Thursday, 20 October 2016

A Week In Crete

In the last week of September, Thomas and I went to Kolymvari, Crete. After a hectic year for both of us - twelve months that have seen him complete his PhD and start two new jobs, and me leave teaching for a new role - a break was long-overdue. Our plan for the week, therefore, was to sit by the pool and do nothing.

Kolymvari is pleasingly undeveloped and our apartment complex 2km out of town was small, peaceful and surrounded by olive groves, which meant we could totally relax. There were enough shops within walking distance to keep us stocked up on spinach pastries, bread, tomatoes and olive oil, a couple of tavernas for evening meals, and that was it. As a result, we had a wonderful seven days of reading, swimming and lounging.
However, being more used to frantic weekend breaks and city-hopping, we couldn't quite manage a full seven days of lounging. Luckily, Hania - the second-biggest town on the island and site of the ancient Minoan settlement of Kydonia* - is within easy reach of Kolymvari on the bus, and we fell head over heels for its picturesque Old Town. A mass of tiny alleyways and iron balconies with lush vegetation spilling overhead, you never know when you might stumble upon an intriguingly mysterious corner of Venetian architecture or some decidedly contemporary street art.

* This fact ensured I had Muse's Knights Of Cydonia stuck in my head for practically the whole week.

Thomas having struggled all week to find any vegan food (hence the bread, tomatoes and olive oil from the local shops), we were thrilled to find Tamam, which has a number of vegetarian and vegan dishes on the menu, while exploring the Old Town. Being a bad blogger, I completely failed to make a note of the other taverna we found in Hania that had a vegan menu, but if you ever find yourself in the area, it was opposite the old arsenal.

I'd thoroughly recommend the quiet northwestern coast of Crete if you're looking for something a bit different to the usual resorts. The combination of majestic mountains and peaceful olive groves, ancient historical sites, and friendly and welcoming towns made it a real winner. And for late September/early October, the weather was glorious: we had above-average temperatures for the time of year - hitting 32c on the 1st October - and gorgeous sunshine every day. We're already planning our return trip.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The Thrifty Christmas Gift Swap Is Back

I can't believe I'm talking about the C-word when just a week ago I was lying on a sun lounger in 30c heat. But autumn is definitely here - I'm looking out of my window at yellowing leaves and grey skies - and so that means it's time to start planning for Christmas.

This will be the fifth year of the thrifty Christmas gift swap, and it's always so much fun to have participants making, buying and thrifting cool gifts for each other. Unlike a lot of other swaps, you do not need to be a blogger to take part: last year was about a 50/50 split between bloggers and non-bloggers.

So, if you're interested, take a look at the guidelines below and then drop me an email to sign up.

How It Works
1. Send your name, address, blog address (if you have one) and extra information to by Sunday November 6th. Include in your email as much detail about your likes and dislikes as possible, so your giver has a starting point.
2. Once you receive the information about your recipient (by November 10th at the latest), you can start putting together a box of bought, thrifted and handmade goodies you think your recipient will love.  In previous years, gifts ranged from framed animation strips from the giftees favourite film, to Christmas mix CDs, to cool brooches and embroidery hoops, to secondhand books.
3. Limit yourself to a £12 spend (not including postage).
4. Pop your parcel in the post by December 10th (although try and be a bit more prompt if sending overseas).
5. Sit back and wait to receive your own box of delights from a mystery giver!

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The Buyer's Archive: September

Since February last year, inspired by Elise's Buyer's Archive project, I've been keeping a record of all my clothing purchases in an effort to track what works and what doesn't and - in theory - cut down on my spending. Check out the #buyersarchive hashtag on Twitter/Instagram to see posts from everyone taking part, which usually includes Elise, HazelKezzieDonnaLucy and Charlotte.
Last September, I bought four items for a total of just over £70. Of those four, I only regularly wear the boots; the denim skirt and collared top, meanwhile, have already gone to the great charity shop bag in the sky. This year, thanks to the unseasonably warm September skewing my shopping habits, I've managed to acquire practically an entire wardrobe of summer clothes... just when I need them least.

Grey crew neck t-shirt, ASOS £6
I actually bought this tee in August, I think, and then forgot about it in a drawer when I came to do last month's Buyer's Archive post. Oops. Anyway, there's not much to say: it's a grey t-shirt, I wear it a lot tucked into skirts. The end.

