It’s been a Long Time….

 

March 2015, and April 2017. The dates I last posted on this blog, and on my side blog, respectively.

Why? I guess I just got out of the habit, as usual. I’ve tried journalling. I’ve tried ‘One Line a Day’ diaries. I’ve tried bullet journelling, mood-tracking apps, online diaries – the lot. The fact is, I’m useless at keeping anything non-essential up-to-date.

Anyway, this is just for fun, so no worries. While I have my doubts if it will last, I am going to make a concerted effort to update more.

In the meantime, a concise update of the last couple of years…

  • We have welcomed a bundle of fluff into our family. Our Eurasier puppy Arty moved in back in July – bringing love, chewing, zoomies, cuddles, and a motivation to get up in the morning (a few photos above).
  • This November marks 5 years of being in a relationship with Cal, which is mad as it seems like forever and no time at all. We’ve got through a lot, built a lot, and I’m very happy. Love you Cal – you are my world 😉
  • Our new build house, bought February 2016, has come along a long way. Not every wall is magnolia. Still, I’m always bugging Cal about unrealistic ideas from Pinterest.
  • I’m still working in HR, and have recently started my Level 7 Postgraduate CIPD Diploma through a distance learning provider. I’m enjoying it so far and it’s helping me to find focus/ meaning.
  • In November 2016 we had the best trip travelling around Sweden and a little of Norway.
  • I’ve had struggles with depression and anxiety, the most intense I’ve been through. I was in a car accident which I really struggled to cope with. I feel I have a much greater support network now and am making huge progress.
  • I’m still reading, albeit a lot less due to time constraints with study and work. Still, I’m plodding through and hope to update on this.
  • I’ve got the dream car I’ve wanted since I was 17, a Fiat 500.
  • I’m 3 years post breast reduction op now. I have had no further problems and the scars are almost fully faded.
  • I’m nearly 10 years post scoliosis surgery. Problems are ongoing but mostly manageable.

Anyway, I hope all followers that are still out there are well and I look forward to reading your updates in due course!

 

 

 

Breadcrumbed Chicken in Lemon Garlic Cream Sauce

I set out on this recipe without a clear decision of what I actually wanted to make. Sticky battered lemon chicken, slightly healthier baked chicken with a lemon sauce, a kind of lemon version of a kiev…

Well, considering this, my Breadcrumbed Chicken in Lemon Garlic Cream Sauce turned out really well. So well, in fact, I ate it all before thinking to take a photo. But that’s no matter as I will definitely be making it again, probably pretty soon, and for that reason I decided to add the recipe to this blog.

NB – If you do decide to follow the recipe, please be aware that the sauce is quite liquidy and is quite flavoursome. This may not be to everyone’s taste. I also didn’t really pay attention to the cooking time – I believe the chicken was in the oven for the time stated in the recipe, however, cooking times vary and always make sure the chicken is thoroughly cooked before eating.

Ingredients (serves 2) 

  •     2 chicken breasts
  •     A whole lemon
  •     2 tbsp lemon juice
  •     Clove of garlic
  •     200ml vegetable stock
  •     200ml double cream
  •     Breadcrumbs (approx one slice of bread worth)
  •     50ml of milk
  •     Slab of butter

Method 

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees c and prepare a lightly greased baking tray (I used a deep dish sprayed a few times with low calorie cooking spray.)

Prepare the chicken breasts as you wish (personally I like to cut all the fat etc off). Dip chicken in the milk, before transferring over to the bread crumbs. Cover the chicken in bread crumbs as much as possible, and pat down to help them stick. Lay the chicken out in the baking tray and repeat with the remaining chicken.

Place chicken in the middle of the oven and leave to roast for approximately 20-35 minutes, whilst creating the sauce.

Finely chop the clove of garlic. Add a salb of butter to a sauce pan and turn onto a medium heat. As the butter begins to melt, throw in the garlic and allow to cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring regularly. It should begin to turn fragrant.

Make up the 200ml of vegetable stock. I used approximately half a stock cube to the 200ml of water. Ensure the cube is thoroughly dissolved before adding to the pan with the garlic.

