Book Me Up #4 – KATE MOSSE – New Novel (The Burning Chambers) & the Languedoc Series

burningSo I haven’t been updating our little book club here for a while it seems, which is a real shame as I read well over 50 books in 2019 and some of them were amazing! I’m sure I’ll go back through my goodreads profile and let you know the standout ones.

But I wanted to kick off 2020 with a really nice, relaxed, escapist series, because the world is a crazy place right now in terms of politics, war, and also for me personally health-wise… so I just wanted some good old fashioned novelly-meaty escapism. Nothing heavy. Nothing too literary and deep and existential-crisis-inducing (we’ve got enough of that already!)

Kate Mosse’s newest novel is called The Burning Chambers (The Burning Chambers is available from amazon here) which I picked up because I LOVED her Languedoc series (Labyrinth is book one – available hereSepulchre is book two – available here, and Citadel is book three – available here).

The Burning Chambers

The Burning Chambers is a purely historical novel (unlike the Languedoc series which employ a ‘time slip’ structure, sliding between modern day and a period in the past). It kicks off a planned series about the Huguenot diaspora. The series will chart all the way from the wars of religion in 16th-century France to 19th-century South Africa.

Set in the city of Carcassone, which anyone who has read the Labyrinth series will remember well from those books, and later in Toulouse and Puivert, Mosse writes about a time in history where Catholic and Protestant tensions reached boiling point, sparking a long 35 year French civil war.

Sounds heavy, right? Not so at all. Mosse mentions in many interviews (e.g. here) she begins with a sense of place (e.g. Carcassone) and works to bring the area to life. She manages to do the same with history with the lightness of touch you need from genre fiction. The book might look like a door stop, but it’s hell of a page turner, and what I would classify as a holiday read.

Mosse has a masterful way of foregrounding female stories, so this is perfect for anyone who fancies a herstory with a twist.

It’s a historical novel, sure, but fundamentally it is also an adventure and romance, with Romeo and Juliet-esque star-crossed lovers Minou (a Catholic) and Piet (a Protestant) caught up in the conflicts of their time.

I almost thought there’d be more of a mystical element, as with the grail in Labyrinth or the tarot cards in Sepulchre as the book does feature the Shroud of Antioch, but Mosse sticks to realism this time. I wasn’t sure if I’d like that… but turns out I did.

I’d definitely recommend giving this a read if you like history but want something light-touch, engaging, compassionate, with a strong and nuanced female protagonist who still remains realistically ‘of her time’.

labThe Languedoc Series

This was my introduction to Mosse, as I’m a sucker for an adventure, with some archaeolgical and historical realism thrown in to make something mythical seem plausible.

Labyrinth is a take on the grail legend (a female Da Vinci Code, if you will), and the ‘time slip’ slides between present day 2005, and back to Alaïs, in 1209, a young woman living in the time of the crusade against the Cathars.

Sepulchre‘s time slip dips back to the fin-de-siecle and moves between Paris and Carcassone, and centres around a historical tarot deck and a small church, known as the Sepulchre, in Carcassone, clues to the location of fifth-century Visigoth treasure.

Citadel is set in France in WW2, and Sandrine Vidal, a headstrong 18-year-old girl, and her friends, belong to a group of female resistance fighters called Citadel. The WW2 setting harps back to the central grail of the first book in the series, Labyrinth, as the  idea of “a connection between the story of a secret Cathar treasure and the grail was given substance in the 20th century by the work of Otto Rahn, a German historian and SS officer who believed that the Cathars held the key to the grail mystery, and that the evidence was somewhere beneath the ruins of Montségur. His writings attracted the attention of Himmler, whose own fascination with the occult, and with the possible ancient pedigree of an Aryan race, led to the founding of the Ahnenerbe, a society dedicated to research into proving the historical origins of a master race” (The Guardian).

If you like this kind of mythic-pseudo-archaeological-historical realism and adventure (think Dan Brown Angels and Demons, but less testosterone driven, more nuanced, with location playing a bigger role and the landscape of the novels and personalities of the female protagonists coming much more strongly to the fore!) then I highly recommend this series.

Interviews with the author you may like

The London Magazine

Writers & Artists

Historia Mag

I News

French Living Magazine

New Year’s Resolutions – Yes or No?! Goal-setting, fitness & food |Hello 2020!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Happy New Year everyone, first of all! Hope you all had a great Xmas and NYE, but if you didn’t… don’t sweat it!

I had such an amazing time with the wedding in mid December, a lovely mini moon… but then got plunged back in to work stress, then Xmas, and then because of the lack of routine, training and good nutrition my mood massively acted up, then I was unwell… so not necessarily the strong ‘GOALS’ end to 2019 that you tend to hope for and envisage.

But it’s a New Year now… and everyone seems to be either on their ‘New Year, New Me’ campaign OR posting a lot about how it’s silly to make unsustainable resolutions and we’re all fine just as we are.

You may or may not have seen my recent insta post on this, which I’ve pasted below which covers my stance on this – namely, BOTH ARE VALID. There’s nothing wrong with goals and transformation and resolving to do/try/achieve new things IF the motivation is positive. But you also should hopefully have your base level of self-confidence and self-acceptance and knowing that you don’t NEED to do anything, you’re fine just as you are, it’s just whether you WANT TO. Here’s the insta post:

