Book review: I Let You Go, Clare Mackintosh

I-Let-You-Go-cover-imageI think this may be the shortest book review ever – read this book! I can’t tell you why you should read I Let You Go as the main reason I would give you is the plot.

And the moment I start talking about the plot, I will inadvertently hint at one of the most startling twists I have read ever in a ‘psychological thriller’ (as this book is tagged a la Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train – both excellent by the way, if you haven’t read them) and it would be a real shame if you knew anything about this book before you started, bar what is written on the back cover blurb.

So what CAN I tell you? The main character Jenna is engaging, fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. The main plot twist comes halfway through the book which is a clever use of the ‘big reveal’. I had to read all of Part One again before moving onto Part Two to see where I could have gone so wrong.  It is an excellent portrayal of the reality of police work, the grinding police fact and statement checking that has to go on week after week to get to the truth. And that is all I am willing to tell you about I Let You Go. That and you should flex your hands regularly while reading, as you will be gripping the book pretty tightly by the end!

I will finish this post with a public health warning: Please don’t read this in public if you tend to get emotionally involved when reading a book (I don’t think my fellow tram passengers have ever recovered from the sight of me sobbing loudly when I reached the end of The Time Traveller’s Wife). When reading I Let You Go on the train yesterday, I actually exclaimed out loud and threw the book away from me when I reached the halfway point and stared at it accusingly for about ten minutes, while shaking my head and muttering to myself before I picked it back up again. So I apologise to my fellow travellers on the cross country 17:37 from Oxford for my histrionics but once you read this book you will understand and forgive me my actions…



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Book review: Look Who’s Back

I recently joined a new book club (see my previous post about relocating and using to meet people!) and talking about books in a group again has inspired me to blog reviews once more. I have been a bit slack recently as although I have been reading lots I haven’t been blogging. So here goes, first book review for a while. It was a good discussion about a bad book; I read it and really didn’t like it so attended the group in some trepidation in case everyone else loved it but luckily the majority had similar views to me. Bit of a relief considering it was my first meeting!

Look Whos BackLook Who’s Back
Timur Vermes
Warning, this review contains spoilers. This book apparently caused a stir in Germany when it was first published as its main character is Adolf Hitler, the person who is ‘back’ which is obviously a controversial choice. The premise is that Hitler wakes up on a patch of ground in Berlin in the Summer of 2011. To him it was only yesterday that he was in his bunker, so he is rather surprised by the modern world of 2011, not least the fact that Germany apparently lost WWII. However, through dint of his ‘personality’ and single mindedness he ends up managing to make media contacts, get a tv contract, navigate the pitfalls of modern technology before becoming a media star by the end of the book.

The opening chapter is relatively engaging but as far as I am concerned it goes downhill from there. The novel is meant to be a satire on the cult of personality, a witty riposte to the modern obsession with the latest celebrity ‘on trend’ who spouts nonsense but I just didn’t feel it when reading the novel. I didn’t find it witty, funny or satirical. The situations are contrived, the media consultants cardboard cut-outs and ‘Hitlerisms’ jammed into conversations. The novel is told from Hitler’s point of view, which gets wearing really quickly as the author takes every opportunity to use this narrative device to tell us what he thinks Hitler would think of the Internet, smartphones, etc. One of the only successful pieces of writing in the book is the ‘transcript’ of one of Hitler’s speeches to the media crew. It is typeset in free verse and is just phrases strung together, ‘inspirational’, all high emotion and fine-sounding but no real depth which, to me, accurately reflected what eyewitnesses have reported they felt when they listened to Hitler speak.

And, the cherry on top for me is the editing of this novel. Having a background in publishing, I found the constant typos a distraction. I also found the novel just didn’t seem to flow; it’s difficult to judge whether that’s the authors’ fault or the translator’s. However, kudos to the designer, it is a very striking cover.

Would I recommend this? No. But if you read Look Who’s Back in the original German, please let me know what you think of it. Maybe I missed something in the translation…

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Another suitcase in another hall…

My friends keep telling me that I should blog about international relocation as they feel it is something that I now know a lot about, having moved internationally four times in 11 years: UK to Australia in 2004; Australia to US in 2009; US to Australia  in 2011 and Australia to UK in 2015.

