Pasta Evangelists

My favourite food is PASTA. As a vegetarian, I’ve found Italian food one of the most versatile. So when my friend recommended Pasta Evangelists – the fresh pasta subscription service – I had to try it. Here’s my review and if you want to try some yourself then follow this link to get 25% off your first order.

Unlike many food subscriptions, Pasta Evangelists food doesn’t feel like your average ready meal. This pasta is fresh, handmade and it tastes amazing. The options are always diverse and the veggie menus on offer have been really exciting. So far I’ve had mozzarella tortellini, arrabbiata fusilli, pesto gnocchi, pumpkin ravioli, mac and cheese… and I’ve got Porcini, Wild Mushroom & Chestnut Tortelloni with Thyme Butter & Hazelnuts, Tagliatelle with Ligurian Basil Pesto & Pine Nuts  and Pumpkin Lasagna on the way. I can’t wait to try them!

The ordering process is very simple. Choose a one off order or opt for a subscription to save money. There are three subscription offers: Vegetarian, Variety and Gourmet. Then pick:

  • the number of dishes you want to receive
  • the frequency (weekly, fortnightly etc)
  • when you want your pasta delivered (I go for Tuesdays so I have the delivery at the start of the week)

I like the subscription model because I can be a bit lazy cooking through the week and it’s handy to know I’m always going to have some yummy pasta stocked in the fridge for nights when I’m feeling a bit tired or uninspired.

As for delivery, the fresh pasta comes packed with cool bags and insulation.  I was really impressed with the thoughtfulness of their packaging and the best part is that you can send it all back to Pasta Evangelists for recycling so it ticks the sustainable box too.

And when the food arrives, everything is super simple. Each pasta dish comes with its own recipe card and the different elements are colour-coded so it can be easily sorted out. Typically, there are only about three or four steps to follow and they take about 10 minutes to make and the finished product is Insta-worthy.

I’ll be honest. The big downside of Pasta Evangelists is that it is a little on the expensive side. It’ll cost you about £7 or £8 per portion of pasta although you do save on the subscriptions. Having said that, I do think it’s worth it because it is restaurant-quality and the average ready meal in the supermarket costs about £3 anyway and tastes no where near as good.

And if you want to save some money you can get 25% off your first box with my family and friends referral or simply quote ‘April Smyth’ at the checkout. You get cheap and delicious pasta and I’ll get a free box too. Win, win!

P.S. I’m not affiliated with Pasta Evangelists and this isn’t a sponsored post, I just really love and believe in their products.

Keep up-to-date with my favourite things on Instagram @the.fourth.month.

International Women’s Day: Books By Fierce Females

Happy International Women’s Day!

While I think we should be shouting the praises of our favourite women every day, today is the perfect chance to celebrate fierce females from across the world and in different communities. I’m very proud to work and study alongside some wonderful ladies and I’m also over the moon to be working for the UK’s only independent women’s press, Linen Press. They publish books written by diverse women about a wide range of topics; please check them out.

Honestly, I mostly only read books by women. It’s never been an active decision but I love reading female voices and I studied gender issues a lot in my undergraduate degree so my bookshelves are filled with more or less exclusively female authors. However, for the sake of International Women’s Day, and because my dear friend Eilidh requested this blog a while ago, I’m going to do a top ten of some of my personal favourite books by women.


1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

I am starting to impress myself with my ability to include this book in every reading list I have ever written – see My Top 5 Books of 2016The Liebster Award and Classic Bibliophile Literary Designs for more about my love for this book. Jane Eyre is my all-time favourite book. It follows Jane on a journey of self-discovery. She falls in love but refuses to sacrifices her sense of self for a man. It was completely innovative and ambitious at the time and Brontë managed to create one of the most badass women in literary history.

