Friday, 24 July 2015

What I've Been Reading | July 2015

I've enjoyed quite a variety this month, which has been quite pleasant. Below are my thoughts.

Fear in the Sunlight by Nicola Upson

This is the first novel I have read from this series, in which Upson has taken the real life crime writer Josephine Tey as her heroine and detective character. This is not the first in the series but I would say it has encouraged me to consider picking up others in the series as well.

Set partly in the 1930s and partly in the 1950s, the story is about a group of actors gathering for a meeting in the Welsh pleasure village of Portmeirion. Not just any meeting; a gathering instigated by the rising star of British film directing, Mr Alfred Hitchcock. Josephine Tey, together with her friend Archie Penrose, a Police Inspector, are also in attendance, as Hitchcock wants to negotiate for the film rights to one of Josephine's books. 

What follows is more of a study in character connections than in crime thriller; it doesn't spoil the book to say that no actual murder is committed until at least half way through. However, what comes before is a tense and intertwined narrative, which reveals that each of those gathered, and some of the locals, have secrets which they are keen to hide from the others. 

The book is full of twists and turns, with an interesting commentary about the nature of right and wrong, strength and sacrifice. All in all, a well crafted crime novel indeed.

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

I imagine for many, this needs no introduction; indeed, I picked this up because it is a classic of the graphic novel genre and I felt I should experience it for myself.

Set in a slightly alternate America, in which costumed superheroes became a popular real life sensation in the 1940s and 50s, it follows a group of heroes in 1985 as, seemingly, a killer walks amongst them. Delving back and forth between time zones and featuring both graphic novel and prose sections to highlight each characters back story, this is a much more in depth novel - for it is a novel, I would say, from the size and complexity - than I was expecting. 

I am glad I have read it. It dealt with a lot of interesting themes, including how crime isn't always black and white, the threat of increasing human understanding of technology and nuclear power, and the terrible cost of war. I can see how it is a masterpiece of this genre, but I felt fairly ambivalent once I'd finished the final page, and I won't be rushing to see the film any time soon.

The Maze Runner by James Dasher

I've read the Hunger Games, Battle Royale, Delirium; I know the drill for a lot of these YA dystopian novels by now. I was keen to try out the Maze Runner as I had heard a lot of Booktubers discussing it, so when I saw it in the library I picked it up.

The story revolves around Thomas, who wakes up in a box with no idea who he is, or where he is from, except knowledge of his name. He soon finds himself thrown into a strange area full of teenage boys, who live in the centre of a giant maze. The boys raise their own food and a select few spend their days running through the Maze, searching for a clue to a way out, avoiding staying out at night for fear of being caught by the evil monster/machines that lurk outside.

Inevitably, Thomas' arrival, followed by the arrival shortly after of a young girl to the clearing, are the catalyst for a climax in the boys' existence in the Maze world and lead to a lot of drama, action and adventure as they try to escape from the Maze and confront their captors.

I enjoyed this book, but not as much as I hoped I would. Perhaps as it is YA, the writing is not always very sophisticated and I found myself getting frustrated with that. The conclusion to this novel (Book 1 of 3), left at a cliffhanger, should have meant I was anxious to move onto Book 2 as soon as possible. However, I'm still on the fence about that.

Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen

This was one of those beautiful Little Black Classics from Penguin - a snip at 80 pence, and well worth those pennies.

For all its terrible subject matter, I really enjoyed this little collection of Owen's poetry. It covered all different aspects of war; from the cheers of your neighbours as you leave home, to the full horror of the trenches; to the loss of life, and the half life of those who were crippled. Some of the poems are pure horror; some have an aching humour to them which brings out the sadness of the situation all the more.

For those interested, 2 of my particular favourites were The Inspection and The Parable of the Old Man and the Young. 

Eats | Le Langhe, York

On a special occasion recently I treated my partner to a lunch at a restaurant/deli in York, know for it's Italian fayre. We were treated to quite a pleasant day, not too hot, but we were able to sit out in a sunshine and enjoy the food, wine and also the garden/terrace area, overlooking the city walls.

We selected a collection of little dishes to eat, including a delicious caprese salad, a collection of bruschetta and a meat/cheese selection board from their deli counter. The food was all excellent - the caprese salad was especially fresh and the mozzarella to die for - and we also enjoyed a glass of red to go with it. The whole experience was delightful and we would not hesitate to return.

