Sunday, 24 May 2015

The English Teacup Has Moved!

Hello all!

Today marked the end of two and a half years of using Blogspot as I made the change to Wordpress.

The future of this site will be to host its archived posts so if you haven't visited the active site already then click below!

THE NEW SITE:
theenglishteacup.com 


On the new site there's also the option to subscribe to The English Teacup via email which you should definitely take advantage of to keep up to date with posts.

I really hope you enjoy the new site (let me know what you think via the comments or by emailing enyamarie227@gmail.com) and that you keep tea-drinking and reading to your heart's content! 

Thank you all for your continued readership and support, I hope to see you over at theenglishteacup.com

       - The English Teacup

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Review: Jüdisches Museum Berlin (Jewish Museum Berlin)

First thing’s first before you read on any further – you should make a point of going to the Jewish Museum (Berlin) if you ever have the opportunity, without a doubt. No matter who you are or what your interests, there will be something in that museum that will make you think.
It would be a lie to say that the Jewish Museum was top of my priorities in what I wanted to fit into my 3 day trip to Berlin with Newcastle University’s History Society but now that I’ve been, I’d highly recommend it to anyone spending time in Berlin to visit this incredible museum. 
Sitting comfortably as one of the largest Jewish museums in Europe and one of the most visited museums in Berlin (Wikipedia), the Jewish museum was a strange sight to walk up to at 4pm on Monday the 16th of March (2015). 




The older building is exactly what you’d expect of a museum, ornate looking and impressive but the building directly next to it, complete with stern looking police eyeing up our group of around twenty students, is like a jagged, futuristic prison designed by famed architect Daniel Libeskind. Since the only public entrance to the Libeskind building is underground, I didn’t even realise it was part of the Jewish museum until I was standing in it. This deceptive feature is one of many that makes the museum not something to visit but to actively experience but more on that later.


An aerial view
Image credit: Jewish Museum Berlin
Charging a modest student price of 3 euros (the adult ticket costs 8 euros), we each went through a security scanner and handed our belongings into a cloakroom as requested by the museum staff. Though this is probably just a security precaution, handing over your bag and coat makes the museum a lot more immersive. It goes a long way to heightening the feeling that you’re disconnected from the outside world as you’re walking through the timeline of Jewish history and experiencing the full emotional (and physical!) chill from features like The Garden of Exile and The Holocaust Tower.


Looking down one of the Axes


First stop in the museum is the basement where three intersecting corridors called ‘Axes’ jump straight into the history of the Jewish peoples during the Holocaust. The artefacts are slightly obscured as unless you’re viewing them face on, they are behind blurred, dark circular windows which meant our large group quickly split up as people wandered off instead of queuing on tip-toe to see what was going on. 

While this was a little annoying having to crane your neck around strangers or awkwardly wait behind them, it did carry a lot of impact when you did find yourself alone staring through the black circle reading about Holocaust atrocities.



The Garden of Exile as 
seen during the day
At the end of the second axis, there is The Garden of Exile, an outside exhibition featuring 49 giant angled pillars that, when combined with the tilted cobbles that make up the floor, are like an optical illusion causing your legs to accidentally veer off in the opposite direction to what your eyes expect. 
It was pretty satisfying to see a man, after running around the Garden pratting about while everyone else appreciated in a more respectful silence, smack straight into one of the stone pillars. The effect of the whole thing really is quite dizzying, he showcased that pretty well all by himself.
The third axis leads you to the Holocaust Tower which is a 79ft tall room leading to a point which is only lit by a very small slit in the roof in the very top corner. With the heavy door shutting you inside, the room is almost pitch black apart from the meagre light shining through the roof. Though not actually outlined anywhere, myself and a few others did get the impression that it was a representation of a gas chamber as well as being a metaphor for the entrapment of the Jews and the light, just like their liberation from persecution, being an unreachable dream in the distance during the Holocaust. 
After this somewhat emotional start, the first axis, once you’ve found your way to it, leads you up into the permanent exhibition of the museum.



A robot scribe writing out the Torah at a human-pace was the only thing in a big, white open space. There was a short paragraph on the opposite wall explaining that the installation was representing ‘the contrast between the fascination of play with the fulfillment of religious obligation’ but that was pretty lost on me. It was vaguely interesting but probably the least captivating part of the entire museum by a long shot. There wasn’t a great deal of time to be unimpressed however as the next art installation was simply incredible.
Fallen Leaves - footsteps on faces
Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman’s ‘Fallen Leaves’ is a space that, like the Holocaust Tower, leads to a sharp corner but it’s affect is much more profound. Before you can even see the installation, you can hear loud, ringing metallic clunks echo into the memory void, that is to say, one of the many vast spaces dotted around the museum that represent “That which can never be exhibited when it comes to Jewish Berlin history: Humanity reduced to ashes” (Daniel Libeskind, http://www.jmberlin.de/main/EN/04-About-The-Museum/01-Architecture/01-libeskind-Building.php). 