Cut a lemon into quarters, and throw that into the mixture along with 2 tbsp of lemon juice. Next, add the cream and mix together thoroughly.

Ensure that the heat is on high enough for the mixture to get hot and for the ingredients to bind together, but ensure that it is not so hot that the mixture boils.

Keep cooking the sauce as the chicken is in the oven and prepare any sides you may be having with the meal (I made roasted carrots and some potato mash – which worked really well with the sauce!)

When the chicken is ready, take out from the oven and plate up, before drizzling the sauce over the meal.

Enjoy!

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

I had histn 11gh hopes for this novel as it had been short-listed for the Goodreads Choice Awards 2014. The synopsis ticked all the boxes for the sort of novel I felt like reading at the time, however in reality it fell short.

Station Eleven flits between the world as we know it and the world following the pandemic of the Georgia Flu, which resulted in the collapse of civilisation. The works of Shakespeare tie together the novel – from an actor dying on-stage during a performance of King Lear to the small travelling symphony acting in desperate towns fifteen years after The Collapse. It showcases the lives of people living ‘Before’ – fame, affairs, careers, ambitions – alongside the struggles of those living in Year 15 – the struggles to survive in a world where open roads are dangerous and aeroplanes become homes.

Mandel has created a vast world where so much can be manipulated, but it feels like she could not choose where to focus.

There are so many characters, lives and storylines being portrayed that no particular protagonists can shine through. I didn’t like or dislike any of the characters. Isn’t identifying with characters and seeing the world through their eyes one of the best parts about reading fiction? I would have loved to have seen this world through the eyes of a character, but that just didn’t materialise.

The story of the Prophet did catch my attention, but I felt it was not given enough time to reach its full potential. Same with the relationship between Jeevan and his brother. Due to the amount of story being packed into the pages, the novel skipped between Before and After the collapse, between people, between places, making it feel even more like the stories were disjointed and under-embellished when they were clearly meant to slot together.

There were also a few too many Shakespeare lines thrown in. I understand that the characters are tied together by his plays, but I wanted to read a dystopian novel, not Shakespeare. Alongside that and the slightly, (I really don’t want to say this but cannot think of a closer word for it) pretentious dialogue between the characters, it felt like the whole novel was trying a little too hard to be ‘literary’ and to jump onto the shelves alongside the modern classics.

I held out until the end hoping for a stomach-punch moment that never came. I can understand why people enjoy this novel, I just felt that it did not live up to its premise. If it had been more focused, with less skipping between lives, maybe even a bit longer so that stories could be built up then this could have been a great novel. The feeling I had upon finishing was disappointment more than anything else.

Pretend You Don’t See Her by Mary Higgins Clark

pretend
Lacey Farrell is a promising and committed Real Estate Agent living in Manhattan, whose life is drastically changed by what should have been a routine visit to a property she was representing. Upon entering the apartment, she hears a gunshot, and soon finds her client and recent friend Isabelle Waring bleeding out on her bed. Lacey springs into action, slamming the door on the murderer and locking herself and Isabelle inside, but not before she could see the killer’s face, which makes her a target.

As her dying wish, Isabelle gives Lacey the journal of her daughter, Heather, who was killed in an accident some time ago. It becomes apparent that Isabelle believed that something more sinister was the cause of her daughters death, and Lacey finds herself trapped by a man who wants to save his skin and cover up his murderous past. As the only person who can positively identify the killer, she is taken from her family, home and lifestyle and placed in Witness Protection. Away from New York, in Minnesota, she begins to build her new life, find a new job, find new relationships, but nothing is ever easy.

The novel skips back and forth between perspectives, which was something I enjoyed. If we had only seen Lacey’s point of view, the novel could have become boring. Instead, we were given snippets of the lives of her family, and, most importantly, snippets of the man who was tracking her with the intent to murder her.

The only thing I can think of which would have improved the novel would be if the relationship between Lacey and Tom had been made more prominent. Lacey pushes Tom away because she cannot be her true self with him, however they still build a relationship. It would have been interesting if the novel had explored the complex emotions which Lacey felt for Tom, along with the feelings which she experienced as she could not be honest with him. However, maybe this is an idea for another novel altogether, which I’d definitely give a go.