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS 🎇🎆 yay or nay?💡 (link to post here)
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This is an old pic I found that I took in autumn 2019 at my fave spot in LDN to reflect.
There’s a mix of dialogue each Jan it seems – people who gun for all the resolutions & « new year, new you » & people who hate the idea & say there’s no need, you’re enough as you are.
✅BOTH ARE TRUE✅
The question is ALWAYS why are you doing what you’re doing? If it’s for you, feels good or important to you & doesn’t come from external pressures or stress or poor mental health/body image, THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH SETTING RESOLUTIONS.
You can set goals at any time of year but New Year always functions to make people think, & that’s no bad thing.
If you do set goals, make sure they’re coming from the right place and not to please others or do what you think you « should ». My areas of focus for 2020 are:
⭐️writing more
⭐️after a decade of work coming first, to prioritise friends & family
⭐️giving CBT another chance, and to reinstate my meditation practice
⭐️to keep enjoying training & eating 🍽 in whatever way works for me, & knowing that this varies throughout the year
🔒some private & personal goals I don’t want to share on the gram! 🤫
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I find all the chatter around whether you should/shouldn’t make resolutions misses the point! It adds to the pressure/guilt/shame when we should all be freeing up our time and mental resources to CHOOSE & to ACT.
😘
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PS I completed my health & mindfulness coaching certs last year, an Ayurvedic self care course the year before & I’m still working on my nutritional therapy diploma. I have limited spots available if you want to work with me 1:1 on your mindset & relationship with you, movement and eating to help you get confident and shift focus away from aesthetics to health, mood & feeling great (NOT a replacement for Drs and nutritionists if you have an ed or ednos!). Slide into my DMs or check out my webby {LINK IN BIO}

The below is my two cents based on years of food and fitness training, studying and my ed recovery, but before we get into food and fitness resolutions PLEASE CONSIDER making other new year’s resolutions such as:

  • travel to X country
  • read X number of books this year
  • save X towards a house / travelling
  • see more of your friends and family (e.g. set up a first Thursday of the month catch up with old friends!)
  • learn a language / take a new class
  • try a new hobby
  • cut down on Netflix and scrolling
  • have more sex
  • try reading some self-development books

Basically, goal-based resolutions that aren’t about body image or weight or workouts or fitness or anything like that. I really regret letting food issues consume so much of my time in the past – I mean, bloody hell, there’s so much other stuff we could be doing that’s way more worthwhile!

Setting fitness & nutrition resolutions

Fix your mindset first

If you are going to set goals, my first piece of advice is DON’T ‘diet’. Have a real think about what you want to achieve and why, and if you have any insecurities or poor relationships with fitness and / or food, do some work on these. Consider seeing a nutritionist and / or doctor for anything serious (EDs, EDNOS, incidences where it severely affects your day to day life) as a matter of priority, but also consider seeing a private nutritionist or therapist to do an overall check that you’re healthy, and that you have a healthy mindset.

Then, once you’re sure you aren’t unconsciously carrying out disordered eating habits and likely to compound any problems, you can think about things like losing fat and changing your body composition if you want to.

But honestly, the best resolution you can make when it comes to your body is to try to learn to love it, or if you can’t love it, accept it.

There are so many ways to go about this. My journey took years and involved learning about the science of nutrition and starting to actually care about nourishing my body, fixing some long term deep seated issues and facing some trauma, some therapy, some work with a nutritionist, lots of conversations with my partner (now husband!), soul searching, endless reading and meditation. Your journey might look completely different.

Fitness and food goals: how to do it!

Educate yourself and seek advice from professionals rather than copying some celebrity with zero credentials. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s free to follow highly qualified nutritionists on Instagram, or doctors (try @rhitrition and @thefoodmedic) and both of these women have highly informative books. They also have great podcasts, as does Dr Chaterjee, and The Doctor’s Kitchen.

Then focus on moving more. The best way to do this is to:

  1. Find workouts you love so you’re moving for joy first and foremost, health second, and aesthetics last if at all. I love boxing. I recently got into primal movement. I also love so many forms of dance. I don’t love weightlifting – tried it for ages because everyone was doing it, but it doesn’t make me happy, so I ditched it.
  2. That said, strive for BALANCE. By this, I mean a couple of things. Don’t just hammer your body with high intensity workouts, but don’t neglect your cardio vascular health by just doing gentle yoga where you never increase your heart rate or break a sweat. Don’t just run and be a cardio bunny and neglect some form of strength and weight-bearing exercise (this can be bodyweight, it doesn’t have to mean barbells!) Strive for a balanced programme, which also includes rest and recovery days, and listening to your body. Over-training is not good, just as a totally sedentary lifestyle isn’t good either.
  3. Focus on foods you should add in to your diet, rather than ‘cutting out’. This is easy, and effective. Get as many veggies in as possible. Up your fibre. Get good, lean proteins. Have your healthy fats. Consider probiotics, and take a Vitamin D supplement in winter. Consult a professional for tailored supplementation advice to you.
  4. Adhere to NHS guidelines on drinking alcohol. Goes without saying, but you can only benefit (body and mind!) by cutting this down or out.
  5. Pay attention to portion sizes (and unless you have an important medically-recommended reason I’d personally advise that you don’t calorie or macro count)- palm size of protein, fistful of carbs, thumb tip of healthy fats – simple!
  6. Don’t cut out treats altogether or do anything drastic. Cut down. Try for something that balances pleasure with health, and make it sustainable. Remember food is also there to be enjoyed.
  7. Don’t buy into the myth that you need tonnes of protein shakes or workout supplements. Chances are, if you’re not bodybuilding and you’re eating a balanced diet of 3 good meals a day, you don’t need a protein shake that often is calorically close to an additional meal, and doesn’t have half the nutrients.
  8. Try not to let food and fitness consume you’re life. They should be tools to help you live your best life, not the be-all-and-end-all.
  9. Remember weight loss might technically be calories in vs calories out but it’s NOT THAT SIMPLE – different people absorb and digest foods differently, different types of food and nutrients are absorbed and used differently by the body, so the best way to guarantee sustainable and long-term health and a size you’re happy with is to move frequently, in a balanced way, and eat wholefoods as much as possible, lots of plants, eat the rainbow, keep it balanced, and do this over a long period of time – i.e. for life! Usually your body will find its happy set-point, and as you move more and build muscle, perhaps lose excess fat if that’s your goal (although remember fat shaming is unacceptable and health is possible at a much bigger range of sizes than we’ve previously been led to believe!) as well as flood your system with endorphins, you’ll find a great medium where you look and feel good.