This piece of work is dedicated not just to the Jews but to all the victims of violence and war which is immediately relatable as you start the walk yourself through the darkened room. On the floor, there are 10,000 faces punched out of steel, each bearing an anguished expression and these form your path as you clang your way through them. Walking on tortured faces doesn’t sound half as grim as it is to actually do it. The experience is overwhelmingly powerful and sombre, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who isn’t moved by such a piece.
Doubling back through the Torah writing Robot space, I entered a deceivingly large room with a large tree in the centre of it featuring red notepaper apples/pomegranates (we couldn’t decide!) that had visitors’ wishes written on them. While most wishes were serious, inspiring or thoughtful, a few were pretty superficial or just plain inappropriate/insensitive. It’s a shame that directly after experiencing the Axes section of the museum, some people clearly missed out on the very reasons why we remember the Holocaust as such a prevalent lesson in the consequences of prejudice and thought it’d be funny to act like pricks for the sake of leaving a mark but as my uncle said when he saw one of the 'wishes', it takes allsorts.

Never one to sit and watch videos that I could find elsewhere when in a museum, I wandered off by myself at this point to follow the timeline path through the history of the Jewish peoples in Berlin. Until then, I had no idea how large the museum was but the timeline seemed to go on forever! When I didn’t see another person I knew after 20 minutes of wandering, I began to get panicky in case I ended up completely separated from the group. Parents beware – there are so many hiding spots in this part of the museum that losing sight of your child/ren will probably start a very long search of trying to find them again.
Now looking more like your regular museum after leaving the Axes floor, the Jewish Museum took on the challenge of presenting great masses of information in interesting ways and it excelled itself once again. However, this massive jump in style from the first half of the Jewish Museum which was almost entirely experience-orientated made it difficult to really appreciate to its full extent. My attention span was already waning considerably by the time I’d reached the Baroque section told through the perspective of Jewish women which is normally something I’d be quite curious about. If you’re pushed for time, I’d recommend following the arrows and skimming the timeline rather than reading the more detailed information (save it for a later visit!) because it’s too much information to try and take in. You’d have to spend an entire day just walking through the timeline itself to fully appreciate it.
That isn’t to say that there weren’t some fascinating things dotted about the timeline, truly, there were! A couple of things that caught my attention in particular were the pre-WWI Jewish soldier grave markers which had been defaced or made anonymous by the Nazis and the hidden spot under a stairwell that was showing 1920s Disney cartoons complete with a giant slouchy beanbag.
Some of the last surviving Jewish 
grave markers in Berlin from pre-WWI
There was no museum gift shop which isn’t overly surprising given the content but since the building was such a unique shape, it would have been great to have aerial postcards of it or even a keyring showing how jagged it is. Still, there’s hardly a need for it, that’s just my love for gift shops and quirky souvenirs coming into play. While there was a café, it was closed by the time we entered the museum which is a shame as the pictures of it look pretty brilliant with the crystal courtyard, also designed by Libeskind.
The staff seemed friendly enough for an environment where for the most part, you’re unsure whether it’s polite to smile at strangers or not. Though, they did all look bored rigid and had a habit of lazily watching at you as you wandered about the museum which at some points hurried me along a little more so I could escape their gaze and read in peace.
Initially I thought that our group were one of the latest to leave the museum since our two hour visit ended at 18:30 but for some reason, the closing time is as late as 10pm on Mondays.
The Jewish Museum is simply a must-see if you’re in Berlin. 
Fallen Leaves installation
Before you do plan on going, make sure you factor in about three hours to explore it. We did it in two and a half but if you don’t have people waiting on you to finish and you aren’t already exhausted off a day of Berlin sight-seeing and museum-visiting then it would be much more interesting enjoyed at a leisurely pace over three hours or more. Though the museum is child-friendly with cubby holes dotted through the Jewish timeline displays, interactive books that you blow on to turn the pages and beanbags galore – I imagine it’d be very hard to keep them entertained for long enough, especially as you can’t bring in bags. Save this museum for when they’re old enough to comprehend how amazing and unique it is if at all possible!
When it comes to bringing sensitive history alive without the pitfalls of being disrespectful or inaccurate, the Berlin Jewish Museum did it remarkably well and incredibly artistically. From the architecture and the placement of the exhibits/installations right down to the tone of information, this was an inspiring way to see the troubled past of the Berlin Jewish people across the years in its entirety.
"an audio installation of people who grew up in Germany reporting on their childhood and youth after 1945. A new chapter of Jewish life in Germany began with them" (Wikipedia)

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Book Review: An Utterly Impartial History of Britain or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots In Charge by John O'Farrell

Anyone who tries to tackle the history of an entire nation is up for a humongous challenge. As Norman Davies pointed out in the introduction of his mammoth student staple book, Europe, often historians who try to take on elaborate histories and make them more concise find themselves unbalancing the history or producing a piece of work so laden with facts and statistics that it can hardly be read page to page without provoking a migraine. Bravely, John O’Farrell has not only decided to write a monograph about the main themes and events in British history but he’s also managed to do so with consistent humour and brings a bountiful energy to each section.
For a casual reader, 600 pages of history might seem quite daunting but just a glimpse at Farrell’s timeline will give you an indication as to whether his humour will have you giggling or grimacing through the book.

