Book Review: The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

I got an advance proof copy of this book when I did some work experience at Penguin Random House way back in April last year, and thought I would review it now that it’s finally out!

dsc02336

Blurb

Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumour that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life.

With little more than the words “be brave” inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway, the land of the midnight sun, determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must “be brave” if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.

My thoughts

I’ll admit I was a bit worried by the premise of this book. It sounded like it might go down the path of the magic-kiss-from-a-boy-who-will-solve-all-your-problems (*eye roll*), but thankfully it avoided that particular cliché. In fact, most things about the book were pretty original. The romance is quickly overtaken by the thrill of Flora’s first solo adventure, with some thriller-inspired elements thrown in for good measure.

Flora’s narration is innocent and charming, but also confusing and sometimes quite alarming. Most of the time, this is really effective – Flora has to relearn things all the time (think 50 First Dates, sorta), so as a reader you have to relearn them with her. Sometimes this is frustratingly slow and repetitive, but it also gives a whole new dimension to the concept of the unreliable narrator, as there’s so much that Flora doesn’t know or doesn’t remember. There’s also a strangely poetic feel to Flora’s voice, and I felt quite protective of her by the end – she is brave (as the tattoo on her hand reminds her to be) and she is intelligent. The narration didn’t work as well for me in the more action-packed scenes, though, where you would usually expect the pacing to pick up.

I loved the descriptions of Svalbard. It felt like one of the few places in the world in which someone as vulnerable as Flora could get by safely. Combine this frosty-but-friendly setting with some wholly unexpected plot twists and I was sold.

4/5 stars.

Advertisements

Travel diary: Tallinn

Somehow it’s been over a month since I posted about our trip to Helsinki…oops!

When I left off last time we had just arrived in Tallinn after a short ferry trip across the Baltic. Our Airbnb was incredible (v stylish and cosy), and in the perfect location – if you’re heading to Tallinn I highly recommend staying there.

Some other highlights include…

The Old Town

It snowed overnight on our first night in Estonia, so we woke up to a postcard-worthy winter wonderland. (It actually kept snowing all day, which made for slightly damp exploring!) Tallinn’s historic Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and dates back to the 13th century. It’s amazingly well preserved and feels like walking through a fairytale film set.

Most of the shops are pretty touristy, and I can imagine that it’s overrun in the summer, but I did buy a whole lotta yarn from a handicraft shop at 22 Pikk (knitters of the internet – Tallinn is the place to go!). We were happy just to wind through the streets and take in the snowy views from up high.

We ducked out of the snow for some lunch at Must Puudel (‘Black Poodle’), and ended up coming back a couple of days later because we liked it so much. It’s a rabbit warren of rooms on different levels, and has an atmosphere that is simultaneously buzzy and relaxed. The menu was full of seasonal dishes and everything I tried was v v tasty. It also happens to be opposite another knitting shop…

Kalamaja

dsc02870

We stayed in Kalamaja, a former industrial/fishing district located between the Old Town and the coast. It’s full of cafés and bars nestled in between historical painted wooden townhouses. We had two great meals at Torokse Talupood-Kohvik, a small farm shop with an informal dining space at the back. They have a few different dishes every day, so you get local, seasonal food that feels home-made in the best possible way. Just across the road is TOPS, a busy bar that seemed to be very popular with locals and expats.

Telliskivi Creative City

dsc02875

A short walk from Kalamaja is the Telliskivi Loomelinnak (Telliskivi Creative City). Large ex-industrial buildings house workshops, studios, cafés, creative companies and offices. There’s a strong focus on local business and design, and it’s a great place to browse for gifts, unique clothing, homeware… F-Hoone is a good place to stop for lunch or a coffee.

Kadriorg

On our third day, we visited Kumu, one of Tallinn’s main art galleries. It took us about an hour to walk there, but we got to explore Kadriorg on the way, which turned out to be an unexpected highlight. At the centre of the residential area is a park, which is dotted around the edges with various museums and a huge 18th century palace.

The Kumu building is in itself pretty impressive – I’d describe it as ‘curves with sharp angles’ if that’s not too oxymoronic… Most of the museum is dedicated to contemporary art, but we also enjoyed getting a taste of Estonian art through the ages in the permanent collection.

Museums

We also visited the Museum of Occupations (that’s occupations as in ‘military’, not a comprehensive list of all the professions available to Estonians…). The museum does a really good job of presenting what life was like for Estonians living under Soviet and German occupation throughout much of the 20th century, and it gives an interesting insight into the national psyche.