Hope this helps and gives you some food for thought!

What are your resolutions (if any) this year?

B xoxox

Have a greener (not Grinch-ier!) Christmas: Simple Sustainability Tips

I don’t know about you, but every single day I feel a bit sick about the amount of plastic packaging we see everywhere – and yes, I’m an eco-hypocrite because I have my plastic kobox bottles, for example (although I reuse them as much as I can!), or buy the odd innocent green smoothie which is of course in a plastic bottle (and many other eco-sins, I’m sure!).

Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg have brought sustainability to the attention of the mainstream and it’s starting to (finally!) be cool for normal people to care about the planet – no longer the realm of tree-hugging hippies (nothing wrong with being this, but it’s just less relatable for many of us!), the online world is starting to embrace sustainability and eco-consciousness.

Xmas is a time of year most people LOVE (I’m less big on it myself, but trying to get less grinchy so that I’m more fun for my family!) but it’s also filled with waste, waste, waste.

Here are some simple hacks for trying to make your Xmas more sustainable this year, and if you try them you’re not alone – I’m working to implement them too! They’re easy and unobtrusive so they won’t ruin your holiday, and just remember – every little action makes a little difference, and if we all made changes it would be AMAZING!

Xmas (Christmas to you religious folks!) is a Christian festival that derives from Pagan Yule/Winter Solstice, and the pagans were waaaaaaaaaaaay more in touch with nature, so in a lot of ways, going back to a greener, more natural Xmas is going back to the heart of it.

Greener gifts

The greenest thing we can do is probably to not buy gifts at all, but I know for lots of you that won’t feel like an option. Hell, my other half and I have actually campaigned for this for years, believe it or not, but my family are steadfast present people and it’s hard not to buy some things. So I think the options are:

  • Experience gifts – I feel like these are the best way to go! Take someone to dinner, or to the theatre or cinema, or cook them an amazing meal and take them out to do their favourite activity.
  • Hand-make gifts… can you bake cookies for someone, make sloe gin for someone else (both amazing gifts I’ve received in the past!) Can you paint or write or draw something for someone? Or if you’re a musician, write music for someone?
  • Buy vintage or second-hand… we all are starting to wake up to how bad the fast fashion industry is, and so consider going vintage or thrifting for fashion lovers in your life. Charity shops may not have seemed sexy options in the past, but you’d be surprised what gems you can occasionally pick up.
  • Make donations to the persons’ favourite charity – for our wedding, we asked for donations to Girls Not Brides instead of gifts. For animal lovers, you could donate to WWF for Xmas, or the RSPCA. For eco-warriors, pick a charity that’s helping the planet like Friends of the Earth or the Environmental Working Group . For arts lovers, donate to a project or ballet company… you get the idea.
  • Shop at more ethical and sustainable places (although while it’s better to buy more sustainable items, remember we also need to reduce consumption generally to be truly sustainable – no matter how biodegradable the gift!)– ideas include The Body Shop, Lush, Positive Luxury, The AceyThe Deep, and sustainable brands like Reformation and Stay Wild Swim.
  • Reduce the list of who to buy for – can you just buy for peoples’ kids, for example, and do a ‘no presents for adults rule’?
  • Don’t use that plasticy-wrapping paper – you know, the metallic style ones? They’re actually metalised-plastic and non-recyclable.
  • Try to save and re-use wrapping paper and gift bags! Or better yet, don’t wrap at all!
  • Give lovely gifts that may help and educate – for example, Max La Manna’s amazing book More Plants, Less Waste is a delicious recipe book and teaches you how to produce less waste… win win. Or check out the recipe books below with plant-based recipes which will help you change your diet for a better planet (you don’t have to be vegan to reduce your meat and animal product consumption!)

Consider your Christmas Tree

If you already have a fake tree, get as MUCH USE OUT OF IT AS POSSIBLE, but the thing about plastic trees is they eventually will end up in landfill.

If you must buy a fake tree, try ebay and gumtree for a secondhand one.

If you’re going for a real tree, the best option is finding a farm where you can cut your own, but that may not be possible for everyone.

The next best thing is to find locally grown trees where you can.

This article by Eco Age gives you the full lowdown on how to make sure your Xmas tree is more sustainability friendly, and even gives options for renting a Christmas tree!

Eat more plants!

Xmas is very often a ‘bring out the meat!’ fest, but if we all reduce our animal product consumption just a bit it can make a huge difference for the planet’s health (and our own!)

No-one is saying you have to go vegan or vegetarian (although by all means do, or try, if you fancy – it’s far better for the planet and there are SO MANY delicious options these days!) but cutting down as much as you can is definitely a good thing.

  • Can you swap pigs in blankets for a more plant-based recipe?
  • Can you make your other meals over the holiday season plant-based?
  • Have you ever tried vegan and vegetarian Christmas food? It’s incredible! Maybe give it a go this year. Or do just a chicken and a veggie dish, rather than 3 massive birds! Anything you can cut down.
  • Can you swap a cheese board for a plant-based dessert?!

Here are some amazing cookbooks to help you find plant-based inspiration:

Learn a little bit more ready for 2020

I don’t want you to get stressed and eco-anxious over the festive season, but I think education is only ever a good thing, especially given that some people feel talking about sustainability at Christmas is ‘grinchy’ and ‘OTT’. We are overwhelmingly in an environmental crisis, unfortunately, but we can do SO MUCH to help, and we just have to be willing to try. You don’t have to live in a hut in the woods and only forage for berries. Just do a little bit.

It might also be good to think of a couple of small things you can try to do for 2020 New Year’s Resolutions. I’m hoping to make mine:

  • No more fast fashion! No buying new clothing for a year
  • Reduce food waste
  • Recycle my beauty product bottles (you can apparently do this via TerraCycle at The Body Shop)

Some resources to get you started include these TV and documentary resources:

And detoxing your social media of rubbish and filling it up with more positive and educational influences like:

Good luck & enjoy!

