I'll start with my birthday things, because there were some beautiful books and cute gifts that deserve some love, and some beautiful PEOPLE who deserve even more love for being so generous and knowing me so well... I know there's at least one parcel still in the post, so fear not, sweet bestowers of birthday books, they're just taking a while to arrive because SNAIL MAIL.
Celebrating my 27th birthday!
First up, my beautiful little sister Hannah, who is apparently psychic. I saw The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin on Jean's bookshelf tour over at Bookish Thoughts and thought it sounded so amazing, so I added it to my wishlist. A day or two later, I moved it to my (private) library wishlist instead, because I thought it might be a bit expensive or hard to come by for a birthday gift. BUT LO! My sister, completely independently (or so she claims) saw it somewhere and thought of me. So now I can look up any ailment and find a book recommendation to cure it! Hypochondria? Read The Secret Garden and learn from Colin's experiences. Sick of being short? Read The Hobbit and remember that small people can still have big adventures, AND royally kick ass along the way. In need of a good cry? There's a handy top ten list in here to get you sobbing... As if that wasn't awesome enough, Hannah ALSO bought me the little Matilda mug I've had my eye on for ages (to be used for fun things like juice and milkshake, because THAT IS NOT ENOUGH COFFEE), plus a rude card. I LOVE THAT GIRL.
The whole household bought me this striking bouquet of flowers from our always-excellent local independent florist. Once again they know me so well; apparently the florist asked if they had a colour scheme in mind and their immediate answer was 'anything bright!' I hate wishy washy flower colours, and always go for the most eye-popping colours I can find to cheer me up, so these are perfect, especially the gorgeous sunflowers!
My mum and stepdad had also bought a pretty birthday card with a kind of vintage-Oxford-academia vibe (a stack of old books tied together with a chiffon scarf, perched on the front of a bicycle), and my mum MADE me some jewellery. She takes a jewellery class with her friend every week (heating metal and hammering/shaping things, rather than beadwork-type jewellery making), and made me a beautiful pair of dangly silver earrings, shaped like flower bells with little blue drops in the middle, and a silver knot-style bangle. I tried to take a picture but it wouldn't quite focus right - you'll have to take my word for it that they're just the loveliest things, and so personal as well. :)
As well as contributing to my 'redecorating my room' fund (to buy paint, new furniture etc), my dad surprised me with the yummiest hot chocolate mug-and-biscuit-plate set, packed into a pretty matching box, with a bag of mini marshmallows to go on top! I bought some new hot chocolate on Friday and carefully washed everything so I'm all set - particularly when you add in the little bag of peanut 'n' chocolate cookies my grandparents threw into the mix when I went down to visit on Thursday! The pretty 'tea and cake by the seaside with daisies' card was from Dad too. ALL THE DELICIOUSNESS!
And so to you lovely lot, who have been so amazing over the past few months of depression and, y'know, struggling to stay alive - and have STILL pulled out all the stops for a happy birthday too. I wish I could show this blog to all the mental health professionals who belittle the concept of 'online friends', because the support I've had over here has been far more generous and positive than anything my local CMHT has cared to throw my way thus far. Now would be a good time to say THANK YOU EVERYONE for your emails and cards and tweets and texts and little pick-me-up packages. You know who you are, and you really did help me stay alive. No exaggeration there in the slightest. :')
The very first package to arrive on my doorstep was this absolutely frickin' GORGEOUS book, from Jess at Jess Hearts Books. It's called The Bees, it's by Laline Paull, and I don't know if you can tell from the picture, but the honeycomb pattern is all metallic and shiny, and there's an embossed bee in a cutout hexagon the middle. I was stroking it in Waterstones when I was shopping with Hanna the other day, but couldn't justify buying TWO full-price hardbacks in one day and had to leave it behind. AND NOW IT'S MINE AT LAST! It's basically a novel about society, except that the society happens to be a hive, and the protagonist is a bee. Emma Donoghue recommended it in a 'best upcoming books of 2014' piece I read somewhere, which definitely bodes well! Thank you so much Jess... :)
