24in48 Readathon TBR

This weekend, (in less than 4 hours actually) I'll be participating in the 24in48 readathon. I've never done a lengthy readathon like this, but with an over-zealous summer reading list, and August fast approaching, I thought this would be a great opportunity to make a bit of a dent in that list of mine.

The readathon takes place this weekend, Saturday and Sunday (July 22nd-23rd), and the goal is to read for 24 out of the 48 hours. You can break up the hours in whichever way you'd like over the two days, so commitments don't need to be missed. And there's plenty of time for sleep, a shower and meals. There are some great tips, guidelines and even prizes for the readathon, for more info and/or to sign up visit 24in48.com.

I've been making lists, calculating reading times, and putting together the books I'd like to read. It has been recommended to mix up your reading material so you don't burn out. So I also have a few comics, journals, and even an audiobook I can pop on, if I need to take a bit of a break. I've been meaning to crack open a few new adult coloring books, so an audiobook will be the perfect accompaniment. I also have a plethora of favorite snacks, comfy loungewear, candles and even a jaunt to a favorite cafe planned for tomorrow, to keep me motivated. I'm all about the cozy and comfy vibes!

I decided to put together a TBR for the readathon, since I'm a bit of an organizational freak. And, having a bevy of books to choose from, will help me complete the 24 hour goal. These are the books I chose:

1. Hum If You Don't Know The Words
I'm about half way through this, and can see why this has been raved about. Set in the 1970's, the story is told through the voices of Robin Conrad, a nine-year-old white girl and Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman. Both, cross paths unexpectedly during the Soweto Uprising. And their alternating perspectives, weave a story rich with emotion, taking a close look at racism, loss, and the definition of family.

2. The Resurrection of Joan Ashby
This is an ARC I received from Flatiron Books and will be released in September 2017. The book is brilliant so far. And reminiscent of J. D. Salinger, Truman Capote and Joan Didion. I think Cherise Wolas will be an author to watch out for after this debut novel.

3. Slightly Foxed, The Real Reader's Quarterly – Issue No. 54 Summer 2017
This is my favorite literary magazine! I look forward to the new publication (released quarterly) as soon as I've finished an issue. I've been savoring this summer issue, since it's release. And this will be the perfect in between read, when I need a break during the readathon. Slightly Foxed introduces you to books that are no longer new or popular today, but stand the test of time. With a good dose of humor, and lightheartedness each essay is an absolute delightful.

4. Home
Last month I read Marilynne Robinson's novel Gilead for my Real Readers book club and absolutely fell in love with this moving story! Gilead is part of a trilogy, and Home is the second book, which tells the same story in Gilead, but from the perspective of a different character. You can see my mini review for Gilead on my Instagram account. Robinson will forevermore be an author I pick up.

5. The Elegance of the Hedgehog
One that's been on my list since 2010 (according to Goodreads). I've had it recommended to me, several times. I've also been told it is very French, which I love, and discusses, philosophy, culture, Paris and language. I'd also like to see the movie after reading the book.

6. The Dream Keeper's Daughter
Another ARC provided by JKS Communications and Ballantine Books. This one deals with time travel, archeology, lost love and a plantation in 1816 Barbados during an historic slave uprising. I can't wait to get to this one, it sounds fab!

7. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Another one that's been on my list for ages. I love the Millennium series by Stieg Larsson, but haven't gotten to the third in the series until now. Nordic Noir is one of my favorite genres; dark, thrilling, with lots of twists. Lisbeth Salander is also a favorite literary character; a strong, female protagonist is always fun to read about! Mysteries, crime fiction and thrillers also tend to be my go to, if I'm ever in a slump. So this will be perfect if I need a pick me up during the readathon.

8. The Moonstone
The Moonstone is the book choice for my Real Reader's book club for July. I have about 150 pages left in this classic, and have really enjoyed it thus far. It is considered the very first detective novel. A young heiress inherits a stunning diamond on her 18th birthday. Unaware that the precious gem is known as The Moonstone and has a dark history, after being stolen from a Hindu shrine. When it goes missing, divergent accounts share details, making the recovery of the diamond complex and full of twists and turns.

This may seem like quite a few books, but I wanted to make sure I had a great stack to pull from, for the full 24 hours. I'll be posting updates of my progress on Instagram, Twitter and Litsy (@catebutler). Followed by a wrap-up once the weekend is over.

There's still plenty of time to join, or even just pop in to say hello over the weekend. If you do participate, I'd love to know what you're reading. Just comment below, or let me know where you'll be posting, so I can check it out.