So having recently completed our fourth move and now the dust having settled, I thought I would share my views on the highs and lows of moving abroad and offer some (hard-earned) advice to anyone else planning to do the same.


1. Know what you are letting yourself in for
Our first move  was relatively easy for us as I am English and my husband is Australian so by the time we moved to Australia, I had visited three or four times already. But moving to North Carolina in the US was different; for one thing I wasn’t sure where it was… I had to look on a map to see where it was when we found we were moving there! And although I had been to California before, living in the South was very different. And I arrived with the wrong attitude; I assumed because we had already moved from UK to Australia and we were ‘just’ moving to another large, English-speaking country that settling in would be easy. But the similarities made the differences even more obvious! Conversely, moving back somewhere doesn’t exactly get any easier either. When we moved back to Melbourne from the US, it wasn’t as easy as I thought as we had been away almost three years and people had moved away, changed jobs, etc. so we didn’t just slot back in as I expected to.

2. Know your locked-in dates and work within their limits
Our most recent relocation was completed in just under three months from wo to go, however I would not recommend this as it was one of the most stressful times in my life! I credit myself with being incredibly organised but it was still hard as certain dates are set in stone and you just have to make everything fit around them e.g. start date in new job/collection of your furniture for shipment/travel dates for pets (to fit in with quarantine regulations)/selling cars/etc. And anything can upset the apple cart (prospective tenants dropping out on day of signing contract, tree landing on car about to be sold – yes, that really happened to us)

There are usually four or more ‘elements’ that need tracking when you move internationally:

  • yourself
  • your partner
  • your kids and/or pets
  • your furniture and belongings
  • your current home
  • your new home

Obviously there’s more than that if you have cars that you have to hand back if leased, sell (or ship) but these are the basics. And each of these elements have their own timings that need to ‘fit’ with each other. So every time we move I create a spreadsheet, listing an ‘element’ in each A, B, C column and date span down the rows e.g. Row 2: 1-Apr-15, Row 3: 2-Apr-15. Then I list the set in stone dates against each element e.g. as follows:

  • ‘move out of house’ in column ‘current home’
  • ‘vaccination for quarantine regs’ in column ‘cat’
  • ‘start new job’ in column ‘yourself’ and/or ‘your partner’
  • ‘collect keys’ in ‘your new home’

This helps me make sure that I am completing tasks in the right order and don’t forget to do something that then prevents me from hitting a deadline e.g. booking in vet visit for cat xx weeks before his flight to meet UK quarantine regulations.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tasks that need to happen. My husband and I try to split them and take ‘chunks’ each e.g. he will sort out our new accommodation, I will liaise with local rental agency to get ours leased out. Always, always take help if it is offered. And although usually I say don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today, that way madness lies when relocating. Make a list, be aware of deadlines and if something doesn’t need to be completed/thought about until next month, then don’t! You will have more than enough to do already.

3. Think about what you really NEED to take with you
I have learnt the hard way that what you think you need when you are packing is not necessarily what you use in your new home. Try to remind yourself that everything you ship has a double cost; the cost of shipping and the cost of insuring. Weigh this up against the cost of just purchasing the item again and selling/donating to charity the original. Some people choose to store their stuff when they move abroad, we’ve never done this as within two years, for us we calculated that the storage costs would start to outstrip the value of most of the items being stored! Oh and airfreight is EXPENSIVE so think really carefully before taking up that option.

To help me whittle down the list of ‘stuff’ that we needed to pack, I developed a spreadsheet (can you tell I like spreadsheets?!) that I use every time we relocate somewhere, set up as follows:

  • Column A: Item
  • Column B: Ship
  • Column C: Sell
  • Column D: Store*
  • Column E: Donate
  • Column F: Throw

Then in column A, row by row, I list the major items in our house (room by room) e.g. ‘sofa’, ‘TV’, ‘bed’, ‘crockery’. Once everything is listed I start allocating a status to each item e.g. ‘sofa’ might be ‘ship’, ‘tv’ would be ‘sell’ (if moving to a country with different TV set up/voltage).

However don’t go too minimalist or you might throw out the baby with the bathwater. Framed family pictures, favourite throws for the bed, ‘souvenirs’ from home (we always buy a nice print of our current home town to take with us); these will all help you settle in to feel at home quickly.