Bex (from An Armchair By The Sea), despite being very pregnant at this moment, actually went out trawling the shops for second-hand books from my wishlist which is just... amazing. The Pact is probably the only Jodi Picoult novel I've never found second-hand (not for want of trying, I assure you), and I've only ever seen A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole once, waaaaaaaay before I knew what it was and that I wanted to read it. AND SHE FOUND THEM FOR ME. Not only that, but there's this gorgeous book cover card, and a box of vanilla chai tea. I LOVE chai tea, and I've never tried Pukka's version before, but the smell when I undid the wrapping paper was just... mmmmm... divine. Bex... I love you so much for knowing me so well. :)
At the same time as Jess's parcel arrived, so did one from my fellow Ellie (from Curiosity Killed the Bookworm)! I've heard such amazing things about The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, and have already read and enjoyed her debut novel The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, so that one's gone straight onto my 'to take on holiday at the end of June' pile. Ellie also sent a copy of Night Film by Marisha Pessl, a kind of multimedia mystery thriller (there are articles and pictures and things scattered throughout the text of the novel), which I've been eyeing up for weeks, and ALSO threw in A Clockwork Orange on DVD. This was particularly good timing, because not only am I dying to watch it anyway (hello, cult classic!) but I also caved and bought Penguin's restored edition of the original novel when I was out with Hanna earlier this month. You all know how much I love to 'read then watch' whenever I get the chance! Thank you so much Ellie, I can't wait to get stuck in to all of these! :)
Next up was a mystery package from Katie (Katie Who Can Read), which got off to an excellent start with a card so beautiful IT HAD ITS OWN BODYGUARD. Well, a card protector to stop it getting squished in the envelope. In my head it was a bodyguard. She sent me the highly-anticipated Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, quite fittingly since she met him and all! I've been eyeing this book in Waterstones for MONTHS, and absolutely loved the first few instalments of the BBC radio adaptation. Sadly I fell behind and missed the rest, but with an all-star cast including James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anthony Head and Bernard Cribbins (and even a guest cameo or two from Neil Gaiman himself), I'd heard enough to know that me and the book were going to be good friends. Katie also sent a box of the most-delicious sounding chocolates; I've never even HEARD of the Thornton's Summer Collection, but the flavours sound incredible - lots of summery berry flavours to try, yummy. THANK YOU KATIE! :)
One of my oldest blogging friends, Rachel, who now vlogs instead at Ray Reads, went for a dose of dystopian fantasy-esque summer reading with Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi and Angelfall by Susan Ee. I've nearly bought Shatter Me a few times, because it looks like such an interesting read and the prose style is quite striking, so that's definitely on my 'potential holiday reading' pile. Angelfall was discovered thanks to a huge buzz on BookTube, with people raving about the angel-apocalypse angle and the 'can't put this down' page-turning chapters, so... again, definitely excellent holiday reading fodder. Thank you Rachel - I'll be blaming you when I have to bulk buy the rest of both series before the end of the summer! :P
Aaaaand last but most definitely not least, my dear blog wife Laura (Devouring Texts), who not only sent this super-pretty laser-lace-cut card (with a small essay inside, naturally - a woman after my own heart there!) but also ventured into a real-life Waterstones in order to send me a copy of The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman, which I CANNOT FRICKIN' WAIT to read even though I know it's going to break my heart, give me crying-induced headaches etc etc. I have literally never heard a bad word about this famous cats-as-Nazis-mice-as-Jews Holocaust graphic novel, and a lot of people say it's one of their favourites despite the gut-wrenching subject matter. THANK YOU LAURA. I'll be billing you for large amounts of Kleenex and chocolate if I end up needing a week to recover. :P
The acquisitions I can't blame on other people
Obviously, my birthday didn't stop me quietly amassing a handful of extraneous books of my own along the way. At the very beginning of May I won the April draw for the 2014 Full House Challenge, hosted by Book Date, and chose Hate List by Jennifer Brown, about a girl who survives a school shooting carried out by her boyfriend, as my prize. After I read Life Support in May, I wanted to pick up another of Tess Gerritsen's handful of medical thrillers and found Gravity in the 2-for-£7 offer at Tesco. It's about a virus accidentally let loose on board a space station, where the astronauts are effectively quarantined and dying off one by one while a physician tries to contain the illness so they can get back to Earth. DEFINITELY coming on holiday with me, it sounds very exciting...
