Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

Almost all the books I read in 2014 and the things I thought about them.

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

So, for the first year ever, I actually kept a book journal, and wrote down in it almost every book I read throughout the year. I say almost, because towards the end I got really bogged down in — and vexed by, as you’ll see — DeLillo’s Underworld, and forgot to document some of the poetry books I read. But this is about 98% of what I read this year, along with some often-bitchy miniature reviews. Hooray, books!

#58 of 365
(Photo credit)

JANUARY

Fiction
Patrick deWitt The Sisters Brothers
(Didn’t expect to like this. Loved it. But then, I loved Ablutions, so…)
Terry Pratchett Soul Music
(Re-read for about the one millionth time. This book is like an old friend.)

Poetry
Mary Oliver West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems
Helen Mort Division Street
(I’m afraid I didn’t get the hype. It went to the charity shop.)
Rebecca Elson A Responsibility To Awe

Gossip from The Forest - Sara Maitland
(Photo credit)

FEBRUARY

Poetry
Patricia Pogson The Holding
Patricia Pogson A Crackle From The Larder

Non fiction
Sara Maitland Gossip From The Forest
(I abandoned this halfway through. I feel guilty, but sorry, I found it a bit dull.)

93/365 American Wife
(Photo credit)

MARCH

Fiction
Curtis Sittenfeld American Wife
Christos Tsolkias The Slap
(I abandoned this because it is a book that seems to be entirely about men walking around objectifying women and getting angry erections. Literally the most misogynist book I have ever read… and the few women characters who are allowed to have any kind of meaningful narrative are so badly written it’s painful. I actually dumped this book on a train. I didn’t want the charity shop folks to even know I had read it.)

Poetry
Mary Oliver Thirst
Dorianne Laux Smoke
(Re-reading)
Kathryn Simmons The Visitations
Kerry Hardie Selected Poems
(Re-reading. I am a mega Kerry fangirl.)
Patricia Young More Watery Still
(Re-reading)

wild geese
(Photo credit)

APRIL

Poetry
Michael Conley Aquarium
(I also reviewed it!)
Mary Oliver Wild Geese
Patricia Young Summertime Swamp Love
(OK, I love this woman. I have read everything she’s ever written. I was so excited that she had a new collection out, pre-ordered it, waited impatiently to get it from Canada… and was so utterly disappointed. It’s a book where every poem is about the sex life of a different animal… and you can tell she got really caught up in the gimmicky concept and let the writing slip a bit. Or in places, a lot. Sad times!)
Karen Solie The Living Option
(Thank goodness for Karen Solie! The best poetry book I have read for years. Everyone, go out and get it and read it and marvel. She’s amazing.)

Copies of The Luminaries being prepared.
(Photo credit)

MAY

Fiction
Roxane Gay An Untamed State
(Beautifully spare, very harrowing, utterly amazing. Read it.)
Nina de la Mer Layla
(Most inventive use of second person I have ever seen, but… let’s just say I’m curious to know what real sex workers make of this book.)
Eleanor Catton The Luminaries
(Ugh. She’s so talented it’s obscene.)

#100HappyDays Day 148: Enjoyed hearing Eimear McBride talk, upon winning the Bailey Prize, about how this should be a wake-up call to publishers to take more risks after receiving years of rejections not because they didn't like it but because they didn't
(Photo credit)

JUNE

Fiction
Curtis Sittenfeld Sisterland
(Yeah, I love Curtis.)
Eimear McBride A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing
(I hated this. I’m afraid I ditched it halfway through. Am I broken?)
Hilary Mantel Beyond Black
(My first foray into the world of Mantel! I liked it! Though it could have been 150 pages shorter.)

Talye Selasi, Author of Ghana Must Go
(Photo credit. Taiye Selasi is stunning.)

JULY

Fiction
Paul Auster Man In The Dark
(Meh. Auster is Austerish.)
Taiye Selasi Ghana Must Go
(I was ready to hate on this with all the hate I could summon… this woman was helped to publication by her personal friends Toni Morrison and Andrew Wylie, but it turns out? Not nepotism. She actually deserved the hype! Mind you, I agree with the reviewers who said it didn’t really hit its stride til Part 2.)

Poetry
Mary Oliver West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems
(Yep, re-read it in the same year.)

& Sons
(Photo credit)

AUGUST

Fiction
Janet Fitch White Oleander
(Re-reading for about the fifth time, because I just love this book.)
David Gilbert & Sons
(I expected this to be really macho… and it is, but in a brilliant, self-aware way. One of my favourite novels of the year.)

