World Book Day: My Life in Books

I have always been a big reader, from insisting my parents reread Postman Pat to me for the thousandth time, to today when I would usually rather pick up a book than do almost anything else. Reading has been integral to my life and who I am, so it’s pretty natural that World Book Day brings me a lot of joy every year. I live for those round ups of kids dressed in their favourite character costumes (fun fact: I won first place for my Mildred Hubble costume when I was in Year 4). Understandably, after almost 30 years of reading, my tastes have changed somewhat, so I thought it might be fun to have a look back over my life in books… 

The Famous Five by Enid Blyton 

Enid Blyton was my first ‘favourite’ author, and I loved everything she wrote from The Magic Faraway Tree to Mallory Towers but it was The Famous Five that truly captured my imagination. Her books are full of adventure, whimsy and nostalgia, and I wanted to be a part of the gang so badly. I received the full set for my seventh (or maybe eighth?) birthday, and read them all cover to cover until it felt like I was friends with Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy, going off to their private island and foiling the plots of smugglers. 

The Lottie Project by Jacqueline Wilson 

Like all girls my age, I was a big fan of Jacqueline Wilson books and it’s hard to pick a true favourite as I’m sure at any one time I would have cited a different one – other runners up include The Illustrated Mum and Vicky Angel. But, although The Lottie Project is not one of her more famous novels, it really sticks out in my memory; as a school project, Lottie writes the fictitious diary of Charlotte, a Victorian maid, whose struggles mirror her own. It was the start of a love for historical fiction for me, for sure. 

The Harry Potter Series by J.K.Rowling 

I’m not sure I need to explain this one; which child of the 90s (or any other decade for that matter) doesn’t cite Harry Potter as their favourite books? My mum bought me the second one to read on our caravan holiday one summer, and I was immediately hooked, joining in with the hype with every release from there on out. Since then, my relationship with the books has deepened with every subsequent reading, and one of the things I am most looking forward to about having a baby is being able to share the magic with them. 

Cuckoo in the Nest by Michelle Magorian 

This book combines so many of my favourite things; theatre, historical fiction, seemingly-cranky-old-ladies-with-a-heart-of-gold… The protagonist Ralph has long been one of my favourite characters of all time, and whenever I pick up this book it’s like coming home for me. 

Cat by Freya North 

In my teens, I went through a big chick lit phase. I would devour as many books about glamorous women in magazine jobs leading complicated romantic lives as I could get my hands on. And, if I’m honest, I couldn’t tell you much about the seemingly hundreds of books I read during this time. I don’t mean to be disparaging, as I think ‘chick lit’ is an under-rated genre and is often dismissed out of hand – but I don’t think I was very discerning at the time, and would just race through them as quickly as I could. That said, there are a few notable exceptions to the rule, and Freya North’s first books, all named after their main characters, were some of my favourites – and I sometimes still think about them now, years later. As well as Cat, there were her sisters Pip and Fen, as well as Sally, Chloe and Polly, all of whom I loved equally – but I chose Cat because the book is set in France (in fact, it is about the Tour de France) and I read so many of these books whilst on holiday there with my friend Jess and her family, that it feels particularly fitting. 

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Oh, this book. It has my heart and will probably always be my favourite. It is heartbreaking and heartwarming in all the best ways, and it introduced me to so many concepts and ideas that still inform my thinking now. If you haven’t read it, you really must – it’s a tale of suffering but also of the redemptive power of love, female friendship and sisterhood. It’s an astounding tale, and I cry at the ending every single time. My copy is covered in notes from when I wrote my A-Level coursework on it, and it is one of my most prized possessions. 

Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti 

I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that this book changed my life. I’m not sure why I decided to order this from the library (perhaps because of books like The Color Purple?) but I’m so glad I did. I remember reading it and feeling both angry at the statistics and facts I was reading, and also relieved that it wasn’t just me that felt that anger. Having had this introduction to feminism, it became a central part of my life and has remained so ever since. I followed Jessica Valenti’s blog – Feministing – and from there discovered so many more blogs and books, which eventually lead to me doing my Masters in Gender, Sexuality and Queer Theory where my dissertation was on feminist blogging (what else?). 