Cate xx

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My Statement Piece

Today marks the start of Amazon Prime Day. And I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to mention one of the items on sale for the next 24 hours. About a year ago JORD Watches contacted me on Instagram and asked me to review one of their watches. Since my first wear, I can honestly say, this is my favorite watch that I own, and has become MY statement piece. I wear it constantly, and can’t speak highly enough about the quality and workmanship of this craft piece. I’ve always wanted an elegant watch, that would be a treasured possession for years to come, and this Cora Koa and Rose Gold watch is breath-taking.

If you’ve been looking for a statement piece, or a high quality time piece, do take a look at JORD’S selection of wood watches. I’ve included a link below if you’re interested:

JORD Wooden Watches for Women – Cora Series Skeleton Automatic / Wood Watch Band / Wood Bezel / Self Winding Movement – Includes Wood Watch Box

I’d love to hear if you decide to purchase one, and which style you choose! 

Cate xx

Important disclaimer: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

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Podcast Series – Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Magic Lessons” Podcast

I’ve really enjoyed discovering and listening to podcasts for the past few years. I usually listen to them when I’m whipping something up in the kitchen, while doing chores around the house, or even on my daily walks around the neighborhood. I’ve run across so many great podcasts recently, that I decided I’d like to start a new series on my blog, sharing a podcast each month, that I love, and think you would enjoy too!

I’ve had Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Magic Lessons” podcast series, saved for quite some time now, it wasn’t until recently though, when I got into a bit of a creative slump that I remembered this was sitting in my unplayed list. So earlier this month, I pulled it up on my phone, popped my headphones in, and decided to give it a listen. Within moments, I realized that I needed to sit down, pull out pen and paper and start to take notes. I kept thinking to myself, “this is EXACTLY what I have needed to hear!” and soon after, decided that this podcast is something that EVERY CREATIVE NEEDS TO BE LISTENING TO WHEN THEY BEGIN TO QUESTION, FEEL OVERWHELMED, OR NEED A LITTLE CONFIDENCE BOOST.

The first series has a total of 12 episodes, each around 20 mins. or less. And the second series has a total of 9 episodes. I’ve listened to about half of the first series, and have quickly fallen in love with Gilbert’s message, which correlates to her book, Big Magic. In both, she gives glimpses and support to fellow creatives – to abandon their guilt, push forward, face fears, and discover their passions – a conversation I think all makers and creatives need to hear.

One of my favorite parts of the podcast, is the reminder at the very beginning of each podcast. Liz Gilbert, (who has the most heavenly voice) describes magic lessons as “road maps for the path to creativity…the extra nudge we need when we’re feeling stuck in our creative lives.”

This is such a powerful and uplifting message! I can’t wait to continue listening, (Gilbert has a great line-up of special guests which include, Cheryl Strayed, Ann Patchett, and Neil Gaiman).

Below, I’ve listed a few gems that I had to jot down in my notebook, which I hope will inspire you to take a listen too:

Gilbert, when discussing the different ways fear can arise, hindering our ability to realize our creative dreams:

“All procrastination is fear. Anything you do that stops you for the work that is gnawing at you, the work that wants to be made through you, the creative project that is begging you to realize it…anything you do that blocks that is fear. It might look like fear, but fear also has a lot of shady disguises. It can show up as perfectionism, insecurity, guilt, procrastination…all of it is something you are too scared to do.”

Liz shares a quote by one of my favorite authors, A. S. Byatt which made me stop in my tracks:

“I think of my writing simply in terms of pleasure. It’s the most important thing in my life: making things. Much as I love my husband and children, I love them only because I am the person who makes things. I am who I am is the person who has the project of making a thing. And because that person does that all the time, that person is able to love all those other people.”

Liz, on why discovering your “essential identity” is so important:

“Immerse yourself, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually in what you want to create…be the example of someone who pursues her passions. There are sacrifices to be made in creative work, and an urgency and boundaries to be set.”

Purchase Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic: Book Depository, Amazon

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The Zookeeper’s Wife: Advanced Screening and Press Junket in NYC

Last month, I had the fantastic opportunity to attend a screening and Q&A with the actress Jessica Chastain and Director Niki Caro in NYC, for the newly released movie, The Zookeeper’s Wife (released in the U.S. March 31st).

Before attending the event, I did a little background research, and found out the film was based on the book, The Zookeeper’s Wife, written by Diana Ackerman, which was inspired by the diaries of Antonina Żabiński. She with her husband Jan, were the zookeepers at the Warsaw zoo, who in an amazing feat of heroism sheltered Jews, many rescued from the Warsaw ghettos by Jan himself, during WWII.

