Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Read More Books: February to May

My New Year's Resolution this year was to try to read more books, and to blog once a month about what I've been reading.

Have I actually been blogging once a month about what I've been reading...? Of course not! I did manage one blog post in January and then the days rolled by and suddenly it's August already and I've still not blogged about books (oops).

Soooo... here's a round-up of all the books I read from February-May. I've read more books since then, of course, but there's only so many books you can fit into a blog post before it gets ridiculously long and (I'm pleased to report) I have actually been reading relatively regularly this year (hurrah!).

At the beginning of February I finished reading Dead Cold, the second of Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache novels (I'd read book one in January). It was a fun little mystery and I zipped through it quite quickly but I definitely don't feel the urge to work my way through the rest of her books. It's funny, isn't it, how some series totally grab you and you want to read them all IMMEDIATELY and others you see why people like them but they're not quite your cup of tea.  

Next I read The Miniaturist, which had a temptingly beautiful cover and which turns out to be a real Marmite book! 


When I shared this photo on Instagram and Facebook the comments were a mix of people who ADORED it and people confessing that they absolutely loathed it, hadn't been able to finish it, which I thought was very interesting - it's obviously a book that prompts strong feelings in a lot of people! I loved it to start with and thought it was beautifully written, but I found myself gradually losing interest in the characters as the plot developed. 

It was quite a light read though so I did finish it, and I enjoyed it enough to get Jessie Burton's second book (The Muse) out of the library to try. I'm also rather looking forward to seeing the TV adaptation - I love seeing how people tackle the challenge of adapting books for the screen.

In spite of my lukewarm reaction to these two books, my New Year's Resolution was beginning to have its desired effect and I was rapidly falling back in love with reading (hurrah!). I enthusiastically got a whole pile of books out of the library...

... then proceeded to read something totally different! I needed something light to read on a train journey, so I grabbed Unseen Academicals from my "to read" pile and totally neglected my library books while I worked my way through it. 

As I mentioned in my previous book-themed post, I've been slowly re-reading all the Discworld books over the past couple of years. Unseen Academicals is definitely not one of my favourites and I ended up reading it incredibly slowly, reading a bit here and there and wondering if I should skip it altogether instead of sticking it out just for the sake of completeness. I'm glad I finished it, though. I might not love this particular chapter in the Discworld series but the process of revisiting them all in sequence has been so enjoyable I'm glad I resisted the urge to skip ahead. 

After Unseen Academicals I dipped into that pile of library books, starting with Image on the Heart and other stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This turned out to be a compilation of some of his early stories, not remotely his best work but still with flashes of his delicious style. I zipped through these, reading them in a patch of sunshine on a couple of warm spring afternoons (totally blissful!). 

Not being able to sleep one night I picked up the next book on the pile, Up at the Villa by W. Somerset Maugham, and honestly if this hadn't been a library book I would have thrown it across the room (probably waking my neighbours in the process). Uggghhh, I hated this book so much. The characters! The plot! The dialogue! Pretty much everything about it! A friend whose book taste I tend to trust likes Maugham though so I'm planning on giving his books another chance but I wouldn't bet any money on me liking them.

After another library trip I made a start on some more F. Scott Fitzgerald short stories (The Love Boat and other stories), reading them on more relaxing sunny afternoons... but I bogged down partway through one of the longer ones and didn't pick the book back up again after that.

On another visit to the library I was tempted by a trio of Vintage books with their delicious red spines.

I started with Picnic at Hanging Rock which is not just the best thing I've read in ages but one of the best things I think I've ever read. I adored it, gobbling it up in one sitting and practically beaming with happiness the whole time.

My New Year's Resolution to try and read more books has (gradually) helped me get back into the habit of reading - carving out a space for it in my weeks, and enjoying the process of sitting quietly with a book and letting myself get absorbed in its pages. But it wasn't until reading Picnic at Hanging Rock that the real love of it came back - BAM! - like it had never gone away.