Poetry
Jean Sprackland Sleeping Keys
Colin McGuire As I Sit Quietly, I Begin To Smell Burning
(I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: McGuire is Scotland’s most underrated poet. Read it. Read it now.)

Gone Fission
(Photo credit)

SEPTEMBER

Fiction
Jennifer Egan The Keep
(She is the writer I would like to be. That said, this was not quite as sublime as Look at Me or Visit from the Goon Squad.)
Don DeLillo Underworld
(Holy crap this thing is a slog. Notice how I only got round to one other novel all year after this?! And sorry not sorry: it is so not worth it. It’s like Infinite Jest. The length of it is just male posturing (as is the dudebroish waxing lyrical about how this or Infinite Jest is like the totes best evar. So you read a long, smartypants book. Big whoop). Male GANs (Great American Novelists) have an obsession with size which just isn’t healthy. Stop it DeLillo, DFW, Franzen! You’re just showing off, dammit! My advice? Skip this one and read Cosmopolis. It’s the stunning DeLillo prose without the bullshit.)

Poetry
Katherine Larson Radial Symmetry

Reading Blue Horses by Mary Oliver
(Photo credit)

OCTOBER

Poetry
Austin Smith Almanac
(A poetry collection all about farms. Shouldn’t be good. Is amazing.)
Nancy Kuhn The Wife of the Left Hand
(This was less accessible/more abstract than I usually like, but this collection actually made me think differently about poetry. Gobsmacking!)
Mary Oliver Blue Horses
(New collection! And it’s delightfully “IDGAF” in tone. Mary Oliver, be my surrogate auntie?)
Matthew Dickman Mayakovsky’s Revolver
(Hipstery poems about Portland! Read it while drinking artisan espresso and twirling your moustache!)
Dionisio Martinez Bad Alchemy
(This dude has the best name ever.)

Untitled
(Photo credit)

NOVEMBER

Fiction
Michael Chabon Wonder Boys
(If you hate the fact that male novelists dominate the world of SRS LITERATURE and are often pompous windbags, then this book is for you. It’s about one of them getting a series of hilarious come-uppances. I actually LOLed in public at this book.)

Poetry
Thomas Lux Selected Poems
Kerry Hardie The Zebra Stood In The Night
(Another new collection I waited impatiently for… but this one did not disappoint.)
Alan Gillis Scapegoat
(I second what Dave said about this one.)
Leanne O’Sullivan Waiting for my Clothes
(I did Leanne O’Sullivan wrong. I had never heard of her and read The Mining Road, liked it well enough, but didn’t know til last month that in the early 2000s she’d been this 20 year old writing prodigy genius person. Holy wow.)

Marie Howe
(Photo credit. That’s Marie Howe, btw.)

DECEMBER

Poetry
Melissa Lee-Houghton Beautiful Girls
(Once upon a time, I published Melissa in my tiny, Xeroxed poetry zine Read This. I am so chuffed to see how far she’s come since then… she deserves all the praise, her poems are great.)
Marie Howe What The Living Do
Mary Oliver Dream Work
(I am an Oliver addict.)
Tiffany Atkinson So Many Moving Parts
Helen Dunmore Recovering A Body

Non-fiction

Robert Boice How Writers Journey to Comfort and Fluency: A Psychological Adventure
(This is long-winded as hell, out of print and a hard copy will rush you at least £60. But holy wow, it’s very, very, very useful.)

A few final stats:

Total fiction: 17
Total poetry: 32
Total non-fiction: 2

Books by men: 16 (7 fiction, 8 poetry, 1 non fiction)
Books by women: 35 (10 fiction, 24 poetry, 1 non fiction)

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What did YOU read this year?
(Related reading: my top 10 independent bookstores of 2014)

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

My Top 10 Vegan Restaurants of 2014: a road trip in meals!

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

BREAKFAST

Vegan rissole breakfast at Goji, York

Goji, Goodramgate, York

Fully vegan? Nope, this is a veggie place with vegan options. But you can tell that they really care about veganism and vegans aren’t just an afterthought.
Specialism? They don’t have one — literally everything is brilliant. However, I’m going to go ahead and give them extra extra brownie points for having creative vegan breakfasts. A vegan breakfast (let alone a good vegan breakfast) is a rare thing.
Prices? Very reasonable.
Do I need to book? If you’re in York for only a short time and want to make sure you get to eat here, then yes. I have never booked but it’s always been super busy when I’ve been, and I’ve always been very lucky to arrive just as a table has come free.
Easy to find? Yes, it’s near the back of the Minster.
Accessible? Not really. The ground floor is up a step and then inside, the first floor dining area and loos are only accessed via a tiny, winding staircase. That’s York and it’s tall, narrow, listed buildings for you.
Best bit? It’s all great: lovely friendly staff (of course, it’s Yorkshire!), great meals at any time of day, great cake, nice space… it’s a magical place.
They could improve: this is a note for management. Hire more staff. Your waitstaff are all lovely but they always seem super frazzled! One more body could make all the difference!