For the screening, I along with other bloggers and press correspondents were invited to view the film before its release, at the Dolby 88 Theatre.

As the movie played and the story unfolded, a wide range of emotions hit me. I’m not usually an overly emotional person when it comes to movie watching, but this one really pulled at my heartstrings. There are so many incredible parts in the movie that will make you smile, cry and appreciate those amazing individuals, in particular the women featured in the film. The vision and direction by Niki Caro and the performances in particular by Jessica Chastain, playing Antonina, and the young actress Shira Haas, who plays a Jewish girl named Ursula, were phenomenal.

“There are many ways that someone can be brave and strong. I think that Antonina shows that compassion is an incredible form of strength.”

JESSICA CHASTAIN

After the movie, we made our way to JW Marriot Essex House, for a round table interview with Jessica Chastain and Niki Caro. A few of my favorite questions from the Q&A were the following (please note there are spoilers below):

PRESS: Hi. I’m Krista from the New York City Talon. And you deal with a very heavy theme, with the girl who was raped by the two officers. And I was wondering if you can speak a little bit about filming that, and creating the picture, and also Jessica, about what it was like to work with the young actress.

NIKI CARO: Yeah. The character of Ursula is emblematic of all children who are hurt by war. And so as the director of this movie, I had to think very hard about what I could bring to this genre. And I recognized that it was femininity; that I could take my inspiration from Antonina, and be very soft, and very strong with this material. And so Ursula was a very, very important character, because her experience had made her animal – it’s an incredible performance, obviously; young Israeli actress called Shira Haas. And the scenes between her and Antonina are wonderful, because we see Antonina dealing with Ursula as she would with an animal – which is to say, very instinctively; not coming too close, but reassuring her that she’s there. It’s Antonina’s connection to animals that – her humanity with animals that she brings to – that she brought to her human refugees, you know. And I think that sort of unspoken trust and compassion between those two characters, and those two actresses, is a very, very special part of the movie, for me.

JESSICA CHASTAIN: I have to say I was very happy to – sorry, this is a little bit about this. But I was happy to be in a film that, for me when I watch the movie, I’m distraught about the rape of this young girl. But there’s no salacious scene that we’re forced to watch.

NIKI CARO: Um-hmm.

JESSICA CHASTAIN: And I find that in a lot of films in our industry, it’s directed in a way that it becomes this salacious thing. And it was wonderful to work with a woman who had more delicacy with that. And then, what was your question for me?

PRESS: About what was it like to work with the young actress?

JESSICA CHASTAIN: Well, Shira’s an incredible actress. And you know, I just kind of – I instinctively knew to not try to distract her in any way. You know, when we were filming that stuff, she was so in it, that I didn’t want to be like, “Hey, how was dinner tonight?” you know, and talking about things that didn’t connect to what the scene was. So I always held back. I, you know, I was there in case she needed me, or I, you know, was watching her in between takes. But I never tried to do anything that would pull her out of it.

NIKI CARO: You know, it was incredibly organic, actually, the whole – the whole movie was. But in that scene, in particular, there was a bunny. And the bunny is – really shows us the healing power of animals – that it’s a little bunny that can break through for this girl. And that’s Antonina’s gift, really, to know, you know, without words, without overt action, just what to do in that moment. And Jessica absolutely has that gift herself, as a human being. So – which really made my job very, very easy.

This storyline, involving Ursula, (which I found out later is not in the book), was the part in the movie that hit me the hardest. Knowing that this was probably a very common occurrence during WWII, is unbearable to think about. And yet, there is a part of me, after contemplating, that’s realized how important it is for us to not forget about this war. Emotional and moving films like, The Zookeeper’s Wife, help to keep these stories alive. By reading books and watching films like these, we celebrate those brave individuals in the past, in particular the many unheard voices of the women who bravely fought for a world order that was almost lost. After all is said and done, all I can say is please go see this movie; it is one that will stay with you for a very long time. This month, I’ll be reading the newly released book, with the movie tie in cover, and looking forward to comparing and contrasting the film to the book.

Synopsis: The real-life story of one working wife and mother who became a hero to hundreds during World War II. In 1939 Poland, Antonina Żabińska (portrayed by two-time Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain) and her husband, Dr. Jan Żabiński (Johan Heldenbergh of “The Broken Circle Breakdown”), have the Warsaw Zoo flourishing under his stewardship and her care. When their country is invaded by the Germans, Jan and Antonina are stunned – and forced to report to the Reich’s newly appointed chief zoologist, Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl of “Captain America: Civil War”). To fight back on their own terms, Antonina and Jan covertly begin working with the Resistance – and put into action plans to save lives out of what has become the Warsaw Ghetto, with Antonina putting herself and even her children at great risk.

