Lifestyle · Round-Up

Wishlist: Literary Mugs

Confession time. I have a cupboard full of mugs, a box full of mugs and mugs acting as pencil holders. That doesn’t stop me from buying another. Print something I love on the front and I’m a sucker. 

One thing I’m short of is bookish mugs. I have a Shakespeare mug from when I won the English prize at secondary school but one hardly does justice to my infatuation with the printed word. It seems a pity, especially because reading goes hand-in-hand with tea-drinking. (Well. Mug in one hand. Book in the other.) 

A quick scout of the internet brought up literary gold. Here is my literary mug wishlist. (And a unicorn, because people who read books believe in unicorns.) Do you have any literary mugs? What do you drink when you are reading? Let me know in the comments below. 

 

(L-R, Top to bottom – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory * The Secret Garden * Penguin Books * Unicorn * Literary Cats * Library Slip * Books * Moomin * Alice * Reepicheep

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top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Five Books to read by the pool

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June 21st marks the longest day of summer. We’re in the lightest weeks of the year. What is is about long summer days and contemporary fiction? Suddenly I want something lighter, brighter and totally relatable. 

I like to read outdoors on a lounger, or in the summer house. The swallows are here at the moment and I love looking up from my page to see them diving around like ariel acrobats. Storm Hector aside, we’ve had some lovely weather. Being outside makes me appreciate life and be in the moment. There is something about being in a place with no WiFi. 

Whether you are heading somewhere hot or plan to spend some lazy afternoons outdoors, you need good TBR pile. These five books would make excellent summer reading. 

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How To Write A Love Story by Katy Canon 

Tilly has always wanted to be an author like her gran, the bestselling romance novelist Bea Frost. When Gran asks Tilly to write her next romance novel, Tilly is forced to confront the fact she has never been kissed. She sets out with an action plan but finds that real life isn’t like a novel.

Read my review of How To Write A Love Story here. 

 

Floored (Collaborative) 

Six teenagers from different backgrounds are thrown together when they watch a man die in a lift. They meet on the anniversary over the next five years, falling out, falling in love and supporting each other through their different problems. 

Seven of the biggest names in UKYA have joined together to produce an epic novel. It hasn’t been revealed which author wrote which part (the six characters and the narrator.) This is causing huge conversation in the online YA community. 

 

The Bookshop Girl by Chloe Coles

Bennet’s bookshop has always been a refuge for sixteen year old Paige. It is where she can earn some money and escape from her sleepy hometown. When Bennet’s is threatened with closure, Paige is determined to save it. How can she get people interested in their local bookshop. 

I spent 18 happy months working part-time in an independent bookshop. I can’t begin to tell you what that shop meant to me, or what I would have done to save it. Bookselling is different from other branches of retail. The conversations between staff and customers make it about so much more than shifting units. A bookshop can be a community. 

 

The Polka Dot Shop by Laurel Remington 

Everyone is happy about the new non-uniform policy at school except Andy. How is she supposed to compete with the kids who have money for new clothes? Then Andy finds a bag of designer clothes in her mum’s vintage shop. Can she embrace vintage and help to transform the shop into something special? 

Laurel Remington is the author of the hugely readable The Secret Cooking Club books. I am on the blog tour for The Polka Dot Shop and look forward to telling you more ASAP. 

 

Theatrical by Maggie Harcourt 

Hope lands an internship working backstage on a major production. Her plans to work hard and make a name for herself are sidetracked when she meets an insanely talented understudy. What should take centre stage – romance or ambition?

I love stories set in theatres and performing communities. The old-fashioned theatre setting won me over before I had even finished reading the blurb. I have high hopes for this and look forward to telling you more. 

 

What are you reading this summer? Do you read any particular genres over the summer months? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Disney

Disney: Favourite Villain Songs

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Think of your favourite Disney songs and odds are at least one of them is a villain song. Disney are brilliant at exploring the darker side of human experience. Most of the songs here are as equally about the protagonist’s temptations as they are about the villain. A good villain song should be catchy, it should tap into the dissastisfaction most of us feel at some point and it should give us a clue about how the story is going to pan out. The songs I’ve chosen, without fail, tell us about the villain’s agenda. I love the music, the animation and how they reveal more about the characters. 