The Seaplane Harbour Museum is enormous. It’s housed in three converted seaplane hangars which are filled with traditional rowing boats, modern ice yachts, Viking treasure hoards, a submarine… Not being particularly mad about boats, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this place as much as I did, but it was actually really interesting. There were lots of interactive displays and the space itself was fun – it would be a great rainy day activity for families.

Get out of town

dsc02900

If When I go back to Estonia, I’d really like to get out into the countryside to do some exploring. A lot of the country is covered in forest and bogs, which looks very beautiful and fairytale-y. We weren’t really prepared enough to fit a day or two’s hiking in the snow into our trip this time around, so instead we made our way out to Pirita beach a little outside the city. Walking on a snow-covered beach was pretty surreal, but incredibly peaceful and picturesque, too.

On our way back from the beach we passed the War Memorial, which looked particularly striking in the snow.

dsc02906

That’s it for this trip, folks! I don’t have any adventures planned in the immediate future, but hopefully 2017 will bring some more exploring at some point.

The best books I read in 2016

While 2016 has been a fairly terrible year for, well…most things really, it has been a good year for me for reading. I’ve really got back into the swing of reading for pleasure, and having a long-ish daily commute to/from work means I have dedicated book time every day. So, in no particular order, here are my top ten books read in the last year:

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

437143

 

As the title suggests, this book covers a lot – from the origins of the universe to some of the more baffling aspects of contemporary science. I loved it because it reminded me how little we know about the world, and how much more there always is to learn.

 

 

 

Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages by Guy Deutscher

8444621

 

A fascinating look into how language and culture can shape the way we view the world. The examples and case studies given in this book are mind-boggling and really do make you question why you see things the way you do. It’s written in a very engaging and approachable style, and I would recommend it to anyone with even the vaguest interest in language and linguistics!

 

 

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

28810580

 

 

A collection of beautiful (and at times slightly unsettling) short stories linked by images of locked doors and keys. The characters wander out of their own stories only to crop up later on in others, and Oyeyemi’s writing is at once fantastical and strongly rooted in reality. This is a collection that I will definitely be rereading before long.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

29336720

 

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get round to reading Angela Carter, as this is now one of my favourite books of all time, not just of this year. These stories are decadent and horrible. I love a good creepy fairytale retelling, but these are so much more than retellings. The language is lyrical but never feels overworked and I’m really looking forward to reading more Angela Carter in 2017 (starting with Nights at the Circus, which I received for Christmas).

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

26852229

 

Chilling and suspenseful but also strangely touching and really quite funny, this book follows Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood as she tries to prevent the outside world from infiltrating her carefully constructed existence. There’s a disturbing sense of unease that runs through the book, and I particularly liked the ritualistic, almost fetishised descriptions of food. Another new favourite.

 

 

Grief Is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

25334576

 

After the sudden death of their mother, Crow arrives unceremoniously one night to help the Boys and their Dad come to terms with their feelings of grief and loss. Sometimes Crow is vulgar, sometimes compassionate, sometimes cruel. This book was beautiful and sad but also very funny. It sits somewhere in between novel and prose poetry and I know I will read it again and again, and I will love it over and over. If I had to pick a favourite from the year, I think this would be it.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

26225360

 

Set in London and Essex at the end of the 19th century, The Essex Serpent actually presents a version of Victorian Britain that is much more modern than I’m used to seeing (stern patriarchs and fainting ladies you will not find here). It deals with the intersection between science and religion, and balances rationality with a mysterious, myth-inspired tone. Also by far one of the prettiest books I read this year 😍.

 

 

The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss

30325865

 

This is such a hard book to sum up but I love love loved it and can’t stop recommending it. It perfectly addresses the feelings of loss and grief, but in particular the fear of losing the people we care about, even when that fear is never realised. The narration felt so familiar and hit really close to home. Pretty much perfect as far as I’m concerned!

 

 

 

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

17927395

 

(The Sarahs are doing well on this list!)