I hope some of these resonate a little bit or seem achievable. I think little changes bit by bit are the best way to go to make the change sustainable (wheeeeeeeeeey!) for you in the long term.

It doesn’t have to be everything, all at once, but if we all do our best (and instead of attacking everyone else for doing it wrong, or not doing enough, we focus on living our best lives and doing as much as we can ourselves!) it can only be positive.

Happy Xmas from the reluctant Xmas celebrator (I’m more of a pagan at heart haha!)

B xoxoxo

PS. If you liked this post, you might like my Inspire Interview with Venetia Falconer here, my post about my experiment with veganism here, my landing on being a flexitarian here, my 10 simple sustainability hacks to be kinder to the planet  and also this green beauty post.

PPS. for other peoples’ ideas and more on a sustainable / more eco friendly Christmas, check out these articles:

And if you’re interested in the intersection of your health with the planet’s health, here’s some more food for thought and nutrition / diets to save the planet:

 

 

#7: Inspire Interview Series – MICHELLE KEILL, NOVELIST

I have LOVED working on the Inspire Interview Series this year (catch up with any you missed here!) and getting to chat to so many amazing people about the cool stuff they’ve done with their lives. To round off 2018, I wanted to share with you a really special one.

1409DC03-D1AD-4569-897C-F37D4E88C22ELast year I was quite stressed out and disillusioned and needed a break and some inspiration, so I disappeared off to Paris for a weekend as it’s my favourite city in the world. Outside the bookshop (my spiritual home!) Shakespeare and Company, I discovered a book on a bench that had been left as part of a BookFairy Drop (where people leave books all around major cities and towns for others to discover)… and I was hooked. That was how I first connected with Michelle – through her gorgeous, haunting novel The Four Women (available here), and its characters, and I suppose above all – Paris.

Michelle Keill is a beautiful writer and novelist, and has kindly taken the time to answer a few of my Inspire Interview questions… so here’s hoping this kickstarts your New Year with a little creativity.

Writers are some of my favourite people because I’m fascinated by what they create, I get so excited when I get to talk to them – so without further ado, let’s chat to Michelle about her awesome work!

B: Have you always wanted to be a writer?

M: I’m not sure it was something I wanted to ‘be’, but it’s something I’ve always done. One of my earliest memories is of sitting at the kitchen table in my parents’ house writing stories with a crayon (in those days I also illustrated – badly, but more competently than I would do now).

B: What is the best thing, and what is the most difficult thing about being a writer?

M: The best thing, apart from the excuse to drink tea to excess and buy lots of pretty notebooks, is the opportunity to take myself out of reality and create a new one. Also, the potential to provide an escape for people: hearing from readers who’ve connected with the book is wonderful. As for the most difficult thing, any form of creative expression makes you vulnerable, and that feeling is hard to get used to. I find writing the first draft is the easiest part of the process – from there it gets harder, with all the rewriting and editing.

B: Can you give a little teaser about your novel The Four Women for anyone who hasn’t read it?

M: The book is about a young woman living in Paris whose world is drastically transformed by four women who enter her life, seemingly from nowhere, and introduce her to a reclusive and enigmatic tutor whom, they promise, can teach her French. On meeting him, she discovers that although he is indeed as brilliant as they described, he may not have the best of intentions. It’s a love story, but a dark one, and explores the theme of how much of our lives is predetermined, and what is simply chance. If I could give my characters one piece of advice it would be to be careful what you wish for, and to follow your instincts and stay true to yourself. Advice I try to keep in mind myself, actually.

B: What are you currently working on at the moment?

M: A collection of short stories, which should be published in 2019. I also have a romantic comedy and another Paris novel in the works.

B: Any tips for aspiring writers?

M: Write what enthrals and engages you, rather than what is popular or selling well at the moment (unless that is what enthrals and engages you!). You’re in charge of what you put on the page, so be sure it’s a genre or story that you feel passionate about. And read a lot. But, mostly, just write. 

B: Can you describe a writing day in the life of Michelle Keill?

M: Despite not being a morning person, my best time to write is first thing, so I try to make an early start. Then I’ll keep going until about two in the afternoon, which is usually when I feel my creative energy fading. I might push on into the evening if I’m working on a key scene or if I’m really in flow, but I find my mind is clearer earlier in the day. I need to be free of distractions (i.e. no phone), but I need music on when I write, otherwise it’s not happening.

B: What has been the most challenging part of getting to where you are today?

M: I developed a serious illness in 2014, which struck without warning and came close to getting the better of me. I ended up having emergency surgery to save my lung, which was frightening. From there it was a long road back to health. I wrote ‘The Four Women’ as I was recovering: while my body was restoring itself, my creativity was resetting too. I look back and I’m amazed that something good came from such a harrowing experience.

B: What does 1) ‘happiness’ and 2) ‘success’ mean to you?

M: Happiness for me can be as simple as spending a rainy day indoors lying on the sofa with a book and a cuppa. Same for success: if one person reads my book and enjoys it, then I consider that a win.

B: Best life advice you’ve ever been given?

M: Treat other people as you’d want to be treated yourself. And, from my mum, always make sure you have a decent mascara.

B: Best career advice you’ve ever been given?

M: Treat everyone you encounter at work, no matter what their role, with equal courtesy. The person at the bottom today may be at the top tomorrow. I think that came from my mum too.

B: Do you have a role model or mentor you look to for career inspiration?

M: My friends inspire me with their kindness, loyalty, and courage. Also, if I’m in a tricky situation, I often think, ‘What would Michelle Obama do?’ That always gets me on the right track.

B: What does ‘balance’ mean to you?

M: It means leaving a bit of energy in the tank and not pushing too hard (I’m still learning how to do this!). It means pausing and not always rushing to the finish line. Sometimes you have to slow down in order to speed up.