Here are my five favourite Disney villain songs.

 

  • Poor Unfortunate Souls

Sea Witch Ursula agrees to give mermaid Ariel legs so she can live ashore with her prince. End of the story? It’s only the beginning. Poor Unfortunate Souls is where Ursula reveals the catch. Ariel must give up her voice and get true love’s kiss within three days, or forfeit her soul to Ursula for all eternity. This is one of the best Disney villain songs. It is totally relatable – who hasn’t felt they will waste away if they don’t achieve their greatest desires? The more Ursula insists her service is practically sainthood, the more obvious is becomes she knows exactly what she is doing. She is the archetypal snake-oil merchant, profiting from other people’s misery.

 

  • Be Prepared

Scar plans to overthrow his brother King Mufasa and murder his young nephew Simba. He raises an army of hyenas, promising they will never go hungry if they help with his plan. In this song he incites the hyenas into actions. It is pretty dark as Disney goes, not least because it shows how a political leader can rouse the masses into action. Scar doesn’t respect his hyena army – he openly insults them – but he knows they are integral to his campaign.

 

  • Friends On The Other Side

The theme of the song is very similar to Poor Unfortunate Souls. Prince Naveen believes his problems will be solved by money and connections. He wants to marry a rich girl. Dr Facilier offers Naveen a transformation, but the outcome isn’t quite what he expected. Instead of making him wealthy, Facilier and his demonic friends turn Naveen into a frog.

While trippy animation introduces us to the demonic friends, Dr Facilier’s voice remains steady. He manipulates Naveen in the same easy way Ursula manipulates Ariel.

 

  • We Are Siamese

A pair of cats cause trouble and are only prevented from disturbing a baby by puppy Lady. This song is the epitome of understatement. The cats sing about their finer qualities in the same breath as they plan trouble. Their refined manners act as a perfect mask. When Lady chases the cats away from the baby, the cats pretend to be victims and Lady is sent out in disgrace.

 

  • Mother Knows Best

Rapunzel wants to leave the tower. Mother sings a nursey-rhyme style song about all the terrible things which might happen outside the tower. This is another relatable song – every young person is forced to confront the fact that their parents can’t solve everything. The song shows us what happens if we don’t get past those feelings. Mother is loving and protective to an extent which is creepy. The sickly-sweet tune contrasts with clips which make mother look totally spooky. 

 

Do you have a favourite Disney villain song? Any characters without an anthem who totally need one? Let me know in the comments below.

Lifestyle

Five Things I Haven’t Done Since September

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Spring has sprung. Or at least it is springing. The nights are getting shorter, the mornings brighter and Marks And Spencers are selling cute raspberry-flavoured miniature biscuits. However much I like the crispy days of early autumn, by the time spring rolls around I am as ready as the next person to kick off my winter boots and sit back in the sunlight. Lambs! Blossom! Spring is a time of new hope and good feelings.

It feels like a long time since September and sunlight. Here are some of the things I haven’t done since September which I am welcoming back into my life. birdRead a Book Outdoors:

I am the kind of person who will make an office out in the garden. A mug of tea, a couple of pillows and a stack of notebooks. There is nothing like reading and writing outdoors. Birdsong and fresh air and a natural breeze. The second we have three dry days in a row I will pull out my tent and set up camp in the garden. 

 

Worn shoes without socks:

When autumn came in I was pleased to get back into my winter boots. Right now I would be glad to kick them off. Socks no longer feel like a hug for my feet. They are starting to feel more like a prison. Time for a good pedicure and some vitamin-D. I can’t wait to feel the grass between my toes. 

 

Woken up in a good mood: 

Dark. Wet. Really dark. Waking up in the dark plays havoc with my body clock. How am I supposed to get up when my internal alarm-clock thinks it is the middle of the night? More to the point, how am I supposed to keep my eyes open? Never mind those smiley-happy people. In the winter I am not myself until I have had two mugs of caffeine and a kitty cuddle. Roll on dawn chorus at 4am. 

 

Eaten Cold Spreads:

Avocado slices, and homemade hummus and pitta bread chips. Cheeses and quince jelly and pomegranate seeds. Childhood holidays in Greece have given me a lifelong love of rolling feasts. There is nothing better than a table covered in salads and dips and miniature pies. 

