Supporting small businesses

As you probably know, small businesses, especially those that haven’t been open for a year, are struggling at the moment. I’m also acutely aware that many people can’t afford to support them, but if you can, please do.

I had saved up to go on holiday this year, and as that’s not going to happen, I’m using that money to treat myself and support small businesses in the process. I wanted to write a post about these great people, in part because I feel helpless, and because they are awesome and spreading the word about them can only be good!

Plush is a wonderful cafe in York with three quirky rooms and an array of vegan, vegetarian and gluten free options. You can support them by ordering gift vouchers to treat your friends and give them something to look forward to. They also have an online store filled with cute homeware, beauty accessories and more. I particularly love this lamp!

And who knew a plant mister could be so cool!

Little Red Tarot has long been favourite place for tarot decks, oracle decks and related books. I recently treated myself to The Wooden Tarot and am enjoying getting to know it. She also has an online tarot course with 50% of profits going to Safety4Sisters.

I have not managed to get an online food shop which is frustrating but not essential as I am mostly tube fed. However, I do like wine and not being able to get any would be the same as most people not being able to get food they love. Yes I can live without it but it brings me joy, and flavour. Enter Field and Fawcett who are based in York but offer delivery.

Fox Lane Books have a stall at so many events I attend and I always look forward to seeing them and treating myself. With those events cancelled, they obviously aren’t able to attend and sell books. However, they have a great selection of books online, including signed copies! I am currently reading Cursed Britain and would highly recommend it. One of the things I really like about Fox Land Books is that they have books that I’ve not come across before and there’s a section for Kirstie’s favourite fiction which is a lovely personal touch.

Portal is an LGBTQIA bookshop based in York but offering online orders. There are so many interesting looking books including fiction, non fiction and poetry. I can personally recommend A Court of Thorns and Roses and Crooked Kingdom and am looking forward to working my way through more of their incredible looking selection. They also offer vouchers.

Before the lockdown, I was supposed to be getting a tattoo. Whilst it has been postponed, Vera Ickler, like many tattoo artists, is now offering prints and original artwork. Whilst my leg will remain inkless for a while, there is not need for my walls to!

Other ways you can support small businesses includes shopping on etsy, folksy and not on the high street. And there are of course many charities which need additional support right now.

Animal Lovers

If you’ve been around here before, you likely know I like nature and I like reading. You might also know that I write a lot about sex. So you might be thinking this is a further instalment of my bestiality series. I’m afraid to say it’s not.

This blog post is about a book, called Animal Lovers, by Rob Palk. It was brought to my attention by twitter which I tend to find is a good recommendation. The reason it was being talked about was because Rob had recently had some trouble with PIP… Personal Independence Payments. For background, and a sample of Rob’s writing, you can turn to a Guardian article from October.

If you aren’t aware, the process for claiming any benefits is one of horror films. There is constant fear, suspense, gas lighting and torture. There is life and death.

But back to the book as this isn’t supposed to be a post about the agonies of the benefits system. I already did that. In poetry non the less.

The blurb tells us…

“When Stuart married Marie, who saved his life, he didn’t expect her to leave him to protest the badger cull. Stuart can care about badgers too – if it means getting his wife back. But out in the woods animal instincts are stirring. Stuart’s about to enter a world of sexy witches, militant vegans and gun-toting farmers in this dark comedy about nature and love.”

One of the things I loved most about this book was the descriptive language:

“Darkness dropped mid-afternoon, and with it came a cold that snuck under our gloves and through the gaps in our buttons, wrapping itself round our bones.”

“Empty evenings, where if you speak it leaves a fingerprint on the silence, silence that shifts around the words before swallowing them, a silence louder than sound.”

It was a fun yet tragic story that I enjoyed and passed on to a friend as soon as I’d finished it. It was also one of those books that made me wonder what the characters were getting up to once I’d closed the covers.

A year in books

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll likely know I’ve been photographing the books I’ve read since Boxing Day 2018. This has been alongside #ayearinbooks and has been a fun way of thinking about what I read and how much I read.

