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April 16, 2018

Book Club No.14

Hey folks, welcome back to Book Club: a chance to delve into some of the works I've been indulging in lately and whether or not I rate or slate them. This instalment has a real mixed bag but in the best possible way and what's even better is I *actually* enjoyed all three books I'm going to mention today! Whether you're fan of drama, poetry, or murder, I've got you covered in this latest Book Club.

Zodiac by Sam Wilson
Zodiac is my most recently finished book and it was certainly a pleasant surprise to read. I picked it up on a relatively recent trip to The Works (which, if you live in the UK, can be an absolute gem for finding unusual and popular titles in the 3 for £5 section!) and I'm so glad I did. The cover and the general *crime thriller vibes* are what initially drew me in. The title and wee blurb gave me a little bit of insight that astrology and starsigns might play a part in the drama that unfolds so of course, that had me hook line and sinker as I'm partial to a bit of the ol' horoscopes as it is.

The story essentially follows a Detective Burton and his astrological helper, Lindi Childs, as they try to work out why some high-profile individuals are being murdered and try to uncover what their connection is. Zodiac takes place generally in a place called San Celeste and it has an LA sort of feel to it as you read delve further into the story. The interesting thing about San Celeste and the world of Zodiac in general is the fact that society is dictated by zodiac/star signs. For example, if you're a Capricorn, chances are you're a hot-shot CEO of some company and have millions of dollars invested in yourself as a brand and individual and many businesses whereas if you're an Aries, you probably live in the shithole aptly named Ariesville and have turned to life of drink, drugs, crime, or all three just to get by. I'm a big believer in our starsigns and birth dates having a lot to do with our personalities and general traits so it was a nice read for me to get into that interest via another interest of mine (i.e. crime thriller genre fiction). Burton and Childs basically discover that the murders of these high-profile men are linked to their elemental signs - Earth, Air, Fire, Water - and they need to predict who is going to be next based on this. Of course, as they investigate, they uncover more information about different things and individuals in San Celeste that opens more problems for them and the police.

The narrative of Zodiac reminds me a lot of the kind of classic Dan Brown style in that the chapters tend to jump from Burton and his story to another character called Daniel and his story/interactions. It also switches between many other characters but it's easy to follow and with each page you learn more about how they are all interlinked. One thing I particularly liked about this writing style is that there is a bit of a plot twist in terms of the timeline that I did not piece together. I don't know if it was obvious and I just didn't pick up on it, but I think it was cleverly executed either way and I honestly believe that if I even knew the "twist" from the get-go, it wouldn't have dulled the enjoyment of it at all. The characters are all very interesting and fit within the stereotypes of each of their starsigns which helps make the societal divide more believable too. The one criticism (and I say that loosely) with this book is that I feel like the whole story had a great pace to it but then was over in a flash at the end. The whole book works up to a grand finale, but I definitely could have done with a few more chapters just to fully tie everything together and finish the whole story on a cleaner break. With that being said, I did really enjoy it and was also *so* pleased to see there was no random love interest scenario plopped in there like many crime thrillers do - so thank you Wilson for not being a shitty predictable writer! Pick up a copy of Zodiac in a variety of formats, here.

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur
One of my all-time favourite books is Milk & Honey by Rupi Kaur as it was the first poetry book I read as an adult that made me fall in love with poetry instead of loathing it due to what I was forced to read in school. Kaur's writing is incredibly relatable for so many people who read her work and I certainly include myself in that group. The Sun and Her Flowers is Kaur's second publication and has more of an "after the heartbreak" feel to it compared to Milk & Honey.

The Sun and Her Flowers starts with poetry covering relationship breakdown and realisations made in the grief afterwards. It then progresses into finding yourself, accepting flaws, and trying to practice self love. Kaur also explores how self love can then help you find the love you deserve elsewhere. I once again found myself reading every poem and finding comfort in Kaur's words and finding it consolable in aspects of my own life. My emotions can swing from feeling empowered by her words to feeling incredibly upset and needing to purge that upset but that's my favourite thing about it. An additional theme in The Sun and Her Flowers that I feel Kaur explored much more in this book compared to Milk & Honey is her ancestry and family. She writes such wonderfully honest and pure words about her mother and also writes about what it's like being the first generation to be born and live in a different country. There's passion running throughout every poem and it's incredibly infectious. Although I feel The Sun and Her Flowers is fantastic in its own right, I can't help but do what many others have done and compare it to Milk & Honey. I still prefer Milk & Honey over this book, but I still recommend reading this because Kaur has certainly managed to maintain her emotional rollercoaster effect. Pick up a copy here.