 

Fussed over baby animals:

The lambs are back. Skipping on the hillocks and sleeping under the hedges. There are a group of sheep in the field to the side of the village green. Currently there are four lambs, all button-eyed and lively. I defy you to feel miserable when faced with a lamb. 

 

top ten tuesday

Ten Children’s Books About Cats

img_3882Cats are integral to my life. First there was Lucy. Gentle giant. The kind of cat who kept the house in order by licking her kittens (humans) into shape. Then there was Max. Diva. Deity. Think of Maui from Moana turned feline. What can I say folks, you’re welcome Max knew he blessed us with his presence and he capitalised on it. Now we have Maisie and Willow, our beautiful rescue cats. 

It is only natural that I like stories about cats.

Six Dinner Sid and The Diary Of A Killer Cat were childhood favourites. And Mog. Gentle, dozy Mog, who knew it was her role in life to keep her humans in check. There were stories about cats which I detested too. Those sugary here-kitty-kitty type stories. The ones where the cat was some kind of … pet.

I am suspicious of people who overuse the word pet. Sure, we talk about pet products and pet insurance. One word to refer to our animal companians. That’s fine. It is people who treat my animals as something inferior, something there for the human’s entertainment that I cannot abide. No. My girls are animals. They are part of the family. I like my cat books to reflect their nature (see … nature. Not trained behaviour.) If humans are involved in the story it needs to reflect the very special bond which can be formed between feline and homo-sapien. 

If you are still reading, odds are you are a cat person, in which case I salute you, and send respectful greetings to your feline friends. Let me know your favourite cat books in the comments below. 

 

The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber and Nicola Bayley: 

Mowzer lives with her human Tom. He catches fish for her supper and knows the perfect place to tickle behind her ear. One day, the Great Storm Cat comes. The boats can’t get out to fish. The community starves. Mowzer and Tom are elderly. They have lived long lives. They take it upon themselves to go out and catch fish. It  is up to Mowzer to tame the Great Storm Cat with her beautiful voice.

Based on a Cornish legend, this is one of the best books about the life-long bond between human and cat. Mowzer is not Tom’s pet, she is his companion. Neither can contemplate life without the other. Nicola Bayley is famed for her illustrations of cats. Here her expertise brings the Great Storm Cat to life in a way which is both striking and memorable. 

 

Six Dinner Side by Inga Moore:

Six Dinner Sid: Sid is accoustoumed to six dinners a day. He answers to six different names and sleeps in six different houses. One day, Sid gets ill and the game is up. His humans are not best impressed with their cat-share arrangement. Can Sid find a place where his lifestyle will be accepted?

Some cats eat. And eat. And eat. When I rented a flat, I had regular visits from the handsome tabby upstairs. This chap would fling himself into a pan of baked-beans if you turned your back. Our Maisie likes her food too. She parades around her food bowl for up to nintey minutes ahead of food time. Everybody loves Sid because the story begins with a recognisable feline trait. 

 

Tabby McTat by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler: 

Tabby McTat was a busker’s cat …

This rhyming story follows the adventures of Tabby McTat. McTat always lived with busker Fred. When Fred has an accident, McTat is taken in by a kindly couple and there he meets the love of his life, Sock. By the time Fred is found, McTat has a litter of kittens and a whole new life. 

I think I loved this book because it captures the ineractions of city cats. Our Max lived most of his life in London, and he had regular interactions (both friendships of a sort and blood-curdling fights) with the neighbourhood cats. 

 

Cat, You Better Come Home by Garrison Keillor:

A dark twist on Six Dinner Sid. A cat with expensive tastes does not get the lifestyle she is accoustomed to at home, so she sets out across the world on a globe-trotting adventure in search of fame and fortune. Delicious fortune. At first she has a great success, but ultimately she ends up at the front door with her tail between her legs. 

I found this slightly surreal book when I sorted books at a charity shop. I read to Max. It made no difference – he still preferred fresh king prawns to the ordinary frozen ones. 