The following images cover most of the 130 odd books I’ve read.

A recent tweet made me wonder, of this vast array, what was my favourite, what would I recommend and what would I really not suggest people read… of course these are incredibly difficult decisions to make and I’d like to add the disclaimer that I retain the right to change my mind at any time…!

I would highly recommend both of Shane Burcaw’s books – Laughing at my Nightmare and Strangers Assume My Girlfriend Is My Nurse. They are funny biographies which talk about his life with a disability.

“On the surface, these essays are about day-to-day life as a wheelchair user with a degenerative disease, but they are actually about family, love, and coming of age. “
– Amazon

The books are well written, easy to read and offer a great insight into life with a disability and being in an interabled relationship. Don’t expect self pity or inspiration porn, expect wit and sarcasm and to very literally, laugh out loud!

Another book that has to be on my recommendation list is The Prison Doctor which I read in a day. This book provides an eye opening insight into the prison system, through the eyes of a doctor – did the title give this away?! At times your heart will be warmed, at other times you’ll want to scream with frustration at the limitations of the prison system and you will definitely feel Dr Brown’s compassion coming through the pages.

Also vaguely health related were It’s All in Your Head: Stories from the Frontline of Psychosomatic Illness by Suzanne O’Sullivan which talks in depth about psychosomatic illnesses in a respectful way. These are genuine illnesses despite them ‘being all in the head’, because the brain is an incredibly powerful organ. This is echoed in the intriguing The Geography of Madness: Penis Thieves, Voodoo Death, and the Search for the Meaning of the World’s Strangest Syndromes* by Frank Bures.

*Full title essential to include!

All of the offerings from Reaktion Books have been incredible. They have a fantastic series about animals and as well as telling you about the species, they look at how humans and animals have interacted over the years. These books are key for my animal blog posts and this year they’ve had two 50% off sales which has been fantastic! If you find that sort of stuff interesting, I really suggest getting your paws on one of their books.

This year I got a library card for the university library so this year’s reading has happily included a number of academic texts. Perhaps the best, although it’s a tough choice, was possibly Animals and Society by Margo de Mello.

Poetry wise, Hannnah Hodgson’s Dear Body was very inspiring and I’ve loved unpicking The Amputee’s Guide to Sex by Jillian Weise. On a non disability note, Significant Other by Isabel Galleymore has provided well crafted, thought filled poems. Other poets I’ve loved this year include Hollie McNish, Nikita Gill and Amanda Lovelace.

It turned out I can’t label any book as not to be recommended. Partly because I don’t bother finishing books I’m not enjoying – I know several people who will persevere but for me at least, life is too short and I can’t be bothered. I read because I enjoy reading and because I enjoy learning. A bad book gives me neither of those joys.

Over to you! What have been some of your reading highlights over the past year?

What I’m reading 

The Books of Pellinor by Alison Croggon

A five book series plus a prequel, these tell the story of a servant girl who discovers there is more to her past than she knew.  It’s hard to explain what this series is about without spoiling things… Needless to say it has a strong female character and is set in a different, magical world.

Angel of Storms series by Trudi Canavan

I’ve just started the second in this series.  I would have leapt into it sooner but the kindle version was still £9.99 for the ebook when I finished the first book.  A bit of impatient waiting and it went down to £4.99 plus an affordable audio version.

This series spans numerous magical worlds and includes a person who was made into a book.  Once a young sorcerer-bookbinder, Vella was transformed into a book to be used as a powerful tool by one of the greatest sorcerers of history. Since then she has been collecting information from everyone who touches her.  Whilst there are numerous interesting human characters, I do think Vella remains my favourite!

Scapegoat by Katharine Quamby

wp-1473151983019.jpgI know I mentioned this before but I’d only just started it then and it definetly deserves a second mention.  It details a brief history of attitudes towards disabled people and then looks at the situation today.  Quamby looks at the ineffective, and rather late to the game, disabilty hate crime legislation as well as detailing horrific cases.  Whilst she inevitabily focuses on the most extreme hate crimes, the sheer volume of cases paints a painful picture of how some people view disability.  It was published in 2011 so remains a fairly current portrayal of the UK today.
Read with something else on the go.  Look after yourself as you read it.  It’s a hardhitting shocking book but one which must be read.