*if you have access to a storage area in your home, or want to pay self-storage costs

Top tips for shedding belongings

  • Gumtree is great for selling stuff quickly. Also bric-a-brac (garage) sales can be great.
  • Don’t bother shipping your everyday cutlery, crockery, glassware. You will need it right away when you move into a new place so you will have to buy some to tide you over anyway. It’s easier to donate/throw and start again. It sounds wasteful but if you donate to a local charity store then someone else gets to use it.
  • Think hard about your electronics. Even if the voltage is the same, sometimes other practicalities stop you using them, especially televisions. And remember to pack lots of adapters if you do decide to take your small electronics.

4. You’ve only got what you take with you on the flight
LuggageIf you are shipping stuff, it won’t arrive for approximately three months – so think about what you will need in the meantime. In other words, whatever you pack in your luggage, that’s all you will have access to for three months (unless you hit the shops of course!). Think about the climate you are moving to, pack all of your important documents (birth certificates, insurance/bank documents, anything you need to start new role); I always throw in a few small familiar things (see above) like a couple of framed photos, that I can put up in my new home straight away. If you have favourite toiletries, pack them (and buy lots more and ship them!).

5. Keep important documents safe
As well as carrying the originals in your hand luggage, make sure that you have everything you need scanned and stored somewhere (portable hard drive, Dropbox, iCloud, etc.). There is nothing more frustrating than needing a piece of paper that is currently on a boat somewhere in the Atlantic! Hard copies of insurance policies, rental agreements, employment agreements, birth certificates, etc.

Baron Von Tibblesworth6. Look after the furry members of your family
We took our cat, Tibbles, with us to the US from Australia and then took him back to Australia when we moved back. And we have now brought him with us to the UK. Yes, he is a loved member of the family. Yes, he is well travelled (although disappointingly, he does not have his own passport). And yes, it is expensive!! Each time we have relocated, we have employed JetPets who are based in Australia but have connections around the world. Obviously there are many other excellent pet relocation companies out there; do your research, ask for recommendations from existing customers, etc. These companies specialise in relocating pets around the world and offer invaluable help and advice regarding the paperwork required by each country, the regulations around quarantine, timings, etc. Australia has very strict quarantine laws and there is always a quarantine period; UK and US will let you collect your pet straight away if it is from an ‘approved’ country and paperwork has been completed correctly. Obviously, you could organise your pet’s travel yourself, but get one piece of paperwork wrong or a digit of your pet’s microchip number and it could get expensive and/or your pet could have to stay in quarantine for the full six months.

We have been very lucky that Tibbles is apparently a very pragmatic cat who, as long as he is comfy and has access to food, will pretty much settle down anywhere – including a freight crate on a 24 hour flight from Melbourne to London! A couple of things we do to help him with the relocation process:

  • Get him used to the freight crate – Leave it lying around, take the liner out and put it in his bed so he gets his scent on it. Feed him in there sometimes.
  • Feliway spray – This is a cat pheromone spray which reduces stress; vets recommend its use when a cat has been boarding, had an operation, moved house, etc. We just spray it around the new home (brief aroma then humans can’t smell it, just cats!).
  • Restrict him to a couple of rooms in the new house while he settles in. Keep him shut in one room over night (this helps minimise stress from hearing other cats/animals roaming around outside)
  • Stick to his routine – keep his food the same, same brand of litter, feed him at the same time, etc.

7. Relocation companies can be very useful!
We have been lucky in that two of our four moves have been through job offers that have included a relocation package. However, whereas some relocation firms can be very helpful, they can also be underwhelming in their services and/or very expensive. So unless you are moving somewhere where you don’t speak the language or there is a lot of red tape, then you probably won’t need that much help. However, here is where they can definitely be helpful:

  • Finding you a new home – Give them a list of criteria, area preference, price range and they can come back with a vetted shortlist. This saves a huge amount of time and you know that every house you look at could be ‘the one’. The relocation agent can also very helpful regarding liaison with the rental company as you will have no credit rating or tenant references for that country; most relocation companies have good relationships with a couple of rental agencies who are happy for the relocation company to act as ‘referee’.
  • Bank accounts/drivers licences/etc – Always a hassle. The US was particularly red-tape filled so we used our relocation agent extensively to book our appointments, guide us through the process, make sure we had all the correct paperwork, etc.
  • Utilities/local services – A good relocation company can organise for the utilities to be turned on in your new home, make sure the accounts are in your name, provide details of local medical practices, shops, etc.
  • Research on schools/educational establishments/childcare

