12/03/14 - Gary Blythe at the Williamson Art Gallery

Last Friday I was lucky enough to attend an exhibition's private view the night before it officially opened to the public.  I've been going to them for years through my dad's work connections and they're always interesting, but this particular one really blew me away and I couldn't resist writing about it.  I was in the role of unofficial photographer for the evening, so I was dashing around with a complimentary glass of wine in one hand and camera in the other...exactly the way I wish I could spend every night!

Gary Blythe is an insanely talented local artist who is best known for illustrating picture books.  Having spent a bizarre amount of time around children's books (occupational hazard of working in a library), I recognised quite a lot of his work.  The printed reproductions in the books don't do justice to the incredible technique and detail of the original paintings.

This Is The Star by Joyce Dunbar

Beauty and the Beast by Geraldine McCaughrean
Whale's Song by Dyan Sheldon
Blythe won the 1990 Kate Greenaway Medal for Whale's Song.
The Perfect Bear by Gillian Shields
I was particularly drawn to the display of gorgeous pencil drawings.  The ones on the left-hand side of the photo below are from Jan Needle's Dracula and the incredible detail in each perfectly shaded scene is utterly breathtaking.

This illustration from Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden (above) was probably my favourite piece in the whole exhibition.  The simplicity of this little pencil drawing means that it could initially be overlooked, but there was something about the serenity emanating from the little girl in the picture which meant that I spent a very long time looking at it and I found myself wandering back to it several times throughout the evening.

Gallery 2 was something of a departure, featuring Blythe's private work rather than his illustrations.  If you didn't know any better you would say that the two rooms featured totally different artists, although the more you browse and think about the work it is clear that there are some themes and motifs which work their way from his personal collection into his illustrations.

It was even hard to believe that the work on one wall of Gallery 2 was by the same artist as that on the opposite wall.  The range of styles and techniques throughout the exhibition was incredibly impressive, and certainly makes for a varied experience as you stroll around the space taking it all in.

The exhibition is open to the public until Sunday 4th May at the Williamson Art Gallery in Birkenhead.  It's a wonderful little gallery, something of a hidden gem across the water from the big flashy museums in Liverpool.  It's definitely worth a visit if you're in the area; the space boasts a friendly cafe, a shop featuring the work of local artists and an incredibly well-stocked bookshop.

I'm definitely going to be visiting again before it closes; as I said, I experience quite a lot of exhibitions but it's rare for one to take my breath away and fascinate me quite as much as this one has!

When was the last time an art exhibition really impressed you?  Let me know in the comments!

06/03/14 - How Many Books Is Too Many?

In honour of World Book Day, I've decided to do what I suppose could be described as a 'haul'.  Rather than beauty products or clothes, it's made up entirely of books and no, these were not all acquired on one occasion.  This is essentially a way to embarrass myself into reducing the ever-mounting stack of unread books that I add to much faster than I could ever possibly plough through it.  I know some of you enjoy reading my posts about books, so surely you'll adore one that features so many titles!  Unfortunately as I haven't read most of these, I won't be able to say a great deal about them but you can get a peek at my current to-read pile.

This is basically every book I've bought or been given since pretty early on in 2014...I suspect there are some which have slipped through the net and of course, there are plenty more books than this that I want to read.

First up; the paperbacks!

1) Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson (£2.99 in a sale) - I'd heard some good things about this from various sources, so when I saw it in the sale I couldn't resist.  It seems fairly typically 'YA dystopian' but the blurb sounds more interesting to me than a lot of that genre, so I'm looking forward to reading it.

2) Dare Me by Megan Abbott (£7.99 but half price with staff discount card) - this one looks and sounds a bit like an erotic novel, but it's actually a crime thriller about high school cheerleaders...it still doesn't sound too intellectually stimulating, but I'm fairly certain it was nominated for some big crime fiction award recently so it can't be that bad.

3) Countess Dracula by Guy Adams (£2.99 in a sale) - totally frivolous purchase mostly inspired by the low price.  It's apparently the novelisation of a classic Hammer horror film (something I know literally nothing about) and is about vampires in 1930s Hollywood.  That's good enough for me.

4) West End Girls by Jenny Colgan (maybe £3, in a supermarket) - supermarkets are great places to pick up chick-lit at incredibly reasonable prices and I have to admit that I can be a fan of a bit of fluff every now and then.  Two sisters move to Chelsea and struggle to make it in London...so far, so silly but I imagine it'll be a nice easy read.

5) Bon Voyage and other Stories by Noël Coward (3 books for £1, charity shop) - I love really old editions of books and you can never go wrong with some Coward.  I don't read enough short stories and those yellowing pages just enticed me in. 