B: What’s your life’s mission in a nutshell?

M: To make a positive contribution to the world.

B: What inspires you to write?

M: People, faces, and places. Or sometimes just a line in a song. 

B: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be in another life?

M: Perhaps a doctor, if I could make the grade.

B: If you had to spend the rest of your life with one fictional character, who would it be?

M: Ross from ‘Friends’. He’s intelligent, sensitive, musical (!), and enjoys lounging around on sofas drinking hot beverages.

B: How do you take care of yourself and make sure you get the right ‘work life balance’, if there is such a thing?

M: Following my illness, I’ve learned to listen to my body (not quite sure I’ve mastered it yet). If you’re working too hard, or not getting enough sleep or eating properly, your body will usually drop a few subtle hints to let you know. I make sure I pay attention to those early warning signs, and try to take it a bit easier when I feel I need to.

Quickfire

Physical books or ebooks?

Physical, definitely. I love to see rows of bulging bookshelves.

Breakfast, lunch or dinner?

Dinner.

Forests or beaches?

Forests. Bonus points if there are squirrels.

Walking or running?

Walking.

Favourite place?

Paris, Washington D.C., and my bed.

Dancing or yoga?

Dancing.

Nature or nurture?

Nurture.

Talent or hustle?

Talent.

Chocolate or cheese?

Cheese. I’m all about the cheese.

Fave self-care ritual?

A hot bath, a book, and a cup of Earl Grey.

A good book or Netflix?

A good book, but I can’t pretend I could function without Netflix.

Fave quote:

Not a quote as such, but JFK’s ‘we choose to go the moon’ speech always gives me a boost when I’m feeling overwhelmed, incapable, or my courage is failing me.

Top 3 books?

Hard to choose just three, but …

1. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

2. Misery by Stephen King

3. Tampa by Alyssa Nutting

Tea or coffee?

Tea, all day long. With plenty of milk.

Who would attend your dream dinner party (living or dead, fictional or real!)

Frank-N-Furter, Oprah Winfrey, Juliette Binoche, Romesh Ranganathan, Don Lemon, Charlie Brooker, Stephen Colbert, and Freddie Mercury (I’d have to invite my mum too if Freddie was there).

If you had a ‘death row dinner’ – a last meal that could be anything you want, favourites, whatever… what would it be?

Pizza, followed by homemade apple crumble (custard mandatory). All followed, of course, by a large cup of tea.

Thanks so much for sharing your insights Michelle, I am so excited to read more of your work as I still get shivers thinking about The Four Women!

Hope you all enjoyed hearing more about life as a novelist, and if you’d like to connect further, you can find Michelle on Goodreads here, Instagram here and Amazon here.

B xoxo

Live Well With Louise: An Honest Review of the Made In Chelsea star’s new health book

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Photo credit: Live Well with Louise imagery from www.amazon.com

Louise Thompson was initially best known for her role in pseudo-reality TV show, Made in Chelsea, but now arguably she’s equally well known for her abs so impressive you could grate cheese on them! The pocket rocket is also one of the founders of Pocket Sport, a luxe fitness clothing brand.

Louise never looked unhealthy but admits to having all kinds of issues, not least with her relationship with alcohol. Subjected to public scrutiny in the extreme, she ended up suffering with anxiety and having very poor self-image.

Her brand new book Live Well with Louise documents her journey, from struggling with body image and unhealthy habits to transforming her mindset, ditching the booze binges and loving workouts and healthy food.

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It also contains recipes, and workout routines (approved by her PT boyfriend Ryan Libbey (also of MIC fame!), of course!)

So… what’s the low-down? Yet another unqualified celebrity book, or worth a read?

The Verdict

What could have been just another celebrity offering diet advice is actually a relatable, down-to-earth account of an unhealthy relationship with health, to a total transformation which yes, while it’s very aesthetic and ‘abs-y’ also conveys the important message that health, taking care of your body, good nutrition and MOVEMENT can be cool… and that binge-drinking and hangxiety are actually not all they’re cracked up to be.

While your average girl or guy can’t relate to being a celeb, I personally relate SO HARD to Louise’s use of alcohol for confidence, and going a bit too hard in my teens to early twenties.

Louise’s transformation from non-stop ‘ragers’ as she calls them where she’d drink so much she’d black out, to a healthier focus on fitness and health with the occassional social red wine with friends and family at dinner parties or with a cracking Sunday roast is something all of us who went to uni, damaged our livers and need a kick up the butt in terms of healthy living can relate and aspire to!

The recipes

Here I was dubious – on opening the book I thought here we go, another book by a non-nutritionist purporting to give dietary advice… But she doesn’t! She openly states she’s not a nutritionist but openly shares what has worked for her. She goes by what I feel is a very simple and similar philosophy to my Harley Street Nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert. Louise advocates filling half your plate with veggies (rainbow, variety, you got this!), quarter with complex carbs (ideally without the beneficial fibre stripped out, so rather than white bread and rice go for wholegrains, legumes, brown rice, sweet potato…) and a quarter with lean protein.

YES PEOPLE, LOUISE THOMPSON EATS CARBS AND STILL HAS A STUNNING, LEAN PHYSIQUE. I am so happy to see celebrities endorsing healthy, balanced meals and helping combat the media myth that carbs are bad. (See my stance on carbsand why they’re essential here!)

Louise’s recipes are surprisingly varied, and there are tonnes of them!

It’s not a slim and flimsy book with a couple of dinner ideas – it’s jam-packed with tasty, balanced meals, and YES it includes desserts and dinner party appropriate dishes!

The recipes are easy to follow, and the photography is gorgeous.

The workouts

I did feel this section could have been more extensive, but the circuits are decent with beginner, intermediate and advanced options, and approved by her PT boyf.

Louise breaks down each move for anyone who’s new to exercising, with clear photographs and descriptions of how to execute the movement, and tips for upping the intensity if it gets too easy.