Villette by Charlotte Bronte 

For an English student (by which I mean a student of English, not a student from England – although I am that, too), I have been pretty disparaging about classic literature in the past. I was scathing about Jane Austen during my A-Levels and was easily bored by school set texts. However, when I got to University that all changed and now I could wax lyrical about Austen and her ilk for hours on end – and it was reading Villette as part of a Victorian literature course that changed all that for me. Jane Eyre is usually thought of as Charlotte Bronte’s best novel, and although I now love it, it was the unusual character of Villette, the independent character of Lucy Snowe and the modern & pragmatic love story at its heart that turned my head and found a place in my heart. 

Atonement by Ian McEwan 

Alongside discovering a love for classical literature, I also delved into the realms of Booker Prize winners as part of my degree – and in doing so stumbled across Atonement by Ian McEwan, a truly incredible novel that affected me so deeply that I don’t think I can ever re-read it again. Ian McEwan is the king of surprise endings (I also love Sweet Tooth by him, which has a similarly incredible twist) and this one is all-consuming. I leant the book to a friend, and after a few days came down to find her sitting shock-still on the sofa – I knew immediately that she had finished it and was feeling all the feelings. It’s books like this that makes me think it’s not worth bothering to write, because it has already been done so perfectly (which I know is foolish, but seriously.. it’s amazing). 

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov 

For a while after University, I read almost nothing. After reading three to four full books a week for three years, and then diving into some deep feminist theory for another two years after that, I was ready for a break. But it was Lolita that clawed me back into the world of books (and I am so glad that it did). This book is understandably controversial, but it is a true work of art and I think the opening paragraph may be one of the most perfect pieces of writing in the entire English language (so much so that I have accidentally burnt it into my brain by reading it so many times… Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins and all that). I’m forever grateful to Nabokov for reminding me why I love reading, and for putting me back on the path of my favourite hobby. 

Yes Please by Amy Poehler 

It is so difficult for me to sum up the past couple of years of reading; after undertaking a challenge to read 100 books in a year (and then 101 books the year after) I discovered so many incredible books. You by Caroline Kepnes, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill all jump out as recent favourites, but it feels as though they’re all still so fresh in my mind. It’ll be a while before I’ll know which books really stuck with me from this time in my life, but I’m certain that Amy Poehler’s ‘Yes Please‘ will definitely be on the list. When I grow up, I want to be Amy Poehler, and I turn to this book time and again for wisdom, reassurance and a giggle or two. At times, it feels like a guiding light, which is a pretty magical thing for a book to be. 

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20-Minute Nutella & Cinnamon Rolls

20-Minute Nutella & Cinnamon Rolls // Amy Elizabeth

I love the ritual of baking. I like popping on a podcast and spending a few hours immersed in all things butter, sugar and flour. It is immensely satisfying to eat something that has been a true labour of love, whether it’s intricate decorations on a cake or the crust on a perfectly risen loaf of bread. Cinnamon rolls definitely come under this category of baking; they require some effort to get right – and, although they are worth every minute, sometimes you just don’t have the time. So, when I saw Carrie’s Cheat Cinnamon Rolls, I was, of course, intrigued. Whilst they’re not *quite* as good as the real deal, you can have them in your mouth in 20 minutes – which is a mega plus, if you ask me. I added some Nutella to mine (because why not?) which means you get the perfect mix of flaky pastry, gooey Nutella, sweet cinnamon and all in less time than it takes to watch an episode of Brooklyn 99. 