I read a lot of pretty terrible YA books this year (a guilty pleasure…), and after having mixed feelings about A Court of Thorns and Roses, I wasn’t even going to continue with the series initially. I’m so glad I did, though, because the sequel was bloody brilliant. It never once fell into the traps of a bad sequel, and the character development was so satisfying and realistic. Now to wait until May for book three…

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

22299763

 

I really enjoyed Six of Crows, but I think this sequel was even better! It was an emotional roller coaster and a brilliant conclusion to the series. The full complexity of the characters’ scheming is always revealed piecemeal, so that you really feel the panicked lurch of every stumble and the immense satisfaction of every small victory gained. Incredible world-building and storytelling.

 

 

So those are my top ten! Let me know if you’ve read any of these, or if you have any recommendations for books you think I should read in 2017. Happy New Year!

#NonFictionNovember2016: A mini wrap-up

This November marked the second year of #NonFictionNovember, a reading challenge hosted by Olive (from abookolive) and Gemma (from Non Fic Books). The challenge aims to encourage people to pick up more non-fiction books throughout the month than they might normally.

I enjoy reading non-fiction, but I generally read a lot (and I mean A LOT) more fiction. I reckon the ratio is probably something like one non-fiction book for every ten-ish fiction, so I was pleased that I managed to finish three non-fiction books in November – even if one was very short! They were:

dsc02916

Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane

Robert Macfarlane summarises his book very succinctly in the introduction: “This is a book about the power of language – strong style, single words – to shape our sense of place.”

Within the world of non-fiction, I particularly enjoy nature writing and books about language, so it’s no surprise really that I loved Landmarks. Each chapter takes inspiration from a different author and landscape, and between each chapter there is a thematically-grouped glossary of terms Macfarlane has collected that describe the land, and life in close proximity to it. Many of the words in these glossaries have been taken from regional  dialects of English and/or have fallen out of common use. Most are wonderfully specific, and reminded me of how creative language can be, and how it can help us to understand our surroundings. Here are a few of my favourite terms:

aquabob, clinkerbell, dagglet – all words meaning ‘icicle’
drunken-charlie grass – tussocky moor grass that causes the walker to stumble with the appearance of drunkenness
watery-headed – anxious about rain

However, I think I would have enjoyed this book more if I had taken more time over it, and perhaps only read a chapter and its accompanying glossary at a time. There is no great over-arching narrative other than a strong sense of place, and I think reading a little at a time would have prevented it from feeling slightly repetitive in places.

Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky

This has been on my shelf for far too long, and was top of my TBR for this reading challenge, so I’m really glad I finally picked it up. It is without a doubt one of the most beautiful books I own. Look at that saffron yellow against the blue-grey! Dreamy.

dsc02921

In the introduction, Schalansky writes lyrically about maps and art and travel (side note – the translation is excellent):

In an atlas, the Earth is as flat as it was before explorers pinned down the white spaces of enticingly undiscovered regions with contours and names, freeing the edges of the world from the sea monsters and other creatures that had long held sway there.

The rest of the book is set out in double-page spreads, each dedicated to a remote island. The page on the right shows a map, while the page on the left gives a written account of the island. These written accounts, though brief, cram in all the ‘hard’ facts (population, geographical coordinates, size, distance from land etc.) as well as providing a snapshot story of life on the island. Sometimes these are factual or historical, sometimes they feel like old legends, sometimes more like philosophical musings. They are always poetic and evocative. This is such an unusual book, but I can’t recommend it enough!

Speaking in Tongues: curious expressions from around the world by Ella Frances Sanders

dsc02924

This was right up my street. Funny, informative and beautifully illustrated, Ella Frances Sanders has collected 52 idioms from all around the world, complete with translations and explanations of the meanings and origins of the phrases. This would make a great Christmas present for anyone interested in language and fun sayings. I’m looking forward to working “not my circus, not my monkeys” (Polish, nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy, “Not my problem”) into conversation soon…

Did you take part in the reading challenge? Let me know if you have any recommendations (non-fiction or otherwise)

Travel Diary: Helsinki

My boyfriend and I went on holiday to Helsinki in Finland and Tallinn in Estonia at the end of October and loved both cities, so I thought I’d share some photos and recommendations. I didn’t actually take as many photos as usual, probably because it was really very cold and taking pictures involved taking off my mittens (which at the time seemed like a horrible idea), so I’ll try to put in links etc. wherever mine run out!

Helsinki and Tallinn are both very cool, design-focused cities and we found plenty to keep us occupied off-season. October/November might seem like a strange time for a holiday in northern Europe, but we were both glad to be able to explore without being surrounded by droves of tourists. Here are some highlights from Helsinki.