Director: Niki Caro (“North Country,” “Whale Rider,” “McFarland, USA”)

Writer: Angela Workman (“War Bride”), based on the nonfiction book by Diane Ackerman

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Michael McElhatton, and Daniel Brühl

Running Time: 126 minutes

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJNFeHHGGN4&index=2&list=PLE5A001DF0D0120BD&t=16s

Antonina Featurette: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2xTECtyiB8

**A very special thanks to Focus Features for the fabulous opportunity to attend the screening in NYC.**

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Chocolate Banana Muffins

I always seem to have leftover bananas, they just ripen so quickly! So, I’m constantly on the look out for recipes that call for ripened bananas, (I’m one of those weird ones, who prefer eating greener bananas when on their own). Bananas are a staple food item for me, I use them in my morning smoothie, on toast with peanut butter, honey and chia seeds, for a snack after the gym, as a cereal topper, etc,. So, I will usually have a few leftover that need to be used when too ripe. On the weekends, I always get in the mood to bake. There’s nothing more soothing than the smell of something baking in the oven, and a podcast or BBC4 on in the background. It almost becomes a weekend ritual to be whipping something up in the kitchen, indulging in a pot of tea, with a baked treat and a book, as I while away those weekend hours.

Recently, I’ve been in the mood for muffins, and I decided to whip up a quick and easy recipe for chocolate banana muffins, using those leftover bananas. Not only do I use up the ripe bananas, but they also add a natural sweetness as well as moisture to the muffin. Even though I can’t resist a warm muffin straight out of the oven, these muffins hold up nicely, so they can be enjoyed over the next few days.

I hope you’ll give this recipe a try, either for a weekend breakfast or even as a decadent treat with after dinner coffee.

Recipe for Chocolate Banana Muffins

Makes: 12 muffins

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 very ripe or overripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup cooking oats
  • 3 tablespoons best-quality unsweetened cocoa (sifted)*
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch of salt

**Optional**

  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup walnuts

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF
  2. Line a 12-bun muffin tin with papers. (I used dark-brown, tulip styled dessert baking sleeves, but regular muffin cases will work just as well).
  3. Mash the bananas by hand or with a stand mixer. Still beating and mashing, add the coconut oil followed by the applesauce, eggs, and sugar.
  4. Mix the flours, oats, unsweetened cocoa, baking soda and salt together and add to banana mixture, beating gently. Add in chocolate chips and walnuts, if using these optional ingredients. Spoon mixture into the prepared papers.
  5. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes, the muffins should be dark, rounded and just showing above the papers. Allow to cool slightly in the muffin tin before removing to a wire rack.

*I use Dean & Deluca Bendorps Cocoa.You really do notice the difference with a high-end cocoa; it’s dark, decadent and has the most delicious taste. I stumbled across it whilst watching Nigella Lawson’s cooking show, Nigella Feasts.

 

 

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Blog Tour Review: The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George


Title: The Confessions of Young Nero
Author: Margaret George
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Publisher: Berkley Hardcover
Published: March 7, 2017
ISBN: 9780451473387
My Rating: 4/5

Built on the backs of those who fell before it, Julius Caesar’s imperial dynasty is only as strong as the next person who seeks to control it. In the Roman Empire no one is safe from the sting of betrayal: man, woman—or child.

As a boy, Nero’s royal heritage becomes a threat to his very life, first when the mad emperor Caligula tries to drown him, then when his great aunt attempts to secure her own son’s inheritance. Faced with shocking acts of treachery, young Nero is dealt a harsh lesson: it is better to be cruel than dead.

While Nero idealizes the artistic and athletic principles of Greece, his very survival rests on his ability to navigate the sea of vipers that is Rome. The most lethal of all is his own mother, a cold-blooded woman whose singular goal is to control the empire. With cunning and poison, the obstacles fall one by one. But as Agrippina’s machinations earn her son a title he is both tempted and terrified to assume, Nero’s determination to escape her thrall will shape him into the man he was fated to become—an Emperor who became legendary.

With impeccable research and captivating prose, The Confessions of Young Nero is the story of a boy’s ruthless ascension to the throne. Detailing his journey from innocent youth to infamous ruler, it is an epic tale of the lengths to which man will go in the ultimate quest for power and survival.