Holding by Graham Norton
Those of you who follow me on Instagram may have already seen me talking about this book, but this one was certainly one of those "pleasantly surprised" moments for me. I picked up Holding purely because I had heard good things about it. Graham Norton's writing has received some great reviews so I was intrigued to know whether or not this was because he's famous and loved by many or if his writing was *actually* good. Reading the blurb of Holding, I decided I might enjoy the story. It centres around a small Irish village and the drama in the local community. A skeleton is uncovered when a new housing development is started in the village and the main character, PJ the Guard (the only policeman in the village - no that's not a euphemism), feels it's his chance to shine to solve who this skeleton once was.

I described this book when I was only a few chapters deep as being like a tamer version of Emmerdale but in an Irish village and I fully stand by that still now I've finished it. The story does follow PJ mostly, but it doesn't just look at him solving this old crime - it also explores his relationships, how he views himself and more. It also looks at the stories and lifestyles of a few of the villagers and how they're all interlinked. Some aspects of the book gripped me that were on the verge of going down a dark route, but Norton keeps his writing light so it never gets too dark in the story which I was a little disappointed in (but it's not that sort of book so I guess I'm asking for too much!). There's a twist towards the end of the story and I honestly saw it coming a mile off but despite it not shocking me, it didn't ruin the story and I finished reading the book feeling content. I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book as I just didn't expect to like it as much as I did. Although it's not the most gripping story I've ever read and I prefer darker, more weird plots, this book is a good read, it's easy and simple to follow and if you're a fan of drama or soap operas, you will probably really love this. Grab your copy here.

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April 13, 2018

How to Come Home Happy After Work

Hey gang - I've been back at work a matter of days after having over a week off and I have to let you in to a little secret: I'm not exactly thrilled about it. Don't get me wrong, I quite enjoy my job, but there's only so much of work one individual can and should stomach, y'know? Before I began working in my current role, I would come home usually pretty late, cry to Matt about how mentally and physically drained I was and I basically wanted to be doing absolutely anything else than going back to work the next day. The problem with any job or career is that it can effect your personal life so very much and that can be an issue. Obviously there can be positive implications but when the negative ones start to creep in - that's when I feel I've got a major problem on my hands.

Being a teacher, particularly teaching young vulnerable people, often means that I take home a lot of emotional baggage with me at the end of each day and I've began to understand the importance of trying to leave this at work to pick up on my next shift and why this is beneficial to my mood, mental health, and my personal relationships. Realising this has meant I've tried to put in place some small things I make sure I do to try and come home from work each day feeling generally happy and ready to relax and enjoy my home life with all concerns or worries about work left behind.

Leave your work space tidy for the next day
A tip I cannot stress enough is making sure your workspace is neat and tidy. This obviously depends on your line of work and also potentially on other individuals and even more outside factors you have to consider, but I always make time at the end of each working day to tidy my office. One of the worst feelings in heading to work in the morning then stepping foot into my office to see tea-stained mugs from yesterday scattered around the room amongst paperwork I never filed and the odd crumb from one of my students stealing a cookie the day before. The Sims were bang on the money with the "environment" bar plummeting from bright green to hazardous red when your character walked into a messy room. A clean space means you're starting the day on the right foot and that's a little boost everyone needs.

Prepare what you can the shift before
Following on from my first point, something I like to try and do is do as much as I can the day before to make the next day smoother sailing. Obviously again, this isn't always possible depending on your job, but if there's anything I can put in place ahead of time - I will. For me, this is silly little tasks like writing the date and lesson objectives on the board and laying out the resources for the lesson the next day before I leave work. Having this organised before the next morning stops me from rushing around, being my typically disorganised frazzled self and helps me keep my anxiousness and worry at minimum levels.