Polka dot midi skirt, vintage shop in Brighton £25
This is FAR more than I would ever usually spend on something secondhand and not true vintage, but come on... it's a polka dot midi skirt, could it be any more Janet? I've already worn it at least ten times, thanks to the unseasonably lovely September we had, so at price-per-wear it's turning into a bargain.

Fight Like A Grrrl t-shirt, Etsy £11.83
Because I am utterly crap at properly measuring myself and guessing what size I'll need, this t-shirt arrived from America FAR too big for me. This tutorial came to my rescue; a few minutes with the sewing machine later and it fits me far better.
Button front denim skirt, originally New Look but from a charity shop £2.99
I've been looking for a skirt like this for over two years now, so I pounced when I spotted it on a trip to Nottingham. It's just a tad too big at the waist for me, but I figure I can belt it.

Dark grey t-shirt, H&M £7.99
Like the ASOS tee, this is one I actually bought a month or two ago and then forgot to blog. As you can see from the photo, this t-shirt has already stretched out of shape quite a bit, which is annoying, as it'd been a handy top to throw on with skinny jeans on cooler days this summer.

Ditsy floral print midi skirt, originally Bon Marche but from a charity shop £2.99
Because I can no more resist a midi skirt in a charity shop than I can a glass of wine on a Friday night.

Chunky t-bar shoes, Deichmann £19.99
I ended up donating my previous pair of chunky T-bars because, even after two years of wear, they were still so painful. I'm hoping this pair are quicker to break in, because a chunky Mary Jane is my go-to shoe in winter.

Book print skirt, Cath Kinston £36 (with 10% student discount)
And finally, I eventually caved and bought this little beauty. I've been eyeing up this skirt since it first went on sale, and after my size sold out online I thought I'd have to forgo my dream. Imagine, then, my delight when I popped into the Nottingham store and they had one solitary size L left, and we discovered Thomas had a mere 3 days left on his NUS card with which to gain student discount.

All of which gives me a total for September of £112.76 for eight items. However, £13.99 of that was actually last month's spend, so the true total for is £98.77. Plus, I made £100 selling old clothes on eBay and Depop this past month, so I've actually ended up in credit to the tune of a whole £1.33. 

Monday, 3 October 2016

What I've Been Reading Recently

As We Descended*
Robin Talley
Rating: ***
A diverse cast - including disabled, Latinx, Black, gay & lesbian characters - is one of the highlights of this clever re-telling of Macbeth set in a Southern boarding school. The setting, too, is well drawn: a venerable school on an old plantation, complete with misty & sinister lake, dusty locked rooms and abandoned passageways, and the terrible echoes of slavery and exploitation casting a Southern Gothic shadow over the place. There are some genuinely scary moments, too, most notably the opening chapter séance, which takes the place of the encounter with the three weird sisters and their predictions to Macbeth, and the later chapters in which Maria - our Macbeth - begins to unravel. As a Shakespeare geek, I thoroughly enjoyed the nods to the original play, both explicit - such as in the name of the prestigious school prize, Cawdor, for which Maria is fighting - or more subtle plot points.

The Lost One*
Alexandra Oliva
Rating: ****
A group of people are sent off into the wilderness, cameras following discretely, to compete against each other in a Survivor-like reality TV show. Zoo, off on a solo challenge and starving and exhausted, is horrified at the lengths the TV production team have gone to scare her - fake rotting corpses, mechanised rabid animals - unaware that a cataclysmic virus has hit the east coast of America and that not only are these things not fake, but there are no cameras anymore, no production team. Instead, she's stuck in a race to survive that may never end. It's a brilliant premise, well executed, and while it doesn't maintain its initial promise right up to the end, it's a solid 3.5 stars from me, bumped up to 4 thanks to the ingenious idea behind it.