20-Minute Nutella & Cinnamon Rolls // Amy Elizabeth

20-Minute Nutella & Cinnamon Rolls 

Ingredients 

  • 1 pack pre-rolled puff pastry
  • 4 tbsp. Nutella 
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 50g golden caster sugar
  • 2 heaped tsp. cinnamon 

Method 

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. 
  2. Take the puff pastry out of the fridge 10 minutes before you need to use it – this will make it easier to work with. Roll out flat on a chopping board and spread with the Nutella until covered in an even layer. 
  3. Mix together the butter, sugar and cinnamon to make a paste. Spread over the Nutella in another even layer. 
  4. Roll the pastry back up into a tube shape. At this point, you may want to pop the pastry back into the fridge to firm up for 20 minutes, but I find that if you work quickly and use a super sharp knife then you shouldn’t really have a problem. 
  5. Cut the pastry into 5cm rounds and pop them into a heatproof tray with some room between them (they’ll grow in the oven). 
  6. Bake for 15 minutes until the pastry is golden brown. 

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February

Seeing our baby again at our 20 week scan today (after being very impatient about it for the rest of the month!) 

Flipping some chocolate chip pancakes for Pancake Day

Celebrating the wedding of Dave and Jenny in Sheffield – such a beautiful day (and a beautiful bride!). 

Baking banana bread and cookies. Going back to basics. 

Cuddling my friends’ babies to get my cuteness fix. 

Despairing at maternity formal wear… but finding something in the end. 

Wearing leggings more days than not. 

Stuffing my face at Dishoom – that cheese naan, you guys. 

Crying with laughter at Josie Long’s show, Something Better. 

Loving the (slightly) lighter mornings and lighter nights. 

Sending some Galentine’s Day cards and messages. The best day of the year! 

Getting my pregnancy yoga on. I’m all about those hippie vibes. 

Immersing myself in Season 2 of Buffy – my favourite season, for sure. 

Toasting my sister’s 20th birthday with Mexican food! 

Getting my craft on making some macrame plant holders with my colleagues at Stitch Up

Putting Tuna on a diet – she’s chubbed up immensely over the last year! 

Enjoying a Nando’s for our Valentine’s Day date. 

Publishing my first piece on Buzzfeed

Experiencing my first ever wedding fair and organising my first ever hen do as bridesmaid. 

Learning all about getting my Instagram on at The Blog Squad

Cooking up brunch for friends before a mammoth Reign session (have you seen it?). 

Planning some post-baby getaways – if only in my head, right now. 

Feeling the love! 

How about you? 

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The Friday Five

[Photo by David Straight]

Do you know how some weeks you feel like you’re constantly chasing your tail? That is me, right now. But it’s all for good reasons – this weekend we attended the beautiful wedding of two of our wonderful friends in Sheffield, which was, as always, a lot of fun and, of course, I cried in the speeches (I wasn’t the only one!). However, I don’t think Pregnant Amy can do 1am bedtimes; I felt hungover all of Sunday even without touching a drop of delicious wine, which seems remarkably unfair to me. On Tuesday night we went to see the delightful Josie Long at The Wardrobe; I cried with laughter on more than one occasion. If you like leftie feminist comedy with a big dash of optimism and whimsy (which I certainly do), then you should definitely check out her work. On Wednesday it was down to London for a client meeting, and a little trip to Dishoom for dinner (oh my god, you guys, it was ruddy delicious). And then yesterday I convinced two colleagues to join me at The Blog Squad talk with Sara, all about Instagram. So, what I’m saying is that I’m very ready for a weekend of brunching and celebrating my baby sister’s 20th birthday! What have you got planned for your weekend days? 

 

 

 

 

 

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Maternity Wear Woes

Maternity Wear Woes // Amy Elizabeth

I don’t consider myself a particularly stylish or fashionable person. I like to look nice, sure, but I mostly stick to a uniform of relatively plain clothes for the majority of my life. My office has a (very) casual dress code, and I don’t often go to fancy places at the weekend (and when I do, I tend to wear the same couple of things on rotation). I own a lot of navy-striped tops and dresses, and you’ll rarely find me outside of jeans. My attempts to accessorise are cursory at best, stopping at my wedding rings and a gigantic blanket scarf most days. However, I’ve been pretty happy that way for the last few years. I know what suits me, I like to think I look relatively pulled together and I rarely have a panic when I’m getting dressed. That is, until the bump entered my life. 