I vaguely remember learning about Nero, in one of my history classes in high school. As an adult reader, when I tried to draw forth an image of him, all I could remember was the saying, “Nero fiddled while Rome burned”, something about him killing Christians in a diabolical way, and how he was one of the most notorious Caesars. And yet, before the tyrade, murdering and corruption, he, like all mankind, was once an innocent baby, a young child and an awkward teen, not yet, the Nero of legend. This is the crux of Margaret George’s new novel.

When Berkeley Publishing contacted me on Instagram and asked if I’d like to read and review an historical fiction novel featuring Ancient Rome, and Nero’s early life, I jumped at the opportunity. Not only is historical fiction one of my favorite genres, but I’ve had an obsession for Greek and Roman myths, history and civilizations, since 6th grade history.

I can always tell when a book will hook, when I have a hard time putting it down, and this book, checking in at over 500 pages actually read very quickly. Quite the surprise, when I arrived at the last five chapters in just a few short reading sessions. The narrative, as told from the perspective of Nero, retells his life story, from his earliest recollection of almost being drowned by his deviant uncle Caligula, up to the moment, he is told, Rome is burning.

Throw in a Shakespearean number of murders, including the death of several Emperors, his own Mother, Agrippina, who is also another infamous character from history, (she’d be a fascinating character to write about in more detail), and a few friends and countryman who didn’t quite see eye to eye with the vision of Nero, you quickly find the book has a rollicking pace. My favorite part of the book included the subtle and twisted changes that begin to shape and mold young Nero from a good intentioned and dutiful son to the historical figure he is best known for. There were several parts, that any modern psychiatrist would enjoy, where Nero begins to speak of himself as spilt into three different people.

There is also a wealth of insight into Ancient Roman life, not only about the upper echelons, but also the daily ruling and lawmaking of Rome throughout the world. Including several references to Britannia, Boudicca sacking London, and even a moment where Nero meets and is impressed with the Christian prophet Paul; who is arrested and taken to Rome to be tried by Nero himself. Ancient Christianity in this book is known as an upstart and dangerous new religion, based on the teachings of a man named Christ, who had died some 30 odd years before Nero’s rule . Kind of fun to see other historical figures make an appearance as contemporaries of Nero.

Overall, Margaret George, does a great job mixing in historical facts documented during this time in history. As well as providing an interpretation of what may have happened when Agrippina died mysteriously (all historical documents, differ on this point), how the great fire in Rome started and finally how Nero became the Nero of history. In truth, Nero may have been an inauspicious man who loved the arts and longed for the glories and beauty of previous civilizations. Not the corrupt and vile man he is painted to be in historical accounts, including the Bard, himself.

If you enjoy historical fiction, have a fascination with Roman history, or are intrigued by the reigns of Roman rulers, I can’t recommend this enough. It was truly a treat to read.

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February Wrap-Up

February was a bit of a slower month of reading for me, I usually average at least 10 books each month, but with a long and persistent cold, a month full of deadlines and various projects, my reading time was cut down quite a bit. This being said, the books I did read, I enjoyed immensely, and being able to take a bit more time, enjoying and savoring each book, with plenty of time to contemplate, actually made this a slower month of reading in a good way.

ANNA KARENINA by Leo Tolstoy
My Rating: 4/5
Anna Karenina has been one of those daunting books that has been on my list for years. This year, one of my big reading goals, is to tackle those books that one would classify as “literary fears”. Books that have been collecting dust on my bookshelf, or on my Goodreads TBR list, etc. With the publication of The New Vintage Russian Classics Series by Vintage Books, and a book club they are hosting called #readingtherussians, I decided I’d like to join them, taking down a few of the Russian titles lingering on my shelves, plus it’s a good excuse to buy their gorgeous editions! What can I say about Anna Karenina, I think I’ve fallen in love with Tolstoy. His writing is fresh, easy to read and honestly flows like a new contemporary novel, not something written in 1873. Even though it took me a bit to warm up to the characters, and I never fully empathized or liked the title character, Anna Karenina. I appreciate that Tolstoy addressed tough issues, such as fidelity in marriage, extramarital affairs, lust, sex, desire, the rights of women, the uprise of the lower classes, and ultimately the consequences one faces when one gives into temptation, and disregards the norms and rules of society. After all is said and done, if this is a novel that you’re a bit leery or nervous about reading, just pick it up and give it a try, there is so much depth and richness in this beautifully written novel.