For details on what I'm currently reading you can find me on Goodreads.com HERE

8/10
"An Utterly Impartial History of Britain or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots In Charge is exactly as the title says. It’s a satirical and humorous look at the interesting themes that have happened throughout the 2,000 year period of history that leads up to modern day. Often a little over the line when it comes to offensive jokes, this isn’t something to go for if you’re particularly sensitive and can’t overlook that for the sake of a giggle.  More geared towards entertainment than education, this book is one to avoid taking too seriously but through some of the satire, a great amount of thought-provoking points are made that swing you from one topic to another as you adventure through Britain’s past.

What’s good about it?
One reviewer on Goodreads has given this book a negative review because it doesn’t have an audience, they claim that it’s too silly for students and serious history buffs or it’s too history based for fans of John O’Farrell’s newspaper column to really get into.
While I respect the opinion of a fellow reviewer, this review couldn’t be further from the truth. There is a wide audience for this book – both history lovers and satire lovers alike will revel in its pages while gaining from them at the same time. In fact, the first thought that came to mind after reading the introduction was, ‘I need to tell my dad about this!’ and sure enough, he’s enjoying reading it right now. It takes supreme skill to find the balance between knowledge and humour, too much of one and the whole thing falls apart yet O’Farrell handled this perfectly. 


Additionally, the jokes were consistent all the way through, each topic, period and theme was treated with the same energy and interest as the last as O’Farrell powered through them.

Whatever your reading style, this An Utterly Impartial History (…) will work for you. Whether you’re a cover to cover reader like myself, a dip-in and dip-out reader who is always halfway through at least a dozen books and takes six months to finish a single one or whether you’re the occasional reader who will pick up a book if your wi-fi has went down and you’ve already tired of resetting the router for the hundredth time. It’s difficult to find a book that can be both enjoyed in chunks or read to completion in one single hearty reading session but this fills both roles quite adequately.

There is a clear political perspective embedded throughout An Utterly Impartial (…), which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but I did appreciate the fact that O’Farrell made no attempt whatsoever to pretend he was impartial. His political standing was obvious throughout which was refreshing to see so brazenly entangled in his risqué humour without the limits of political correctness we usually bind ourselves in.

Whether you’re a history expert or you’ve never managed to stay awake through a history lesson in your life, you will still get something out of reading this. O’Farrell’s writing is highly accessible to all yet it doesn’t lower itself to being patronising or oversimplified either which again, is an accomplished skill. It’s always a pleasure to see people who previously hated a discipline find something that they enjoy about it and are prepared to talk about and thankfully, this book allows history-virgins to do exactly that. That being said, the more knowledgeable you are about history, the more you will enjoy the humour but I suspect, if you don’t know a single thing about the history, then you’ll get a lot more out of that aspect of the book as O’Farrell does a decent job of covering complex topics in a funny yet concise way.

What isn't so great?
My little reading buddy
It isn’t accurate. This shouldn’t be much of an issue if you’re reading this for an overview of history but as a student of history, it’s a pain to see inaccuracies snowball into facts when someone takes what they’ve read as gospel so it just has to be mentioned. That isn’t to say the entire book is based on myth, it does give very good coverage but the way some things are presented gives off a skewed view compared with the opinion you would have of them if you undertook more well-rounded research. It’s disappointing but since O’Farrell took on 2,000 years of history in 600 pages, I suppose we can let him off on the odd mistake in detail for the sake of entertainment.

The humour can be quite offensive and quite select. At some point, one of O’Farrell’s jokes will most likely rub you up the wrong way. In fact, he manages to offend most groups of people in his writing and sometimes the tongue-in-cheek humour is more cringe-worthy than anything. 

A few previous reviewers of this book on Goodreads have mentioned that they would be embarrassed to be seen with this or have it on their bookcase and I can see why. It isn’t that the cartoon cover and the non-serious title is particularly shameful (though I guess for some people, it is!), it’s more that the jokes are occasionally uncomfortable which can be a little off-putting. It does depend heavily on your sense of humour as well as your tolerance for political incorrectness but this is probably not the book to read while waiting in line for a job interview, save it for the coffee table and perhaps put it away when the posh distant relatives come over for cream tea and scones.