8. Keep in touch with friends and family back home
I love the 21st century, makes keeping in touch SO easy! Make sure you are tech-savvy re Skype, Viber, FaceTime, Facebook Messaging … and that your parents/friends are too. I am lucky that my parents have always been very comfortable with new technologies so embraced Skype early on (probably best as I moved to Australia back in 2004 so apart from cheap international calling cards (remember them?!), Skype was the only cost-effective way to speak to my parents. See my previous post on different Internet calling options if you want to know the pros and cons of each.

Make sure you have all the phone numbers loaded as international numbers e.g. +44 (0)xxxx xxx xxxx, makes it easier when switching SIMs.

9. Use your hobbies to meet people (or dogs/children if you have those!)
I am always envious of parents and dog owners when I move to a new place as they have a major advantage in that they will meet people without trying. I sometimes end up working freelance when I move to a new place so I would never meet anyone unless I put myself out there. I am a big fan of – this enables you to find groups in your local area that share your interests e.g. book clubs, walking clubs, social clubs, etc. There is no fee to join, just create a profile and start joining groups. Then go along and have fun!

10. Be realistic about your new home/area
Even if you were completely positive that the move is the right thing to do and you are looking forward to it, there will still be an adjustment period. Try not to compare your new experiences with ‘back home’ too often; embrace the differences, enjoy the new experiences, stay positive about your new environment – essentially live in the now! It’s easy to focus on what you are missing rather than what is new and excitingl. Oh, and your first supermarket shop will probably take two hours; it always seems to for me as all the brands are unfamiliar and I like to read labels to check for salt/sugar content (particularly important in the US). Plus I love being in supermarkets in foreign countries, so I will spend my first time in one going up and down every single aisle just to see what’s there!

And remember although not every day will be a good day in your new home and it will occasionally be stressful and lonely, moving to a new c0untry is lots of fun and a great adventure that will give you lots of wonderful memories. And you will be lucky enough to have an opportunity to learn about a new culture, and make new friends.


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Can you ever own ‘too many books’? …

Decisions, decisions

Up to last month I would have unhesitatingly said ‘No!’ Impossible! I could never have “too many” books. What a thought?!’

As far as I am concerned, I ‘AM’ my library; I have been building my collection for over 20 years. Crime fiction, art history, literary criticism, history, literature, popular, lexicographical, the list is endless.  Luckily space has not been a constraint for me as wherever I have lived I have always had space for my books. Although sometimes I have had to get a bit creative: I have turned spare bedrooms into a library. And the drawing room. And the dining room. And well, sometimes the bathroom. In fact, let’s just say that I am an expert at putting IKEA Billy bookcases together and leave it at that. Of course I dream of the day when I have a beautiful bespoke library and/or cosy reading nook surrounded by books; in fact I have a Pinterest board devoted to book shelving!

A couple of years ago I owned over 1100 books. And I was all set to keep going. But then I relocated back from the US (my third international relocation in seven years) and I realised that I just couldn’t justify the expense of shipping (and insuring) over 30 boxes of books – again. Sighing, I managed to convince myself that a small cull was the only way and donated/sold maybe 300 books. It was a wrench but as I had found books much cheaper in the US (than Australia, where I was living before) I had been buying indiscriminately and joyfully for two years, so I targeted those books and the cull wasn’t as heartbreaking as it could have been.

Three years on we are moving again, this time to England and the 800 books I had shipped back to Australia from the US have somehow increased in number again. So once more I have to give myself a stern talking to. Do I really ‘NEED’ all these books? Can I really ship/insure them for a fourth time which would mean that I will have spent more on shipping my personal library, than the cost of compiling it?!

