then there's the fun of a dozen contemporary ghost stories - this is not an anthology that's going to have any of the usual suspects in it. And finally it's a great way to sample the work of writers that might be on your radar but you haven't quite committed to.

I've been on the fence about Kiran Millwood Hargrave since really disliking Julia and the Shark - this is a good place to try again. There's a couple of other writers I've meant to read for ages as well so altogether this book makes me feel the same way as I do when I win approximately £9.20 on the lottery - thoroughly pleased with the world. 

Friday, November 17, 2023

A. S. Byatt

A very long time ago the friend I lost to cancer this summer gave me a collection of A. S. Byatt short stories as a Christmas present - I think we were still at school. I loved them, I read Possession and I loved that too, and I kept on reading her. 

I'm not sure what's in print at the moment, but if you've never read her seek out her short story collections and work from there. It's the best tribute to a wonderful writer I can think of.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Good Drinks - Ambrose Heath

I thought this book was out of print, but apparently it isn't and I highly recommend getting a copy. I have a decent selection of cocktail books that I really like, and though this one might not technically be the best of them it's definitely my favorite. I love the Edward Bawden illustrations, the mix of hot, cold, hard, and soft drinks, the inclusion of punches and cups, and most of all Ambrose Heath's writing.

A good drinks book is an extremely useful thing to have around as Christmas approaches, there's a strong argument for saying that a single cocktail is better than opening a bottle of wine, and even stronger argument in favour of soft drinks. Punches and cups are not as fashionable as they should be, but they're easy to scale up or down, and to keep relatively light on alcohol as desired - so the perfect party drink. They're also easy to adapt so that you end up with your own signature drink which is also a fun thing.

After years in the wine trade, one thing that frustrates me about bookselling is how resistant my customers are to buying good cocktail books - they buy the gimmicky ones, or the cheap ones, or the over complicated ones, and as a bookseller that's none of my business so I have to hold back on the lecture each and every time.

The lecture is this: if you're making drinks at home keep it simple, buy good quality but not over-expensive ingredients - pay attention to the ABV, it matters, get the balance of ingredients right and you're all good. Once you've got the basics you can start adding little twists - Alice Lascelles The Cocktail Edit is excellent for this. Or keep it really simple with something like Sipsmith's Sip - 100 gin cocktails with only 3 ingredients in each. Richard Godwin's The Spirits is another excellent and underappreciated book, and so is Kate Hawkings Aperitif - all are full of classics and good advice for making them perfectly. 

I couldn't say any of them have quite the wit of Ambrose Heath though, and if not all his drinks are drinkable - do not under any circumstances be tempted to make the Mahogany, it's a hellish combination of gin and treacle that I found absolutely unpalatable - most of them are. The number of hot drinks and soft drinks is also a bonus that most modern guides don't have - unless you buy a specifically alcohol free cocktail guide, and there are a lot more of those around. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Winters In The World - Eleanor Parks

Do I have an Anglo-Saxon obsession? Yes, I do. It's kind of a chicken and an egg thing - I don't know if my obsession came first, or if it's been fuelled by a whole lot of excellent and accessible titles around right now. They're popular with customers too which is what makes me think I'll recommend another after Hana Videen's Deorhord.

Winter's in the World is a small present to myself, I'm only a few pages in and already fascinated by it - it's a journey through the cycle of the year in Anglo Saxon England and I plan on dipping in and out of it following the seasons, starting at winter. I have Maria Dahvana Headley's translation of Beowulf still to read and might try the Tolkien version too, and then there's Basilisks and Beowulf by Tim Flight so if all my reading goes to plan (it never does) I'll have an interesting new (or old?) world view.


Tuesday, November 14, 2023

British Library Books

It's been a tough day - I had a fairly routine medical procedure just over 3 weeks ago but am still dealing with after effects. Apparently, this is within the range of normal. It would have been nice to have been warned. A kind GP did offer to sign me off work this morning for as long as I needed; I declined because I'm not clear how long that'll be and I think I can cope for now, but all I really want at this point is to go to bed and cry for a bit.

When I got back to work though I had a really great conversation with a charming customer about the British Library weird series - he wanted Haunters of the Hearth (excellent choice that's on its way to him), then I saw the cover for Scotland The Strange in the hardback premium weird collection and imagine a middle-aged woman making heart eyes at it. 