The Rift: A New Africa Breaks Free
Alex Perry
Rating: ***
I was immediately interested in reading this, by the former Time Magazine correspondent to Africa, as it seemed to offer a wide-ranging and Africa-focused look at the recent challenge and opportunities that the continent faces. However, despite an introduction in which Perry promised to offer Africans a voice in their own narrative, this is - largely - still a white Western man's view of Africa. There are exceptions - the chapters on China in Africa offer an interesting and enervating post-colonial view on investment in the continent, as too do his discussions with tech start-up entrepreneurs in Kenya and Nigeria - but I found this still too much about Western views of Africa rather than African views thereof.
American Housewife
Helen Ellis
Rating: ****
Short stories with enough bite to take your hand off, Ellis's collection is bleakly, bitterly funny. Particular highlights are a story about a failed novelist taking part in Dumpster Diving With The Stars, a reality TV pastiche that's all too familiar, and the surreal, insidiously sinister tale of a young woman's introduction to her - initially innocent-seeming - new book group.

The Trespasser*
Tana French
Rating: *
It breaks my heart to say this, because I have - to varying degrees - either very much liked or loved all of the previous books in the Dublin Murder Squad series, but my gosh The Trespasser was a terrible read. Where previous instalments have had real tension, great characterisation and brilliant scene-setting, this had a paper-thin plot which was easy to guess, and generally unlikeable characters. All in the series have been somewhat over-long and under-edited, but this read more like a novella or Kindle short padded out to 480 pages.

* I received a digital copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Monday, 26 September 2016

Photo An Hour: Saturday 24th September

Each month Jane and Louisa arrange Photo An Hour, and most months I completely forget to take part. Not this time! Here's what I got up to on Saturday: check out the #photoanhour hashtag on Instagram and Twitter to see who else
Missy has just woken me up by miaowing in my face, which is code - depending on the time - for either 'get up and feed me' or, as in this case, 'move - you're in my spot'. So I duly moved.
Every Photo An Hour day I have the same breakfast: sourdough toast with marmalade, and black tea. What can I say? I'm a creature of habit.
I started a bullet journal at the beginning of this month and so far I am really enjoying the process. I tend to use it for keeping a goals/to-do list - both daily and longer term - and a quick bullet point record of what I've done each day, which can mean anything from what I wore or read, to positive things that have happened, to what I've spent. To anyone considering starting a journal, I'd say: do it.
Getting dressed to leave the house (finally) and despite it not being quite the weather for a t-shirt, I'm desperate to wear my new Fight Like A Grrrl shirt.
Waiting for our train to Nottingham. I realise now that it looks like Thomas isn't wearing any bottoms, but I promise he has shorts on; they're even quite long so where they are in this photograph is beyond me!
My joy knew no bounds at not only finding the previously-sold-out-in-my-size Cath Kinston books skirt, but discovering that Thomas had a few days left on his NUS card so I nabbed it with a discount, too.
Street art in Nottingham.
You know that terrible 50 Cent song that goes, "you can find me in the candy store..."? Well, I'm like that but replace 'candy store' with 'feminist section of the bookshop'.
Laura had alerted me to the opening of a new pub in Nottingham, The Angel, which has a herbivore/carnivore menu - that is to say, for every meat/fish option, there's also a vegetarian and vegan option. So, basically, the perfect place for carnivore Janet and vegan Thomas to eat together. And obviously we needed to have a drink while we perused the menu...
Bonus photograph of our fish & chips. One of these is battered vegan tempeh and one is battered cod: both were very tasty.
I know I'm biased, but I really do think Thomas is the cutest. And this is the face he pulls when I tell him so.
Madly early for our train: standard.
Just about to arrive back in Leicester (it's only a half hour journey, we were really early), and I'd got bored on the journey so cracked open one of Thomas's purchases, a zine about the radical history of brewing. It was more interesting that it sounds.
Home, pyjamas on, candles lit and apple strudel in the oven. Doing Saturday night right.
And it seems appropriate to end where I began: on a Missy photograph. She's only started sitting on the sofa next to us in the last few days, so this was an exciting and momentous occasion. Off-camera is Thomas, who'd been banished to the chair as she seems to like to sit right in the middle of the couch cushion, leaving only enough room for one of us next to her.

Friday, 23 September 2016

A Wedding Planning Update

When you're planning a wedding - whether it be the most traditional, big-white-gown-and-stately-home event or, as Thomas and I have taken to describing ours, an anarcho-punk/feminist leifdesfeestje* - you quickly learn that other people have A Lot Of Thoughts And Opinions about weddings.