To summarise, you should read this book only if you count yourself as having a good sense of humour. If you giggle in the first five pages then by all means, you should definitely continue but if it doesn’t even muster up a faint smile then An Utterly Impartial (…) is just not for you and you should try some of the more serious suggestions below. It’s a great book for making history more accessible and more enjoyable to different circles of people but is it ground-breaking? No. It’s a laugh, a bloody good laugh, and while you’ll enjoy it, you probably won’t remember much from it in a year’s time either. "
(Read 15th January  - 5th February, 2015)



If you enjoyed this book and want to read more seriously about British history (or if you hated this book and want to read something that you can show off about in front of those posh relatives you’ve got coming over) have a look at some of the suggestions below:

  • The Isles: A History by Norman Davies
    Totalling at a mammoth 1,296 pages, this is a hefty book that holds a wealth of information. Reading this is a bit of a commitment but the author is easily one of my favourite historians (I have quite a list…). So far I’m battling my way through Davies’ Europe which I’d thoroughly recommend.
  • Great Tales From English History by Robert Lacey
    This is more along the lines of O’Farrell’s book. It’s funny, the sections are bitesize and while a lot of it is myth (which the author points out unreservedly), you’re guaranteed to learn something from it. It’s easily read in a few hours and rests nicely in the ‘entertaining but informative’ category.
  • The Oxford History of Britain by Kenneth O Morgan
    This is much easier to read in chunks than Davies’ The Isles: A History and it’s something I regularly dip into if I’m struggling to grasp a particular theme/topic/period of British history. If you see it around for a decent price in a bookshop or a sale and you consider yourself a history buff, you should buy it without hesitation for those times when you just can’t pinpoint what happened in the timeline of Britain’s past.



Sunday, 8 March 2015

International Women's Day (8th March) - What's It Really All About?

Image credit: @Art21

8th March = International Women's Day

This Sunday (08/03/2015), you may have woken up to find your social media feeds cluttered full of #PaintItPurple hashtags and horrifically detailed infographics depicting global social inequalities blazoned across your screens.

 If it's left you shaking your head about political correctness or wondering what on earth students will come up with next as an excuse to celebrate then here's a bitesize guide to what today is really all about and what you can do to be a part of it.

What is International Women’s Day?

Image credit: @ForeignClass_
Since the early 1900s, International Women’s Day has been a cause for celebration and union. Originally it began due to the oppression and inequality of women leading them to becoming more vocal and active in campaigning for change. 


Today International Women's Day is largely seen as a worldwide event that ‘celebrates women’s accomplishments and promotes global equality’ (Independent: 'Happy International Women's Day: Google Doodle Celebrates Female Achievements Around the Globe'). 


An important part of this simple definition is often overlooked by a patriarchal society over-concerned about the wave of radical feminists (what the internet likes to call ‘feminazis’) calling for female supremacy, is the idea that feminism ‘promotes global equality’.


 That is to say, it’s incredibly important to recognise the day for its true meaning which is a form of egalitarianism NOT this other ridiculous notion that feminists want women to rule the world and/or to in anyway, harm other groups.


Definition: Egalitarianism
"Believing in or based on the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities"

Definition: Feminism"The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes."


Feminism is about equality, not making a right from two wrongs by suppressing men or encouraging the superiority of one gender/race/religion over another. 

Feminism is about equal rights and opportunities to all and recognising social ignorance on sensitive issues to promote change instead of prejudice.


Image credit: @MsMariaVicente


There is the view that celebrating International Women's Day actually encourages gender separation due to it not celebrating men in equal measure. However, there has been an influx of statistical evidence in recent years demonstrating the vast inequality still being faced by women all over the world. Much of this pinpoints the exact reason why it is still vitally important to recognise events that encourage unity and raise awareness to the present social issues globally faced.


Why do we still need International Women’s Day?

There is a plethora of reasons why we still need to recognise and celebrate International Women’s Day, one hundred of which Miranda Nelson writes about in ’100 Reasons We Need International Women’s Day’ which, while being heavily focused on the experience of an American woman, is still a very informative and unfortunately, eye-opening piece. The Independent has a similar yet much less tedious to read article, ‘International Women’s Day2015: The Shameful Secrets That Show Why it is Still Important’. The Huffington Post also has a feature which can be found HERE shows some of the challenges women, particularly low-wage immigrant women and women of colour, continue to experience at the hands of employers’.


Image credit: @divergentddl

What can I do to celebrate IWD?

The theme for 2015 is ‘Make It Happen’ and with the internet increasingly allowing people from across the world to be more engaged and interactive in their community experience than ever before, now is the ideal time to get involved.

 It doesn’t matter how you decide to join in, whether that be using a hashtag on social media or adorning something purple for this year’s #PaintItPurple theme or even going so far as to host your event to raise awareness for gender equality.