I'm wondering about starting Who Killed Father Christmas instead of tears for an evening treat, or there's the brilliant women's series Stories for Winter which has cracking stuff in it. I have just spent the last half hour browsing the online shop and honestly, if you like books and book related stuff - it's amazing. I'm almost tempted to cough for a train ticket (East Midland mainline is obnoxiously expensive) to see the Fantasy exhibition - and I could go on...

Any local bookshop will order you any of these titles if they don't already have them in stock or obviously you can order straight from the website (facsimile Shakespeare first folio people). I will be giving a good selection of the weird stories this year, especially Dead Drunk to friends from my wine trade days. Have a look and be inspired. 

Monday, November 13, 2023

Fried Eggs and Rioja - Victoria Moore

I entered the wine trade pre smartphone, when books were still both the obvious and best way to learn the theories of wine and food matching. A lot has changed since 1999 - most notably what wine costs. if you take the cost of a Grand Marque champagne they sat between £20 and £25 for a good non vintage bottle and for the same money you could get really good still wine - everything but the most prestigious of names. Those champagnes cost around £50 now, but some of the clarets I used to love are £150 and more which is unrealistic on a bookseller's wage. 

How we buy wine changed too - Supermarkets hadn't entirely dominated how and what we drink in the late 90s - at the end of my time as a wine specialist for Waitrose the sheer quantity of Sauvignon Blanc and the slow disappearance of varietals was not making my job any more interesting. The search for cheaper wines to mitigate rising costs is turning that around again and sometimes I feel like an absolute beginner again when I look around the shelves. 

Apps make the business of choosing something to go with dinner relatively easy, though I do not believe that they can do the same thing as I did - it's not just about finding the technically right match, but understanding what the person buying likes and being able to accurately identify what the main flavour in a dish actually is. 

Books might not be the most obvious place to learn from anymore (certainly not judging by sales - classic annual wine guides no longer sell quite like hot cakes) but I'd argue they're still the best because they teach you all the how and why so you can more or less work it out for yourself after a while. Even if you're not familiar with a grape the description on the label ought to provide the necessary clues to figure out if it'll work the way you want it too with food. 

Which brings me to Victoria Moore's Fried Eggs and Rioja: What to Drink With Absolutley Everything. The paperback came out in 2022 so it's still up to date in terms of what we're eating. Moore is an excellent writer and this is a perfect little gift/stocking filler for anyone interested in getting the most out of their food and wine.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Grand Shetland Adventure Knits - Gudrun Johnstone and Mary Jane Mucklestone

I'm currently knitting my third Christmas Stocking of the autumn and planning post Christmas gift knitting projects - Gudrun Johnston and Mary Jane Mucklestone's beautiful Grand Shetland Adventure Knits has got a couple of things in it that are high up my list to try. There are socks with a new to me heel construction, a couple of really lovely looking jumpers, and a whole lot of photographs from my part of Shetland which are obviously a personal attraction.

Grand Shetland Adventure knits is published by Laine so has high production values throughout, and is available either direct from the publisher or from good local yarn stores. I'm a fan of both Mary Jane and Gudrun's designs and particularly like having a collection that features both of them to add to my knitting library of books (which also has previous books by both of them). It would be a great present for any knitter in your life with an interest in Fair Isle or Shetland lace - simple mitts and hats are a great place for less confident knitters to start and there's plenty of variety.

I bought my copy from Jamieson and Smith also known as The Woolbrokers, partly so I could get some of their new 5 ply sports weight at the same time to have a play with (likely one of those post Christmas projects now) because it saved on postage - which I suppose is classic girl maths. Both the Woolbrokers and Jamieson's of Shetland do a really good mail order service, but it's already time to think about last posting dates, not least because the weather at this time of year can seriously disrupt ferries and planes meaning things just don't move. 

Jamieson's of Shetland has DK which is what I'm using for my Christmas stockings and I love their heathered colours, they also have an excellent range of DPN's. The Woolbrokers sell cones of yarn, they're oiled for machine use so take a little extra washing but they're exceptionally good value and again something that would make an amazing present for a knitter. A 500g cone will do you a serious project. The heritage natural shades are particularly gorgeous. They also have an excellent range of books along with glove and mitten boards. 