Purchase Book: Book Depository

FRAMLEY PARSONAGE by Anthony Trollope
My Rating: 4/5
Oh how I adore Anthony Trollope! I have absolutely enjoyed my foray into the world of Trollope and the Barsetshire Chronicles. Framley Parsonage, is the fourth book in the series, and I think one of my absolute favorites. I’ve been reading these lovely editions with a group on IG, and haven’t we enjoyed #trolloping together. Trollope has such a wonderful sense of humor, and his little asides to the gentle reader are my favorite parts in each of his novels. He also writes the most wonderful female characters, most if not all of them have a strong opinion, sense of oneself, and can be seen as quite spirited and modern for the time. I love how they are the standout characters in his novels, not the men, who are meant to be in charge. Usually even his most liked male characters will still take a back seat role, when it comes to character development and depth, when up against his female component. Quite progressive indeed, Mr. Trollope! Even though, Trollope can be a bit long winded at times, his quick wit, subtle humor and ability to address human nature makes these books a sheer delight to read. And again, even though he wrote over 150 years ago, his ability to understand and write plausible characters, and understand human behavior makes this modern reader adore him even more.

Purchase Book: Book Depository

THE VOYAGE OUT by Virginia Woolf
My Rating: 4.5/5
Woolf is another literary fear I’ve wanted to address for quite some time, and after mentioning it several times on IG, @coffeecoffeecat and I decided to start reading her works in publication order. Woolf’s first novel, The Voyage Out, which Woolf started working on, as early as 1905, remained the novel she continued to edit, change, and re-publish throughout her lifetime. As I sit here, trying to organize my final thoughts for this novel, I find myself struggling a bit, not because I don’t have anything to say about the novel, but because I have so much to discuss and talk about. Reading this book, took me back to university courses, the excitement of discovering an author and work that strikes something deep inside of you. I loved underlining passages thought the novel, the notes in the margins, and how often, I had to stop and reflect on what I was reading. The beauty of Woolf’s sentences, and descriptions, simply move you. Even though Woolf is writing a full century before I read the novel, the themes, thoughts and worries, Woolf’s characters discuss in this novel, could easily be placed in our century. Woolf’s main character Rachel, reminds me quite bit of other literary heroines; a touch of Jane Eyre, with her naivety, and goodness, and quite a bit of Marianne Dashwood; young, eager to find love, and passionate about all that she sees and does. But, this is Woolf, so, The Voyage Out doesn’t end quite as fairytale-ish as an Austen or a Brontë. Many of the personal issues and concerns of Woolf made an appearance throughout the novel, including characters in her latter novels, the freedoms and rights of women, the rise of the lower classes, marriage and fidelity, how to handle a changing world order, and even a hint of the exoticism. For my first foray with Woolf, I wasn’t disappointed in the least.

Purchase Book: Book Depository

THE POISONED CHOCOLATES CASE by Anthony Berkeley
My Rating: 4/5
February’s choice for the #BLCCChallenge was one of my favorite so far. I’ve always loved golden age mysteries and these editions feature some of the best that I’ve read in this genre. This was such a fun set up for a crime novel, and was actually highly admired by the likes of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers.

In 1928, Berkeley had conceived the idea of inviting fellow detective novelists to meet up for dinner and conversation – often about real life murder cases, which he found fascinating, and which regularly provided plot material for his novels and those of his friends. The dinners proved popular, and Berkeley soon came up with the idea of forming a members’ club for leading crime writers. The result was the Detection Club, which came into being in 1930, adopting a formal set of rules and a constitution a couple of years later; the club thrives to this day. Its fictional forerunner was the Crimes Circle which features in this novel.

This novel, takes the multiple solutions which members of the Crimes Circle formulate to explain the poisoning of the victim in the novel. Each of the amateur detectives present their theories, and although are convincing when being presented quickly become disproved. I thought I had guessed the solution to the murder, but was pleasantly surprised when the truth was finally revealed. An added perk to this British Library edition, were two additional solutions; one written in 1979 by a young writer who knew Berkeley, and the other written by Martin Edwards, who writes several of the introductions to these editions, and is a prolific  author himself.

Purchase Book: Book Depository

FIVE LITTLE PIGS by Agatha Christie
My Rating: 5/5
February’s choice for the @maidensofmurder book club has quickly become one of my favorite Christie’s. When Hercule Poirot is hired by a captivating young women, to prove the innocence of her mother, accused of poisoning her father 16 years ago, the task of uncovering the truth seems even too much for the brilliant mind of Poirot. But, as he proceeds to interview the five individuals present at the time of the murder, he cleverly uses the childhood rhyme, Five Little Pigs to solve the murder. After listening to each of the accounts in person, he then asks the witnesses to write down their exact movements and memory of the day of the crime. What ensues is a quick paced tale of lust, passion, deceit, anger, selfishness and ultimately tragedy. I must say, Christie who is notorious for throwing out red herrings, easily tricks you into thinking you know the answer, until the truth is revealed at the very end. This book will be at the top of my Christie favorites, including, And Then There Were None, Murder On the Orient Express, and Crooked House.