2. Girls Will Be Girls by Emer O’Toole

This is a bit sneaky because I haven’t actually finished it yet. However, I’m confident that it will continue to be awesome so I’m going to recommend it anyway. It was chosen as the Napier Literary Society ‘Book of the Month’ for International Women’s Day and I recommend it to everyone. It’s a non-fiction book looking at the way we perform gender and O’Toole tackles everything from underarm hair to pronouns. I think this should be handed out to every new student at University because it provides a very clear overview of gender.

3. The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Another one of my all-time favouritesThe Miniaturist tells the story of a young woman living in 17th-century Amsterdam with her new wealthy husband. Deep secrets are revealed and nothing is as it seems as Burton explores modern-day issues of gender and sexuality in an otherworldly and magical setting. I get really annoyed when people haven’t read this book because it is SO GOOD. Read it now!

4. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

The Bloody Chamber is a collection of postmodernist fairytale retellings and it is awesome. It’s dark, sexy and sinister and you will never look at the Disney princesses in the same way again once you’ve read it. Carter plays with gender and sexuality and flips classic fairy tales on their head. There are a few Beauty and the Beast retellings in there which is quite relevant considering the impending release of the new B&TB movie.

5. Minaret by Leila Aboulela

I happened upon this book during my final year at Glasgow Uni when I was studying postcolonial literature and it is a hidden treasure. This novel tells the story of Najwa, a Muslim woman living a life of luxury in Sudan until a coup forces Najwa and her family into political exile in London. This book was a real eye-opener for me and I loved that it doesn’t play into the stereotype of Muslim woman as victim. Najwa’s faith is her strength and it’s really beautiful.

6. How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

This was the book that made me realise I was a feminist. I read it when I was about eighteen years old when I was just discovering who I was as a young woman. In this memoir, Moran makes you laugh, makes you angry and makes you proud to be a woman. I really recommend it to any young woman leaving school and figuring out where they stand in the big bad world. Moran will sort you out.

7. Expecting: The Inner Life of Pregnancy by Chitra Ramaswamy

When I first found out that I had to read a book about pregnancy for the SYP Saltire Awards I was a bit anxious. What did I know about pregnancy? What did I want to know about pregnancy? But fear not! This book is an utterly charming yet raw memoir about Ramaswamy’s experience of pregnancy, same-sex parenthood and life as a minority. She is incredibly intelligent and has a penchant for “name-dropping” some of the best literature in history.

8. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

My most recent read, Big Magicis inspirational not just because it was written by a very cool lady. It talks all about the anxieties we feel as creative people and how we can learn to overcome them. I wrote a bit more about it in my February Reading Round Up so check that out if you’re interested. I listened to it on audiobook and I’d recommend this format because Elizabeth Gilbert really sells her own stories.

9. Sula by Toni Morrison

All hail Queen Toni. Sula is a novel about two friends growing up in the Bottom, a mostly black neighbourhood in Ohio. Morrison has a huge talent for exploring female friendships and Sula is no exception. The eponymous character, Sula, is a disruptive and dangerous force who challenges gender and moral expectations while her friend, Nel, is an incredibly resilient woman determined to rewrite her own story.

10. Malina by Ingeborg Bachmann

I wrote my dissertation partly on this book. It is relatively unknown in the UK but I’m determined to get more people reading it. Ingeborg Bachmann is the Austrian equivalent of Sylvia Plath – although she is incredibly unique and I probably shouldn’t reduce her to a comparison like that. Malina is a crazy, topsy-turvy novel about an unnamed female writer and her relationship with two different men. Trigger warning: features very upsetting scenes including sexual and violent abuse by the narrator’s father.


There are so many books written by women that I absolutely love but alas I have Uni deadlines and cannot spend my life writing them all down. Comment below with your favourites.