 

The King Cat by Marta Altes:

This cat was king of his household until a disgusting, dribbly dog arrives. Cat is not keen to adjust to being one of two pets. A brilliant metaphor for new sibling jealousy.

Cats get jealous. They get possessive of their humans. Maise and Willow love each other to pieces when they think nobody is looking, but if they are having a cuddle they want the human to themselves. Max … Max got jealous of laptops. He learned to push the screen down. I think he thought we were stroking the keyboards. 

 

Slinky Malinky by Lynley Dodd:

Slinky Malinky steals anything. Gloves, slippers socks. She gains a reputation as the local cat burgler. 

I knew a cat burglar Her name was Mabel. She had a penchant for gloves and ear-buds. We used to buy washing up gloves and write messages on them. Sometimes we looked out of the window and saw her dragging rubber gloves across the road. She was also an expert at breaking and entering. She used to follow sales-people around and slip through the open doors when people were distracted. She even made the local paper. 

 

Diary Of A Killer Cat by Anne Fine: 

So hang me. I killed the bird. For pity’s sake I’m a cat …

Tufty has a reputation as a cold-blooded murdurer. If it fits through the cat-flap, he’ll kill it and bring it home. When Tufty turns up with next-door’s rabbit, all hell breaks loose. Did Tufty really kill Thumper? Tufty watches with amusement as the humans devise a plan to put Thumper back in his cage before next-door cotton on. 

This is laugh-out-loud funny, and one of the best examples of voice an aspiring writer can find. 

 

The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy: 

The feral cats of Delhi fear no-one. They stick to their territories or pay the price. Now there is a new cat, a pampered house cat with strange powers. And something is stirring in the shuttered house. Something dark and dangerous. 

This may be fantasy, but it is particularly observant of feline behaviour. It is also a bloomin’ good story. I read it with my mouth open. Please tell me if you read this, because I want to talk about this series. 

 

Varjak Paw by SF Said:

Varjak Paw is a Mesopotamiam Blue. His cousins say he is not a good one. Mesopotamiam Blues do not dream of adventure. Varjak and his family live in a large house. When their wealthy owner dies, a strange gentleman comes in with his dangerous cats. Varjak must escape the house, learn the ways of his ancient ancestors and bring a dog back to help his family. 

Varjak learns a code called ‘the way’. It is like ninja-skills for cats, based on real cat behaviours. Literature has previously refered to the secret ways of cats. Cats have a mystique. Varjak Paws uses this to great effect. 

 

The Other Alice by Michelle Harrison:

‘You’re the only person and know. And, well … I’m hungry.’ 

This is the only book on my list which isn’t about cats. It has a great feline character, a talking cat called Tabitha who has come out of a fictional story into the real world. Tabitha may be a talking cat, but it is her feline behaviour which makes her real. Michelle Harrison knows her cats and it shows in the narrative. 

 

Do you have a favourite children’s book about cats? Do you have a feline friend? Let me know in the comments below.

top ten tuesday

TTT – Bookish Resolutions

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It’s a quick one today because I’ve written resolutions, anti-resolutions, goals and reflections, but I love to join in with Top Ten Tuesday. It is one of the best-loved memes of the bookish community and I meet so many different bloggers by taking part. I have reflected on the past year, and written a couple of goals for 2018. It is by no means ten, but these were my top thoughts. Do share your links and tell me how your reading changed across the past year. 

2017

Start a blog – BookMurmuration was born in February 2017 (it moved to WordPress in May). Writing about books taught me to read in more depth, and it gave me a network of bookish people to talk to about my reading. 

 

Read different genres – the genre which widened my perceptions was contemporary YA. Before I stared blogging, I thought it would only be relevant to teenagers. I thought it would be about love-triangles and giggly girls and lipstick. How wrong I was. Everybody was reading Wing Jones. I picked it up in a ‘3 for 2’ and read with my mouth open. I have learned more about writing by reading across a huge range of genres. bird2018

Picture Books – At long last, YA readers are discovering Middle Grade thanks to some brilliant promotion and community events on Twitter. There still seems to be an assumption that picture books are only read by children, and adults who pick them on behalf of children. Picture books are one of the greatest pleasures on this planet. They are quick-reads with hidden depth, and some outstanding artists work in this format. Lets see picture books loved by a wider audience! 