Saturday, November 11, 2023

The Secret of Helmersbruk Manor - Eva Frantz

This is a Pushkin Children's title translated from Swedish by A. A. Prime and I'm a little bit in love with it. There's a chapter for every day of advent, suitably spooky illustrations - which is just enough for atmosphere and it's gripping enough for adult parts of a family to enjoy reading with younger children. 

I'm sentimental enough to really like the idea of people reading aloud together. I would have loved something like this as a kid, both to read myself and to be read to me and I'm hard pressed to think of a nicer Christmas tradition to start. Obviously it works perfectly well outside of advent, and away from Christmas. 

It starts with Flora and her mother moving to an isolated gate lodge for a month so that Flora's mother can concentrate on writing a book, and both of them can get over the death of Flora's father. Flora is grateful to be getting away from school bullies, but isn't prepared for the strange pull of Helmersbruk Manor or how familiar it seems... 

Friday, November 10, 2023

The Living Stone, Stories of Uncanny Sculpture 1858-1943 - ed Henry Bartholomew

This post is partly a recommendation for this book, which is excellent - we've been reading stories aloud from it to each other for a good part of the evening which is both as nerdy and enjoyable as I could have imagined. People do not read me weird and uncanny stories half as much as I'd like as a rule. It's also a recommendation to support independent publishers.

I really like Handheld Press - it's a consistently interesting list, they wrap books beautifully when they send direct, and they're lovely people to deal with. I'm also a big fan of finding a press I like and then taking a wider chance on their books either browsing in an actual bookshop or on their websites. Going direct means more money for your publisher of choice to carry on paying their bills and doing interesting things 

Christmas/winter was traditionally the time for ghost stories - spooky season begins at Halloween, not ends. My favourite collections currently come from Handheld and the British Library weird series. Both are better at unsettling me as a reader rather than frightening me stupid, which is very much how I like it. My architect husband is very taken with the concept of The Living Stone' which is why he consented to reading aloud and being read too. 

This is the next thing I really like about a good weird collection - there's now enough of them based on an inspiringly broad range of topics that there's bound to be something appropriate for the readers in your life that's tailored to their particular interests. The glorious thing about a well chosen paperback is that it's a thoughtful and budget option.

The glorious thing about The Living Stone is all it's literary gothic flourishes. Almost miraculously it doesn't have Man Size in Marble in it (I adore E Nesbit, but that one gets in A Lot of anthologies), even better there are two different stories titled the Marble Hands, one of which is a mini masterpiece - which one that is, is up to the individual reader! 

Thursday, November 9, 2023

At Christmas We Feast - Annie Gray

I have a growing collection of books about Christmas - I'm a sucker for them. Ghost stories, crime stories, seasonal tales of all sorts, books on traditions, and books about food. I mostly love my job, we have a lot of great customers, and selling books is mostly fun. It's not always easy, there's a lot more heavy lifting, and cleaning than people seem to imagine (a lot less sitting around reading and meeting cute too) but overall there's a sense of community that I really love. The biggest downside is probably the holiday arrangements - we work bank holidays including Boxing Day and New Year's Day. We can't have time off from the beginning of December through to the middle of January. Easter is off the cards as well.

I don't think this is natural. Deep winter is a time when we should slow down, get cosy, and enjoy the good things we have. Two days off after a crazy busy week and then straight back into it is all wrong, there's no time for feeling any goodwill for mankind when people are squabbling over prices and demanding refunds for books that they've a) obviously had lying around for years, b) have come from amazon, c) are badly damaged - and no you can't use a gift receipt to get cash, only the person who paid for the book can have a money refund. In a better world, we'd have a bit more of a breather.

To cope with the whole show I try and make the most of this time and at least enjoy the preparation. Advent is a good time for reflection and for drawing out the celebrations. My collection of Christmas books is part of my advent tradition. At Christmas We Feast is definitely a favourite title, out for a couple of years now and with obvious stocking filler appeal, Annie Gray is an excellent food historian, this is a fascinating book to read and reread, and there are things to cook in it. 