Pretend You Don’t See Her isn’t the most thrilling thriller I have ever read, but it scored major points by not being transparently predictable. It had me guessing between two potential informants right up until the final pages, where the whole situation was wrapped up quickly with little pomp or ceremony (something else I appreciated.) I’m glad I gave this page-turner a chance, and will probably give other novels by Mary Higgins Clark a chance in the future.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.

rosie projectDon Tilman is our protagonist, an expert in genetics who is able to memorise vast amounts of information on any topic with miraculous speed. He loves routine, and utilises it from when he buys his groceries to the way he eats the same meal on the same day of each week. He is socially awkward, doesn’t enjoy being in social situations and cannot tell when being honest means being too honest.

This inability to read others and understand social cues is a major flaw in his new plan – The Wife Project. Scientifically and methodically he constructs a sixteen page questionnaire, and any potential date/ wife must answer every single question correctly to be considered for the role.

The questionnaire does not throw up any results. But then enters Rosie – the complete opposite of everything he is looking for.

She drinks, smokes, swears, is always late and has no particular schedule. However, they are held together by a common goal, a new, joint desire to find Rosie’s biological father. The Father Project pulls them deeper into their relationship than either of them expected, and injects disorganisation into Don’s life. Soon, he is facing situations he cannot predict and emotions he cannot place, all because of the eccentric Rosie.

 

I finished this novel in a day, mostly because I couldn’t put it down. I could be found wandering around my flat slowly, carrying out the tasks I should have been doing with one hand and with my Kindle in the other.

Though I’m sure many readers may class this as a chick-lit or romance, these are just layers of the novel, building up to the ultimate theme – Don’s journey to learning about the world, other people, love, and most of all about himself.

The characters are loveable, realistic and three-dimensional. Rosie has an intense ability to hold grudges and as the novel continues it shows how anyone’s memory can skew the past. Don’s friends Claudia and Gene have an open relationship, but the trials of this kind of marriage are evident even to Don, who can see how Claudia is suffering. I must say because of this I didn’t really like Gene, however he was a good and supportive friend to Don, and was just flawed like everyone else. The novel has its moments of being amusing and saddening, but ultimately shows a heart-warming relationship between two polar opposites.

Since finishing the novel I have noticed that a lot of other reviews liken Don to Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. When I first began reading, Sheldon did automatically pop into my head, however I do not like the way that some reviews – definitely not all but some – accuse Simsion of straight-out copying Sheldon’s character. I think the excerpt below of an interview with Simsion explains perfectly how he created his own character, which yes, does hold similarities to Sheldon, but is a character in his own right.

Did you do much research into Aspergers/ spend time with people with the syndrome?

I spent thirty years working in information technology and also did a stint in academia – as both a lecturer and researcher. I met a lot of people like Don, though few had been diagnosed with Asperger’s. I did read a couple of books on the subject, but the ‘field work’ was much more useful.

Do you see any of your own personal qualities in Don?

Of course, of course! (As Don might say).  I think most of us – particularly men, and particularly men involved in technical professions – have a bit of Don in them. Sometimes quite a bit. And inevitably when you write a character, you unconsciously put something of yourself into him or her.

Read the Full Interview Here

In the grand scheme of things, don’t all characters hold similarities to other characters? Just as all people hold similarities to other people?

The main criticism I have of this novel is that the ending seemed rushed. In fact, I didn’t quite understand it to begin with, and needed to check a couple of things before reaching my conclusion. However, I have since discovered that Simsion is working on a sequel, so maybe the ending is a little vague for that purpose. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on The Rosie Effect, though I do wonder how it will hold up. Sometimes things are better left in their glory days rather than being built on (*cough* Bridget Jones.)

I can also imagine a movie version of this coming out soon due to its popularity. I look forward to finding out who will play each character and how it will translate to the screen. Though it’s a short book, there would be a lot of complex relationship building to cram in to a movie. A short TV adaptation could be better…?

Moloka’i By Alan Brennert.