Helsinki’s architecture reflects the Nordic and Russian influences gained throughout its history.

The Design Museum

We only went to one museum/gallery in Helsinki, but we were really impressed by the Design Museum (Korkeavuorenkatu 23, 00130 Helsinki). The main collection features a wide range of objects and pictures that showcase Finland’s design heritage and give an insight into the national psyche. We also saw an exhibition of the work of Kirsti Rantanen, a Finnish textile designer and artist who creates huge, sculptural textile installations.

The Sibelius Monument

dsc02822

Sibelius was a composer working in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and his music is often credited as having contributed to the development of a Finnish national identity. The monument is located in a park next to the sea and is really peaceful, despite being popular with tourists. We visited about an hour before sunset, and the light reflecting off the pipes and the sea made it even more beautiful.

Temppeliaukio Church and Kamppi Chapel of Silence

Two architecturally interesting buildings that offer a bit of quiet in the middle of the city. Temppeliaukio Church (also called ‘Rock Church’, for obvious reasons) is a Lutheran church built directly into the rock. It has a huge copper dome and the acoustics are incredible – we sat for a while a listened to a string quartet and choir rehearse.

dsc02824

Kamppi Chapel is a sort of wooded ‘pod’ in the middle of the busy shopping district, intended as a place of quiet and reflection. It is bright and airy and has an almost ship-like feel to it.

dsc02828

Food

The best meal we had was at Sandro (we actually ate here twice!), a restaurant and bar serving colourful North African-inspired food. Quite pricey, but worth it. We booked a late meal on a Saturday night and the atmosphere was really buzzy and fun.

Coffee culture is a Big Deal in Helsinki (Finland has the highest per capita consumption of coffee in the world), and we passed a lot of coffee shops and cafés in our three days there. Neither of us are huge coffee drinkers, but we really enjoyed ducking into Johan & Nyström for a flat white and a sandwich.

On our second day, we had lunch at the Old Market Hall. This covered market was built in 1889 and houses a range of food stalls (get your tinned reindeer and bear here), cafés and trinket shops. We had enormous bowls of seafood soup at Soppakeittiö.

Shopping

Our time, funds and luggage space restricted the amount of shopping we could actually do in Helsinki, but that didn’t stop us poking our noses into some lovely shops. There were a few particularly great second-hand and vintage shops near our Airbnb (recommended to us by our lovely host Jenni): Frida Marina and Ansa-Kauppa.

*

Helsinki and Tallinn are really close together – just 70km apart across the Gulf of Finland – and there are loads of ferry crossings every day (ours took about 2.5 hours). So it was a quick hop, skip and a jump across the sea for us, just in time for the first snowfall of the year in Tallinn. More on that next time…

Blackberry and Apple Crumble Cake

…back at it again with the autumnal cake recipes! This one has juicy berries, a crunchy topping and a lil bit of spice. Please enjoy responsibly i.e. in huge slices with an even bigger mug of tea.

Ingredients

For the cake

  • (2) eggs
  • unsalted butter at room temperature
  • golden caster sugar
  • self-raising flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2-3 tbsps milk
  • 2-3 eating apples, peeled, cored and sliced into segments
  • a few small handfuls of blackberries

For the crumble topping

  • 50g flour
  • 30g cold unsalted butter
  • 20g granulated sugar

dsc02736

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 19cm cake tin (you may want to use a bigger tin if using more than 2 eggs).

Weigh your eggs, then weigh out equal amounts of your butter, sugar and flour (I used 2 eggs, which weighed 110g). This is a super easy way of making a simple sponge cake without needing to follow a recipe! You can easily scale up/down depending on how big a cake you want to make.

With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until pale.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon.

Beat the eggs and the vanilla extract together in a small bowl. Beat about a third of the egg mixture into the sugar and butter mixture, followed by a few spoonfuls of the dry ingredients. Continue alternating egg and flour until you’ve added it all. Stir in the milk a little at a time until you have a smooth batter that drops easily from the spoon when tapped against the side of the bowl.

dsc02734

Spoon the batter into your prepared tin and smooth the top. Arrange your apple slices on top and dot the blackberries in between them. Prod the fruit so that it sinks a little into the cake mixture.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean and the cake is starting to come away from the tin at the sides.

dsc02735

While your cake is baking, make the crumble topping. In a small bowl, rub the butter into the flour until you have fine-ish crumbs. Stir through the sugar and spread the topping out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden brown.