And let’s be honest, I am not going to reread all 1000-odd. So why do I want to keep them all? Why am I finding this cull so hard? Part of it is book lust – I like looking at them; I receive a huge amount of satisfaction from just standing in front of my wall(s) of books and looking at them, browsing them, dipping into old favourites. Part of it (and this does not reflect well on me) is that I am proud of the number of books I have – ‘Look at me, I’m a big reader’, that’s what my shelves say to anyone visiting my home. And part of it is that I just can’t let go of a book once I have read it. Books are friends, they are companions. One of the reasons I have taken my library with me on all my moves is that they are a constant, a familiar ‘place’ that I can recreate no matter where I live. They are a source of memories (books given as gifts, books signed by authors, books bought when travelling, books bought as a result of recommendations from friends), a source of comfort (there really is nothing like rereading an old favourite, curled up with a cup of tea in a comfy chair). And, obviously, they are a source of entertainment which I needed when I was new in town and hadn’t had the chance to meet people (usually by joining three local book clubs!).

But I have to cull. I cannot ship over 1000 books internationally again so I made a rule and it’s a simple one. Any book that I have read and have no intention of rereading I decided I had to discard. But it’s not simple. Because every time I find a book I haven’t reread and that I have no intention of ever rereading, I find a reason to keep it. I like the cover. I like the author. I ‘might’ read it again, who knows?

So there I was, a couple of weeks ago, on the floor in my study surrounded by piles and piles of books in the ‘to ship’ area and one lonely pile in the ‘to donate/sell’ area trying to follow my simple rule and I had an epiphany. Maybe I’m ready to make the move without all of my books. Maybe I can just take my favourites and my reference books and ‘let go’ of the rest. After all, I am moving ‘home’, I don’t need my ‘comfort blanket’ this time. And suddenly I was at peace with my book culling. The piles and piles of books transformed themselves from friends into a mixture of friends, colleagues and distant acquaintances, making it much easier to sort them. And so I packed my acquaintances and colleagues into boxes and took them down to the local charity stores, the secondhand bookstores and handed them out to friends with a light heart.

And anyway, I can always buy some more when I get home…

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Top five cats on the Internet

Obviously the Internet was created solely for cat lovers; nowhere else can one find such a plethora of cat videos, memes, gifs and photos. But there has to be a way to cut through the kitty chatter to the best cats. So here is my list of the top five.

Starting at number five, we have stalking cat. No matter how many times I watch this, I still find it funny. And I still *jump* at the end:


Grumpy-Cat-crochetAt number four is Grumpy Cat. I love his face so much, SO grumpy, so apparently unimpressed by everyone and everything around him. My love for Grumpy Cat is well know, my mother crocheted me by very own Grumpy Cat and one of my friends gave me the The Grumpy Guide to Life book for Christmas. For more grumpy cat goodness, check out his website.


At number three is Maru whose obsession with all things boxes, the smaller the better, quite frankly just makes the world a better place. This video shows him squishing into a rice cake box. Maru also has his own site (as well as many fan sites):


At number two is Henri the existential cat. If I say that Henri epitomises ennui (say his name the French way and you will see where I am going with this) then you come close to understanding the allure of this cat. His negative comments, his bored face, his complete egotism – he’s fantastic and a role model to us all. This is my favourite video of him:


At number one is Baron Von Tibblesworth. Okay, I am cheating with number one. You won’t have heard of him because he is my cat, and he is not an Internet star (yet!) but he has featured on The Book Grocer Facebook page as part of their ‘cats in bags’ series, was tweeted by Oxford University Press posing with books for World Cat Day (disclosure, I work at Oxford University Press Australia & New Zealand):

and also featured on a twenty foot high screen at a #SocialBiz14:

So he has some Internet presence. Plus he takes up most of my Instagram feed (he is VERY photogenic) and a third of my Facebook feed.

Apologies to all the cute moggies out there that I have missed. If this post hasn’t satisfied your appetite for cats on the Internet, may I suggest Buzzfeed‘s weekly ‘This Week in Cats’ newsletter?!