She traces the history of Christmas feasting from its origins to the present day and there's just a lot to enjoy. Some myths about Cromwell are busted, there's a recipe for hot chocolate wine, and hours worth of interesting rabbit holes to explore. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

A Cook Book Double

Plans for posting last night were derailed by internet issues so I have two fabulous cook books to suggest tonight. I'm currently somewhat obsessed with Diana Henry's recipe for Hete Bliksen (hot lightening), it's a simple supper dish of sauteed new potatoes, bacon, and apple, with a little thyme. Quick, easy, and extra good with a bit of wilted cabbage on the side. It's a Dutch dish and can be found in the newly re-issued Roast Figs and Sugar Snow. It is my perfect winter cookbook and an absolute classic (though probably not ideal for vegetarians and vegans - it's quite a meaty book).

Whilst making my Hete Bliksen I was thinking again what a shame it is that there aren't yet many books on Dutch cooking in English - and then I remembered Regula Ysewijn's splendid 'Dark Rye and Honey Cake' which looks specifically at festival baking of the low countries. 

I love this book, the research, the photography, the illustrations, and the recipes. It's a masterpiece, as good to read as to cook from - and now is the time to start cooking from it and then follow the festive year through. There are a lot of recipes for waffles (I'm still considering a waffle maker - my tiny kitchen won't easily accommodate another mug much less anything larger, and yet...) which was a revelation to me, and a lot of recipes for breads which are a delight. Had I thought of it in time I could have made Gentse mastel, eaten as a preventative against rabies on St Hubert's day (3rd of November). I'll take my chances with the rabies but I need more cinnamon bread in my life. 

Dark Rye and Honey Cake is a cookbook full of projects - things that take a little time, and maybe a little practice, to make well. That's a great way to spend a winter's day off. Roast Figs and Sugar Snow does everything from comfort food to dinner party specials taking in some Christmas inspiration along the way. It also has the richest, most indulgent, brownies I've ever had the pleasure of making. Either or both would be useful and inspiring gifts. 

Monday, November 6, 2023

Divine Might - Natalie Haynes

A strong contender for one of my books of the year, I've used Haynes earlier 'Pandora's Jar' quite a bit to look things up - it's useful to have around when there are so very many retellings of Greek myths about and you're not sure how fanciful some of them are (also, do not necessarily trust the advice of very young colleagues who tell you a Persephone and Hades retelling is amazing, there's an unreasonably high chance it's going to turn out to be appallingly badly written smut). Much as I like Pandora's Jar though, I've never been inclined to sit and read it from cover to cover, or carry it around with me.

Divine Might is a further exploration of Greek goddesses in myth, and also into popular culture. It's funny, clever, and compelling. It persuaded me to watch Disney's Hercules - which at least has a happy ending, and the chapter on Hera is a masterclass in critical thinking. I really liked Haynes 'Stone Blind' which came out in paperback earlier this summer, but as good as that is and I bored everybody at work for a good two weeks telling them repeatedly how good it is, I like this book even more.

It's probably because only Natalie Haynes would sit down and compare the goddess Artemis to Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator and make it make sense. There's a Thames and Hudson series on Myths That Shape The Way We Think (volumes on Celtic, Norse, and Greek) which I also recommend, but good as they are they don't quite have Haynes humour, or perhaps what feels like her deep personal connection to these stories.  

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Veg-Table - Nik Sharma

I don't know if I'm out of step (possibly) or if it's a slow year for cookbooks. Normally about this time there would be a dozen or so on my wish list but right now there's not a lot I'm really excited by. Of course it's also possible that I've reached a cookbook saturation point - I absolutely ran out of space for anymore a couple of years ago.

One title that did cut through for me though was Nik Sharma's Veg-Table - and yes I do love the periodic table style classification of different vegetables that make up the endpapers, it's clever and effective. This is Sharma's third book and it's both very much in his big flavour, science forward, style, and a distinctive addition to his oeuvre. 

Sharma is based in California (I think I'm right in saying that) so there are things here that we'd struggle to find in the UK, although Leicester is fairly good for a broad range of produce as we're such a multicultural city - I can find plenty of things in the Turkish, Indian, and Afro Caribbean shops and market stalls that I've never seen in a supermarket and don't easily recognise. Books like this are great for cities like mine.

On the other hand, even if I can't buy everything, there's a lot of good stuff in here, and honestly recipes that make brussels sprouts seem appealing are probably the most useful thing I'll ever find in a cookbook. The distinctly scientific approach might not appeal to everybody - I find it interesting when I've got time to read and I like the thoughtfulness behind each recipe, but it's not something I'd particularly look for. If it is your thing you're going to love this.