All in all, while there aren’t loads of options, her 11 minute ab blast is great, and then she offers 3 circuits – easy, medium, and hard – which are enough to get you started, and you can always use her book as  a base to create your own.

Best of all, they’re do-able from home, no gym or super-fancy equipment required!

Overall?

Definitely worth it for Louise’s personal story, and the recipes… and I do love her ab routine, so I’d say it’s worth the (affordable and fairly small!) investment.

Hope that helps!

B xoxo

Book Me Up #3 – TWO MAYA ANGELOU MEMOIRS

When thinking about the next bookclub pick, I just couldn’t narrow it down any further than these two, so I chose both… but narrowly Mom & Me & Mom is my favourite, though it’s a tough call.

Maya Angelou is, to steal an almost-quote from one of her own poems, a PHENOMENAL woman. She wasn’t just a writer (poetry, memoirs, essays), she was a singer, dancer, civil rights activist… but she is perhaps best known for her series of seven autobiographies, of which the above two novels are volumes. The first in the series, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), tells the story of her life up to the age of around 17 and is the book that brought her international acclaim.

Mom & Me & Mom (2013) is the last in the seven-book-series, focussing, unlike the other volumes, on Angelou’s relationship with her mother, Vivian Baxter, who is an incredibly powerful figure. It  revisits many of the same anecdotes she relates in her previous books, with the first part, ‘Mom & Me‘ looking again, like Caged Bird, at Angelou’s early years (pre-17), and documents Angelou’s journey from distrust of her mother and initial resentement to acceptance, love and support – epitomised by Angelou switching from her first name for her mother ‘Lady’, to calling her ‘Mom’ after Baxter assists with the birth of Maya’s son Guy.  Angelou chronicles the intense and unshakeable bond between them and Baxter’s vitality, along with their mutual support for each other, and tells the story of Baxter helping her navigate through single motherhood, work issues, a failed marriage, and career ups and downs.

Both books touch on Angelou’s sexual abuse as a child, and also deal with race, racism, womanhood, identity, family and travel. 

I love Angelou’s writing for its immediacy and authenticity. There’s a frankness, freshness and honesty in everything she writes, and I think her autobiographies are so powerful because although they tell Angelou’s very personal story, for example growing up and living as a black woman in the American South, she connects those experiences to those of all black women, exploring wider themes of racism, sexism, and isolation.

Click here for Penguin Randomhouse suggestions for book club questions on I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.

Below are the LitLovers book club question suggestions for Mom & Me & Mom:

1. Maya says her mother was “irrestible.” What makes her so? How would you describe Vivian Baxter? What did you admire most about her? And what did you not admire?

2. How do you view Vivian’s decision to send her children to live with their father at such a young age? Why did it take her so long, even after the divorce, to call her children back to her?

3. Talk about Maya’s resentment of Vivian…and the halting path toward reconciliation that she followed. The Washington Post reviewer believes this process contains some of the best writing in the book. Do you agree…or not?

4. Discuss Maya’s brother Bailey and his easier path into his mother’s orbit. What can explain his later struggles with drugs?

5. What are some of the episodes in Maya’s life that particularly shocked you?

6. Talk about the society in which Maya grew up and the degree to which it was pervaded with racism. How have we changed…or have we?

7. Reviewers talk about the tone of optimism in this book—the fact that Angelou’s prose lacks bitterness. Do you agree? If so, why do you suppose that is? How has she been able to overcome a resentment that many of us would carry with us for years?

8. Mom and Me and Mom is the seventh book in Maya Angelou’s remarkable autobiographical series, starting with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Have you read any other of the books in this series…or any of her books of poetry? If so, how does this book compare with the others? Can you identify elements of poetic writing in the prose style of this work?

 

 

 

#5 Inspire Interview Series – MEL WELLS – AUTHOR, ACTRESS, SPEAKER (+ Health & Food Psychology Coach)

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Photo credit: melwells.com

Welcome back to another Inspire Interview – I’ve loved doing this series soooo much because I love hearing peoples’ stories and insights into the things that really matter – finding things you love doing, drive to work hard, career, balancing health and a personal life and everything between! If you missed the previous installments, you can catch up with the full list here!

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Photo credit: melwells.com

Today we have a very special ‘episode’ – and I say episode because rather than the usual written piece because I have something new for you all…!

Being on camera is not in my comfort zone really at all, but I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to speak with the incredible Mel Wells and this super driven woman is all about pushing past your comfort zone! You may know her face from Hollyoaks, or you may know her from her brilliant bestselling book The Goddess Revolution and inspiring instagram feed… Mel has also been featured in Forbes Under 30 and was voted No. 1 Young Female Entrepreneur to Watch in the UK by About Time Magazine.

Mel does truly amazing work empowering women to fight back against diet culture and regain their happiness and health – her brand new book Hungry For More encapsulates everything this Inspire Interview Series has been about so settle down with a cup of tea and prepare to be inspired…

Back in London having lived in Bali, and now with a second book to her name (pre-order Hungry For More now to win free access to a special Masterclass with Mel and a chance to be entered to win one of her retreats in Bali – see her website for details!), Mel and I talked about all the BIG stuff – finding your ‘calling’, how food and your habits and relationship around it are reflective of the wider picture of your life and whether or not you’re fulfiled.

Press play on the video now to hear Mel’s story and epic insights into work, life, balance, spirituality, healing eating disorders, figuring out what you want from life, meditation and tonnes more! Plus the usual quick-fire round at the very end of course!

The interview: Mel Wells on being Hungry for More!

Thanks so much for chatting with me Mel! We look forward to reading your book when it’s out on July 10th!

Where to find Mel

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Photo credit: melwells.com

You can find Mel on instagram here and her website here!

If you’d like to pre-order Hungry For Moreher new book, get over to Amazon baby!