When the cake is cooked, sprinkle over the crumble topping and allow to cool completely in the tin before serving.

dsc02743

The Autumn Reading Tag

This tag has been everywhere lately and even though I haven’t actually been tagged,I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon since everyone and their dog has done it already! Created by Amy Jane Smith, I think it captures the snuggly idealised Tumblr version of Autumn and I love it.

1) Are there any books you plan on reading over the Autumn season?

I try to avoid having a strict TBR as it tends to feel a bit restrictive, but some books I’m hoping to get to in the next couple of months are:

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter – I’ve been meaning to read this for years and finally bought a copy last week.

Human Acts by Han Kang – I read The Vegetarian earlier this year and loved it, so I’m interested to see whether I enjoy this as much.

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi – another author I want to read more of (What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is one of my favourite books of the year so far). I think I’ll take this away with me on holiday next week.

Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky – this has been sitting on my shelf for far too long and it looks absolutely beautiful. I want to read this as part of Non-Fiction November, although it’s not really a typical non-fiction book!

The Rat by Günter Grass – I hauled this waaaay back and still haven’t picked it up! I need a rainy Sunday to make a start on it, but I’m hoping to finish it before the end of the year.

2) September brings back to school memories: what book did you most enjoy studying? And what were your favourite and least favourite school subjects?

The best book I studied at school was Arcadia by Tom Stoppard. It’s a really witty play that covers everything from romance to chaos theory and it’s greatttt. My favourite subjects were French, Spanish, English and Geography and my least favourites were probably P.E. and Biology.

3) October means Halloween: do you enjoy scary books and films? If so what are some of your favourites?

I pretty much hate scary anything! I have too overactive an imagination and just end up freaking myself out for days if I watch/read anything remotely creepy. So I’ll be watching Hocus Pocus instead next week…

4) With November it’s time for bonfire night & firework displays. What’s the most exciting book you’ve read that really kept you gripped?

It’s hard to pick just one! A few page-turners I’ve read recently are:

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney. Gritty and witty and great. I loved how all the characters wove in and out of each other’s lives and you were never really sure whose version of events to believe.

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the first book in this series, but I tore through all 600+ pages of the sequel in a few days and now I don’t know how I’m going to wait until May for book three…

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr. I read this is one sitting and it was just lovely and brilliant and very unusual. I’ll share a more detailed review soon.

5) What book is your favourite cosy comfort read?

Harry Potter (all of them/any of them). Boring answer but it’s true! I also love reading Jane Austen at this time of year – maybe I’ll reread Northanger Abbey for some spoofy gothic fun.

6) Curled up with a good book, what is your hot drink of choice?

TEA. Tea, tea and more tea. English Breakfast in the morning, Earl Grey in the afternoon and herbal in the evening.

7) Any plans you’re looking forward to over the next few months?

Yes! I’m going on holiday to Helsinki and Tallinn next week and I’m so excited to explore two cool new cities. It’s going to be freezing (but actually), so I’m looking forward to some cosy reading and knitting time in between adventuring (v hygge). Expect photos soon…

DSC02783.jpg

What are you reading or hoping to read this autumn? And if you haven’t done this tag yet and would like to, please consider yourself tagged!

Hazelnut, apple and chocolate cake

Woaahhh, long time no post, sorry! Things have been a bit hectic recently, but I’m hoping to settle into a better blogging rhythm soon.

The weather in London has been all over the place this week, and while it’s set to heat up again over the next few days, there’s something about this time of year that makes me switch gears towards autumn regardless of the temperature. It’s that back-to-school feeling y’know?

Well, in between swapping my sun hat for my umbrella, I finally got round to writing up a recipe inspired by a cake I had in Malta – just in time for apple season.

DSC02428

Cake inspiration from the Fontanella Tea Gardens in Mdina.

This cake pairs a light, nutty sponge with soft, spiced apples and a rich chocolate ganache. Perfect with a cup of tea (or five) on lazy autumn afternoons, or served for dessert with a dollop of crème fraîche.

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 130g hazelnut meal (I made my own by blitzing whole hazelnuts in a food processor to get a course flour)
  • 130g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • A pinch of salt
  • 115g butter
  • 150g granulated sugar
  • 75g light brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup soured cream (about 275ml)
  • 35g hazelnuts, chopped, plus extra to decorate (optional)

DSC02520

For the filling:

  • About 500g eating apples, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 2 tbsps water
  • A splash of vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsps light brown sugar
  • Cinnamon (optional)

DSC02531

For the ganache:

  • 225g dark chocolate
  • 125ml double cream

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line two 20cm round cake tins.