Take time for *you*
Okay so this one is definitely a work in progress for me, but here my hypocritical ass out for a minute. Lunch breaks are required by law but let's be honest here - not all of us take them and we need to cut that shit out. My lunch breaks usually consist of frantically printing something extra out for the students to work on, calling people to ask why they're not in class, or listening to the students who have followed me into the office tell me who's been fighting with who over the weekend, all whilst shovelling a cereal bar into my face for some "substance" for the rest of the day. *Breathe*. Some of us might not be in the position to go out and enjoy fresh air or a full hour of uninterrupted break time, but making the most of what time you're given can really help elevate how you view work and your attitude towards it. As I can't leave my students unsupervised, I just simply make sure I spend a little time in our communal kitchen making a cup of tea and ensuring I have something properly to eat that's not just a packet of crisps nobody wanted. Just removing yourself from the four walls you're confined to for most of the day can increase your mood tenfold.

Lists lists and more lists
Although I would count myself as someone who is incredibly disorganised and quite frankly, frantic, at the best of times, I am a planner and my good goodness do I like making lists. Making lists for work is honestly life-saving for me as I am one wee forgetful goldfish but I also like to make lists for a sense of accomplishment. I'm a big procrastinator when I can get away with it so a list helps me gain focus on work and stops me from wasting my time but it also makes me feel quite proud at the end of each day to see what I've managed to get done despite spending most of my day teaching. I have a separate daily journal at work that is just full of daily lists and I purposefully leave this journal at work so it doesn't interfere with my personal life. Keeping lists also helps me keep on track for the foreseeable future too as it's crystal clear what things I haven't yet crossed off that I will need to complete the following day or that I will have to meet by a particular deadline. It takes away a lot of the stress and strain of work to just have it written down on paper so I can tackle it how I see fit.

If you commute, try to enjoy it
Again, this is subject to many factors, but commuting doesn't have to be awful if you can manage to have a positive mindset about it (sometimes *much* easier said than done I know). I thankfully only really commute one day of my working week now but when I do, I've tried my best recently to not stress about it. My train to and from work can be quite busy and hectic and instead of stressing about whether or not I'm going to get a seat or worrying about delays, I try to just enjoy the time I have in that moment. I used to be so apologetic and worry myself silly if my train got delayed or cancel but in reality? There's no point in worrying because worry isn't going to change the circumstance. Now I just make sure I find a spot on the train - whether that's a lucky rare seat or a patch of floor - open up whatever book I'm reading at the time and pop my headphones in if it's a particularly annoying/loud carriage. Having a commute of just under an hour is time I am now using to force myself to relax and take some "me" time and whilst the environment might be less than desirable, I certainly see a spring in my step once I finally get home and get that kettle on at the end of the day.

Work can be incredibly stressful and can be draining on many levels, but try to find any glimpses of the positives can become a great boost. Little small changes can make a world of difference to your attitude and outlook on work and trust me, I've been in those jobs that make you hate anything and everything - including yourself for making yourself go to the hell-hole every day - but you can try to change it around if you look deep enough.

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April 03, 2018

The Signs: Decode the Stars, Reframe Your Life with Carolyne Faulkner

Bookworms, astrology lovers, and fellow horoscope readers - listen up. You may have seen this little slice of heavenly reading floating around over the last few months and it seemed to gain popularity & was popping up all over social media, but there's a reason for that and that reason is that it's a great book. I was gifted The Signs: Decode the Stars, Reframe your Life by Carolyne Faulkner back in December as a gift and have been thumbing my way through its pages ever since and thought it was high-time I gave it it's own detailed review.

I'm a big fan of astrology and whilst I don't believe for one minute that the likes of horoscope pages (particularly those you find in magazines or newspapers) are predicting everyone's future, I do feel that there are traits and qualities - both good and bad - which are often linked to the time of year each of us was born and thus, our starsigns. I use a few different horoscope/daily tarot-style apps on my phone to see what the starts have in store with me on a daily basis and again, whilst I don't think they are predicting anything, I like taking comfort in how easy what they say can be applied to what has happened to me throughout the day, week, or month and relating incidents in my life to these "predictions" can sometimes bring about advice and pep-talks with myself which are never bad things. To quote the book itself, "Nobody's future is written in the stars, but we can use the stars to help write our future" and that quote alone best sums up how I view astrology and horoscopes. Due to my interest in this and my strong belief that each starsign definitely does have traits I can see in each person I am close to in my life and my own personality is certainly included here, I knew I just had to take a look at what Carolyne Faulkner was suggesting about the stars and how we can make changes for the better for ourselves.