On the official website for International Women’s Day, you can get all the information you need to get involved and support the event in whatever way you can by going to this article.



Links for Further Interest:



Image credit: @UCOWomen

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

February Update (2015)

Meet River, our tabby kitten who's chewing
on my earrings in this photo!
If December is meant to be the season of stress and cheer, my life just hasn't caught up yet.

January has been a hectic one with my first university exams passing me by and an entire new semester to contend with. In other news, a recent love for online Futurelearn courses (keep your eyes peeled for an article about them coming up!) has kept my schedule crammed while my plate has been a little emptier thanks to a new weight loss objective which I started last week. In the midst of all of this, we had a three day mini-cruise in Amsterdam and spent the rest of the week enjoying ourselves just enough to make up for the month of revision that December had plagued us with. It was quite happily one of the best weeks I've had in the past year!

February looks to be just as busy with another online course starting this month and an extra credit evening Spanish class at university that will last right up until May. All of these very worthy distractions meant that my 2015 resolution of blogging more was already starting to take a sickly turn but the response to the two book reviews posted in January was so encouraging! Please keep the support coming! It makes tackling time management all worthwhile when The English Teacup continues to get such a great response from you all.

Speaking of resolutions, how are everyone's life improvements coming along now that the year is a month in? Or should I say, a chapter into the book that is your year according to some of the more cringe-worthy cute-isms that viral there way around social media, you know the ones. Whether you're struggling to stay on track or still getting round to making your resolutions,Tips and Tricks on Achieving Your New Year's Resolutions might be able to refresh your motivation.

So what has The English Teacup got planned ahead for the next couple of months?

At the moment I'm working on a comparison involving a very popular European tourist attraction franchise which will now have to be in two parts due to its length. Along with that, there are two book reviews in the works: 'As I Lay Dying' by Gayle Foreman and the much less serious, 'An Utterly Impartial History of Britain' by John O'Farrell, a review of the DFDS Amsterdam mini-cruise I was lucky enough to go on in mid-January and a feature about my first semester at university. Keep checking back for updates and extras!

Enjoy reading and tea-drinking! <3
         - The English Teacup


Saturday, 24 January 2015

Book Review: The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver has won so many awards since first being published in 1993 that listing them all would be overwhelming. Let’s just say most critics love this utopia/dystopia tale aimed at children.
It’s a small book that succeeds in bringing hugely controversial social and ideological issues to the forefront of debate and while I don’t profess to undertake a full literary analysis of it, I can share what I thought of it as a casual reader who has a love for dystopian fiction at the moment (along with most of the reading world right now).

For details on what I'm currently reading you can find me on Goodreads.com HERE

8/10
"The Giver follows an eleven year old names Jonas who lives in a society where everyone fits into a role given to them at a ceremony when they turn 12. This is a community where everything is heavily controlled to achieve an utopian society where everyone is content but in doing so, creates a paradox as there is no longer any memory of what it is to fell true pain or pleasure.

Image courtesy of Goodreads.com
What’s good about it?
This is a book that you simply cannot read without sacrificing a couple of hours (at least) for it to haunt your thoughts once you’ve hit the final page. 
It’s incredibly thought-provoking as most books fitting into the utopia/dystopia category often are but the telling through a child’s eyes allows for much wider interpretation of the messages that Lowry is really trying to get across (which I haven’t figured out yet). 
It’s very short totalling at a mere 179 pages but it opens up such a mental can of worms that you should definitely have it in your arsenal of talking points whenever you’re next with a fellow reader.

As you might have gathered, this isn’t a feel-good book. You won’t come away from it grinning at the page; in fact, you might feel a bit disturbed. It’s strange to label this as a good reaction but this is clearly a novel with a purpose to actively feed the reader big, juicy moral questions and it achieves that splendidly.

Though only having read this once, it gives off the feeling that once you’ve read it, you will keep going back to flick through it from cover to cover and understand it in a completely new way and that’s something I’m really looking forward to. It covers so many different aspects of society yet with sparse detail and in a short period that you can fill in the dots yourself and come to completely new conclusions with each rethink. The ending of the book is the perfect example of this. At first, I thought the ending was a complete disappointment but on reflection, it seemed the perfect mystery ending to an equally mysterious book.


What isn't so great?
This is not a children’s book. In fact, some of the themes are quite disturbing, one in particular which I’m sure every past reader of the book can remember with a slight shudder as they recall the mental imagery that the book forced upon them. While the writing is straight forward enough and suited for a young reading level, the themes are definitely not. A few reviewers on Goodreads have suggested that it’s suitable for young teens so long as there is an adult ready to tackle questions this novel raises alongside them. However, the issues raised in this book feel as though it would be better to explore it at college level or at most, at the end of GCSE’s otherwise the messages will be overlooked and the book never read again or the sensitivities and questions within it might be a little too much for someone just discovering what it is to be an individual with responsibility.