Let’s chat about awesome women on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

My 2017 mantra is Read More, Worry Less. 2016 was a great year for me despite all the political and cultural upheaval that was going on but the big changes (graduating, moving to Edinburgh and starting a degree in Publishing) meant I didn’t read as much as I would’ve liked. I just managed to hit my thirty books target on GoodReads and I know that’s a relatively small number compared to some of you bookworms. This year I’d like to read forty books and to help reach my target, I’ve decided to embrace audiobooks. Until now, I had never listened to an audiobook and dismissed it along with eBooks as a poor substitute for the real thing but no more!

Here’s my review of The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo which I listened to on Audible narrated by the author herself.

Recently, I put a plea out on Twitter for advice on audiobooks. Are they good? Worth the money? What kind of books would you recommend listening to? I got a month’s free subscription to Audible, which gives you a free credit towards any audiobook. I had heard The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo was an amazing read from a classmate and I had already proclaimed it as my most anticipated read in 2016 yet never got around to reading it. The lovely @readingandinked recommended it as an audiobook along with Amy Poehler’s autobiography, Lauren Graham’s autobiography and The Power of Habit, which are now all on my radar.

First of all, I am not a big Amy Schumer fan. I’m not not a fan but I’ve only really encountered her in Trainwreck. I’ve not watched her comedy sketches or her TV show so I was fairly in the dark about Amy who seemed to explode onto the comedy scene really quickly. I have friends who love her and I liked that she talks about body positivity and sexuality in a frank and fun way that I can relate to. Although, I am aware that Amy Schumer 100% does not speak for womankind – a point which she makes clear in her book – and that she cannot and does not pretend to represent everyone. However, I personally found myself drawn to her especially after her Pirelli Calander shoot with Annie Lebowitz. THOSE TUMMY ROLLS ARE EVERYTHING!

After listening to The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, I am officially a fan. Having her voice in my ears for eight whole hours made me feel like she’s my best friend. If you’re unsure about Amy Schumer, read this book. Not only is she as witty and self-deprecating as I expected but there were a lot of surprises including her difficult relationship with her parents: a boozy lothario father who becomes a tragic hero when he develops Multiple Sclerosis and a cheating and manipulative mother. She doesn’t hold back about relationships including a rather harrowing account of an abusive relationship with one boyfriend. I had shivers when she talked about her realisation that she was in a violent relationship. Like many women, she thought she couldn’t possibly be a victim. She was a strong, bubbly and intelligent woman yet she found herself in the hands of an abusive lover. Amy makes a plea to her readers to know that this can happen to anyone.

In fact, the whole book feels like a letter to young people (especially women). Each chapter brings another nugget of wisdom: it’s okay to have shitty parents, it’s fine to admit you’re weak, you’re allowed to make mistakes (like a regrettable lower back tattoo) and it’s cool to be a woman and enjoy having sex. Although, Amy surprised me by admitting that she has only had one ‘one night stand.’ I think her celebrity persona plays upon her open sexuality and I had a preconception that she had had a lot more sex than she actually has. Most of her experiences have been in relationships but by no means does she condemn anyone that has one-night-affairs. I liked that. She wasn’t saying GO HAVE SEX WITH EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING nor was she advocating for only having sex with long-term partners. It was more: you do you (as long as it’s consensual).

However, this book is not just a string of hapless relationships. Amy talks emotively about her father’s illness, about her determination to become a successful comedian (that girl put in some serious graft) and about just being happy with yourself:

Love yourself. You don’t need a man, or a boy, or a self-proclaimed love expert to tell you what you’re worth. Your power comes from who you are and what you do. You don’t need all that noise – that constant hum in the background telling you whether or not you’re good enough.

I love her advocacy for body positivity. She talks about being a frustrated teenager realising that she wasn’t the prettiest girl in the class and naïvely wishing she could actually give herself an eating disorder. She talks about going on a crazy diet with her sister and joining boot camps to lose weight. She also discusses her intense love of pasta. I can relate to all of this as someone who eternally struggles with their weight. One of her body positive rants goes a little something like this…

Enough. Enough with these wafish elves walking your impossible clothing down an ugly runway with ugly lighting and noisy music. Life doesn’t look like that runway. Let’s see some ass up there and not just during the specially themed plus size show. We girls over size 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, we don’t want a special day! We want every day and we want you to get out of our fucking way because we are already here. You are living in the past, all you dated, strange magazines representing the weird fashion world that presents bizarre clothing that no one I have ever met wears.