Altogether a great gift for the foodies in your life, especially the veg lovers and if you don't know Nik Sharma's books yet now is an excellent time to discover them. 

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Mincemeat and other Christmas preperations

Last night I got caught up in knitting and the new Ali Hazelwood romance and completely forgot my intention to post daily in November - never mind. Tonight I'm back after prepping dried fruit for making a Christmas cake and putting together a batch of mincemeat.

I love the calm hours in October and November spent on making the things that need to mature when there's no particular rush or pressure - this day off or the next one, doesn't matter, there's still plenty of time and a pleasant sense of anticipation before it all gets to be too much later in December. I think a Christmas cake, a pudding, mincemeat, and Chutney all make thoughtful gifts according to the inclinations of the recipient too. 

Of all of them, mincemeat is probably my favourite thing though - I love mince pies, and like them even more now I'm in complete control of the ingredients. Bought ones always have too high a pastry-to-filling ratio, and bought mincemeat has too much sugar and apple in it so inevitably it boils over the side of my tin and makes a red hot glue that's a nightmare to deal with.

Homemade has less of the cheap filler and behaves much better - I can also tailor it to suit myself which is as much fun as I'm getting on a cold, wet, November night with work the next day. There are a lot of mincemeat recipes out there - Nigella does a good one with (I think) cranberry and port, Mark Diacono does an excellent quince and ginger if you have any quinces left. Both of those need cooking before bottling. My go-to recipe is a Fiona Cairns one from the now out of print Seasonal Baking. It doesn't need cooking ahead of time, and it's endlessly adaptable.

The original recipe was for fig and almond mincemeat, but I don't like figs very much and don't always use almonds. The sugar is doing the majority of the work in preserving the mincemeat - and any leftover from this Christmas will keep perfectly well in a full, sealed, jar until next year - at most, it'll only want a little bit more alcohol to rejuvenate it. 

This year I've made Cherry, Almond, And Coffee mincemeat - it needs 100g of flaked almonds lightly toasted, 250g of Bramley apples peeled cored, and finely chopped, 200g of raisins, 150g of currents, 150g of dried sour cherries, 100g of suet, 100g of mixed peel, 100g of demerara sugar, 100g of dark muscovado sugar, 60ml of coffee liqueur (or cherry brandy, or a mix of cherry brandy and brandy, or ameretto and brandy...), the zest and juice of an orange and a lemon, 1.5 teaspoons of mixed spice and 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Mix everything together, cover with clingfilm, and leave for the flavours to blend for around 24 hours re-mixing from time to time before potting into sterilised jars.

As long as the proportions between sugar, fruit, and liquid are more or less stable exactly what you use to make this is up to you - there are endless combinations of alcohol and preferred dried fruits to play with and it makes your kitchen smell amazing - highly recommended.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Donna Smith's Muckle Leaves Beret and The Shetland Wool Week Annual 2023

I have a new favorite knitting pattern to add to the small library of things I'll return to again and again - even though as it turns out I haven't made it properly yet. 

There are a few patterns in this year's Shetland Wool Week annual that I really liked, but the one I was drawn to first was Donna Smith's beret - there's an error in the instructions - a repeat pattern sequence has been missed out - it came up on the website about an hour after I cast off hat one, which did at least answer the question of why it came out on the small side. It's still a pleasing hat that will do nicely for someone with a smaller head than mine.

I love this pattern for its elegant simplicity. It would be an excellent place to start if you're new to Fair Isle or knitting in the round. It's stylish enough to want to wear - the books I first re-learned to knit from were full of things that were not and that was an issue. It's hard to develop your skills if everything you have a pattern and instructions for is entirely unappealing. That it only uses two colours is a bonus as well.

Mixing colours for Fair Isle knitting is a whole lot of challenges and decisions - using only two is a useful step back and a chance to let odd balls of things that have been sitting a while in your yarn stash shine. In my case, that's a lot of colours I've bought that are slightly outside my comfort zone. Because this pattern doesn't need a lot of yarn (2 balls of the main colour, 1 of the other) it's a really satisfying way to use some of those things up at last.