6) Revenge by Stephen Fry (£1.75, charity shop) - this was purchased initially because it appeared to be a Stephen Fry book that we didn't own...turns out it's an American edition of The Stars' Tennis Balls which we actually have, but this way I get my own copy.

7) A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby (3 books for £1, charity shop) - turns out this is one we already have as well, but I bought it because I'm really keen to see the new film adaptation starring Pierce Brosnan and I like to read the original book first.

8) Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (£6.99 but half price with staff discount card) - I'd actually already read this one on my Kindle, but some books just beg to be bought in a physical copy as well.  This is one of them.  Fantastic book, I would recommend it to anyone.

9) The Flirt by Kathleen Tessaro (3 books for £1, charity shop) - no real idea what this one's about...I have quite a lot of her novels and always really enjoy them, so I knew I couldn't go wrong.

Next up to the plate; the hardbacks!

I apologise for the dodgy colouring on this photo...the lighting on the original wasn't great and no amount of editing could hide that fact.  I'm new to the photo editing game, so please forgive me

1) Z: a Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler (a gift from my parents but I know it was in a sale) - anyone who has ever spoken to me probably knows I'm a little obsessed with the Fitzgeralds and particularly Zelda, so this was just an obvious choice.

2) The Animals: Love Letters between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy (£25 but half price in a sale) - I adore Isherwood and thought this beautiful book was too good to pass up when I saw it in the sale.  The letters span a period of over thirty years and detail the extraordinary romantic relationship of the two men as they overcome the prejudices of an otherwise closeted society and a thirty-year age gap.  I can't wait to dip in and out of this.

3) C by Tom McCarthy (50p in a sale) - it was FIFTY PENCE for a good condition hardback. Need I say more?  Also, the blurb looks fascinating and far too complicated to explain here.  I don't really know what it's about, but I'm looking forward to finding out.

4) First Novel by Nicholas Royle (£16.99 but half price in a sale and half price again with staff discount - I loved my staff discount!) - another one which I bought purely on a whim, the blurb itself doesn't seem entirely sure what the book is about.  Really fascinated to get stuck into it.

5) Restoration by Rose Tremain (£2.99, charity shop) - on recommendation from my mother who is always surprised by how little historical fiction I read.  I can't resist those gorgeous Vintage Modern Classics with the fabric covers.

6) I Married You For Happiness by Lily Tuck (£1, The Works) - this slim hardback really interested me and for a pound, I decided to treat myself.  On the unexpected death of her husband, Nina sits at his bedside and remembers the highs and lows of their forty year marriage.  From what I've heard, this is something of a tear-jerker but it sounds like a lovely little story.

7) The Visionist by Rachel Urquhart (gift from my friend Rosie who got it from an internship at the publishing company) - I'm not really sure what this is about, but any free book certainly earns a place on my bookshelf and the copy itself is beautiful...some books just make you want to stroke their covers and this is one of them. 

Last and most certainly not least; the library books!

After looking at the previous lists, you must be wondering why I have yet more books to include.  "Surely you're not lacking reading material, Hannah?" I can hear you asking. "Why did you need to go to the library?"  Good question, reader.  I just can't stay away.  It's a problem, okay?

1) What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver - a further bid to increase the number of short stories that I read.  I've read some Carver before and enjoyed it, and at barely 140 pages long this slim volume shouldn't take me too long to get through!

2) Briefs Encountered by Julian Clary - paralleling the true story of Noël Coward's love affair with Jack Wilson in the 1930s and a fictional couple in the modern day, the two stories linked by the same house (which incidentally Clary himself occupies today), I've heard that this is a lot of fun.

3) The Makedown by Gitty Daneshvari - I've actually just finished reading this and it was...okay.  The premise (female protagonist who used to be fat and nerdy gets hot boyfriend and decides she'd stand a better chance of keeping him if she were to make him less attractive, cue her putting chocolate into nutrition bar wrappers and Nair in his shampoo) was far-fetched to say the least, but overall it was fairly entertaining.  A nice easy read with a fairly solid moral; don't be a psycho girlfriend who ruins your boyfriend's life.

4) Lucky Bunny by Jill Dawson - set in London's East End, the story follows Queenie Dove from petty theft during the Blitz to more elaborate heists in London's seedy underworld.  I've always been fascinated by the influence and criminal dealings of 1950s mobsters such as the Kray twins, so this should be an interesting read.

5) The Executioner's Daughter by Jane Hardstaff - I've read this one and I did rather enjoy it.  I think it's technically a children's book but the combination of historical influence (set in Tudor times) and fantastical danger, it was a good old adventure tale.

6) The Suicide Shop by Jean Teulé - translated from the original French, this black comedy is about a family who run a shop which offers a huge range of suicide methods to suit every budget.  They find their business somewhat derailed by their youngest son's unwavering cheeriness and joy for life.  The premise is so dark and clever, I really can't wait to read it!