She also has a youtube channel, and you can also check out more on her Goddess retreats (hello Bali!) here.

Want to shop her first book? Get a SIGNED COPY of The Goddess Revolution from her online shop. And if you don’t love a tank that reads ‘green juice now, champagne later’… I don’t even know where to start! 🙂

Thanks for watching and hope you enjoyed the unusual Inspire Interview format! ❤

B xoxo

Book Me Up #2 – HEART BERRIES

35840657.jpgSorry it’s been a while – I’ve been so busy reading I forgot about sharing exactly what I’m reading!

I’ve read a lot of really awesome stuff recently, but I reeeeeaaaaally had to share this one with you next.

Heart Berries, Terese Marie Mailhot

I’ve taken a summary of the book from Goodreads as it’s a pretty good introduction to jump in with:

“Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father―an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist―who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame.

Mailhot trusts the reader to understand that memory isn’t exact, but melded to imagination, pain, and what we can bring ourselves to accept. Her unique and at times unsettling voice graphically illustrates her mental state. As she writes, she discovers her own true voice, seizes control of her story, and, in so doing, reestablishes her connection to her family, to her people, and to her place in the world.”

This book is an unusual one but it’s absolutely incredible. I don’t know how well you know Sylvia Plath but there’s a line she writes that ‘the blood jet is poetry’. This book brings that to life because my god, the blood jet really is poetry. Heart Berries is incredibly raw, vivid, almost Plath-ian and ‘confessional’, but its also so refined, carefully crafted and wrought, so the intimacy isn’t just dumped on you or exposed, but painstakingly built into art.

The vivacity, brutality and pure honesty of both language and content is refreshing – sometimes hit-you-in-the-face loud, and sometimes so subtle.

It’s not an easy read but the rhythm of her writing and the way she weaves words and disjointed syntax together is something you eventually fall into. Mailhot pushes the emotion via both content AND craft, into your very bones.

I love the way she writes about life, love, motherhood, mental illness, and she takes genres of abuse narrative and Native American writing and makes them hers, simultaneously defying and transcending claddification. This book shatters any box that could try to contain it.

Mailhot rejects white culture’s exoticised conceptions (a la Said’s Orientalism) of Native American mysticism but doesn’t disown those aspects of her culture – she just strips out the whites’ imposition of romanticism and mystical tropes and crafts her own magic with clarity and authenticity and a very personal, sometimes wavering, poignant yet strong voice.

One of my favourite quotes in the book is:

“In white culture, forgiveness is synonymous with letting go. In my culture, I believe we carry pain until we can reconcile with it through ceremony. Pain is not framed like a problem with a solution. I don’t even know that white people see transcendence the way we do. I’m not sure that their dichotomies apply to me.”

I can’t recommend this read enough! If you’re not already sold, I also recommend reading Roxane Gay’s review of it – it’s brilliant!

“Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot is an astounding memoir in essays. Here, is a wound. Here is need, naked and unapologetic. Here is a mountain woman, towering in words great and small. She writes of motherhood, loss, absence, want, suffering, love, mental illness, betrayal, and survival. She does this without blinking but to say she is fearless would be to miss the point. These essays are too intimate, too absorbing, too beautifully written, but never ever too much. What Mailhot has accomplished in this exquisite book is brilliance both raw and refined, testament.”
Roxane Gay, author – Review of Heart Berries 

B xoxo

Book Me Up #1- AMERICANAH

E12D67BC-3F70-4EA3-9C6C-C0F74A5B571FSo while we mostly deal in fitness and nutrition here on this site, as I mentioned on the new bookclub page, books have been so important to me since forever. Growing up I was always a strange little bookworm and didn’t go anywhere without one. People laughed at me ploughing through a book nearly bigger than me – The Lord of The Rings – at about 7 years old… And I think books are key to wellbeing and cultivating curiosity and generally just living, experiencing and understanding life. Stories and narrative seem to be our way of creating or imposing patterns and meaning on the world.

Doing an English Literature degree made me a major book snob for ages, but thankfully now I’ve opened out to enjoying a wide range that includes low brow as well as high, chick lit as well as Chaucer (only I never actually read much Chaucer!) So this LegallyBooked bookclub isn’t a formal bookclub in a sense, it’s just sharing both high and low brow books we can all enjoy and chat about, and exploring interesting ideas in them.

As promised, to kick off the LegallyBooked posts, for this month I’ve picked AMERICANAH by Chimamanada Ngozi Adiche. It’s not a new book, it’s just one I’ve been trying to get around to reading for aaaaages.

I’ve not quite finished it, but it’s an incredible book and the way it deals with race and identity is illuminating, and it touches on political correctness, loss, belonging… and I just absolutely loved it, you HAVE to read it.

Essentially, it examines race and what it is to live in the UK and USA as an African immigrant, but it is also a love story, and Adiche is amazing in the way her voice is able to penetrate the darkest corners of society and throw light on currents of racism without it feeling like a sociological text – it’s not sneering, or preachy, or awkward. It’s lucid, self-aware, vivid, touching.

I feel like I’ve learned a lot about race and privilege that I never really noticed before (which tends to happen – if something hasn’t been an issue for you or come to your attention before, it tends to be because you’re privileged). Something I’d never really been aware of before was the politicisation of African hair types, and the pressure for anyone with this hair type to use relaxers or more white hairstyles at work, for example.

I’ve linked below to a couple of reviews you might like to read, and below are some “bookclub” style question recommendations for you to ponder from ReadingGroupGuides.com.

Bookclub questions (link to source above)

1. The first part of Ifemelu’s story is told in flashback while she is having her hair braided at a salon before she returns to Nigeria. Why might Adichie have chosen this structure for storytelling? What happens when the narrator shifts to Obinze’s story? How conscious are you as a reader about the switches in narrative perspective?