The selection with wine came to around £30. A treat, but perfect for a summer afternoon.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Stays | The Athenaeum Hotel, London

It was my partner's birthday recently and as a treat we got a good deal on Secret Escapes to stay at the Athenaeum Hotel in London. A 5 star hotel of 1950s origin, the whole place was quite modern in feel. The staff were very welcoming and even arranged for a little birthday cake to be brought up to celebrate.

The room was spacious, the bed was very large and the bathroom was clean and covered in mirrors. We found the room very comfortable, enjoyed having several seats and a large bed, and all the other usual amenities. The mini bar was well stocked (though we chose not to use it) and we did the usual hotel thing of getting straight into the free dressing gowns as soon as we arrived.

Situated right next to Green Park (above, the view from our window, almost looking out on the Park itself), the hotel was an ideal base for our weekend plans in general - a trip to Sticks and Sushi at Covent Garden and a jaunt round the Natural History Museum. We also enjoyed a trip to the hotel's very famous and well stocked Whisky Lounge later in the evening; the place was relaxed, calm and had an excellent drinks list. My partner was able to try a new dram and I was able to relax in a comfortable atmosphere, which was well attended by their lounge staff.

The only downside to the Athenaeum was, unfortunately, their Breakfast. We were on a indulgence streak and chose to have Breakfast in Bed, but sadly it left much to be desired. I enjoyed my hot chocolate (not always offered on Breakfast menus) but the portions provided were not very generous. For example, we requested English Muffins for 2 - and were presented with a single muffin, cut in half. For what was not a cheap breakfast, this was disappointing.

This hotel is very pleasing and I would recommend it for a treat - even return, if I found a similarly good deal to stay again. I would probably go out for breakfast, though.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Days Out | Charity Clothes Swap and 4th July Donuts

A few highlights from the last few weekends have included a charity clothes swap, organised by Miss Trout in aid of Endometriosis charities, which continues with her planned Charity Ball in a few week's time. I was able to pick up a few little gems and also chat  to some super friendly people.

I also partook of some amazing donuts with chocolate dipping sauce from The Donut Kitchen, at a 4th July street food festival in York. Not pictured; seriously good Louisiana pulled pork with spicy sauce (apologies that I cannot recall the vendor) and a very satisfied customer.

What I've Been Reading | June 2015

This month (better late than never...) hasn't been a very wide ranging reading month for me, mostly because, as you can see, I was still trying to get through A Suitable Boy. 

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

This was a bit of a slog by the end, which I found sad as I did enjoy the story. Unfortunately, I was pretty fed up of reading it and just wanted it to be over. I enjoyed the wide range of characters and the context, as I said in my previous review; however, I don't like feeling desperate to finish a book, especially one of such high acclaim and such deserved praise. 

If Seth ever finishes A Suitable Girl, the sequel, I might consider reading it; but it is another 1500 pages, I might think twice.

The Iron Hand of Mars by Lindsey Davis

Some light relief this month came from a book  in a long running Roman detective series I have been enjoying. Marcus Didius Falco, the main character, is a detective, spy and general government dogsbody who often finds himself involved in the shady dealings of the Roman Emperors. The books are funny, often moving, and full of interesting detail about Roman life. This particular instalment was set around the Roman occupation of Germany and whilst not my favourite in the series so far, I still enjoyed it. 

I would highly recommend this series, which begins with The Silver Pigs and goes on from there. Davis is a writer who is able to combine meticulous detail with humour, drama and adventure.

Dolly by Susan Hill

Another little book that I managed to fit in was this ghost story by Susan Hill. Based on 2 characters and their time as children staying with a maiden aunt, this book has an interesting premise and is full of foreboding and good atmosphere. 

The idea of the evil doll is a good one, but somehow it didn't leave too much of an impression on me. I have read other Hill stories that I enjoyed more.

Eats | York Cocoa House, York

A chocolate shop and a chocolate cafe combined? Considering this winning combination I had not actually had much opportunity to try out this little gem in York city centre until recently, when I met up with a couple of friends for a catch up.

A full menu of delights awaited me, including at least 7 varieties of hot chocolate, all the cake imaginable and even some more savoury options.

I had a orange hot chocolate (oh yes) and a cherry and chocolate scone with jam and cream. Just enough sweet cocoa to satisfy, but not overwhelming. The others tried some different varieties, so I can tell you that the goats cheese scone and the hazelnut hot chocolate come highly recommended.

This visit did not do justice, I feel, to what was available and could potentially be experienced; we have promised ourselves a return, and possibly a try of the afternoon tea. Watch this space.