And this despite that fact that we've been incredibly lucky that our families, who are thrilled that we're making this commitment (albeit non-legal) to each other, genuinely couldn't be less interested in dictating to us exactly how we should go about it. Our friends, too, have been very accepting of and excited about the direction in which we've chosen to take our wedding: namely, a ceremony officiated by a good friend of ours, with all the readings and speeches and vows one would associate with a wedding but without the legal bit, followed by a three course vegan meal and piss-up in our favourite pub.

But still the questions come...

Are you having a theme? Err, aside from love and commitment? No. 

A seating plan? No. 

Best man and bridesmaids? Well, my little nieces aside (who I couldn't in good conscience deny the chance to put on a pretty dress and call themselves bridesmaids), no. 

Hen and stag dos? Probably not, although Th
omas has expressed a preference to go on a "nature walk" for his stag do. I kid you not.

Changing your name? Erm, have you even met me? Hell no!

As our friends and family have quickly realised, the answer to pretty much any question about the wedding is, "No, we're not bothering with that."

And then, the why.

I'm crafty, creative, details oriented and a micro-manager: all the ingredients for a bridezilla, a wife-to-be hand-stitching favours for a year before the ceremony and obsessing over every element. So it's as strange and surprising to me as it is to those who know me well that, when it comes to our wedding, I honestly couldn't care less.

What is important to me is this: that some of my family from overseas are able to be there; that Thomas's friends from the Netherlands come; that our UK-based friends and family are in full attendance; and that we have an occasion full of fun, laughter and love, while lacking in the patriarchal traditions that are so intrinsically entwined with wedding ceremonies. Oh, and I'd like a pretty twirly dress that doesn't cost ££££ (this last has at least already been achieved, with a £16 bargain dress of my dreams).

So there aren't going to be most of the usual trappings of a wedding. Instead we're crafting something that is completely, totally us. Our ceremony is explicitly political, from the readings we've chosen to the promises and vows we will make. It might seem a strange choice but politics - especially feminist and anarchist politics - are intrinsic to our relationship. They are what we first bonded over and are what we both value so much in each other. We have, in our four years together, both politicised the other: me pushing Thomas towards a queer, intersectional, trans-inclusive feminism and introducing him to fat activism; he, coming from an anarchist punk scene in the Netherlands that is extremely active in pro-refugee activism, pushing me to be more radical in my politics and less tolerant of middle-way liberalism. We could no more separate politics from our wedding day than we could from our lives.

And so, an anarcho-punk/feminist liefdesfeestje it is. On 31st July 2017 I will wear my pretty, twirly, £16 dress and Thomas - fresh from his nature walk (insert eye roll emoji) - will be suited and booted, and we'll make our vows in the most beautiful building in Leicester, in front of the people we love most. We'll listen to the music that's special to us**, drink Prosecco and cider, eat heaps of vegan food***, and be merry. I really cannot wait.

*Dutch for love party, which we avoid because in English it sounds like we're hosting an orgy.

** Generously, I have offered Thomas a 35 minute slot on the playlist for his terrible 80s MOR, while I get to choose the rest of the music.

*** See, we both have priorities: mine is music, so I get to pick; his is food, so he gets to make it all vegan.

Monday, 12 September 2016

How We Got A Fancy New Kitchen On A Tiny Budget

When I bought this house eight years ago I, like most first time buyers, stretched myself financially in order to do so. As a result, doing anything to it beyond painting a few walls was out of the question, so I resigned myself to living with a kitchen I hated. From the grey laminate worktops to the torn lino floor and cheap metal sink, this was no-one's idea of a dream kitchen.

So how did it go from this...
... to this?  Read on...
1. Don't try and do it all at once. We just didn't have the funds to do all of the work at the same time, so we prioritised. First up, two years ago, we replaced the horrible lino with slate-effect tiles and, at the same time, repainted the walls, added chalkboard paint to the door, made new blinds and put up some shelves: all small changes and cheap, too, but they made the room much more liveable while we saved for phase two.