Moloka'i: Alan Brennert

Moloka’i: Alan Brennert

It has been a long time since a novel provoked such an emotional response in me as Brennert’s Moloka’i.

The novel follows the life of Rachel Kalama, born in 1890s Honolulu to a large and loving family. They battle the usual struggles – a father who works away at sea for months on end, sibling fights, money troubles – when suddenly, a pink mark on seven year old Rachels skin shatters the security and happiness of the family. She has contracted leprosy, a misunderstood and vastly feared disease, which had previously forced her Uncle Pono to be exiled to the leper island of Moloka’i. Rachel is forced into quarantine, and soon follows her uncles journey on the steamer.

The next 300 or so pages follow Rachel as she deals with her new life. As a child, she feels that she has lost everything. She has lost all her family except Uncle Polo, she has lost her home. She is forced to stay in a childrens home run by nuns, to shelter her from the ‘immorality’ of Polo, who has divorced his wife and is living with another woman out of wedlock. As time goes on, she rebels, but she also begins to make friends, and build a new family and a new life on the island. Still, the ghost of her past, of what her life could have been, haunts her.

Most characters in the novel are affected by the degenerative disease, and over time, many of them become disabled by it, ill through it, and die from it. While this could easily turn the novel into a heavy, depressing affair, Brennert makes the story uplifting, with a ‘Life Goes On’ attitude shining through most of the novel. For everything Rachel loses, she gains a new part to herself, and continues to make life on the island as comfortable and productive as possible. Even though they are segregated by law from the outside world, the people on Moloka’i are affected by outside current events, from natural disasters to man-made atrocities, keeping them in touch with reality, while for a large part technology and reality leave them behind.

As a reader, I felt the losses and desperation of the characters keenly.
(Hover here if you have read the novel – contains spoilers) The scenes of happiness were just as likely to bring tears to my eyes as the scenes of sadness. The whole novel is an emotional journey, where you become invested in the lives of the characters in a way I have not identified with in a novel for quite some time. They each have a realism, a perfectly balanced determination and vulnerability, which makes you feel for them through an ache in your chest. Brennert does not show a 2D world, but shows the many ways people may react to living such a life, both positive and negative.

One of the things I love most about novels is their ability to show you a world you would never otherwise have experienced. Prior to reading this, I knew little of Moloka’i or of leprosy/ Hansens disease. While I cannot claim to be an expert, it has definitely opened my eyes not just to the physical symptoms, but the emotional turmoil surrounding it.

I cannot really do justice to the novel through this review, it simply has to be read for the impact of the writing to hit home. But don’t give in if you think the start is slow – the ending is definitely worth the perseverance.

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith.

silkworm

Firstly, I’d just like to apologise for not updating as much as usual recently! I have had a very busy period at work, followed by a mini-UK roadtrip, a wedding and visiting relatives. While it has been a busy and tiring, I have managed to get a lot of reading done, and will be back updating this blog as much as possible.

Released June 24th, The Silkworm is the much awaited sequel to the 2013 bestseller The Cuckoo’s Calling. It once again follows top detective Comoran Strike, and builds on his relationships with both friends, the general public, and of course his loyal receptionist, Robin.

The Silkworm begins with Leonora Quine comes to Strike with no money, asking him to find her missing author husband. Strike isn’t sure what it is about Leonora’s case which pulls him in, but soon finds himself sucked in to a much more complicated case than a husband at a writers retreat. Owen Quine has been murdered under bizarre and brutal circumstances, and with the police looking in all the wrong places, Strike takes it upon himself to uncover the truth.

The theme of writing and the world of publishing is rife in this novel. “Writers are a savage breed, Mr Strike” states one character in the novel. Frankly, I love the idea that Rowling Galbraith draws upon personal experience in this way. I recall from the days of the ‘Harry Potter Hype’ that Rowling was declined publication by many houses until she eventually stumbled upon one who would take the risk – and look how that paid off. While they say ‘write about what you know’ this could never strictly be true. While the author may never have had experience in working as a Private Detective, it’s interesting to see that little bit of inside knowledge about the dog-eats-dog world of publishing and writing.