It's a quick pattern too, so altogether excellent for making and giving away. I'll add a picture when I've finished hat two! 

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

The Deorhord - Hana Videen

 I really liked Hana Videen's The Wordhord: Daily Life in Old English, though in fairness I am a sucker for anything that throws a little more light on the Anglo-Saxon world. I haven't read this one yet - or not more than a couple of pages of the introduction because I only bought it today. Still, I've been anticipating it for months now and it's an excellent potential present for people who love history, the Anglo-Saxons specifically, or bestiary's/animal stories. 

I follow Hana Videen's Twitter (X), it's the kind of account that makes me not mind so much that  I still need to use it for work purposes. I really fell for the Anglo-Saxon world at the British Library exhibition a few years ago, much more written material has survived than the relatively meager architectural remains might let you think. 

Deorhord promises the chance to explore the Anglo-Saxon world view through how they viewed animals. I don't know if it's surprising or not that historians still can't identify some of the things they describe - what is a moon-head? It does create an intriguing mystery - why can't we identify these beasts, what have we lost? The description of whales being thought of as sneaky as wolves interests me too. Altogether a lot to look forward to.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

We Are All Witches - Mairi Kidd

A Halloween (and beyond) themed read for today's mini-review. I'm still not convinced by the formatting of this book - it's a plus-sized hardback with full-page illustrations that are okay in themselves but feel unnecessary and interpretive bits that also get in the way in my view of otherwise excellent short stories. I don't think it really belongs in the history section either - but now I'm done with all those quibbles I'll say again Mairi Kidd is a brilliant storyteller.

There are 13 stories here based on the lives of Scottish women thought to be witches. They're treated with dignity and compassion and there's a decent amount of context for the real women as well as these imagined versions. I think there are probably better books on the history of witchcraft if that's your primary interest, but not better books for breathing life into these legends. 

There's quite a lot being written about the persecution of suspected Scottish witches at the moment - it's a rich subject, and 'We Are All Witches' is an excellent place to start if you want a good grounding and a good yarn. there's a brief bibliography of where to find more of these witches in fiction. I'd happily give this to anyone looking for a list of 'Bad Women To Live Your Life By', anyone looking for really accessible history, and anyone who enjoys good storytelling and folklore. I think the format might put off some potential readers - I wouldn't have picked it up if I hadn't been sent a review copy, but don't judge by the cover! 

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Slavic Kitchen Alchemy - Zuza Zak

I've missed writing here over the last 18 months - life has been busy, often stressful, and as I fast approach 50 there's the fun of peri menopause which is sometimes all I feel able to talk about but is also the last thing I want to talk about. 

Meanwhile, Christmas is coming, and the books are piling up so I'm thinking that a series of mini-reviews would be a good place to start, partly as homework as we gear up for peak season at work.

First up is Zuza Zak's really delightful Slavic Kitchen Alchemy. I was really delighted to be sent a copy of this and it's been a considerable solace in a difficult week. It's a fascinating mix of folklore, traditional remedies, recipes, stories, and for want of a better word a Slavic kitchen philosophy. It feels like a book I need in my life right now as well as being an intuitive next book for Zuza Zak to have written after her more traditional Polish cookbooks. 

The recipes aren't my primary interest right now - it's the fairy tales and folklore I've really been enjoying - although I think I might try the method for making beeswax furniture polish in the spring. Altogether it's a book that offers solid good company and distraction at a moment in time when my concentration is shot. I might be finding it hard to focus long enough to read an entire novel, but I can absolutely leaf through this and feel inspired by it in all sorts of ways. 

I think that's something a lot of us might be in want of this winter, and as this book is hard to classify - I'd put it with food and drink, but work classifies it as Spirituality which sort of makes sense, but it feels more practical than a lot of the Witchy books it would sit next to, and is this one appeals to me and those books don't my feeling is that it might miss it's market somewhat.

perfect for anyone who likes good food, folklore, traditional remedies, and has an interest in Slavic culture.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Orange Juicers and the Bloomsbury set

I grew up in a house that my father inherited from his Godmother, She'd inherited it from her Uncle via her mother and spent many years bedbound with MS. The end result was something of a time capsule with 80 odd years of accumulated stuff that ran the full spectrum from total junk to glittering treasure; I once found a gold half guinea in an old purse. I wore it for years as a pendant until it was stolen in a burglary.