Alex As Well by Alyssa Brugman is about an intersex teenager raised male, who actually feels female and realises the time has come to transform herself into the person she's meant to be. And finally, The Good Psychopath's Guide to Success by Kevin Dutton and Andy McNab, which just sounds fascinating. My sister has Dutton's other book, The Wisdom of Psychopaths, and this is really an extension of his thesis that contrary to media portrayal, some psychopathic traits are helpful, even outright desirable, if you want to live a successful and fulfilled life. I haven't read the first book yet, but I spotted this one at Tesco (yes, supermarket temptation again), flipped through it, and stumbled across a page headed 'Hannibal Lecter Versus Dexter Morgan'... and that was that. INTO THE BASKET IT GOES, NO INTERNAL DILEMMA NECESSARY.
The day before my birthday, Dad took me out for a little shopping and a cup of tea, and I ended up in The Works. I thought I'd just about exhausted their current stock, but this was a branch I don't go to very often and they had some different books, which was nice! First up was The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, which I know Hanna enjoyed and which recently got a rave review from Chris at The Reading Rhodes, so for £1.99 I couldn't NOT buy it, even though it's a mass market paperback and the print is TINY. I also bought Up in the Air by Betty Riegel, an autobiographical look at life as a young Pan Am stewardess in the early 1960s. The Secret Life of Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay was one of several books on the subject that I found stashed away on a corner carousel, but this was the only one that seemed to take a more sociological slant, looking at what life was like for everyone there, from the top codebreakers down.
Hippie by Barry Miles (a prevalent writer of countercultural history and Beat biographies) is a beautiful glossy encyclopedia-slash-coffee-table-book filled with photos and pop culture and political snapshots of the 60s; I've admired it before but it disappeared from my local branch. It was only supposed to be £4.99 (instead of £20), but when I got to the till it had actually been priced down again to £2.99. BARGAIN! And as a last-minute 'why the hell not?' addition to my basket, I threw in a Matilda bookmark for 99p, which I'll probably end up sticking up somewhere instead because it looks like it should be on a pinboard or door rather than in a book.
Aaaand finally - I swear - the DVDs that I succumbed to purchasing this month, despite constantly failing to leave myself enough time in an evening to watch more than an episode of something from my latest box set. When did watching a 2-hour movie become so difficult to fit into an evening? And yet I find myself at well gone 9pm wondering where the time has gone, and thinking, "Ah, no, I'll just watch an episode of House/Dexter/Elementary instead..." The best laid plans, etc. Anyway, I bought Couples Retreat, the comedy drama starring ALL THE PEOPLE (Vince Vaughn, Kristen Bell, Jon Favreau, Malin Akerman...) because it was only £2, I've seen it before and the Bora Bora setting is to die for. The Bling Ring was only £3 in Tesco and looks like a disgracefully fun summer movie. Aaaand Filth. Which looks like it'll be exactly as it sounds: filthy. It's based on an Irvine Welsh novel, so I'd expect no less. It stars James McAvoy as a corrupt Scottish policeman living the high life of drugs, sex and general degradation, and the trailer made me chuckle, and it just looks MAD... in the best way.
Thank you again to ALL THE WONDERFUL PEOPLE who have helped make my birthday such a lovely one, especially after everything that's happened over the past few months... It means the world, it really does.
Now it's over to you! Which of these have you read, watched or otherwise dabbled in? What should I boost up the pile, and which would make fantastic sunshine/aeroplane reads for taking on holiday? Tell me aaaaaaaall about it in the comments!