So, firstly I have to state the obvious and say that aesthetically, it is a gorgeous book. Hardback with a ribbon bookmark attached, the book looks great whether its on your coffee table, your bedside, or amongst the rest of your book collection. Upon entering the book, Faulkner has mae it really simple to use this book however the reader sees fit - if you're an avid astrology aficionado and want to know *everything* then you certainly can read this piece from cover to cover but if you just want to find out the facts that apply to you or another, you can use the easy-to-navigate contents to find what page you're looking for in seconds. As the book is so user-friendly, I feel it is a timeless piece that can be revisited again and again when circumstances change or when new individuals come into our lives because it is categorised in a way that almost acts as an astrological dictionary.

Upon reading the introduction, Faulkner goes more into detail about just how little or how much you can use this book and therefore its a great gift option for anyone with any remote interest in astrology. After reading just a couple of pages, I decided I really liked Faulkner's writing style as she explains everything is such a coherent way that isn't too factual and boring but also doesn't just give you wishy-washy bits of information here and there. It is informative, instructive, but also as easy to follow as a conversation you would have with your best pal in coffee shop on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The writing style is not forced and Faulkner is a great teacher for any beginner to expert who might pick this up and want to apply the knowledge inside to their own life. To give you some general information, Faulkner talks about starsigns/horoscopes/astrology as having more to it than just your sign: she discusses The Planets, The Signs, and The Houses and each "area" is as important as the next if you really want to get the most out of this book.

As soon as you start reading this book, the best advice I would give to you is to use the accompanying website to create your own star/birth chart. By knowing your date of birth and if possible, the time of your birth too, the website will plot all the planets and signs within houses on a chart much like the one above. Faulkner obviously explains this much more clearly than I will right now, but the more information you have about your birth, the more specific your findings will be when you read certain sections of The Signs. The website that provides you with your birth chart gives you the option to print off a copy of the chart or you can also simply copy it down into the book itself as Faulkner leaves a blank chart page available within the book, as a well as blank tables, to record any information you see fit.

Something Faulkner focuses on throughout The Signs is the "gone right" and "gone wrong" parts of our personalities/signs. There is general information about this under each starsign, but you can go more in-depth by using your chart and seeing which Signs fit in which Houses etc. Generally speaking, reading the Aries "gone right" and "gone wrong" points was one of those "ha, that is *so* me" moments for me as I could see a lot of myself, my actions, and my thought process in what Faulkner said. She described my sign as being someone who can be very creative and loving if being "my best self" but also I can grow easily bored, but incredibly stubborn, and undoubtedly selfish when I'm in the "gone wrong" zone and I found myself nodding along with every statement she made. Of course not everyone will think everything Faulkner says about their sign will apply to them, but she does encourage all readers to make a note of the things that do apply and if you've got more "gone wrong" outweighing the "gone right" points or if generally, you're just in the "gone wrong" frame of mind at the moment, she stresses that identifying that is the first key step to then addressing these negative qualities and changing them in to positives.

I found The Stars to be an incredibly motivating read for me and it came into my possession at a time when I really needed to change a lot of my personality around. The bad traits of mine that I already knew about became more crystal clear after reading this book as seeing it written down made it all the more real and made me feel like this isn't just how I'm seeing myself right now - it's how I'm portraying myself to others and how I'm projecting myself onto the world around me and I didn't like that. Even if you're sceptical of horoscopes/starsigns and don't think you'd enjoy this book, I suggest you still take a flick through it because using it as a self-cleanse is so beneficial. As I said, I found it easy to identify my faults and negative qualities by seeing it written down on paper, but it also highlighted to me what I am good at - the things that can make me a nice, loving, caring, and thoughtful person and helps suggest ways to nourish and encourage those qualities to improve yourself. I've never been one to be interested in self-help books or self-therapy reading, but The Signs has really changed my attitude on all that and has made my want to be a better person. If a book on astrology signs and my birth can bring about that level of positive change in myself and how I want to be seen by others, then that can be nothing but a good thing and therefore, a damn good book to read and revise whenever I feel I need a boost of motivation and inspiration.

If you'd like to pick up a copy of The Signs: Decode the Stars, Reframe your Life, it is available for £9.59 here.

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