Over the past couple of weeks, my bump has very much made itself known, meaning that almost all of my regular clothes are very much out of the picture. I spent years finding pairs of jeans that would fit me, only for all of my pairs to be regulated to the back of the cupboard with the hopes that I will see them again come Autumn. Suddenly, I feel awkward and uncomfortable in everything – except for maternity leggings, which are some kind of godsend (and I will probably continue to purchase them post-pregnancy, they’re just that comfy). 

The thing is, I want to look like myself at a time when that is almost impossible. I can’t help but feel my hatred of maternity clothes is tied up with a bit (read: a lot) of anxiety about my body changing outside of my control. My previous style worked for my petite-but-with-big-boobs body and now I have to find one for short-with-even-bigger-boobs-and-a-growing-stomach body instead. It’s hard enough to find clothes that fit my too-short-for-the-high-street legs at the best of time, but factor in a bump and a headache is inevitable. 

Part of the problem is not wanting to buy *too* much, in case it doesn’t work when I’m even more pregnant than I am now, and also because buying a full new wardrobe for a six month period is a little decadent when you’re also trying to save for a new arrival and the inevitable period of maternity leave, which is not known to be the most flush time in anyone’s life. 

So I’ve ‘invested’ in a couple of pairs of maternity jeans – one Topshop Leigh under-the-bump pair, which fit length-wise but become irretrievably baggy the longer I wear them and thus are currently being held up by safety pins, and one ASOS maternity over-the-bump pair, which stay up more easily but still don’t *quite* fit well enough to avoid bagginess. I’m hoping that as my bump grows, they’ll become a little bit more wearable and won’t need the constant hitching up to look vaguely smart and fitted. Between those and my trusty maternity leggings (the grey are better quality than the black, for some reason), and I’m pretty much covered for daywear, for now.

Of course, an extra woe is formal wear – particularly for a wedding that we attended this weekend. Most shops don’t stock their maternity ranges in store, so you’ve got to give yourself plenty of time for deliveries and returns, whilst also factoring in the fact that your bump might have grown and changed before the big day itself. Having never been pregnant before, I was a bit at a loss as to which shapes would suit me so I ended up ordering at least 5 or 6 different ASOS deliveries in the space of a couple of weeks (I’m quite well known to the DPD driver now…) to try and find something that worked. The problem is that so much of maternity wear is also covered in hideous florals or made of strange materials, so narrowing down the selection was a little tricky. I did eventually find this lovely dress in teal (which appears to be sold out now…), which I’m hoping can progress into daywear as Spring comes around! I also picked up a black jumpsuit, which I didn’t think was wedding appropriate but is destined for a few date nights and meetings in the near future. 

I’m hoping that as the weather warms up, I can embrace my dreams of becoming an earth-mama style pregnant lady in an ever-changing series of maxi dresses (which, in my fantasy never drag inches along the ground because of those aforementioned short legs…) and maybe a pair of dungarees… Either way, I suspect my maternity woes are not quite over yet! 

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Freezer Meals to Take New Parents

[Photo by Sven Scheuermeier]

“A family in my sister’s neighborhood was recently stricken with a double tragedy, when both the young mother and her three-year-old son were diagnosed with cancer. When Catherine told me about this, I could only say, shocked, “Dear God, that family needs grace.” She replied firmly, “That family needs casseroles,” and proceeded to organize the entire neighborhood into bringing that family dinner, in shifts, every single night, for an entire year. I do not know if my sister fully recognizes that this IS grace.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love

Excuse me whilst I tear up for a moment, because that quote gets me every time. I think about it quite often, because to me it seems like the perfect way to show someone you care. I show my love with food. If you know me in person, I have probably foisted meals or baked goods on you at some point. I’m similarly obsessed with this article (one of the best things I’ve ever read on the Internet, and something that I return to often); there’s no doubt that food is a big part of community, and having rebuilt a community after moving miles away from my childhood home, it strikes me as integral in keeping that community together. 