Purchase Book: Book Depository

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A Few of My Favorite Things – February 2017

I’ve always loved when blogs that I follow post, weekly or monthly favorites they’ve come across. I decided, with all the various articles, podcasts, blogs and items that I discover and get excited about, I’d like to do my own version, monthly. So look for a blog post towards the end of each month, highlighting a few of my favorite things…

In the News & Online

  • The Paris Review featured an interesting article about the history of the famous bookstore Shakespeare and Company, as well as stories about the women who made Paris’ literary culture thrive.
  • As many of you may well know, hygge is the “new” thing. I must confess, I’m quite obsessed with this cozy, warm, simple way of life, and many of my own posts on Instagram try to encompass this Danish movement. So, when a fun article from Penguin Random House popped into my inbox the other day, I had to share their ideas for a hygge moment involving books. Perfect for any bookworm.
  • In a politically volatile climate, all over the U.S., independent bookstores have not so subtlety voiced their opinions. Showing their resistance to the Trump administration with these timeless novels, according to this NYTimes article.
  • When I was little, sleepovers at my grandparents, included long afternoons swimming in their pool, an evening of card games, a full breakfast with poached eggs or Belgian waffles and watching TV shows, such as the Golden Girls, Murder She Wrote and Perry Mason. A new ‘Golden Girls’ Cafe has opened in Manhattan, which brings back all the feels and memories of my childhood.
  • A literary buried treasure has been uncovered after 165 years. An anonymously published serial featured in The New York Times on March 13, 1852, with a Dickensian twist has now been discovered to be a complete novel by Walt Whitman.
  • Any Janeite has dreamt about the swoon worthy Mr. Darcy from Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice. Our dreams may be filled with the vision of Colin Firth in his white shirt or the dashing figure of Matthew Macfadyen sweeping through the fields on a misty morning. But, according to scholars, the ‘Real’ Mr Darcy would look something like this.

From My Shelf

New Finds

  • I saw The Fairmont Wristlet featured on @retroflame‘s IG stories. I love that this wristlet holds your essentials for a night out on the town, or would be perfect for traveling, it can easily hold credit cards (5 card slot), ID, passport, plane ticket and your phone (fits up to iPhone 7 plus), and the feature I love the most; it’s not bulky.
  • Also featured on @retroflame, was this Hydrating Hand Cream. I live in a dry semi-desert state, and it is especially bad during winter. This hand cream is apparently the bee’s knees, and doesn’t leave a greasy feeling, which is definitely something I look for in a hand cream.
  • I’m getting ready to go on a short business trip, and I’ve been eyeing weekender travel bags. This one by Vera Bradley, is especially cute and perfect for Spring, (note there are over 20 patterns you can choose from). I’ve also had this Oversized Canvas Leather Tote on my wishlist. Both would be perfect for a carry on.
  • I recently discovered these Real Techniques Miracle Complexion beauty blenders, and they are fabulous!! It comes with two sponges for less than $10.00 and they are just as good if not better than the expensive beauty blenders that are $20.00 each.
  • Bookmarks, Post-it notes, flags, I’ve used them all to mark passages in the books I read. I just bought a tin of Bronze Book Darts, and they are my new obsession, elegant, classy and the perfect page marker, I think these will be on repeat.
  • I’ve recently been reading Virginia Woolf’s first novel, and have quickly become obsessed with finding out more about her, especially her personal life. This book, Virginia Woolf’s Garden: The Story of the Garden at Monk’s House highlighted by @charlesrobert1948 on IG, seems perfect. With full-color photographs, archive photographs, illustrated maps and planting plans, I have a feeling this book will take the reader into the enchanting world that inspired Woolf.
  • I LOVE Nigella Lawson, her shows, her cookbooks and her recipes, and I finally did a bit of research to find out what cocoa she uses in her decadent recipes. This Dean & Deluca Bensdorp Cocoa is now ordered. I can’t wait to do a bit of baking with this rich, flavorful cocoa.

This month, there were quite a few new favorites of mine. If you’ve come across something this past month, that you think I’d love, let me know in a comment below, I’d love to hear about them! I hope the month of February was filled with small delights, deliciously slow days and quiet moments, for you.