2. Ask yourself: do I need a whole new kitchen? The cost of new units was prohibitive but we realised that replacing the whole kitchen wasn't actually necessary. By replacing just the worktops and sink, the whole kitchen has been revitalised. If you want a more drastic makeover, you can replace cupboard doors, paint the existing doors, or - as I did when I first moved in - just replace the handles. Think, also, about using open storage: our shelves, teamed with a wall-mounted pan rack, mean that the majority of our pots, plates and dry goods are out on display and easy to access, leaving the limited cupboard space for the ingredients and equipment we use the least.

3. Can you keep any existing appliances to save cash? I love the original 60s freestanding oven and hob that was in the house when I bought it, so there was no need to buy a new one: having new worktop & tile surrounding it is enough to completely change the look. Likewise, our existing fridge-freezer & washing machine are both still going strong and, as we weren't redesigning the layout, could stay put and save us £100s. 

4. Do it yourself and, where you can't, utilise the expertise friends & family. We were incredibly lucky to have my good friend Abby on board to help us out with this makeover. Abby is a PE teacher by trade but has done three house renovation projects of her own and absolutely loves big DIY jobs (weird, I know). She was more than happy to give up some of her time - paid, of course, but at mates rates rather than full market price - to do the jobs we couldn't manage, like... well, pretty much everything! Abby installed the worktops and the sink and also did the tiling (although I got her to teach me how to tile so that, come the next project, I can have a crack at it myself).

5. Know where to find a bargain. Abby's advice was once again invaluable for us: because she's done so many renovations, she knows where to source affordable yet good quality materials. She pointed me in the direction of Wickes for our worktops where, thanks to a discount event, two 3m lengths of solid beech worktop set us back just £130, and Homebase, who had the white metro tiles we wanted on special offer. Do you know someone in the building trade who can give you tips on where to find what you need at a good price, or have any friends or family recently completed a big project? If so: ask them where to shop.

6. If in doubt, chuck it in a jar. Finally, open shelving may be a cheap storage solution but if that's where most of your dry goods are kept, it could easily look messy. I spent £25 on glass jars in Ikea, bought a labelmaker from eBay, and hey presto! We have well organised, neat rows of food instead of half empty packets shoved into the back of a cupboard. Although I have to say that making labels for lentils, roiboos tea and udon noodles is about the most middle class thing I've ever done.
We spent just over £500 on this second phase of the makeover, which included all materials - worktops, new sink and mixer tap, tiles, shelving timber, brackets, and jars - plus labour. And the result is nothing short of amazing, turning a dingy space into one of my favourite rooms in the house: light, bright, airy and modern.

* Beech workstops: Wickes
* Reginox ceramic sink: Amazon * Mixer tap: Amazon
* Shelving timber & brackets: B&Q * Korken jars: IKEA
* Orla Kiely coffee jar: Douwe Egbert's Ltd edition *
* Freda white leaf jars: Habitat * Utensil rail with hooks: IKEA *
* Screw The Patriarchy print: Redbubble *
* Quotation chopping board: handmade by Abby *

Saturday, 3 September 2016

The Buyer's Archive: August

Since February last year, inspired by Elise's Buyer's Archive project, I've been keeping a record of all my clothing purchases in an effort to track what works and what doesn't and - in theory - cut down on my spending. Check out the #buyersarchive hashtag on Twitter/Instagram to see posts from everyone taking part, which usually includes Elise, HazelKezzieDonnaLucy and Charlotte.

Last August I spent a whopping £206.75 on twelve items. Of what I bought, some have become wardrobe essentials - the burgundy H&M cardigan, the polka dot jumper, and the striped Gap tee especially - while others - the Emily & Fin dress, the polka dot charity shopped dress, and the bird print skater skirt - have already been donated or re-sold. I haven't worn the Saltwater sandals as much as I expected, but that's mainly because until the last few weeks, summer weather has been in short supply.

My spending was a lot lower this year; however my addiction to stripes shows no signs of abating any time soon, with three new additions to my collection.

Burgundy cord skirt, Dorothy Perkins £16.75 (with 25% discount)
The black denim skirt I got from Primark last month has already become a wardrobe staple, so I'd been on the look out for with a similar fit (priority: pockets) in a different fabric or colour. This Dotty Ps cord skirt hit the mark perfectly, and as they're currently having one of their many discount events, it wasn't too expensive either.