 I think it’s pretty well documented that having a baby is one of the most stressful and difficult times in someone’s life, right? It seems like it’s quite a tradition in the States to bring casseroles and snacks for new parents, but not so much in the UK. But we’re all guilty of letting meals slide when we’re feeling overwhelmed, resorting to microwave options and takeaways more than is probably good for us, so when our close friends, who had similarly moved far away from their own support network, had a baby earlier this year, it made sense to pack their freezer full of meals.

I did my research, having never had a baby of my own before, on what would actually be useful, rather than just cluttering up space. It turns out, there’s no hard and fast rules – but if you want to err on the side of caution then stick to meals that are easy to reheat, easy enough to eat with one hand (in case the baby is in the other) and include some sundries (microwave rice packets, par-baked bread etc.) to make things complete and as simple as possible. Then it’s just a case of cooking it up, and portioning into freezer bags. Make sure you label the bags with the name of the dish, the date you made it and any special instructions for cooking. You can definitely spread the load, too! Get a whole bunch of you involved and you could cook up a month’s worth of meals without much effort at all. 

What else? I also threw in some pre-cut fresh fruit (good for vitamins and freshness), some nice juice (ditto) and some of my freezer cookies, because everyone needs freshly baked cookies. Oh, and pizzas. Because, obviously. 

The other bit of advice I read time and again is to not crowd the new parents. Whilst baby cuddles are definitely one of the purest joys in the world (and I’ll admit to sneaking one in when I dropped my parcels of food off…) – make your visit quick, tell your friends that they are heroes and expect to catch up with them for longer at a later date. 

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The Friday Five

[Photo by Veronika Homchis]

Hey pals! Hasn’t this felt like a really long week? It is weird how time is stretchy; some weeks just fly past and then others draaaggg along. This week I’ve been hanging out with friends and their tiny babies (so fun!), watching Friends with Better Lives (I’m weirdly obsessed with shows with James Van Der Beek in at the moment) and reading a couple of romance novels by Tessa Dare (A Week to Be Wicked and Any Duchess Will Do – loved them both). So it’s been pretty quiet, which is maybe the reason for time slowing itself down for me.

I think it’s also messing with me because our scan is in 12 days and I am entirely impatient to find out the sex of our baby. It’s hard to not make all of these weekly updates about being pregnant, but that’s the thing that is most front and centre in my life right now. I thought I felt the baby moving for the first time this week (it was a lot like being poked from the inside, which is a bit trippy) but nothing since so maybe it was just wishful thinking and my body playing tricks on me. Just tell me to shut up if the baby stuff is annoying you – I know it’s only really super interesting to me, the actually pregnant one! 

Other than that, I’m just looking forward to a lovely wedding in Sheffield this weekend (I finally found a dress!) – weddings are my favourite. How about you? 

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Easy Chicken Noodle Soup

Easy Chicken Noodle Soup // Amy Elizabeth

Apparently it is scientifically proven that soup will make you feel better when you’re ill. And none more so than chicken noodle soup, in my opinion. This soup is surprisingly simple to make, even if you’re a little under the weather, and the combination of comforting noodles, hot broth and a little spicy kick at the end is sure to cure what ails you. I’m not usually a big soup eater – I don’t find it really fills me up, so I get hungry almost straight away – but sometimes it’s exactly what you’re craving, especially when it’s so miserable out.

Easy Chicken Noodle Soup // Amy Elizabeth

This soup is totally adaptable, too. Use up some of your favourite vegetables by throwing them in the mix, or swap out the rice vermicelli noodles for more substantial egg ones. You could even use small pasta shapes in place of the noodles (but don’t you dare think about leaving out the carbs altogether). Skip the chilli flakes when you’re making the stock for a mellower flavour, or garnish with fresh chillies or hot sauce if you like it fiery.  Want to make this even easier? Use the meat and bones from one of those supermarket rotisserie chickens to make your stock and soup. All that said, you must eat this under a blanket whilst wearing pyjamas and, preferably, with your favourite trashy TV show playing. There’s no negotiating on that part, sorry. 