Independent lives by Jenny Morris 

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Although this was published in 1993, it has helped me to understand more about the history of independent living and the move away from institutionalisation in the UK.  Unfortunately a lot of the issues around care which are raised in the book are still present today.

In order to create and develop a successful, empowering care system, we must look at the past and reflect on successes and failures.

78 Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack

This, I think, is the only tarot book I’ve read (apart from deck specific guides).  It was orginially published as two books, one looking at the major arcana and one at the minor.  This is obvious when you start on the second section as it does repeat some of the first.  However, Pollack provides detailed information about each card including symbology, mythology and application for readings.  It’s been described as the bible of tarot and is regularly featured on must read tarot book lists.  Compared to other tarot books I’ve flicked through, she seems to go into more depth and provides the reader with a deeper understanding of the symbology which will inevitably deepen their reading of tarot.

Mark Hearld’s Workbook


This is not so much reading as admiring.  I love Hearld’s work and his Workbook provides a great balance of information and imagery.  If you happen to be in York, do check out the Lumber Room at York Art Gallery.  It was curated by Hearld and features some of his work as well as interesting and intriguing objects and artwork.


Magazine wise

Alongside a few books, I always have a magazine on the go.  At the moment I’m enjoying bitch, flow, oh comely, national geographic and mslexia.  What can I say, I have diverse interests!

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Some light relief

Things have been getting a bit intense on here lately so I thought I’d offer something a bit gentler to balance it out a bit in the form of a post about books.  Note, not book review.  I’ve always been very bad at book reviews…

So, in no particular order, here are some books, authors and series (I really want to write serieses but apparently that’s not correct…) that I’ve been loving recently…

A collection of books from my days of being able to regularly read paper books (they look prettier than an ebook…)*

Robin Hobb.  I absolutely absolutely love all of her books.  I’ve devoured most of them through a mix of kindle and audiobooks.  They are fantasy books, set in other worlds, with strong characters including some fantastic female leads.

If you’re new to Hobb then this is the recommended order to read her series in:

  1. The Farseer Trilogy; Assassin’s Apprentice, Roayl Assassin, Assassin’s Quest
  2. The Liveship Traders; Ship of Magic, The Mad Ship, Ship of Destiny
  3. The Tawny Man Trilogy; Fool’s Errand, The Golden Fool Fool’s Fate (def read the Farseer Trilogy first as it’s the same characters)
  4. The Rain Wild Chronicles; Dragon Keeper, Dragon Haven, City of Dragons, Blood of Dragons
  5. Fitz and the Fool; Fool’s Assassin, Fool’s Quest, Assassins Fate (not yet released)

The series all work if you read them alone but reading all of them adds to the experience.  She also has a standalone series; The Soldier’s Son trilogy and also writes under the name Megan Lindholm.

Mercades Lackey. Sorry if you don’t like fantasy, it seems to be my prevalent genre right now.  You can find an epic list of her writing on her website.  I’ve been limited cos not everything is available as an ebook as far as I can find.  However I really enjoyed all of the Collegium Chronicles and the Herald Spy Books

I am currently reading the Elemental Masters series.  I’m a third of the way through the second.  I was describing them to someone the other day and the best I could find was historical fiction with magic.

Again, Lackey has great characters with strong women which always endears a book to me.  She’s also done a lot of collaborative writing with some great authors.

The Evermen Saga. I can’t remember why I got the first of these books by James Maxwell but I do know I wasn’t really expecting much.  I found the first part of the first book ok but not gripping but from there on, things picked up and I rapidly read all of the four books.  I’ve not read anything else by Maxwell but I would recommend this series.