Black striped knit top, Primark £4
Because it was £4, and it goes brilliantly with the skirt. And, ok, because stripes.

Blue striped Breton top, La Redoute £9.75 (with 25% discount)
Last month I got a blue striped top from Sainsburys, which I then managed to ruin with impressive speed. This is its replacement and will, I suspect, get lots of wear at work this autumn teamed with my new jeans.

Breton top, M&Co via LOROS charity shop £4
This might be my favourite and best-fitting Breton for a while, and a great replacement for my long-lamented favourite H&M Breton that I spilled a tomato-based pasta sauce down the front of. And, in my defence, on the day I got this I managed to resist buying a Fat Face striped top in another charity shop, so perhaps I'm finally learning to exercise restraint when it comes to stripes.

Black Jamie skinny jeans, Toshop via eBay £9.50
Oh how I love my Jamie jeans, so I was super excited to find a bargain pair with little wear on eBay.

Tan sandals, Dorothy Perkins £7 (in sale)
I bought these in July but forgot to add them to last month's Buyer's Archive.  They are SO comfortable and a great addition to my collection of tan sandals; I'm already kicking myself for not buying a second pair for next summer while they were still in stock.

All of which brings my August total to a pleasingly rounded £50 for six items. A much more palatable spend than last August's. My goal for September is to not buy any striped tops. Yep, you heard me: I'm going cold turkey on the Breton. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Life Lately

I've been pretty quiet on the blog front lately. Partly because I have the dreaded blogger's block: I keep sitting down to write and end up either staring blankly out of the window/at the cat or browsing Etsy for the nth time. But also because I've been busy (looking at this fluffy little face for upwards of five hours a day totally counts as busy, right?).

It's been strange to not have the summer off after eleven years of teaching. People keep asking me if I'm missing them and the honest answer is, "sort of." I mean, I'd love to have six weeks off, who wouldn't? But the truth is I don't need the holidays like I used to. When you work in a school you limp through the last couple of months of the academic year, desperate for a break, a chance to recuperate from the year just gone and prepare for the one about to begin. But my job now isn't so all-encompassing, exhausting and draining so there's no need for a long holiday to recover.

Not to be defeated by my lack of time off, I've nevertheless tried to make the most of my summer. I had a visit from my cousin, Mark, which was our first chance to spend quality time together since the 1990s (WHAT?!). My brother & his wife spent a weekend with us, which gave me a new appreciation for Leicester (or for the authentic Italian gelato from Gelato Village, anyway). Thomas and I took an awesome day trip to Nottingham for book shopping, cider supping, pizza eating and Ghostbusters watching, and I've had a mini bloggers meet-up with Laura, Elle & Becca. Sourdough bread was munched, Laura almost got taken out by a flying umbrella, and we poked around the new Delilah's Deli. Oh, and Thomas officially became a Dr, graduating with his PhD in a comically floppy hat.
I also spent an evening at Secret Cinema does Dirty Dancing. The set up was incredible, a mini Kellermans tucked away in East London. It was enormous fun to sit in the twilight, drinking cocktails and singing along with the film, and while the extras that justify the ticket price - dance lessons, mini golf and the rest - weren't particularly suited to a chronic non-joiner like me, that's my bad for buying a ticket in the first place, not theirs.

But honestly, a lot of my time has genuinely been taken up by hanging out with the cat. Missy has continued to settle well and although she still hasn't quite graduated to curling up on a lap or on our bed, she shows her affection in other ways - like bringing us her favourite toy (a small pink stuffed mouse), or following us from room to room to sit near us. However, I fear we are both becoming insufferable cat people. Talking endlessly about her, even to non-cat owners? Earnestly discussing her bowel movements when one of us gets home (often before even a "hello" has been exchanged)? Singing silly songs to her, swapping out the normal lyrics for ones about furry cats? I'm afraid Thomas and I are guilty of all of the above on an almost-daily basis. It was when I found myself telling a close friend who's just become a mum that, thanks to cat ownership, I now understand where parents are coming from that I realised I had a problem. So yep, crazy cat lady over here.