She also devotes a chapter to ending gun violence in America. Yeah, that might not be what you signed up for with Amy Schumer but it is amazing that she chose to shed light on such a massive issue. I won’t go into too much detail here because I recommend you read the book for yourself. It is emotive and empowering and I’m glad Schumer isn’t letting her light-hearted and funny public persona get in the way of some real talk. Here’s some articles about Amy’s stance on gun violence: Amy Schumer rips Senate ‘cowardice’ on gun votes and Amy Schumer Had a Brilliant Take on Gun Violence Last Night.

I could go on to list more of the surprising moments in this book – it’s not at all what I expected but in the best way possible – but I want to encourage you to read it for yourself. I’m not a reader of autobiographies so this was a first in many ways and I’m glad Schumer broke my autobiography/audio book virginity because it was a wonderful experience. I also recommend listening to her narration because it adds a sense of personal to what is already a very personal book. At times, it’s funny, uplifting and hopeful and sometimes it’s sad, informative and emotional. I definitely recommend this one.


Have you got any audiobook recommendations? I have a credit to use on Audible! Let me know on Twitter or Instagram.

Trials: On Death Row In Pakistan by Isabel Buchanan

So I’m posting this on a bit of a delay and, for once, it’s not because I forgot or ran out of time but because I wanted to wait until after the Saltire Literary Awards took place before I posted this review. Thanks to the Society of Young Publishers, I was lucky enough to join the Shadow Panel for the First Book Award at the annual Saltire Society Literary Awards. Trials: On Death Row In Pakistan by Isabel Buchanan was the first book I picked up on the list and while it was a slow starter, I enjoyed it in the end.  I wrote this before the awards took place so the winner (a joint victory for Trials and Chitra Ramaswamy’s Expecting) has no bearing on my thoughts.

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Trials: On Death Row In Pakistan is a non-fiction book written by Scottish lawyer, Isabel Buchanan. It chronicles her time working in a new legal chamber in Lahore, Pakistan under the watchful eye of a young and forceful Pakistani lawyer, Sarah Belal, who has made it her life’s mission to defend those condemned to death row in Pakistan. It follows the stories of several condemned inmates, short biographies of the other employees at Sarah’s chambers and tales of controversial blasphemy and unjust laws.

I studied Postcolonial Literature in my undergrad so this isn’t a text that I felt completely unfamiliar entering into. However, because of my studies, I’m hyper aware of the Western desire to portray Pakistan and the “mysterious East” as uncivilized, unfair and  inferior to Anglo-American society. So I approached Trials with enthusiasm to read something different after a summer of Young Adult fiction but also with caution after a year of studying Gayatri Spivak and Edward Said.

Buchanan treads a fine line between hard-hitting evidence and enchanting storytelling in this book. The opening page is a perfect example of this as she begins with the story of Mr Hussein who makes “the best chips and curry sauce in East Lothian.” For someone with an aversion to all things legal, except maybe binge-watching Suits on  Netflix, I was put at ease by the gentleness of this opening but make no mistakes: Trials is not a light or easy read and it quickly takes a turn towards a factual hurricane. Case after case, law after law, I was thrust into a world of blasphemy, bad handwriting, and badass women. All of which were, at times, intimidating.

