Broken Soup

"When I think of people like Kurt Cobain or River Phoenix or Marilyn Monroe, it seems the most famous thing they ever did was die young. They stopped being real people who took drugs or told lies or went to the loo or whatever. They became saints and geniuses overnight. They became whoever anybody wanted them to be. It was the same with Jack. He was a saint. We were just the living."

Rowan's big brother, Jack, has died, and Rowan is left to pick up the pieces of her old life which are left. Her dad has moved out, her mum is losing a battle with depression, and her little sister, Stroma, needs someone to take care of her. Instead of spending time with her friends, fifteen year old Rowan is cleaning the house, looking after her little sister, and trying to hide how ill her mum is from everyone, including her dad.

Then one day after school a boy hands her a negative of a photograph he insists that she dropped. Embarrassed, Rowan reluctantly takes the negative from the insistent stranger, and stuffs it in her school bag. Broken Soup follows Rowan as she solves the mystery of the negative, making friends with the mysterious boy, Harper, and an older girl from school, Bee, as she does.

Despite the difficult subjects covered in Broken Soup, I didn't feel morose at all reading it; Rowan is an incredibly likeable protagonist, who marches on, independent and strong, not letting the tragedy of her brother's death overwhelm her. She isn't heartless - she clearly misses Jack desperately - but she recognises that life does go on, and has to go on, if only for Stroma, a six year old little girl, whose parents seem to have forgotten her because of the death of a brother she barely remembers. 

The writing is simple and direct: Rowan adored her big brother, but she remembers the real Jack, the boy who lived in the bedroom next door to hers, not the golden boy enshrined in her parents' memories. I can't remember reading a book which addresses this topic so directly before - is it bad to remember the good and bad about someone who has passed away? - so I enjoyed the original point of view. I loved how genuine Rowan's voice is because of this aspect of the storyline: she's a regular teenager who remembers the things she loved and hated about her annoying big brother.

"So what if you couldn't move for school photos and team photos and brushed hair and smiling? None of them were the real him. Jack would never have let Mum get those photos out to show people. He'd have burned them if he could. They had fights over it. And his room was the same, but totally different, like a stage set of itself, like a piece in a museum, a fake boy's room. I don't think I ever saw his bed made when he was alive. He let plates and cups collect and fester on his desk for weeks. He stashed food under the bed and he smoked out of the window, even when the wind blew it straight back in so everything smelled of weed and old bananas and his socks, not air freshener and dust and the stopping of time."

While the premise of the book is the mystery of the negative, the real story is in the developing relationships between Rowan and the other characters. While she drifts further away from her parents, Rowan quickly becomes close with Harper, Bee, Bee's dad, Carl, and little brother, Sonny. I felt that how endearing the other characters are also help keep Broken Soup optimistic. Stroma is a hardy little girl, funny and sweet; Harper is kind and quirky; Bee is spontaneous, confident and cool. I think in most books you have a favourite character or two, but I genuinely cared about every character in Broken Soup: Valentine has created such endearing, three-dimensional people that I couldn't help but want to know more about every single one of them - even Bee's dad!

As a young adult novel, it was refreshing to find how honest and unusual Broken Soup is: Valentine takes on death, suicide, sex, delinquency and drug taking without ever seeming preachy or judgemental. I think I would really have appreciated Valentine's attitude as a teenager - she writes about each topic without praise or condemnation, allowing the reader to make up their own mind about how they feel.

Broken Soup is a sweet and offbeat book, which finds hope in the most difficult of situations. I hope the storyline will help anyone whose life has been touched by bereavement or depression. For anyone lucky enough not to have experienced either, particularly young people, I hope it reminds them of the importance of being kind to those who have.

Thank you so much to Natalie from Rocket Dreamers for sending me Broken Soup - I'd never heard of it before, but I love the writing so much that I've now also bought Finding Violet Park by Jenny Valentine. This was part of the Summer Book Swap organised by Hayley and Beth - thank you both so much for organising this! To read about more of the fantastic books bloggers have swapped this summer, check out #uksummerbookswap on Twitter and Instagram.

Comfort food

I've got the September issues of my magazines and it's raining outside, so I think it's okay to start talking about comfort food. While I might crave picnic food and tapas (or picture perfect barbecues, with the tomato sauce squiggle on my hot dog just so) when the sun is shining, as summer draws to a close, I start to think about lovely jubbly autumn comfort food.