LUNCH

glasgowaug (10) Special burger mushroom and tarragon The 78

The 78, Kelvinhaugh Street, Glasgow

Fully vegan? Yep!
Specialism? Burgers. This is very much a burger place. But they’re good burgers, and the specials change daily. That beast up there ^ is a mushroom and tarragon burger and OMG it was good.
Prices? Reasonable.
Do I need to book? I doubt it — they have loads of seats. Maybe on a weekend night for dinner as I can imagine it would get busy then.
Easy to find? Honestly? No. Lovely Boyfriend and I wandered around a bit in the rain before eventually getting there… and it’s a fairly long way from either a station or a Subway. There are buses along Argyll Street, though.
Accessible? Fully! Hooray!
Best bit? It’s a cool space: light and bright with lots of windows, but also somehow cozy. Great Glaswegian hospitality… oh, and they have vegan desserts, too, like chocolate brownie and sticky toffee pudding!
They could improve: nowt! Well done, The 78!

glasgowaug (3) Stereo flatbread Stereo

Stereo, Renfield Lane, Glasgow

Fully vegan? Yep!
Specialism? Piles and piles and piles of food. Also their chips are just a little big magical.
Prices? Reasonable.
Do I need to book? Possibly. I tend to go early evening and usually manage to get a seat, but it starts filling up rapidly after 6pm.
Easy to find? Ish. It’s right in the middle of Glasgow, literally a two-minute walk from Central Station. However, it’s also in an alleyway, and if you approach from a certain angle it looks perpetually closed. Give the doors a shove, though… they’re open!
Accessible? Nope, the alleyway is kinda dark and cobbled and narrow, and the restaurant itself is up a ton of steps. They do have unisex bathrooms though, which I appreciate!
Best bit? Eating in this place makes you feel super cool and with it, as you can throw a stone in any direction in this place and hit an art student, poet, or beardy hipster man in a lumberjack shirt. Personally, I like this. It’s good people watching. Plus, Stereo also has a venue downstairs which hosts painfully hip nights — the last thing I went to there was a circus-themed cabaret with loads of nudity (for some reason, they booked me to read poems there. I’ll admit, I was scared).
They could improve: the menu, maybe… it’s a tad limited. I go only occasionally. I’d appreciate some new options!

SUNDAY LUNCH

Vegan Sunday roast at Norman's Coach & Horses, Soho, London

Vegan tofush & chips at Norman's Coach & Horses, Soho, London

Norman’s Coach & Horses, off Greek Street, Soho, London

Fully vegan? Nope, this place is veggie and vegan. But like Goji above, veganism is very much part of the ethos and there are loads of vegan options.
Specialism? Their “tofush” and chips (pictured in the second photo above). It’s a tofu fish supper, and really very good.
Prices? Bordering on cheap, for London!
Do I need to book? We went on a Sunday at 1pm (classic Sunday lunch time), and there were free tables, so probably not.
Easy to find? Yep, it’s in the middle of Soho and near to various tube stations. We walked there from the South Bank and found it fine.
Accessible? Yes, although the bathrooms are not.
Best bit? I had the vegan Sunday roast, which is what that stuffed aubergine thing is.
They could improve: the staff. Sorry! I hate slagging people who work difficult jobs. But… smile and be nice, please! I know it’s London, but come on. You can do it.

Vegan Sunday roast at Goji, York

Goji (again), see above.

I already praised these guys to the sky at breakfast, I know… but I just had to show you their vegan lentil loaf Sunday roast. It was perfect, folks. Get thee to York, already!