Amongst the kitchenalia was an orange juicer - good for other citrus fruits too - that followed us to another house mostly as an ornament and then ended up being used by my stepmother in her hotel where it did a good 20 years of sterling service before the tray that catches the pips became badly corroded. I loved that juicer. It was easy to use and easy to clean and I've spent a good chunk of the last 30 years keeping an eye out for one. The only time I ever saw one was in a national trust property.

I had looked online from time to time, but not for a long time and then last week I saw Cressida Bell renovating exactly the same juicer - it had been her father's. Her post revealed the name (Instant No1) of my fabled juicer, that there's a small but loyal band of fellow fans who still have them, and when I lamented not being able to buy one she casually and kindly pointed out that you could get them on eBay. 

I've avoided the rabbit hole that is eBay as much as possible, but these were exceptional circumstances and whilst I was dithering Doug bought me a juicer. It arrived in good order a couple of days later, I gave it a good scrub, checked it worked (it does, and it's as good as I remember - no restoration needed), and now it's wrapped up again destined to make my Christmas magical.

The internet is a wonderful place sometimes - the date of my juicer is around 1934, and given that Vanessa Bell's grandaughter has her father's one it seems reasonable to speculate that both Vanessa and Virginia might have had them in their kitchens - that tenuous Bloomsbury connection is a cherry on top of my delight to have this gadget again for myself.

It's more than just an excellent juicer to me - it's memories from early childhood of the shape of the thing, and of holiday jobs preparing hotel breakfasts - part of the furniture of life. It's the luxury of lots more freshly squeezed orange juice which I have a bot on an obsession with, and is really going to improve my cocktail game. For a fairly humble object it's made me remarkably happy. 


Sunday, October 15, 2023

What Kind of Book is This?

One of the perks of my job is the number of books publishers are willing to send for review - we get a lot turn up and a lot we can choose to request. The expectation is that we'll review them on the company website in more or less glowing terms if we like them, and probably keep quiet about it if we don't. It's work for sure, but a nice part of it, and encourages me to take chances on books I wouldn't normally pay much attention to. Recently it's also thrown me a couple of things I don't know how to classify, but which look very much like an emerging trend. 

I'll write about both these books at more length later on, they both have plenty to recommend them, but I don't really understand what they are and I think that's an issue when I'm expected to sell them. Rebel Folklore might just about be a coffee table sort of book though initially, I assumed it was aimed at teens. DK publish a lot of kids reference books and the graphics did nothing to really dispel the image. Its designated home is actually in Myth and Spirituality, the forewords are serious and so is the treatment of the various Spirits, Witches, and other Misfits it looks at. And yet. 

It doesn't quite feel like a reference book, it isn't obviously for younger readers - though from what I've read so far it's entirely appropriate for younger teens and onwards. Melissa Jarram's illustrations are appealing but not coffee table impressive, and the format means it isn't really a book to curl up with - it's a bit too big to carry around or read easily in a chair.

We Are All Witches baffled me even more. It's meant to sit in History and Politics but its contents are fictionalized accounts of real women tried and convicted of witchcraft in Scotland. It's a serious subject that's had some serious attention in the last few years - I could, and possibly have, built a small library on the topic. The stories I've read definitely seem aimed at an adult audience, but the graphics, multi-coloured pages, outsize magazine-style quotes in a variety of not always easy to read fonts, and the reading group style prompts after each chapter make me think of school workbooks. Again the size and weight of it are awkward and it seems kind of a mess to me. I'm really enjoying the writing, but I have no idea who I'm meant to sell this book to, or how to pitch it. 

I'm annoyed because these are books I'd like to be more enthusiastic about but the format is holding me back, and concerned that the look of them is dictated by the possibility they'll be Instagram or tik tok friendly accessories for younger women. Maybe they will be and god knows I'm a fan of a pretty book and a stylish sprayed edge - but these aren't stylish enough in my opinion, and particularly for We are all Witches the initial overall impression is of dumbing down. Do adult women really want something that looks like a kids collection of fairy tales on the shelf? Is someone meant to read them to us at bedtime? Or are we to sit quietly at a table with our pretty books about witches and rebels performing an acceptably cute version of feminism?

It'll be interesting to see how they sell, and to who - maybe my assumptions are all off.