Last night I made sausage and baked bean pie. Yes, I do realise that this is the dinner of children, but I wanted something easy to cook, and... Well, do I need any more justification than cheesy mashed potato?  

Warning: the pie looks horrible in these photographs (why is comfort food always so ugly?) but I promise it tastes amazing.

Baked beans
Mashed potato
Grated cheese

I know, I know, how will you ever track down these tricky ingredients? I think the reason this meal appeals to me so much is because it's made out of things I usually have in the house anyway.

Preheat your oven to 220C/200C Fan/Gas 7.

Fry up the sausages in a little oil until cooked through. Cool, then halve. By the way, these are Quorn sausages - I've been vegetarian for ten years, so I can't remember if they look strange compared to regular sausages or not!

Boil the potatoes until soft. Mash with a little milk and butter (or milk and mayonnaise, as Sam insists on).

Heat the beans up.

Here comes the tricky bit...

Pour the beans into a casserole dish, spoon the mashed potato over the top, then stick the sausages into the mashed potato. Sprinkle the cheese over the top.

Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Et voilà! Gooey, cheesy, baked bean goodness.

Dish out and enjoy.

And pour yourself a drink - you deserve it after all that cooking.

The little things - July edition

As you might have guessed if you read my last post, I've been a wee bit stressed out this month... Well, more than a wee bit, actually. I was worried I'd look back on July and the overwhelming thought would be that it SUCKED and all I did was run screaming at deadlines and paperwork. But a little swipe through my iPhone reminded me of some of the rather lovely things that happened (as well as the screaming) this month. When I'm going through a particularly stressful time, it's especially nice to look back and focus on the little things that have put a smile back on my grumpy chops.

One of the best things about working smack bang in the city centre of Glasgow is the abundance of pubs and bars to choose from for after-work drinks. I have taken advantage of this perk with extra gusto this month by arranging to meet friends for, ahem, a few drinks after 5pm. I started with burgers and cocktails in Hummingbird, which is a beautiful bar/restaurant/club (it's set over four floors, so there's plenty to choose from), with my oldest friend from primary school. Because sometimes it's nice to sip cocktails and reminisce about a life before bills and pension plans, when how to get your gooey alien to give birth was pretty much your top concern (please say we're not the only ones who did this?!).

Afternoon drinking on a sunny day with this handsome fella is always a lovely way to wile away an afternoon. We don't always have the same days off anymore, so free days together are my absolute favourites.

On a scorching hot evening in Glasgow I fled to the cover of Saint Judes after work for 'a drink or two' with some girls from work - fast forward a few hours and we're taking selfies in front of the giant Commonwealth Games logo in George Square. Saint Judes is a gorgeous ivy-covered townhouse, which was hosting a pop-up Mexican restaurant and pretty lethal frozen margaritas the night we were there.

July was an excellent month for reading. I sometimes have a bit of a 'reading slump', and I can't get into the book I'm reading or I'll not read for a few days and fall out of the routine, but this month I got into a really good reading rhythm and was picking up one book after another. I started the month by finishing the Matched triology, then read How To Build A Girl (reviewed here!), Broken Soup, The Lemon Grove, Instructions for a Heatwave, and I've just started A Monster Calls. The silver lining of my horrid daily commute is the uninterrupted intervals of reading time it provides.

It was incredible to see that Waterstones around the corner from my office have featured Shop Front as one of their promoted books (in case I've not banged on about it quite enough yet, Shop Front is my boyfriend's début novel). Cue squealing and me unashamedly snapping away on my iPhone. 

I received Broken Soup in the post from the lovely Natalie as part of the Summer Book Swap organised by Hayley and Beth. I've not read anything by Jenny Valentine before but I read this in a couple of days and I loved it. I'll post a full review soon. Also, and I know you're not supposed to judge them by this, but how amazing is that cover?! I genuinely traced my fingers across the paper, thinking Natalie had written the message in biro!

I've just noticed how much Sam has featured in this post (*soppy girlfriend alert*), but he really does know the value of the little things. From a Pino Colada chilling in the fridge for when I tumble through the front door after a roasting day spent in work, home-made ice cream cones (sometimes more than one a day, I have to admit), and pretty roses bought 'just because'.

Not photographed is the little chocolate monkey lollipop Sam came home with one day - weeks ago, but still not eaten because he's just too cute. Is it weird to get emotionally attached to your food?

What little things have you enjoyed this month? I'm a nosey parker and love hearing about the day-to-day things which make other people smile, so please do share below!
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