Start by making the apple filling. Place the chopped apples in a pan with the water, vanilla, sugar and cinnamon (if using) and stir to combine – you want to use eating apples so that they don’t go all mushy. Bring the pan to a simmer, then reduce the heat and cover the pan. Cook for 5-10 minutes until the apples are soft while still holding their shape. Drain any excess liquid and set aside to cool.

DSC02534

To make the cake, measure out the hazelnut meal, plain flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a medium-sized bowl and stir to combine. Set aside.

Put the butter and sugars into a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs to the sugar and butter one at a time, mixing well between each addition. If the mixture begins to curdle, add a spoonful of the dry ingredients. Beat in the vanilla extract.

Mix in a third of the dry ingredients, followed by half the soured cream. Continue to add in the rest of the dry ingredients and soured cream in alternating stages and mix until combined. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix again.

Scatter the chopped hazelnuts over the mixture and gently fold these into the batter. Divide the batter between the two cake tins and even out the tops.

DSC02525

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean, and the edges have started to come away from the tin. Transfer to a wire rack and cool in the tins.

When the cakes and apple are cool, make the chocolate ganache. Chop the chocolate into small pieces – this allows it to melt easily – and place in a small mixing bowl. In a pan, gently heat the cream until it is almost boiling, then pour over the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted and is mixed well with the cream.

DSC02535

To assemble, place one of the cakes on a serving plate. Spoon the apple mixture on top, followed by the next layer of cake. Pour the ganache over the top of the cake and use a palette knife to even out the top. Decorate with more chopped hazelnuts (I’d run out by this point!) and set aside until the ganache has firmed up, then cut into slices to serve.

I’d love to know if any of you make this cake…Happy September 🍂 🍁

DSC02541

London Life: House of MinaLima

In honour of the birthdays of J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter today, and the release of the Cursed Child script, I thought I’d share some pictures I took recently at the House of MinaLima exhibition.

MinaLima are the graphic design team behind the Harry Potter films: everything from The Daily ProphetThe Quibbler and Travels with Trolls to Umbridge’s Educational Decrees, the Marauder’s Map and those coveted letters from Hogwarts was designed by the team, and you can see a range of their work (including non-Harry Potter projects) at their exhibition (26 Greek Street, free entry, and open daily until early 2017).

DSC02586

The building itself is the most perfectly-chosen place. Something like a cross between The Burrow, a Diagon Alley shop and Number 12 Grimauld Place, it’s a narrow, rickety old house with uneven floorboards and slightly wonky walls.

The first floor is dedicated to prints from the Collective Nouns series, which was unexpected but actually really great.

DSC02592

DSC02587

DSC02590

Squeezing your way up the staircase, which is literally papered with pages from the Daily Prophet, the next two floors are where the *magic* happens (sorry).

DSC02593DSC02601

It’s amazing to see the amount of detail that went into the making of the Harry Potter series. Things that would only appear in the background of a shot for a fraction of a second are not skimped on – all the newspaper articles are written out in full, for example (and they seem to have had a bit of fun doing so: ‘Ginger witch survives henna explosion’ and ‘Fudge voted stylish wizard of the year’ were slotted in amongst more serious headlines).

DSC02597DSC02600DSC02603DSC02608

If you’re a fan of the series, and even if you’re not, I highly recommend the exhibition. It only takes about half an hour to look round, and there’s a gift shop where you can buy prints, postcards, mugs etc.

And if any of you have tickets for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (I’m seeing it in a month eeeeee!), 26 Greek St is just around the corner, pretty much directly behind the Palace Theatre.

Let me know if you’ve been to House of MinaLima, or if you’re planning to go!

June and Birthday Book Haul

Episode 2 in Imogen Continues to Break her Book-Buying-Ban… I’ve been to some magical bookshops recently, and it would really be rude not take home a souvenir (or several). I also got some books for my birthday last week so I’ve included those, too. This is quite a strange collection, but I’m looking forward to switching up my reading habits over the summer and reading a wider range of books.

DSC02643

First up…

The Rat by Günter Grass

DSC02637

Technically I’ve borrowed this from my boyfriend, but I thought I’d haul it anyway. This is a witty environmental novel that sounds quite strange and thought-provoking in the best possible way.