2. The novel opens in the Ivy League enclave of Princeton, New Jersey. Ifemelu likes living there because “she could pretend to be someone else…someone adorned with certainty” (3). But she has to go to the largely black city of Trenton, nearby, to have her hair braided. Does this movement between cities indicate a similar split within Ifemelu? Why does she decide to return to Nigeria after 13 years in America?

3. How much does your own race affect the experience of reading this or any novel? Does race affect a reader’s ability to identify or empathize with the struggles of Ifemelu and Obinze? Ifemelu writes in her blog that “black people are not supposed to be angry about racism” because their anger makes whites uncomfortable (223). Do you agree?

4. Aunty Uju’s relationship with the General serves as an example of one mode of economic survival for a single woman: she attaches herself to a married man who supports her in return for sexual access. But Uju runs into a serious problem when the General dies and political power shifts. Why, given what you learn of Uju’s intelligence and capabilities later, do you think she chose to engage in this relationship with the General instead of remaining independent?

5. Ifemelu feels that Aunty Uju is too eager to capitulate to the demands of fitting in. Uju says, “You are in a country that is not your own. You do what you have to do if you want to succeed” (120). Is Uju right in compromising her own identity to a certain extent? How is Dike affected by his mother’s struggles?

6. In the clothing shop she visits with her friend Ginika, Ifemelu notices that the clerk, when asking which of the salespeople helped her, won’t say, “Was it the black girl or the white girl?” because that would be considered a racist way to identify people. “You’re supposed to pretend that you don’t notice certain things,” Ginika tells her (128). In your opinion and experience, is this a good example of American political correctness about race? Why does Ifemelu find it curious? Do you think these attitudes differ across the United States?

7. For a time, Ifemelu is a babysitter for Kimberly, a white woman who works for a charity in Africa. Adichie writes that “for a moment Ifemelu was sorry to have come from Africa, to be the reason that this beautiful woman, with her bleached teeth and bounteous hair, would have to dig deep to feel such pity, such hopelessness. She smiled brightly, hoping to make Kimberly feel better” (152). How well does Kimberly exemplify the liberal guilt that many white Americans feel toward Africa and Africans?

8. Ifemelu’s experience with the tennis coach is a low point in her life. Why does she avoid being in touch with Obinze afterward (157–58)? Why doesn’t she read his letters? How do you interpret her behavior?

9. In her effort to feel less like an outsider, Ifemelu begins faking an American accent. She feels triumphant when she can do it, and then feels ashamed and resolves to stop (175). Which aspects of her becoming an American are most difficult for Ifemelu as she struggles to figure out how much she will give up of her Nigerian self?

10. Ifemelu realizes that naturally kinky hair is a subject worth blogging about. She notices that Michelle Obama and Beyoncé never appear in public with natural hair. Why not? “Because, you see, it’s not professional, sophisticated, whatever, it’s just not damn normal” (299). Read the blog post “A Michelle Obama Shout-Out Plus Hair as Race Metaphor” (299–300), and discuss why hair is a useful way of examining race and culture.

11. What does Ifemelu find satisfying about her relationships with Curt and Blaine? Why does she, eventually, abandon each relationship? Is it possible that she needs to be with someone Nigerian, or does she simply need to be with Obinze?

12. Ifemelu’s blog is a venue for expressing her experience as an African immigrant and for provoking a conversation about race and migration. She says, “I discovered race in America and it fascinated me” (406). She asks, “How many other people had become black in America?” (298). Why is the blog so successful? Are there any real-life examples that you know of similar to this?

13. Obinze goes to London, and when his visa expires he is reduced to cleaning toilets (238); eventually he is deported. On his return home, “a new sadness blanketed him, the sadness of his coming days, when he would feel the world slightly off-kilter, his vision unfocused” (286). How does his experience in London affect the decisions he makes when he gets back to Lagos? Why does he marry Kosi? How do these choices and feelings compare to Ifemelu’s?

14. While she is involved with Curt, Ifemelu sleeps with a younger man in her building, out of curiosity. “There was something wrong with her. She did not know what it was but there was something wrong with her. A hunger, a restlessness. An incomplete knowledge of herself. The sense of something farther away, beyond her reach” (291–92). Is this a common feeling among young women in a universal sense, or is there something more significant in Ifemelu’s restlessness? What makes hers particular, if you feel it is?

15. When reading Obinze’s conversations with Ojiugo, his now-wealthy friend who has married an EU citizen, did you get the sense that those who emigrate lose something of themselves when they enter the competitive struggle in their new culture (Chapter 24), or is it more of a struggle to maintain that former self? Does Adichie suggest that this is a necessary sacrifice? Are all of the characters who leave Nigeria (such as Emenike, Aunty Uju, Bartholomew, and Ginika) similarly compromised?

16. Aunty Uju becomes a doctor in America but still feels the need to seek security through an alliance with Bartholomew, whom she doesn’t seem to love. Why might this be? How well does she understand what her son, Dike, is experiencing as a displaced, fatherless teenager? Why might Dike have attempted suicide?

17. Is the United States presented in generally positive or generally negative ways in AMERICANAH?

18. The term “Americanah” is used for Nigerians who have been changed by having lived in America. Like those in the novel’s Nigerpolitan Club, they have become critical of their native land and culture: “They were sanctified, the returnees, back home with an extra gleaming layer” (408). Is the book’s title meant as a criticism of Ifemelu, or simply an accurate word for what she fears she will become (and others may think of her)?

19. How would you describe the qualities that Ifemelu and Obinze admire in each other? How does Adichie sustain the suspense about whether Ifemelu and Obinze will be together until the very last page? What, other than narrative suspense, might be the reason for Adichie’s choice in doing so? Would you consider their union the true homecoming, for both of them?

20. Why is it important to have the perspective of an African writer on race in America? How does reading the story make you more alert to race, and to the cultural identifications within races and mixed races? Did this novel enlarge your own perspective, and if so, how?

Reviews you may like

The Guardian review

The New York Times review

The Independent review

Financial Times review