Spring brought some stressful things with it so I ended up doing a lot of comfort reading. I read a vast quantity of Harry Potter fan fiction, which isn't something I've read much of before but I fell down a rabbit hole of the stuff and didn't get out for quite a long time. It was exactly what I needed and quite delightful.

I also decided to reread one of my all time favourite books (and certainly my favourite romantic novel), Gaudy Night... but of course you can't just reread Gaudy Night, you've got to go back and enjoy the whole Peter Wimsey / Harriet Vane romance and really savour it. So, I started with Strong Poison...

... then moved on to Have His Carcase, and took a short detour from the Wimsey/Vane novels to read Murder Must Advertise (because it's just so funny, though that whole Harlequin plot is the wrong kind of ridiculous). If you're a fan of murder mystery novels and have never read the Wimsey novels I cannot recommend them highly enough. They get better and better as the sequence develops and the introduction of Harriet Vane is an absolute joy, I love her so much.

At the end of May I took a break from Wimsey to make a start on The Muse...

... but quickly abandoned it for a book of Ghost Stories by E. F. Benson, which I hugely enjoyed.

I often associate ghost stories with dark winter nights but most of these are set in the blossoming spring or on sultry summer evenings. The stories are full of ancient, dark, nameless things lurking in woodlands and streams, of terrible things at your open window on hot, sleepless nights. All rather dated, of course, but gorgeously written and full of incredibly creepy moments.

Thanks to this book I also discovered that reading ghost stories on busy trains weirdly makes them (the stories, not the trains) even spookier. I totally expected it to be distracting but actually quietly reading a ghost story in the midst of all that noise turned out to be extra chilling. It is a teeny bit awkward though when you realise you're pulling "oh my goodness, this story!!" faces in public.

So, how many books is that in four months? Ten, I think? Plus a whole bunch of fan fiction and a tiny bit of The Muse.

Ten books in four months is nothing to shout about, but, still! Reading is happening! And continues to happen! Woohoo!

What have you been reading lately? Have you read any of the books I've been reading? What did you think of them?

Please note: the Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, so if you click through and end up buying something (anything!) on Amazon during that session I get a very small payment for the referral.

Monday, 21 August 2017

June & July in Pictures: Colour & Crafting amongst the Chaos!

I spent a hectic few weeks this summer living out of a suitcase, travelling back to my flat from time to time but mostly staying with my parents and helping them prepare to move out of our family home and across the country to their new house. You might have noticed that I rather dropped the ball on the blogging front (oops!) while all this was going on... but I still managed to squeeze in some crafting and other fun stuff in between all the packing and general moving prep.

So... what did I get up to in June and July?

My friend Kate visited Bristol and we met up for a day's sightseeing and photo-taking (you can read about her trip to the city here and here). It's always a joy to show people round my favourite city, and Bristol was looking pretty darn gorgeous in the summer sunshine.

I was nearly late to meet her in the morning, though, as I was busy taking photos of this fabulous wall! (Instagrammer problems, man...).


For my birthday one of my friends surprised me with this awesome "Making Things" print and I couldn't resist taking a photo of it surrounded by some of the crafty supplies I'd been using that week.


I made things with this wonderful marbled paper (click here to see what I made with it!)...

... and made lots of felt butterflies for June's "A Year of Wreaths" Wreath tutorial (follow that link for the free tutorial).

The shiny new edition of my first book, Super-Cute Felt was published (prompting an Instagram post full of feelings)...

... with a free project from the book available over at MAKEetc...

... and the pear needlebook tutorial (delightfully) featured in Prima Makes magazine.


I blogged about some fabulous fog, my visit to Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter, a trip to Lichfield and a magnificently quirky museum: the Birmingham Pen Museum.


I confessed to sometimes preferring unused skeins of yarn and embroidery thread to finished projects (there's just something so appealing about those soft loops of colour!)...


... and had a hilarious dream in which I went on a date... not to a bar, or a café, or the cinema, but to a giant branch of Paperchase! The way to my heart is clearly via nice stationery (or haberdashery!). Naturally, I couldn't resist obeying my subconscious and visited the big Paperchase on the Tottenham Court Road when I was in London a couple of weeks later. Mmm... so many colours...