Spicy Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup
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For the broth
  1. bones of one whole roast chicken
  2. 1 large onion, peeled and chopped in half
  3. 1 large carrot, chopped into 2-3 pieces
  4. 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and slightly smashed
  5. 1-2 tsp. dried thyme
  6. 1-2 tsp. chilli flakes
  7. salt and pepper
  8. 2 litres of water (or enough to cover the contents above)
For the soup
  1. shredded meat from 1 whole roast chicken
  2. 2 carrots, diced
  3. handful on mangetout, sliced
  4. 4 nests of rice vermicelli noodles
  5. fresh parsley, finely chopped (optional)
Instructions
  1. Pop all of the ingredients for the broth into the slow cooker, making sure the contents are covered by the water (add more if not) and cook for 5 hours on high or 10 hours on low.
  2. Strain into a large bowl and rest in the fridge overnight.
  3. Remove as much of the fat from the top of the broth as possible (it should be solid after the night in the fridge).
  4. Pour the broth into a large saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the leek and carrot and cook until just going tender.
  5. Add the rice noodles and the chicken, cooking for a further 2-3 minutes until the noodles have softened and the chicken is warmed through.
  6. Ladle into bowls and garnish with parsley, if using. Slurp noisily when eating.
Notes
  1. The finished soup can be frozen in individual portions and reheated when needed, either in a saucepan or by blasting in the microwave in one minute intervals until piping hot.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Amy Elizabeth http://amyliz.co.uk/

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Raspberry & White Chocolate Banana Bread

Raspberry & White Chocolate Banana Bread // Amy Elizabeth

It’s basically the law that if you see bananas starting to brown on your kitchen counter, they must make their way into a banana bread. Which is why I always keep baking supplies on hand, for just such an emergency. There is always unsalted butter in the fridge, flour and sugar in the cupboard and, thankfully, a plethora of cookbooks to choose from when just such a situation arises. It is one of my favourite things about my kitchen, really, that deliciousness can be coaxed from it at the drop of a hat. I get a bit feverish if I am running low on flour, so if anything I’m over-prepared. Paul is on board because it fits with his ideas about preparing for a zombie apocalypse. Either way, this banana bread was whipped up with nary an hour to spare with friends on their way round and the dregs of browning bananas, frozen raspberries and leftover chunks of white chocolate from making freezer cookies.

Raspberry & White Chocolate Banana Bread // Amy Elizabeth

Obviously, I would recommend that you make this bread faithful to the recipe, as it proved a rather lovely breakfast the next day, but really, banana bread is very forgiving and will take anything you’ve got lurking in the cupboards – so I want to encourage you to experiment. Dark chocolate and a splash or rum or bourbon would be delightful. As would chunks of fudge or swirls of salted caramel, or the addition of some browned butter. Blueberries are the natural bestie of banana, whilst some carrot and sultanas would make a nice carrot-cake-banana-bread crossover. Do what you feel, my friends. 

Raspberry & White Chocolate Banana Bread // Amy Elizabeth

Raspberry & White Chocolate Banana Bread
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Ingredients
  1. 250g plain flour
  2. 3 tsp. baking powder
  3. ½ tsp. salt
  4. 115g unsalted butter, softened
  5. 125g golden caster sugar
  6. 2 large eggs
  7. 3 bananas, mashed
  8. 100g frozen raspberries
  9. 100g white chocolate, cut into chunks (plus extra for decorating, if required)
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C and prepare a loaf tin by greasing with butter.
  2. Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder and set aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer (if you have one - it can be done by hand but it's a lot more work!) cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between, before scraping down the sides and mixing in the banana.
  5. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture and stir until just incorporated. Fold in the raspberries and white chocolate.
  6. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 55 minutes - 1 hour, until a skewer inserted at the thickest part comes out clean.
  7. Leave to cool and decorate, if required, by melting some white chocolate in 30 second blasts in the microwave until smooth, and using the tines of a fork to flick the melted chocolate over the top of your loaf until you get the desired effect. Serve in thick slices.
Adapted from Joy the Baker
Adapted from Joy the Baker
Amy Elizabeth http://amyliz.co.uk/