Blurb:

In this superbly inventive, beautifully crafted novel, Günter Grass relates, in dreamlike sequences, the end of this world and the beginning of an age of rats.

Witches: Hunted, Appropriated, Empowered, Queered edited by Anna Colin

DSC02636

I bought this book a few weeks ago when I went to Broadway Market with some friends, one of whom suggested I might like to look into Donlon Books. She was right – it’s an amazing place to find books you might not normally come across. Their website says: “Since opening our first space in 2008, we have built a strong reputation for stocking an idiosyncratic range of new and rare titles, periodicals and printed matter, with a focus on photography, art, critical theory, LGBT literature, music, fashion, counterculture, erotica, and esoterica“.

Witches… is a collection of texts on femininity, gender, activism and witchcraft. I really like the idea of a collection that spans multiple disciplines, and I love the fact that the texts are presented with side-by-side French and English translations (I hope this will make it easier for me to try to read it in French).

Blurb:

Witches: hunted, appropriated, empowered, queered combines historical accounts, fictional literature, activist experiences, theoretical propositions and artistic reflections to form a multidisciplinary book on gender, myth and alterity – forty years after the witch returned in a new radical guise in the activist imagination, and at a time when alleged witches are still persecuted in certain parts of the world.

The Tale of Tales by Giambattista Basile

DSC02635

Another day, another bookshop. I got this book, as well as the next two on this list, from Topping & Co in St Andrews, Scotland, which might be my new Favourite Ever Bookshop (a bold statement, I know). It’s so cosy and they give you tea and coffee while you browse and there are nooks and crannies to read in and it’s just great. If you can get to St Andrews, Bath or Ely then I really recommend checking them out.

I am v v v excited to read this. It’s considered to be one of the earliest national collections of fairy tales, and inspired some of the stories we’re so familiar with now. The fairy tales themselves are presented as stories within a story, and I really enjoy that sort of framed narrative so I think this will be right up my street.

Blurb:

Before the Brothers Grimm, before Charles Perrault, before Hans Christian Andersen, there was Giambattista Basile, a seventeenth-century poet from Naples, Italy, whom the Grimms credit with recording the first national collection of fairy tales. The Tale of Tales opens with Princess Zoza, unable to laugh no matter how funny the joke. Her father, the king, attempts to make her smile; instead he leaves her cursed whereupon the prince she is destined to marry is snatched up by another woman. To expose this impostor and win back her rightful husband, Zosa contrives a storytelling extravaganza: fifty fairy tales to be told by ten sharp-tongued women (including Zoza in disguise) over five days.

Funny and scary, romantic and gruesome-and featuring a childless queen who devours the heart of a sea monster cooked by a virgin, and who then gives birth the very next day; a lecherous king aroused by the voice of a women, whom he courts unaware of her physical grotesqueness; and a king who raises a flea to monstrous size on his own blood, sparking a contest in which an ogre view with men for the hand of the king’s daughter-The Tale of Tales is a fairy-tale treasure and a touchstone of worldwide fantasy literature.

Crow by Ted Hughes

DSC02634

I mentioned in my May Book Haul that I wanted to read Crow before I start Grief is the Thing with Feathers, so here it is! I’ve heard that these poems are beautiful, but also dark and harrowing. Hoping to get round to reading this soon.

Blurb:

Crow was Ted Hughes’s fourth book of poems for adults and a pivotal moment in his writing career. In it, he found both a structure and a persona that gave his vision a new power and coherence. A. Alvarez wrote in the Observer, ‘Each fresh encounter with despair becomes the occasion for a separate, almost funny, story in which natural forces and creatures, mythic figures, even parts of the body, act out their special roles, each endowed with its own irrepressible life. With Crow, Hughes joins the select band of survivor-poets whose work is adequate to the destructive reality we inhabit’.

The Sandman by E.T.A. Hoffman

DSC02633

This is a strange little book, and one that’s quite difficult to describe. It actually reminded me a lot of Frankenstein in its letter-based format, settings and treatment of science and technology. Read it if you like a good, creepy short story with a historical edge.

Blurb:

“Strange man, how can you have eyes for sale? Eyes? Eyes?”

Stealer of children’s eyes, the sinister Sandman is one of the most famous creations from the dark gothic imagination of German Romantic E.T.A. Hoffman.