The strong women are my favourite thing about Trials. Gayatri Spivak once said: ‘If, in the contest of colonial production, the subaltern has no history and cannot speak, the subaltern as female is, even more deeply in shadow.’ (Spivak, Cambridge: 1999) So it was refreshing to read a book set in Pakistan that features two women at the centre fighting for a cause they believe in as opposed to being portrayed as victims. Sarah Belal is one of the coolest women I’ve read in contemporary literature. I’ve since researched Belal a little and she is just as brilliant in real life as Buchanan portrays her in Trials. She’s the founder of Justice Project Pakistan which aims to serve the poorest prisoners facing the harshest punishments in the courts of law. She is incredibly intelligent and relentless in her pursuit of justice. If you don’t read this book then at least google her!

At times I struggled to understand what this book was supposed to be doing. Is it simply a chronicle of Buchanan’s time in Pakistan? Was it supposed to be provocative? Subjective or objective? I appreciated that Trials takes a step away from “court-drama Hollywood portrayal” of advocates and law firms but, at times, I felt like this book lost its path.

At times I got lost in the legal facts and for this reason, I wouldn’t recommend Trials to everyone. However, I do think the stories Buchanan is telling in this book are insurmountably important. Women like Sarah Belal are role models for the next generation of lawyers and activists so I’m glad that I had the opportunity to read it. Mostly I’d recommend this book to budding lawyers and maybe to anyone considering applying to study Law or Sociology at University but unless you have an avid interest in the world of law or postcolonial studies, I’m not too sure this is one for the Christmas list.


Spivak, Gayatri ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ from Toward a History of the Vanishing Present (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999) p32

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

 

Candle photographed above is from Mobros Candles and diary is by Mr Wonderful.

Since publishing this review in 2016, Netflix released two hugely successful film adaptations of Jenny’s novels.

What a rollercoaster this book was for me. I was so excited to read it because I adored and completely devoured The Summer I Turned Pretty Series. As far as the Young Adult genre goes, it is easily my favourite series of books. And To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, like Fangirl, has had a lot of hype in the bookstagram community. So it was on my TBR list for quite a while and lay teasingly on my bookshelf while I made it through Senior Honours at University.

I was disappointed when I started. If you follow me on Instagram then you will have watched my journey through this book: it did not get off to a good start. I found it so cringe-worthy and I desperately wanted to give up but since I already abandoned Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris the week before I felt like I couldn’t give in that easily. Plus I enjoyed The Summer I Turned Pretty books so much that I knew I had to give Jenny Han the benefit of the doubt.

I was glad I did. While the first 100 pages had been a disappointment for me, the next 300 were magical. I couldn’t put it down. Yes, there were a few YA clichés: bad boy love interest, a love triangle, and a hopeless family that you love no matter what. However, I could move past them because Jenny Han’s characters are always well-developed and lovable.

While, at first, Lara Jean seemed a very whiny and annoying main character to follow, I grew to love her quirks. Her range of emotions would spike from high to low very quickly and her fleeting interest in more than one boy seemed very authentic for a teenage girl. I don’t know many young girls that sustain a crush for much longer than a few months before moving on to the next love-of-their-life. As far as the love triangle in the novel goes, I was Team Josh until about halfway through when I realised he was also moany and irritating. Not to mention the fact that he kisses his ex-girlfriend’s sister only months after they break up. YET HE CALLS PETER THE DOUCHEBAG?!

I love Kavinsky. Traditionally handsome, arrogantly charming but has a soft squishy heart underneath his cool guy exterior. Everything I want in a romantic lead. I can’t be the only reader that squealed every time Kavinsky was sweet to Lara-Jean’s little sister, Kitty. Their relationship is just adorable. I love Kitty too. She’s spunky, feisty and takes no prisoners – reminds me of my own little sister which is probably why I could relate to Lara Jean as a protagonist so much.

The ending was slightly anti-climactic for me after finally falling in love with the book but I suppose Jenny Han was leaving it very open ended for the sequel. I would have liked more closure between Lara Jean and Kavinsky. It was a smart move on Han and the publishers’ parts because now I just have to buy P.S I Still Love You to find out what happens next.

Have you read To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before? What did you think?