TAPAS & SHARING

Barcelona Autumn 2014 (91)

Veggie Garden, Carrer des Angels, Barcelona

Fully vegan? Yes!
Specialism? Juices. They have literally hundreds of amazing juice, smoothie and shake options on the menu. Worth going there for this alone.
Prices? Cheap.
Do I need to book? Maybe. It does get busy around typical lunch/local dinner hours. I’ve now been three times — booked the first time and then chanced it the last two. If you’re eating at UK dinner time (e.g. before 8pm) though, you’re likely to be OK.
Easy to find? Yes. It’s near Liceu Metro, too, which is one of the major stations.
Accessible? Not really. Most of the seats are upstairs, but in good weather you can eat on the terrace outside. The bathrooms are very cramped.
Best bit? It’s one of those places where you can order anything and know that it’s going to be amazing. Even the guacamole is a cut above the usual. The staff are lovely, too, and are happy to put up with terrible Spanglish from the likes of me. Oh, and the walls are covered in amazing, brightly coloured murals!
They could improve: the loos are a bit grim. Nothing utterly gross, but you know, loo roll on the floor, no hand towels, stuff like that. Sorry, Veggie Garden!

El Piano, York

Vegan sharing platter at El Piano, York

El Piano, Grape Lane, York

Fully vegan? Yes, AND gluten free, too!
Specialism? Being FOOD SAINTS. Not only is everything vegan, cruelty free and gluten free, they also really value keeping their meals locally-sourced. Every dish has a circle next to it with a number inside, telling you what percentage of that meal was sourced within ten miles of the restaurant. Most of the dishes are 70% local or more.
Prices? Cheap. The portions are huge. You get so much bang for your buck here.
Do I need to book? YES. A thousand times yes. York folks are not stupid: they know this is the best place to eat in the entire county! It’s always been packed whenever I’ve been and I have always needed to book.
Easy to find? Yep, it’s a stone’s throw from the Minster.
Accessible? The ground floor is, yes. The loos, maybe not.
Best bit? Definitely the two sharing platters (one is pictured above). Their mains are also great… but the sharing platters give you chance to taste the whole range of amazing food they make.
They could improve: the desserts. I was legit shocked that a place that does such utterly amazing savoury food could turn out such average desserts! Perhaps my expectations were too high. But they do get brownie points for having desserts at all.

DINNER

Edventures (2)

Bonsai, Broughton St & Richmond St, Edinburgh

Fully vegan? Nope. This is actually your regular restaurant with plenty of meat and fish on the menu… they just have a lot of veggie things that also, happily, happen to be vegan!
Specialism? Sushi.
Prices? Reasonable.
Do I need to book? Only if you’re dining with a party of more than four, I’d say.
Easy to find? Yep.
Accessible? The Broughton Street one probably is, yes. I’ll hold up my hands and say I have never been to the Richmond Street one!
Best bit? The food is really lovely… it’s just the right amount of experimental, with cool specials like butternut squash maki, or oyster mushroom tempura. The service is also very fast and efficient, and the waitstaff are all lovely.
They could improve: more vegan specials on the specials board, more often! Most times I go all the specials are fish-adjacent.

Part of the Tempura Course at Itadaki Zen vegan Japanese restaurant, King's Cross, London

Part of the Itadaki Course at Itadaki Zen vegan Japanese restaurant, King's Cross, London

Itadaki Zen, King’s Cross Road, London
(fun fact: they also have a seasonal outpost in, of all places, Oban!)

Fully vegan? Yes. In fact, this is the first all-vegan Japanese restaurant in the whole of Europe!
Specialism? Flavour-balancing. Seriously, the chefs here are magicians. Everything you eat tastes clean, crisp, never too salty or spicy or plain. The menu goes into detail about how they try to waste nothing and ask that diners do the same — they discourage the addition of soy sauce or wasabi to their sushi, because it doesn’t need it. And it really doesn’t! Every mouthful is perfect.
Prices? Very reasonable, especially for London, especially for food so good.
Do I need to book? Yes, always. The place is always full to the top, sometimes with a queue out the door.
Easy to find? Yes. Just remember it’s on King’s Cross Road, not Gray’s Inn Road. The two roads look very alike, as Lovely Boyfriend and I discover every time we go here!
Accessible? No, and it’s very small, too! Prepare to get a bit cozy with your fellow diners!
Best bit? The four-course set meals (we tried the Itadaki course and the Tempura course). You get an amazing starter, then sushi, then a bento box-ed main, then dessert, all for a very reasonable price, and it’s literally the perfect size for a meal. You leave feeling the most pleasant kind of full!
They could improve: the loos. Nothing terrible, but a bit scruffy.