I shared a photo of my much beloved Dorcas pin tin - which it turns out is something a lot of people have in their sewing kit, and treasure (maybe you have one too?). This tin belonged to my mum when she was at school. I also have a larger one which I inherited from my grandmother, along with the rest of her sewing box.


I do love things which are pretty but also practical... although sometimes I buy so many of them that they're not quite so practical any more. Like mugs - I definitely have way more mugs than I technically need but there are just so many lovely ones! This one is my current fave: a recent gift from a kind friend who knows just how much I love a pop of colour.


Finally, July turned into a month of colourful selfies as I visited the WALALA X PLAY installation (a maze of mirrors and bright patterns that's perfect for taking photos)... 


... then got inspired by Instagram's "Weekend Hashtag Project" photo challenge and ended up spending a chunk of a Sunday afternoon lying on the floor covered in blankets (which is a perfectly normal thing to do, right??).

That week's challenge was #whptalentshow, and I got thinking about how my creative talents are things I've inherited from my parents, and which were encouraged and nurtured by them when I was growing up. Which (naturally) led to me taking selfies while sandwiched between the blanket my mum knitted for me when I was a baby, and the blanket I'm knitting for my new flat.


(Psst - for more blanket-y lols, check out the outtakes!).

Want more colourful, crafty updates? I'm lauralupinhoward on Instagram - click here to visit my page and follow me. You'll also find me on Facebook and Twitter.               

Friday, 18 August 2017

8 Easy Paper Crafting Projects

Sometimes you want to spend days, weeks or even months making something detailed and complicated and (eventually) impressive... and other times you just want a quick, crafty fix!

I talk a lot about the joy of felt crafting being quick and easy, but I'm also a big fan of a bit of simple paper crafting. Patterned craft papers make it especially easy to quickly make something fabulous.

Inspired by a fab new range of paper pads stocked by The Village Haberdashery I've put together a blog post with instructions and templates for eight easy paper crafting projects.

I used a marbled pad for my projects, but there are lots of different coordinating patterns to choose from!

You can make greetings cards...

... create envelopes and notecards (DIY envelopes are so much fun to make and send)...

 ... wrap gifts...

... use scraps for colourful gift tags...

... whip up some party decor with classic paper chains...

... or mix and match bunting and garlands...

... make some helpful labels for party treats...

... or use the diagrams included in the blog post to make little gift boxes!

Click here to see all eight paper crafting ideas.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Lovely Lichfield: Exploring Lichfield Cathedral

During my years of travels in the UK and Nice Days Out one of my greatest surprises has been just how much I enjoy exploring churches and cathedrals. I'm not at all religious, spent very little time in churches growing up, and honestly thought I'd find it a bit weird to visit them when sightseeing but - oh! - what interesting buildings they can be!

History and meaning and craftsmanship and beauty and incredible architecture and oh so many details to discover... all crammed into buildings which (more often than not) are free to visit and an oasis of calm in a busy town or city.


A few weeks ago I blogged about my trip to Lichfield, including Erasmus Darwin House and the Cathedral Close. Lichfield's Cathedral was the main reason I'd decided to visit the city and it did not disappoint.


It's an impressive Gothic building with three spires and a vast array of carved figures of kings, queens, and saints - and there's no shortage of interesting things to see inside, as well.


I spent a long time looking round and ended up chatting to several very friendly volunteers who filled me in on some of the building's history and pointed out fascinating things I'd missed.

Naturally (because I'm the world's slowest travel blogger and am only just now blogging about a holiday I took two years ago) I've forgotten pretty much everything they told me but the memory of the beauty of this place and the warm welcome from the volunteers is still a very strong and happy one.

For more info about visiting Lichfield Cathedral click here.

You can read about the rest of my trip to Lichfield (including the charming Cathedral Close) here. I visited Lichfield as a day trip during a week's stay in nearby Birmingham, which I loved. Follow the links to read about Birmingham's excellent architecture, museums, and Jewellery Quarter.