And there you have it!  The obscene number of books I have hanging around in my room waiting to be read.  And that's just the new ones; there are plenty that I've had for months and even more that live on my parents' bookshelves that I really want to try.  My new job will require a lot of time spend on trains, so I should get a lot of reading done.

I'm also a healthy 12 books into my attempt to read 60 books in 2014...you can keep track of my progress and see what I've been reading over on Goodreads!  I'd love to see what you've all been reading, so add me or whatever it is you do on there.

Do you have stacks of books you haven't read hanging around your room?  If you're a hoarder like me, let me know in the comments!

03/03/14 - Hannah and Heather Hit Up Hickory's

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Today, Heather (of the Exploring Liverpool series) and I decided to change tactics and try somewhere on our side of the Mersey instead of venturing across.  The Wirral is jam-packed with great places to eat if you know where to look so we headed to West Kirby, which is known for being a bit more upmarket than where we live, to sample the delights of somewhere we'd both heard a lot about - Hickory's Smokehouse.

The main thing I'd heard about Hickory's is that they do the most amazing American-style breakfasts (the pancakes in particular look to die for!) but Heather and I were being ladies who lunch so that will just have to wait for another occasion.  We decided to treat ourselves as a little celebration; Heather has been offered a place on a graduate scheme which sounds absolutely incredible for her, and I am once again a gainfully employed human being!  So a big old three course lunch was most certainly in order and Hickory's did not disappoint.

The place instantly made a good impression as the waitress welcomed us to our table with a big bottle of water (something you normally have to ask for) and a bag of complimentary popcorn.  Having something to nibble on while you peruse the menu is a feature I think more restaurants should include!

As Heather was driving, our usual cocktail consumption was curtailed although there seemed to be a lot of very tempting choices.  Instead, Heather ordered cloudy lemonade and I had peach and passionfruit iced tea (each £2.50) which came served in these really cute jamjars and were definitely refreshing, a lovely compliment to the gorgeous sunny weather we've been having.

After much deliberation, we chose to share a giant pretzel served with hummus and spicy sauce (£4.50) as a starter, mostly due to the fact that we agreed that we would be unlikely to find it offered somewhere else.  The pretzel was delicious, the hummus incredibly more-ish and the spicy sauce was spicy but very tasty...I'm not good with hot foods, but even I found myself dipping into it several times!  The portion was very generous and just the right amount to share, I don't think I could have eaten it all myself especially not at a lunchtime.  We may have ended up with the little black seeds all over the table, but it was worth it!

After polishing off the hummus with the last of the popcorn (a killer combination, definitely try it at some point!), our mains were very promptly delivered to the table.  As Hickory's specialises in American-style barbecue, there are lots of meaty options for all you carnivores and Heather had BBQ pulled pork served with fries and coleslaw (£9.95) which was apparently delicious, but the incredible portion ended up being a little too much for her!

I had chargrilled vegetable fajitas (£9.95) in attempt to get some of my five-a-day...I figured it was marginally healthier than the mac'n'cheese I was tempted by!  The vegetables, which were sizzling away as they were placed in front of me which a warning that the pan was "really really hot", had a gorgeous smokey flavour and the range of different veg was impressive...who would have thought to pop carrots in there?  I made a decent fist of polishing it all off, but I too was defeated by the mighty American portions!

As the waitress cleared the table, we both commented on how full the food had made us and how disappointed we were that we hadn't been able to finish our main courses...before nodding effusively when offered a dessert menu!  We'd clocked the variety of sweet delights on offer as soon as we looked at the menu and nothing was going to stop us trying something.  We opted to share one and were immediately drawn to the chocolate and peanut butter tart with raspberry ripple cream (£5.95).  As soon as it was brought to the table, we knew that we'd made the right decision.  The chocolate filling was thick and rich and everso slightly bitter, complimented by the sweeter edge of the peanuts.  Splitting it was definitely a good idea, but I'm really glad that I got to sample one of the desserts...next time I go, I have my eye on the salted caramel and cappuccino cheesecake which sounds more than a little bit perfect!

I don't think I'll be able to keep away from Hickory's for long; I was really impressed by the speed with which each new course graced our table and the food was definitely worth going back for.  Hopefully having a job will allow me to eat out a little more (although I realise it must seem as though it's something I do all the bloody time!) and I certainly intend to get my brunch on with some of their incredible pancakes!  The portions are a little diet-destroying, but it's the perfect place for a treat.  If you want more information, I've linked the website at the top of this post...there's one in Chester as well, so if you're in the North West, I highly recommend you go and try it!

Do you have any restaurant recommendations?  Let me know in the comments!