It’s very understandable why the lack of detail is used as a writing technique but it just doesn’t make the novel enjoyable, in fact it dulls an otherwise very interesting world which in a way, I suppose is the point. Still, it could do with carrying more detail and being less abstract in order to really grab the reader. 

The lack of characterisation also becomes a stumbling point here as it’s often hard to care about what’s going on because you can’t really relate to any of the characters deeply enough. Again, it’s clear to see how it’s being used as another literary device but it just doesn’t make for compelling reading, only compelling essay-writing which is a downright shame as the society in this novel has a very real potential to cement this book even more firmly in the modern classics category.

Overall, ‘The Giver’ is something you should definitely put an hour and a half aside to read through and then a couple of days aside to give it the thought it deserves. It will have you wondering questions you’ve never considered before and it’d be no surprise if it threw in a few new perspectives that you’ve never considered before in there too. The rest of The Giver Quartet is meant to complete some of the mysteries of The Giver but for me, they’re being put on hold for now and I’m sure when I’ve read them, I’ll have even more new ideas about interpretations to add to this incredibly thought-provoking book.


(Read 19th December, 2014)

Monday, 19 January 2015

Book Review: Please Don’t Take My Baby by Cathy Glass


Cathy Glass is one of the better authors of non-fiction cheap paperback books that are about usually abused or neglected children that come into foster care. If you have been in any supermarket’s book section, you will probably recognise one of her books among the many others showing sad children on the cover with depressing titles.
I literally only read this because it was the stirring of early morning and I found it hiding in the depths of my tablet’s book library but it was exactly the type of read I was after – quick, very easy and had just enough raw emotional pull to keep you turning the pages.

For details on what I'm currently reading you can find me on Goodreads.com HERE

4/10
"Please Don’t Take My Baby follows a 17 year old girl placed in the care of Cathy Glass while heavily pregnant and the trials and tribulations of her fight to keep her child once it is born. These type of books typically have a cult following which keeps them firmly on the shelves but they also hold interest for the curious and it’s that perspective I’ve taken today.

Image courtesy of Goodreads
What’s good about it?
This book fits perfectly with its shelf of misery-porn (this term is used in the same way as ‘gore-porn’ not an actual reference to pornography, just in case the context wasn’t obvious) companions which makes it a good candidate for an emotionally-deep-but-not-difficult read if you need a distraction for a couple of hours. It has everything it needs to be on that shelf: emotional trauma, a key social issue, disproving said key social issue and an altruistic heroine-like woman pioneering the way forward. It follows the formula on point and this works fairly well for this type of read.

The characters are built wonderfully; they make the story endearing and take away some of the mundaneness of Glass’ overly detailed descriptions of her everyday life, including, on occasions, what they all eat for each meal. In the end, the only character I so much as liked was Tyler, the 16 year old boyfriend and soon-to-be-father. Even Glass herself is insufferable in this book; it’s almost like she’s accidentally published her diary instead and enjoys questioning herself and justifying her decisions by taking us through a step by step guide as to how she reached them. However, since the characters are actual real people it’s hard to really judge the characters on the page to the author’s credit or discredit but Glass seems to pick out the key features of their personalities and portray them in a raw manner across the pages so we almost discover them alongside her. This is really what makes the book and what sets Glass apart from most similar authors of this genre.

One particular scene was very emotionally charged and it would have warmed the most cynical of hearts but describing it in any way is impossible without spoilers. All I’d like to say on it is if you enjoy this genre and you can tolerate Glass’ mindless waffle about the dilemmas she faces on a daily basis like whether she can fit going out shopping around collecting her daughter from school, this scene is worth sticking in for. It carries a huge emotional pull and it brings to light a very real and often forgotten side of social work.

What isn't so great?
The main criticism to be had of ‘Please Don’t Take My Baby’ is the same that many others have said across Glass’ whole line of books – the description. Every little thing is described to the point where you just don’t care exactly how she cleans up the bathroom or her hyper-smothering dilemma of not giving her children green vegetables with their evening meal for one night. It’s borderline ridiculous.

This teenage diary-like writing though does have its minor perks, it’s so easy to follow what’s going on in the story that every situation is spelled out for you in about twenty different ways. If you’re into that, then perhaps you should give this book a shot with your teeth gritted but otherwise, kicking down that 2 for £5 shelf full of weepy child faces adorning book covers might be a more enjoyable activity. Another slight bonus of this descriptive overload is that it makes it feel more realistic. However, Glass’ head is not somewhere I’d recommend anyone spend too much time in as it seems far too preoccupied with looking like a perfect person all of the time. Hopefully, the whole thing is just whitewashed with an overload of goodness to make her feel better or look like the angel of foster carers but it’s too much and if it is real, she wouldn’t make an interesting dinner guest by any means with her constant emotional doubts. The reservoir of patience foster carers must have seems incredible but this level of patience and understanding seems a over the top and a little concerning if anything else. If any fellow Glass reader has more thoughts on that, please comment or email me on enyamarie227@gmail.com because it's something I've found a little alarming when digging through her endless descriptions. 