 

Literary Fiction – As a teenager, my staple diet was literary fiction. I rediscovered children’s literature when I sorted books in a charity shop aged 19/20, and it became my passion during the children’s literature module of my degree. I love literary fiction too, and the depth of understanding I have has increased ten-fold between my degree and blogging experience. It would be lovely to feature some on my blog, and I very much enjoyed The Devil’s Highway, which I read over Christmas. Check back for my review on Thursday. 

 

Get to more events – Introverts find it difficult to come out of their book pages, but I gained so much last year from an Arvon course, and a couple of events hosted by Seven Stories. I’ve already booked for the Northern YA Fest at Lancaster Uni, and a talk with Brian Connaghan and Sarah Crossan hosted by Seven Stories. Both of these events are *free* – if you’re in travelling distance, make sure you don’t miss out!

 

 

 

top ten tuesday

Ten Books I Hope Santa Brings

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All I want for Christmas is … well. The answer is pretty obvious. Over the last couple of weeks I have had such lovely book post, I feel Christmas has come already. All I want now is a new pair of PJs and some bath bombs, and I’m set for a good time. 

There are always books I want. I noticed how many picture books made my list. Why is it I feel guilty about stocking up on picture books but not on MG? Picture books not only give us access to beautiful art and visual literacy, they contain some of the most concise and beautifully written stories available. 

Here are ten books I want Santa to bring. In the meantime, I wish all TTTers who celebrate a Merry Christmas. Have a good one guys. birdThe Snow Lion by Jim Helmore – lonely Caro befriends The Snow Lion. They explore together, but Caro must step out on her own. A story about self-belief. I wanted this book before I knew what it was about. The colour pallete is beautiful and I love the art work. The effect of the story and illustrations together reminds me of Raymond Briggs, and I am a HUGE Briggs fan.

 

Daemon Voices by Phillip Pullman – Theory of story always interests me. It is lovely to see a well-known author publishing a book of essays. Authors, especially those as well-established as Pullman, are the people who have spent the most time writing. We need to preserve their knowledge. It’s a safe bet that if I receive this, I will disappear and not be seen until New Year.

 

Tell Me A Dragon by Jackie Morris – I collect books illustrated by Jackie Morris. This is a new collection. I have three so far. I have always loved her Christmas card illustrations, and liked her art on Pinterest. Tell Me A Dragon is a great example of how one thing can be imagined infinite different ways.

 

The Lost Words by Rob Macfarlane and Jackie Morris – One of the most successful and reprinted books this Christmas. Since we moved back to Cumbria I have had a chance to see so much more of the natural world – starlings queuing for migration and great murmurations. I hope this book will reconnect people with these things, and get them outdoors.

 

Witch Born by Nicholas Bowling – I’ve written about this a number of times this year, but not got round to buying it yet. This is one to catch up on.

 

Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard – Amy from GoldenBooksGirl has told me to read Beetle Boy 120 times. We are going to choose books for each other at the start of the New Year, but you know what? She’s talked about this one so many times she won’t have to choose it for me. Amy, you’ve given me the bug. 😉

 

Petra – ‘I never thought I’d find a rock cute.’ I had this conversation with another book blogger, but it is true. Petra steals your heart from the front cover. This is one I should have bought in the Tate. All the arty-types around me were reading up on tone, and texture and things I won’t even pretend to properly understand. Me? I was squealing over Petra.

 

Leaf – A polar bear is carried to the woods. He makes wings of leaves and tries to fly home. Another book which has been on my wishlist all year. Occasionally a video comes up on Twitter which shows just how divine the artwork is. It captures how many shapes and textures there are in the forest.

 

The Atlas of Monsters – Fiction? Non-fiction? This is a reference book of all the fatastic beasts known to man-kind. As a fan of folklore, of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and of fantasy in general, I have fallen in love with this book. 

 

Moon by Britta Teckentrup – This book captures woodland animals and the atmosphere of a walk in the forest. It is beautiful. This is another book which comes up regularly on my Twitter timeline, and I would love a finished copy. As it is not out until 2018, Santa would have to break-the-law or bribe a publicist with gingerbread to obtain a copy.