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February Book Reviews

How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell*

Holy shit, I have been waiting for this book for years. And, let me tell you, it did not disappoint. If you were around on a certain part of the Internet circa 2011/12 then you’re probably familiar with Cat Marnell; if not, then you should go and read some of her xoJane pieces from around that time and then you’ll get what all of the fuss is about. She was the beauty editor who wrote about how to disguise your night-before-drug-binge on the way to work; she specialised in beauty advice with an edge, which went (and still goes) against so much about what the beauty industry stands for. She’s also a phenomenal writer. Soon after she announced that she was writing a book, she mostly disappeared off the Internet, leaving us all (me) on a cliffhanger until now… 

This is an honest, raw, emotional and hilarious memoir, and I think it’s one of the best I’ve ever read. Cat charts her life through drug addiction with a candidacy that will make you cringe and cry, and occasionally cackle with laughter. She’s certainly not lost the skills that kept her on top at xoJane, despite her destructive drug problems, and this book is peppered with witty lines that I kind of want to steal for my own. From troubled teenager at boarding school with her Dad writing her prescriptions for ADHD medication, to beauty editor at large barely holding on by a thread, I could barely put this book down.

Her descent to rock bottom is a glamorous one, peppered by celebrity name-dropping, stints at high-flying magazines, and is therefore probably not a great portrayal of the ‘realism’ of addiction for many, less privileged people. At times, it is frustrating how Cat managed to sustain something that ‘a million girls would kill for’ whilst self-destructing at such a magnitude, but she is equally candid about her emotional distress, loneliness and even about just how self-absorbed and boring drug addiction can be. If you’re interested in the world of beauty, journalism or blogging then I think you’ll probably be hooked on this book; Cat Marnell was a pioneer of the ‘blog-style’ articles in journalism that are now a mainstay of the industry and her writing will feel familiar to so many who have grown up online. For me, it’s a five star read, for sure. 

Bridget Jones’s Baby by Helen Fielding 

I’ll admit, I think a lot of my love for this book was pure nostalgia; I’ve been a fan of Bridget Jones for over ten years so reading the latest instalment felt so much like coming home and hanging out with old friends. However, I think that Bridget’s time may be coming to a close for me – I will always love her but this book definitely felt less substantial than the others. Maybe I’ve changed, maybe the world has changed, but the problem is that Bridget hasn’t really changed, which feels a little unrealistic given the timeframe. I feel like portrayals of women have moved on since Bridget; at the time she was the quintessential twenty-something girl struggling to find love and get her shit together… but now she’s a thirty-something and she’s still slacking at work, unable to talk to her friends, family and lovers, making poor life decisions and rather incompetent at looking after herself. That’s not to say that women don’t exist who are all of those things – and Bridget is also lots of other things, like a caring friend and daughter – but I can’t imagine that she wouldn’t have had any personal growth in the intervening years. This book is still funny, heart-warming and cringe-inducing in the way that Bridget Jones always has been, and there’s no doubt that I’ll continue picking up Bridget Jones books as long as they come out (unless this is the last?) but it is purely because of that nostalgia, and because I can’t resist the perfect Mark Darcy (perhaps the most unrealistic of all…). What can I say, I’m a sucker for a happy ending. 