Without giving too much away of the story, another point in this book had me incredibly riled up and it was downright hypocritical of Glass. All of Jade’s troubles seemed to stem from her age, seventeen, not the fact that she was clearly an irresponsible, selfish and generally frustrating person. The book gave the impression that if Jade had been a few years older, she would magically make a wonderful mother but of all people, a foster carer should realise that age, while being an important factor, is definitely not the biggest in how someone cares for a child.
This was written with the stigma of teenage mothers in mind and it was so despicably discriminating in some parts that it was unbearable. Conversely, the sixteen year old father doing his GCSE’s was painted as a wonderful person at the end which seemed to cast the entire first half of the book where Glass repeatedly emphasised how young Jade was quite hypocritical. The whole book would have been far better if it wasn’t peppered with judgement about Jade’s age because really, we all know that her being a few months younger than the magical 18 mark wasn’t the cause for her being a total idiot.


Overall, ‘Please Don’t Take My Baby’ is okay.
It’s okay to take on a boring flight or to turn to at 4am. It isn’t okay to take to a book club and remark on how it profoundly changed your life (it won’t, by the way). It’ll do but it’s by no means brilliant and I can almost guarantee that anyone who has read it won’t be too boastful of it unless they are part of the cult. Though following the formula typical of this genre, it isn’t hugely successful and I’ve found some of Glass’ other books to be written in a much more enjoyable way. Unless you come across it and there’s little else that looks better (for instance, a sleepless sleepover at a member of the cult’s house where this might sit proudly, pride of place on their bookcase full of misery), I’d give this a miss.”


(Read 17th January, 2015)

Thursday, 1 January 2015

The English Teacup’s 2015 Plans & The Goodreads Challenge

This will be just a short post as New Year’s Day is a special time reserved for hangovers, resolutions, taking down the Christmas decorations and for me, the setting of a new reading challenge for 2015 (as well as studying, if you’ve been following my Twitter lately then you’ll realise the significance that I’ve made nearly 300 flashcards now…).

The Goodreads Challenge

View my reading statistics for the year here

This year I’ve decided to try and tackle a mammoth 70 books despite falling short of my 2014 goal of 66 books by 6 books. If you remember from one of my previous posts (25 Things To Do Before You're 25), I aim to read 100 books in a year before I’m twenty-five. My vague plan is for that year to be 2018 but we’ll see how that goes…


Reading 70 books this year would be great prep for that challenge though and that’s exactly why I’m tackling it, well that and the fact that I currently have access to one of the best university library’s in the country.

Compared to 2013, there hasn’t been much notable difference in the amount I’ve read (one more book but nearly a thousand less pages) but there has been a lot more non-fiction and I’m sure 2015 will see another vamp up in the amount of non-fiction I end up reading. This is as expected but it doesn’t mean that non-fiction is a breeze, particularly when it’s something that has to be remembered by taking down notes or remembering page numbers which is why I try and read it alongside fiction as much as possible!

Since the year has ended with 7 books stuck on my ‘currently reading’ shelf, my first plans for this year are to finish those. Included in that list, is my 17th re-reading of the Harry Potter series (at this point, it’s more like reading a lullaby to myself than actually having to use any imagination!). There’s also the remaining three quarters of the huge tome, ‘Europe – Norman Davies’ to contend with as well as three books that I’ve yet to review for publishers. Already a busy start to the year! Reading might be a bit of an obsession now but my aspirations for The English Teacup in 2015 don’t stop there.

Here’s a lovely list of what I’ve got in store for the year:

1) Finishing the book I’ve been writing all of 2014 - currently, I’m about 5,000-10,000 words from having it end but they do say that letting go is the hardest part!
2) Posting more book reviews – more reviews means more books from publishers which, naturally, means more reviews. It’s a win-win, you know, so long as I keep up the discipline to remember to write them instead of my usual rant-delete-forget about the book forever practise…

3) Posting more product reviews – I love getting samples off companies. It’s a buzz to get things in the post these days when everything happens on the online world and it’s an even bigger buzz when it’s something you’ve been wanting to try but didn’t want to end up lumped with a load of it in case it’s awful. The only problem is, companies often take a while to respond to sample requests so product reviews tend to rely on me parting with my coppers (it doesn’t happen often). This year I’m going to up the game a little, just you wait!


4) Short fiction – Whenever I write short fiction, I tend to make it into something more until it’s incorporated into this huge project or lost in my sea of writing notes. After seeing a couple of friends and fellow bloggers’ short fiction however, I’ve been inspired to take a true crack at it myself this year. 