The Hangman’s Daughter Tales. A series of five books by Oliver Potzsch, these books are set it German in the 1660s and follow the lives of a hangman and his daughter (really? I know, shocking!).  The daughter is a strong willed, arguably stubborn woman who finds herself in the middle of a number of bizarre and mysterious situations.  The stories unfold at a time when memories of war and the persecution of witchcraft are still raw.  The exclusion that the hangman and his family provide an unusual viewpoint for the events which unfold.

Interesting side note, apparent Potzsch is descended from hangmen, a profession which passed from father to son.

The Thief Taker and The Fire Catcher by C.S.Quinn were at one point £1 each on kindle and looked interesting.  Set in the 1600s, this time in London during the plague and the great fire, they tell the tale of Charlie Tuesday.  Charlie was an orphan who now works as a thief taker, that is, he finds stolen items.  In the Thief Taker, he is approached by a woman who asks him to find her sisters killer.  Underlying this is the mysterious key that Charlie wears around his neck.  He was given it as a child and has no idea what it opens.  As the story progresses, he unlocks some of his own history as well as clues to the murder.

The Fire Catcher is a sequel set a year later during the great fire of London.  Charlie is still looking for answers about who he is as the city burns around him, possibly destroying the very information he is searching for.  Whilst this is a sequel and does carry on from The Thief Taker, I think you could easily read it alone.

The Paper Magician Series.  Written by Charlie N. Holmberg, these books are set in a magical London in the early 1900s.  They’re interesting stories, there’s a stubborn female lead who I periodically found to be dislikeable but the books are very readable.  Compared to the likes of Hobb and Lackey, I found the two I’ve read so far to be much lighter – think takeaway pizza instead of a Sunday roast.  They are free to borrow if you subscribe to kindle unlimited and there’s an audio version as well.

Pride Against Prejudice was published in 1991 and was written by Jenny Morris, a disabled feminist.  Although this dates from the early nineties, a lot of the content is sadly still very relevant today. This well written, easy to read book looks at a few key areas of disability prejudice including abortion and disability, disabled lives being not worth living, euthanasia, disability in western culture, institutionalisation and feminist research around community care.

“We all experience oppression as a result of the denial of our reality.  If our reality is not reflected in the general culture, how can we assert our rights?  If non-disabled people would rather not recognise disability, or only recognise specific forms, how can they recognise our experience of our bodies?  If we do not ‘appear’ as real people, with the need for love, affection, friendship, and the right to a good quality of life, how can non-disabled people give any meaning to our lives?” – Jenny Morris

My copy of this (actual physical book) is now filled with post-it notes as she makes so many great points and phrases things well.  A readable book which is littered with personal experiences as well as the facts and research you would expect from an academic writer.

“To continue to live as best we can, keeping faith with who we know ourselves to be, in the face of what society has decided we are, does take courage.” – Pam Evans, quoted in Pride Against Prejudice

Scapegoat, Why we are failing disabled people. Katharine Quarmby investigates how disabled people are treated today (the book was first published in 2011).  From the back cover:

  • 80% of children with learning difficulties are bullied at school
  • Nearly 50% of disabled people have recently experienced or witnessed physical abuse
  • 90% of the population have never invited a disabled person into their home [knowingly… I assume?]
  • The number of disability hate crimes reported has risen by 75% in one year alone

This book covers some of the history which brings us to where we are today in terms of disability as well as personal stories from disabled people and their families.  The book opens with the horrific details of Kevin Davies’ death.  He was a young man who had epilepsy and was tortured and killed by his supposed friends in 2006 after being imprisoned in a garden shed.  This is not an enjoyable read however it is well written and provides an update to Jenny Morris’s book.


*Those more observant of you will notice two copies of The Midwich Cuckoos in the picture. I love John Wyndham and was happily reading my copy only to get to the centre and find ten pages missing. The book was from a charity shop but looked like it had never been read. The pages weren’t torn out, it looked like they’d been missed out during printing…  So I had to wait until my lunch break the next day so I could rush to the library, read the missing pages and then return to my copy.