Le liseur du 6h27 [The Reader on the 6.27] by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent

DSC02632

This was one of the most charming books I’ve read in a long time. Full of vibrant, idiosyncratic characters, it tells the story of Guylain Vignolles (“Vilain Guignols”), a man who works at a paper pulping factory, hates his job, and rebels against the destructive nature of his work by reading fragments of salvaged books out loud on his commute. This is a book about books, about reading, and about the way that words and writing can bring people together from all walks of life. It was delightful and I thoroughly recommend it.

Blurb:

Working at a book pulping factory in a job he hates, Guylain Vignolles has but one pleasure in life. Sitting on the 6.27 train each day, Guylain recites aloud from pages he has saved from the jaws of his monstrous pulping machine. It’s this release of words into the world that starts our hero on a journey that will finally bring meaning into his life. For one morning, Guylain discovers the diary of a lonely young woman: Julie. Julie feels as lost in the world as he does. As he reads from these pages to a rapt audience, Guylain finds himself falling hopelessly in love with their enchanting author. This is a tale bursting with larger-than-life characters, each of whom touches Guylain’s life for the better. This captivating novel is a warm, funny fable about literature’s power to uplift even the most downtrodden of lives. 

Through the Language Glass: Why the world looks different in other languages by Guy Deutscher

DSC02631

Having studied languages at university and lived abroad in France and Spain, I know that I think differently in different languages. So I’m really interested in Guy Deutscher’s hypothesis: that culture and national mentality are linked to the language(s) you speak. I’ve read another of his books (The Unfolding of Language), and I really enjoy the light-hearted and engaging way he approaches linguistics.

Blurb:

It’s a question that has baffled, enraged and fascinated in equal measure for over a century: does the language you speak affect the way you think? Contrary to the fashionable consensus of today, acclaimed author Guy Deutscher believes that the answer is a resounding yes. On an odyssey that takes us from Homer to Darwin, from scientists to savages, and from how to name the rainbow to why Russian water – a ‘she’ – becomes a ‘he’ once you have dipped a tea bag into her, Through the Language Glass explores some of the most intriguing and controversial questions about language, culture and the human mind.

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney

DSC02630

The winner of this year’s Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, this doesn’t sound like the kind of book I would normally pick up, but I’m trying to challenge myself to read outside my comfort zone. It sounds gritty and tough, but by all accounts the writing is brilliant and engaging.

Blurb:

Maureen didn’t mean to kill a man, but what can a poor dear do when she’s surprised by an intruder and has only a holy stone to hand? Lucky that she’s just reconnected with her estranged son Jimmy because, as the most feared gangster in Cork, he certainly has the tools to sort out the mess.

So Jimmy enlists his boyhood buddy Tony who, with six kids and a love of the bottle, could certainly do with the money, even if his teenage son, Ryan, is far too keen to grow up so he can become a gangster himself. And all is going to plan until Georgie, the girlfriend of the hapless intruder, starts to wonder where he went…

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

DSC02629

I read this last week in two days on my way to and from work, and I think it might have wormed its way into my list of all-time favourite books. Weird and chilling and suspenseful but also strangely touching and really quite funny, it follows Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood as she tries to prevent the outside world from infiltrating her carefully constructed existence. Merricat lives with her sister Constance and her uncle Julian – the rest of her family died six years ago when a lethal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl. Part of the novel forms a sort of whodunnit centred around this event, but Shirley Jackson doesn’t try very hard to conceal the identity of the murderer. Far more intriguing, I feel, is the treatment of themes such as otherness and mob mentality, and the sense of unease that runs through the book. I particularly liked the ritualistic, almost fetishised descriptions of food (preparation and consumption): “We eat the year away. We eat the spring and the summer and the fall. We wait for something to grow and then we eat it.”

I loved this book and you should all read it now.

Blurb:

Living in the Blackwood family home with only her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian for company, Merricat just wants to preserve their delicate way of life. But ever since Constance was acquitted of murdering the rest of the family, the world isn’t leaving the Blackwoods alone. And when Cousin Charles arrives, armed with overtures of friendship and a desperate need to get into the safe, Merricat must do everything in her power to protect the remaining family.

In her final, greatest novel, Shirley Jackson draws us into a dark, unsetlling world of family rivalries, suspense and exquisite black comedy.

Phew! That’s all folks – I’d love to hear if you’ve read any of these, or if you’re planning to.