A part of this novel which I loved, just like in its predecessor, was the relationship between Strike and Robin. Strike’s manner cannot be easily explained – the character is too deeply written into the novel for that. He is determined to get his work done, no matter any personal pain or risk. His relationship with Robin yo-yos. Some days there is a working rapport, other days they are friends and confidants, others a moody twist, as though they are in a relationship. However, all the actions, conversations, feelings are seen through a slightly misty filter – the confused part to their relationship.

Going back to the character building, both Strike and Robin are deep characters which have many layers, not like a 2D cliche in some novels. Aspects of their pasts haunt them, sneaking in at unexpected moments, giving them histories.  Likewise, their current relationships say a lot. Robin feels guilt at working with Strike, and generally giving a lot to help and be with him, which her fiance is not best pleased about. Strike’s ex-wife seems to have caused damages as deep within him as the IED which blew off his leg in Afghanistan. He questions his ability to move on, trickles through life in short, fleeting flings and throws himself into work.

A final part I would like to mention is the novels ability to keep you guessing. I’m usually quite quick to work out what may happen in novels, but this one kept me guessing throughout. Just when I thought I might have worked it out, something would happen to pull me back to a new character, or throw me completely.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. It is just the right length, with just the right amount of supsense and drama to keep you hooked right to the end. It must be noted that the novel does have brutal, grotesque moments, particularly in the circumstances surrounding Quine’s murder, which may turn peoples’ stomaches slightly. However, I guess that is pretty common in crime novels and to be expected. Either way I would definitely recommend this novel, and I look forward to the next installment of the series.

Review – The Agora, Headingley, Leeds.

 The Agora headingleSaturday 30th May 2014. Cal and I had something to celebrate. He had said goodbye to the army, driven home to Leeds for good and secured a great new job starting at the end of his garden leave. We decided to head out to somewhere we visited when we first started dating, The Agora in Headingley.

It was busier than it was last time we went, and when we went in we were a little worried we wouldn’t get a table and would end up dressed up in a local pub with a burger. But they quickly got us a seat on a cute table for two, with a candle sticking out of a wine bottle and a few little flowers in a vase.

The restaurant itself is small and traditional, but is packed with life. The staff are attentive, constantly checking that you don’t need a wine top up and checking that the food is to standard.

I chose the Falafel starter, because anyone who knows me knows I love falafel. This was well laid out, with four falafel’s in each corner of the plate. In the centre was a tzatziki dip, surrounded by a bed of salad. The falafel’s were perfectly cooked, and not dry as they sometimes can be.

For the main course I decided on Spanakopita, which I hadn’t even heard of before. This was layers of feta cheese and spinach, separated by filo pastry. I will definitely be looking into making it at home some day. It also came with a side of tasty, succulent rice and a small salad. The portion was the perfect size for me to be full but not exploding.

They also had an offer on Prosecco – a bottle for £15.95. Being a special occasion, we chose one of these and sipped it from flutes as the restaurant slowly quietened down. There was no pressure to hurry and leave like you feel in some larger, less homely places, and the atmosphere was genuinely friendly. This was topped off when a member of staff came for a chat, and soon reappeared with a shot of Sambuca for each of us.

The meal even cost less than we’d expected, and was very good value. It’s a great place to go for slightly different food, and from what I’ve seen I would imagine you would be guaranteed a good visit every time. 

Breast Reduction Story – Six Months Later.

A few weeks ago I had my six month post-op check up. Where does time go?

The Doctor saw me almost immediately. It was a member of the surgeon’s team, rather than the surgeon himself, but she was fully aware of exactly what had been done and when. After being asked a few questions on whether I had any problems, and if I thought everything was healing okay, she quickly checked how they were recovering.

The only issue I have really experienced is that lately the scars and surrounding area have been getting very itchy. This has also caused me to have a few issues with dry skin, and a few occasions of “I want to itch so badly but I’m in public.” This has only started in the last month or so, and since I tend to get more eczema and skin problems in the summer anyway I think it is absolutely nothing to worry about.

Other than this, everything is great. I still generally like to wear a bra to bed for support, but I can sleep in any position comfortably even if I choose not to wear one (even on my front!). As expected, it’s very nice to be able to buy different bras, and I’ve even tried on dresses with the bra built in (though not yet found one I like).