And now I'm looking forward to all sorts of awesome things in the next month or so: an overnight trip to Bristol this weekend, followed by a dash up the M1 to see another cousin who's staying with my mum in Bradford. A few days away for Thomas's 30th birthday (but shh, it's top secret). Then I have jury duty in September, promptly followed by a week in Crete and a chance - finally - to relax after an exhausting twelve months. And, hopefully, the return of my blogging mojo.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

What I've Been Reading Recently

I See You*
Clare Mackintosh
Rating: ****
Zoe is a harassed single mum commuting to a thankless clerical job in London, when one day she notices her photograph in a mysterious newspaper advert. The next day: same advert, different woman's photograph. Meanwhile, Kelly is a British Transport Police officer who (as is required by the genre) is troubled and in disgrace with her superiors. While we watch Zoe slowly unravel with the realisation that someone is watching her, Mackintosh does an excellent job of ramping up the tension as Kelly investigates a series of crimes seemingly related to the adverts. I especially enjoyed these chapters, which skewed more towards police procedural than psychological thriller. The author's experience in the police force shines through, making each character fully rounded and believable. As is generally the case with this brand of thriller, I found the ending required somewhat of a suspension of disbelief, but other than that Mackintosh has more than lived up to the promise of her gripping and prize-winning debut, I Let You Go.

The Loving Husband*
Christabel Kent
Rating: ***
Fran wakes up in her isolated Fens farmhouse to find her husband missing, his side of the bed empty. What follows is a tense thriller in which the reader if left, like Fran, not knowing who to trust. It's far from perfect - the police characters seem to come straight from bastard cop central casting, and the final denouement is rushed - but The Loving Husband cleverly toys with the reader, switching between past and present narratives and constantly wrong-footing you when you think you have it all figured out.
Am I Normal Yet?
How Hard Can Love Be? 
What's A Girl Gotta Do?
Holly Bourne
Rating: *****
Alex recommended that I read Holly Bourne's trilogy about three teenage girls navigating college, family, friendships, first love and feminism, and I'm really glad I gave them a try. The characters of Lottie, Amber and Evie are brilliantly obstreperous, totally loyal, and believable flawed, and this is YA with real heart and an explicitly feminist message. I spent the books willing them to come out of it all ok, whether 'it' was struggling with a relapse of OCD, working at an American summer camp while trying to come to terms with family issues, or dealing with online abuse and misogyny. How I wish I'd had books like these when I was a teen; instead, I'll have to content myself with pressing them upon every teenage girl of my acquaintance.

Thirteen Hours
7 Days
Deon Meyer
Rating: ****
Originally written in Afrikaans and then translated into English, Meyer's Benny Griessel series has been rightly critically lauded around the world. Griessel, in the way of all brilliant detectives, is a troubled soul and an alcoholic, an old dog being forced to learn new tricks in a world of cyber crime and affirmative action, and the books are packed full of insights into modern, post-apartheid South Africa.  However, the Cape Town setting is one of the main attractions for me, rather like Edinburgh is for Rebus fans, and there's a real pleasure in following Griessel along streets I know so well. The British editions come with a handy glossary at the back, fairly essential for anyone less familiar with Xhosa, Zulu and Afrikaans slang, but it's partly through this use of language that Meyer (and his brilliant translator) is able to communicate so much about the politics of the country. For example, there's a wonderful set-piece in 7 Days where an uppity police sergeant insists on speaking in Xhosa to a female Zulu detective; a subtle demonstration of the micro-aggressions a black woman still faces in the SAPS, while in Cobra the disappointments and corruption of the ANC government are put into a global context, with a British professor commenting of the multi-racial squad, "Well isn't this an advert for the Rainbow Nation."
Something New: Tales From A Makeshift Bride
Lucy Knisley
Rating: *****
Recommended to me by Laura, Something New - which follows the author's journey to a makeshift, homemade, entirely personal wedding - is one of the best graphic memoirs I've read. As Thomas and I are currently knee-deep in planning our own non-traditional, makeshift wedding the book felt very relevant, covering everything from international bridal traditions to the dreaded dress shopping and how she and her husband wrote their vows. Best of all were her reflections on bi-erasure and the unique tensions present when you are a queer feminist marrying a straight man, which really hit home for me. Accompanied by her beautifully inked drawings, this was an at times moving, at times amusing, always engrossing book.

* These books were kindly provided by the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Note: none of the links in this post are affiliate links.