COFFEE & CAKE

Once again, The Chocolate Tree wins.  #whatveganseat

The Chocolate Tree, Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh

Fully vegan? No, but lots and lots of tasty vegan options. They value their vegan customers and some of the staff are vegan!
Specialism? They’re probably the only legitimate chocolatier (a company that makes their 100% of their chocolate themselves, from the bean) in the UK. Most companies who call themselves ‘chocolatiers’ are actually ‘confiseurs.’ In other words: these guys are serious chocolate specialists.
Prices? Very reasonable.
Do I need to book? Yes. The cafe recently cleared out some tables to make space for merch instead, so there are only about ten seats in the whole place. Booking is basically essential. However, if you can’t get a table you can always take your chocolate goodies to a bench on the nearby Bruntsfield Links — a favourite pasttime of mine!
Easy to find? Yes. It’s on tons of bus routes or you can take a nice stroll through the Meadows and then the Links to get there.
Accessible? Yes.
Best bit? Their hot chocolate drinks. That chocolate cake above is definitely lush, but it’s also impossible to finish a whole piece in one sitting and then walk away! The hot chocolates, however, come in lots of different flavours and levels of intensity and all of them can be made with soy milk. Yay! Oh, also, on a hot day not much beats their sorbet counter! Vegan chocolate sorbet, be mine.
They could improve: I’ll admit, I liked it better when there were more tables. Sigh.

RAW at La Suite West, Kensington, London

Vegan afternoon tea at La Suite West, Kensington, London

Vegan afternoon tea at La Suite West, Kensington, London

RAW at La Suite West, Inverness Terrace, Kensington, London

Fully vegan? No, veggie — but with a big emphasis on vegan, dairy free and raw.
Specialism? Their all-vegan-all-the-time afternoon tea. I never dared to dream of such a thing existing!
Prices? OK, you knew this one was going to be pricey, right? Afternoon tea for two will set you back almost £50. But actually, as afternoon teas go, that isn’t bad — it compares favourably to the famous Balmoral one. And afternoon tea is a big meal… we left barely able to walk and we didn’t even finish everything!
Do I need to book? Nope. We did, but then the place was pretty quiet.
Easy to find? Yes — it’s a stone’s throw from Kensington Gardens and literally thirty seconds’ walk from the Bayswater tube.
Accessible? Fully!
Best bit? The coconut cream that came with the scones. I know that’s mega-specific, but it was that good.
They could improve: by turning the lights up a little! The mood lighting — not only in the restaurant, but also in the corridors when you’re trying to find the loo — is er, a little too moody! I like to be able to see the cake I am eating!

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

Procrastination Station #95

Friday, October 28th, 2011

rainy day breakfast

A long overdue Procrastination Station! It’s nearly the weekend, guys! Enjoy…

I’ll be doing an official post on this soon, but I launched an editorial and manuscript service for creative writers. If you need help with your work, drop me a line!

Starry Rhymes is a loving testament to the work of an undeniably important poet. This shows in the care with which the chapbook has been conceived and collated.”
HUGE thanks to Chris Emslie for this lovely review of Starry Rhymes (< - click to buy a copy!). He also talks a bit about how the chapbook helped further his reading of Ginsberg here. What a legend!

I loved hearing that Chinua Achebe had kicked 50 Cent’s ass. Nice!

I’m also super-happy that the excellent William Letford is getting so much attention. He’s the new Edwin Morgan, I tell you.

Stephen Nelson finds poems in moss.

“When somebody says that they’re going to read me a poem, I can think of any number of things that I’d rather be doing.” Oh don’t say that, Tom Waits!

A list of indie bookstores in Scotland road trip, anyone?

There is no such thing as a popular poet, says Todd Swift. Black Ocean Press beg to differ!

“Ebooks: I hate them. It’s like making believe there’s another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of book! A book is a book is a book.” Maurice Sendak gets a bit ruffled about things.

Literature’s greatest assholes.

“A student said to me yesterday, “I didn’t know professors could have long hair.” I said, “They can. If you do something well, people won’t bother you. That’s true in all professions. If you are the one guy who can fix the computers, you can keep a boa constrictor in your office. No one will say a thing.” His eyes flashed. Possibly he “went over to the dark side”… or something. I felt happy for 11 seconds.” Sean Lovelace voices some random thoughts about teaching creative writing.

Please help support Alyss, one of my former students, in her bid to make a documentary on freedom and Generation Y!

I loved Katja’s idea — taking a photo once an hour for a full day? So cool!

Great poem on Verbatim today reminded me a little of Allen Ginsberg, funnily enough!

This is incredibly freakin’ cool.

I just discovered the cool quirky t-shirts at Buy Olympia. Love!

Bear + Shakespeare + LOLcats font = magic. (More silliness from the past few weeks at my Tumblr!)

Have a great weekend!

(Photo by Hannah *)