Cate xx

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The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard

I’ve had Howard’s book, The Light Years on my list for quite some time. Recently, the Cazalet Chronicles have been popping up all over the place, including a fabulous article in the Winter 2016 Issue of Slightly Foxed. After all these coincidental prompts, I knew I needed to bump this up to one of my next reads.

After doing a little bit of research about the novel, many readers and reviewers have compared this to Downton Abbey and I do agree to an extent. Throughout the novel, one follows the story of multiple characters both upstairs and downstairs, with the main focus on the large Cazalet clan, whose lives and misadventures unfold through each of their perspectives in nicely packaged sections. With a large cast of characters, including several small children, the first part of the novel was a bit confusing. I found myself almost needing to jot down notes, to keep all of the characters and storylines straight. But, after a little flipping back and forth, I soon found myself completely engrossed in each of their stories.

The book is divided into three sections, between two summers, and two years – 1937 and 1938. Even though both years take place before the outbreak of war, there is an underlying tension, especially in the 1938 sections, that to me, alludes to the trials and horrors of the approaching war. During the first section, the stories of the family are quite idyllic with a warm summer glow that envelops the section, fresh love, days at the beach and a family life that we all long for. But something changes in the second section, LATE SUMMER 1938, and that gleam and glow that was apparent the summer before is tarnished – the children are older, and a little less innocent, cracks are starting to appear in relationships and that looming knowledge that war is just around the corner, and a changing world order, starts to affect the narrative.

I’ve always had a fascination with England during the two World Wars. So the setting and time of this novel was perfect in my opinion. I’ve also recently discovered one of my favorite types of fiction focus on the everyday lives of people, in particular the role of women in the household. This simple formula of focusing on a family that is bound together by love, tragedy, happiness, sadness, and ultimately the outbreak of war, is what makes this book in my opinion. Howard has taken a complex and diverse family and created identities and personalities as seen in a typical family during the 1930’s and in doing so, weaves a story that sweeps you up, even as a modern reader.

There are four more books in the Cazalet Chronicles, all follow the family up to the 1950’s. I’m anxious to see where the story goes, how the characters grow and develop during the years of WWII and the aftermath in the years to come.

Favorite Quotes:

The trouble about being a saint was that it didn’t seem to be very nice for them at the time, only afterwards, for other people, after they’d died. Working a miracle would be marvelous – being martyred would not. But supposing you could be a saint without being a martyr?

That’s what ordinary life is, isn’t it? Carrying on as usual.

My Rating: 4 Stars


Book Details:

Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Pan MacMillan (September 1, 2013)
Language: English

 9780330323154

Purchase Book: Book Depository

 

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Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

These pumpkin chocolate chip cookies have been on repeat the last couple of weeks. I originally posted about them on my Instagram account. Soft, fluffy, melt in your mouth pumpkin choc. chip cookies have been a favorite in my family for as long as I can remember. These cookies especially hold a special place in my heart, because they will always remind me of my Dad, who is known to have a ready supply in the pantry.

One of my favorite things about these cookies are the aromatic spices that come through with each bite. Cinnamon, cloves, ginger and a hint of nutmeg. These deliciously scented spices make this a perfect cookie for a Hallowe’en party, an after school snack or even for a cookie exchange during the holidays. 

You’ll find as you mix and whip, that heavenly scent of pumpkin and spice quickly fills the air. With the temperamental weather of autumn/winter (we’ve had high winds this month), these cookies can be made in a pinch. So, pull up my easy to follow recipe, turn on a podcast or favorite album, let the weather gust and blow outside and find your worries and stresses gently fading away with a little bit of baking and this pumpkin chocolate chip cookie. 

Recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Serves: Makes 30 Cookies

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 can (29 oz.) pure pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375° F

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugar, pumpkin, melted butter and vanilla and mix until smooth. Add the egg and beat for 2 minutes. 

Whisk the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, baking powder, baking soda and kosher salt in a small bowl and add to the wet ingredients. Mix well. Mix in 1 cup of the flour, then 1 more cup and then the final 1/2 cup. Add the chocolate chips and mix just until incorporated.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a baking mat. Drop 1 tablespoon rounded scoops of the cookie dough on the sheet about 2 inches apart.

Bake cookies for 12-15* minutes. Let rest on the cookie sheet for 2-3 minutes then move to a cooling rack to cool completely. *For higher altitudes (like mine) bake the cookies for 18 minutes, watch after 15 minutes. 


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