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye 

Oh my god, this book. If you’re a fan of Jane Eyre and you consider yourself a feminist then a) let’s be best friends and b) you must read this book. It’s glorious. Like the heroine of her favourite novel, Jane Steele has suffered the cruelty of her aunt and schoolmaster. Unlike Jane Eyre, however, she doesn’t take it lying down, leaving behind the corpses of her tormentors as she moves to London to start her new life. After years of living in the underbelly of the big city, she spots an advertisement for a governess at her old home, the place she believes herself to be the heiress to. Intrigued, she finds herself employed, and eventually enmeshed in the strange household of Mr Thornfield, who has a few secrets of his own… 

Jane Steele is a feminist vigilante serial killer, which is basically who I want as the heroine of all books I read from now on, if publishers could be so kind. Where she views herself as wicked for having murdered, the reader can see clearly her sense of justice and, at times, you’ll probably revel in the deaths of her victims – from attempted rapists to sanctimonious religious hypocrites who threaten the lives of her friends. As she goes from her aunt’s house to boarding school, and on to London, there is plenty of blood and excitement to keep you on your toes. 

The second half is probably more ‘traditional’ in feeling, and slows a little in pace but as she begins to fall in love with Mr Thornfield, and with his extended household, I was equally as captivated as in the first part. It almost feels like a separate book, as Jane works to find out if she is the true heiress to Highgate, and what happened to the mysterious trunk of treasures that Mr Thornfield is so adamant has been lost in another time and place. The references to Sikh and Punjabi culture were fascinating, and not at all what I was expecting from a ‘retelling’ of Jane Eyre, whilst Mr Thornfield was a much preferable romantic hero to dear Rochester. 

The nods to Jane Eyre are clear throughout, and will be a delight to anyone who’s a fan of the original book, but this novel certainly stands alone as a work of triumph. I never wanted it to end. 

Good as Gone by Amy Gentry*

At the age of thirteen, Julie is kidnapped at knifepoint and taken from her home never to be seen again – her younger sister, Jane, the only witness to the crime, hidden in the closet and unable to comprehend what’s going on. Eight years later, she reappears on the doorstep of her childhood home, the victim of imprisonment at the hands of a shady drug cartel leader, and the family look to start rebuilding their life. But her mother, Anna, has doubts – is the young woman upstairs really her daughter? Doubts she wants to ignore, until a former detective turns private investigator gets in contact with some information that might just lead to the truth behind Julie’s disappearance… 

I’ve avoided thriller novels for a while; so many of them seem to hinge on a common thread of violence towards woman – the more brutal, shocking and, in many cases, sexual, the ‘better’. Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s important that we discuss the realities of violence against women – there are too many who seek to belittle and ignore it, and it’s unfortunately an experience that too many go through. That said, I think that there are a lot of suspense novels that are gratuitous about it, using it as a trope to shock the reader without any real exploration of the topic more widely. I was hoping that this novel, recommended by one of my favourite bookish podcasts – All the Books – and with a not-so-subtle nod in the title to ‘Gone Girl‘, which is one of the best in the genre, would be a little different. I think you can probably tell from my prelude that it was not, at least for me. 

At first, I was captured by the mystery; who on earth was this woman claiming to be Julie, and what was her motive for doing so? Safety? Money? Something more nefarious? As you’re taken back in time through the case and through the many lives of ‘Julie’, the plot becomes more intriguing, and slightly more obvious. I’m not that great at guessing twists and endings, but by halfway I was pretty sure I had this one nailed (and I was right). There were a few parts that I couldn’t (and would not have been able to guess) when it came to the actual revelation, so it wasn’t a total loss and I did read through to the end but I found myself a little disappointed that, once again, gratuitous violence against women (and in particular young girls) was at the crux of it without much context or depth. I’m left wondering, once again, whether I should just ditch thrillers for good – but when they’re good, they’re so, so good and I’m going to keep hoping for one that surprises me and goes against those tropes. 

DISCLAIMER: THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS, WHICH MEANS THAT IF YOU CLICK ON ONE OF THE PRODUCT LINKS AND BUY SOMETHING, I MAY RECEIVE A SMALL COMMISSION. BOOKS MARKED WITH A * WERE PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER IN EXCHANGE FOR AN HONEST REVIEW. 

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