5) 
More Social Media Interaction – Social media is great for the sharing of ideas but it’s all too easy to fall down the rabbit-hole and then come back out wondering where the past three hours have got to.  That’s the reason I usually avoid putting The English Teacup too ‘out there’, it means less time for blogging but there is a balance to be struck somewhere. With the success The English Teacup has had this year, the balance needs to be shifted a little – this year I plan on becoming more active on The English Teacup Twitter account and at some point, perhaps starting a Facebook page although that still remains to be seen.


Image courtesy of http://twinningfortwins.wordpress.com/

All of the above and I hope to see my 25,000th viewer this year, it’s going to be an exciting one and I can't wait to write my way through it!

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Tips and Tricks on Achieving Your New Year's Resolutions

Image courtesy of Tumblr.com
At the end of December, millions of people sit down in front of a blank piece of paper and rack their brains to think of goals that they believe will improve themselves and their lives for the next calendar year. Some, will have the same goals as the previous year or will have a firm idea in their mind at what they want to get out of 2015, others will be sitting there lose and daunted at the prospect of the second hand ticking over to midnight and a fresh year beginning anew.

When you think about it, there’s something odd about waiting around to improve yourself at the turn of the year when you have that chance every minute, hour and day of your life but still, the temptation of renewing ourselves when January comes along has a big pull to it.

So what will your resolutions be?

More importantly, how will you achieve your resolutions?

It simply isn’t enough to say you want to be richer or you want to be fitter and just hope that if you will hard enough it will take care of itself. Some people do get their own little miracles but for the rest of us mere mortals, the only way to achieve the objectives we’re after in our lives is to work for it. Now the reason most new year resolutions fail is because people try and take on far too much all in one go and so many changes just leads to you being overwhelmed and slipping back into old habits which is exactly the opposite of what you want to do. It’s important to take one step at a time. It’s also obvious but you try and find a single person who has never attempted to change the way they live in one fell swoop. It’s something that gets the best of all of us.

Another problem many fall foul of is being more adventurous than they realistically can. Stay realistic. Let’s face it; you probably aren’t going to go from being a couch potato to running three marathons a month this year. Nor are you going to master the guitar in just a few weeks or going to be able to speak five languages fluently by 2016 if you could barely make it through a Rosetta Stone CD in December. Unless you’re blessed with magical powers, a lot of these achievements take years of hard work and determination before they’re properly integrated into your life and that’s okay. We all start off as beginners at some point. Just bear that in mind when you’re ready to throw your Everest survival book on a bonfire…


Be positive. Chances are you will fall off the wagon whatever your goal, a cheeky cigarette at a party or a splurge spend when you see that one-off sale from your favourite shop. It happens. What matters is how you deal with it and move on, it’s all too easy for one knock to throw you completely off course and it happens to the best of us. A lot of the time it’s harder to pick yourself back up than it is to start towards your goal in the first place so bear in mind how proud you’ll feel if you get whatever you’re aiming for in a year’s time. 

A poll carried out by YouGov of new year's resolutions of users for 2014


When you want to travel somewhere, you have to plan your journey. Working towards a goal isn’t any different. Make a plan and stick to it as much as you realistically can. It will help to know what you’re doing each step of the way and to see that you’re on track making the progress you need to in order to reach your objective. This of course, means that you have to spend a bit more time on your new year’s resolutions but if it works it, it’s better than the time you would usually spend wasted next year wondering what could have been if only you’d stuck to your goals.

Will you have forgotten about all your optimistic plans by March? If you read that statement and are sitting there with your step by step plan and a clear goal in your head then you’re on the right path. However, if you see it and grudgingly mumble that it’s probably going to happen then you need to do something about it. Have a think about what motivates you, is it rewards? Friends egging you on? Someone to undertake your challenge with you? Your bank balance? Whatever it is, find a way to make it work for you and your target. Have a back up plan in case your motivation gets a bit wobbly but most of all, don’t let your determination dissolve over time. It has to be as fresh throughout the year as it was on the 1st of January or you’re already letting your goal down.

Take these points in mind when you’re facing your blank piece of paper this year but remember, new year’s resolutions aren’t important. We make them up for our own concept of the new year which is great and all but it’s vital not to overlook that every moment in our lives is crammed full of opportunity. Time waits for no man so why wait until the year ticks over to start something new? If you want something enough, you’ll find a way to achieve it one day, it’s just the struggle of trying until that day comes.


In case you're wondering, one of the resolutions I have this year is for The English Teacup to get its 25,000th viewer! You can help me with this by continuing your readership, sharing my posts on social media and liking/commenting on my updates.


Best of luck to all of you undertaking your resolutions!
I hope you enjoy happy and safe New Year’s celebrations with friends and family.

Goodbye 2014!
      - The English Teacup