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Five things I love about living in Melbourne

In honour of Australia Day, here’s my top five favourite things about living in Melbourne:

city1. The weather
Even after 11 years here, as a Brit I never fail to get excited when I see the sun. It took me two years to restrain my natural instinct to dash outside whenever the sun was shining. And another two to stop walking on the sunny side of the street in 35C heat. I know the locals complain about four seasons in one day, but I love the changeability as it means it will never be too hot for too long.

footy2. The footy
I am not a sports nut but there is something strangely engaging about footy; the level of athleticism displayed, the feudalism of the teams, the passionate committed fans, I love it all. The sound of the opening siren at the MCG never fails to thrill.


laneway3. The lane ways
Compared to is brasher Sydney, Melbourne has a hidden charm and this is no better illustrated than by its lane ways. Bars, boutiques, bistros, can all be found in the lane ways. And some of Melbourne’s most beautiful buildings.


pop up bar4. The bars and restaurants
If there is a dish you are craving, you can find it here in Melbourne. Afghani, Vietnamese, French, Cuban; and you can eat it in pretty much any style of eatery – pop-up, diner, BYO, fine dining…


garden5. The parks
Melbourne has some beautiful green spaces where you can while away the hours: Treasury, Fitzroy, Parliament, Botanic, Carlton. Many host events including free summer concerts and open air plays.

Predictable list? Yes. Similar to other cities? Probably. But Melbourne really is a fabulous place to be! Even if I am biased.


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Veronica Mars, the Queen of Sass

Veronica Mars

I was a huge Veronica Mars tragic first time round. It was so refreshing to have a television series that portrayed a female protagonist who used her wits to get what she wanted rather than prettiness (and yes, I know Kristen Bell is gorgeous but this is played down in the series and her background tells against her so although technically she looks like a cheerleader, she is certainly not one of the successful ‘it’ girls at school). And that the show  did not shy away from unpleasant storylines and that it proved that sometimes life is unfair, that the bad guys do sometimes win and that we do not live through a procession of fluffy endings. So imagine my excitement when I heard that there was going to be a film, even if it was being funded in a less than orthodox way; as Warner Bros had canned the television series and refused to take up the film option, Kristen Bell and the writer Rob Thomas launched a fundraising campaign through Kickstarter. They reached their $2m goal in less than ten hours and all up, raised more than $5.7m through this Kickstarter initiative. So I think we can safely say that I am not the only Veronica Mars fan out there!

Does the Veronica Mars film (2014) live up to the hype? I have to say, I think it works pretty well. All the characters have convincingly moved onto post-college world (unlike other teen series I could mention, ahem ‘Gossip Girl’) but I do feel that it is almost too seamlessly tied in with the original series. Yes, it is a film based on a television series and nowadays what constitutes a film, what constitutes a television series, is consistently blurred what with companies such as HBO producing stunning high-quality series with the production values of films, writers/producers/actors such as Lena Dunham finding fame online before being picked up by a network. And of course many people aren’t even watching mainstream television, but ‘binge watching through streaming or boxed sets. But really, apart from the overly obvious references to Instagram, YouTube and Facebook and the fact that the characters have all left school and are living in ‘the real world’, it could just another episode from the original series from 2004-2007.

And I love a man in uniform (who doesnt?!) but really? Logan? A naval officer? I am convinced they only added that plot line so that Veronica could admire him in uniform and make ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ reference. The plot is eyebrow-raisingly obvious in the film; and another quibble, call me naïve but could an entire town really be THAT corrupt? I know that sheriffs are elected to office and that they have a lot of local power but honestly; for the town to be corrupt to a level that a policeman is killed and nothing is done about it, seems a little drastic. But that’s really not what Veronica Mars is about. It’s about a sassy, moral, loyal young woman who quite frankly kicks arse and takes names in everything she does. And she does that in spades in this film. Veronica always ‘gets her man’ both professionally and personally but has to experience a lot of unpleasantness and difficulties along the way. And she does it with such wit. The cracking one-liners are out in full force in this film and the sarcastic exchanges with her father spot on.

One for the fans. In the film, having just seen on the news that famous Bonnie DeVille, the popstar (better known to Veronica as Carrie Bishop, a former schoolmate) has been found dead in suspicious circumstances and that Logan is suspected of the murder, Veronica pauses at a newsstand to pick up a paper; while she is looking at the paper, we hear (but don’t see) a busker playing ‘We Used to be Friends’ by The Dandy Warhols, the original Veronica Mars theme song.

So I would say to the fans of VM – watch it. It’s a walk down memory lane and it includes many of the original characters so is fun to see what they are all up to seven to ten years on. And to those who have never heard of Veronica Mars or watched the show, shame on you!! But don’t start with the film, go back and watch the original three seasons first. It’s perfect binge television!

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