I’ve started running again over the last couple of months. While at the beginning I had some issues with pain, I quickly figured this was because the shoulder straps of my bra weren’t quite tight enough. For around 24 hours after a run, I’d have shooting pains across my pectoral muscles. However, since tightening the straps as much as possible, running is as comfortable as I could ever imagine it being.

A few weeks ago I had a week off, and boyfriend and I headed to Go Ape. For those who don’t know, this is a tree-top assault course, which involves climbing, swinging through the air, and flying down zip wires. This is something I would never even have considered pre-surgery. The mixture of having to find suitable bra, clothes that fit, and not to mention the actual amount of movement involved would have made it an instant no-no for me. However, I had no issues. The harness was as comfortable as it can be, and I didn’t feel any pain in relation to my boobs during or after.

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I have also noticed a vast improvement in my back pain. My lower back never hurts any more. My shoulders and neck are still often sore, tight and knotted, but there is a considerable difference and the pain tends to be more prominent after movement and carrying things. I think this is likely related to my scoliosis surgery, as I can never expect to be pain free. Generally, it is manageable using ibuprofen. Since I wonder whether part of this is still residual from pre-surgery. My boyfriend has pointed out that while I used to hunch my shoulders a lot, this has decreased since the surgery. It’s possible that this better posture is helping with the pain, and also that the lower levels of pain are helping with my posture. I’m hoping to soon begin a course of sports massages (eek) in the hope that this will help to loosen the muscles and manage the remaining pain.

I am 100% pleased with the results of the surgery. Although, of course, each case is different, I would recommend it to anyone who was in the same situation as I was last year. It’s insane that a few days of discomfort have created such a huge impact in my day-to-day life, which will last.

Solo by Jill Mansell.

 SoloJillMansell

I’ve read a few Mansell books in the past, and I’ve always enjoyed them in an easy-going, predictable way. That’s exactly what I wanted when I opened the first page of Solo, but frankly the novel left me irritated and vowing never to try another Mansell again.

Tessa Duvall is an independent artist, living alone in a small cottage, yet always close to her dippy friend Holly who seems to be called ‘voluptuous’ in what feels like every scene she enters. Tessa is dragged to a party by Holly, where she meets millionaire playboy Ross Monahan. Shenanigans ensue, and Tess is left understanding what the true weight of one mistake can be.

This book attempted to blatantly to avoid all stereotypes, but instead fell right into all of them.

The two Monahan brothers were both archetypical Romantic Heroes. Ross somehow managed to fall into accidental affairs very regularly, and they seemed to be forgiven very easily each time. I have no idea why; nothing he ever did made him seem repentant or really worth the time of day (except, of course, his good looks. They mean everything in a person).

Holly’s object of affection, Max, is a brooder and will not speak to her, until he suddenly swoops in to “rescue her” when another man comes onto the scene. This other suitor, Adam, doesn’t really stand a chance at gaining Holly’s affections, though he does try. Unlike Max, he isn’t suave, doesn’t act bored or roll his eyes whenever Holly speaks, and he isn’t a multi-millionaire.

There is a completely transparent attempt to create the brothers as exact replicas of the Romantic Hero, almost ticking the boxes as to what makes this kind of character. It is as though in doing this, Mansell believes she will create the perfect character who the readers will love as much as Tess. But the problem with this is that Romantic Heroes have redeeming features. Even the cruel, violent Heathcliff was redeemed due to his incredible passion. Ross has nothing to bridge this gap.

Tessa is just as dislikeable. She is completely one dimensional, and her insistence at being ‘independent’ somehow translated as being the opposite. She had no morals, or sense of self (probably because she is one-dimensional.) She has a total of zero chemistry with Ross, but Mansell attempts to repeatedly tell us that they do.

I would not recommend this novel. Sure, some other Mansell books I would probably suggest for a quick read. I don’t mind the chick-lit genre as a whole. However, what makes the grounds for a good novel are good characters and a good plot, and all this novel had was plain characters and a forced, clichéd and predictable plot. I was skimming the pages and waiting for the end.