A Year in Books 2018 – April to June

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A Year in Books

Thanks to Laura at Circle of Pine Trees for creating the challenge, The Year in Books.

I was surprised I managed to finish the same amount of books this quarter, as I did last year, all of 13 books. It will be the period between July to September that will be the real challenge. Where I prefer to be outside enjoying nature to being stuck within the pages of a book.

As April began I rushed to finish The Famished Road – Ben Okri.

This book began promising, but soon lost my interest. There is only so many times a spirit child can go wondering off and then witness psychedelic strangeness before one gets bored. There is a second novel which follows Azaro on his adventures but I won’t be picking this one up. Have you read The Famished Road? Did you read its sequel?

Wodwo by Ted Hughes

I was inspired to turn to this collection after reading Mark Haddon’s anthology The Pier Falls. One of Haddon’s more memorable short stories was entitled Wodwo about the beginnings of a wild man but with a twist! I enjoyed Hughes’ short stories in this collection more than his poetry. I particularly liked the play, The Wound, set in the trenches of WW1, the narrative I found was very visual.

Seven Wonders of the Industrial World – Deborah Cadbury

I reviewed this inspiring book in my Sunday Sevens #49.

Playing with Fire – Tess Gerritsen

This one was suggested by my mum. Playing with Fire is a psychological thriller. Julia is a musician who desires to find out why her daughter attacks her whilst a particular piece of music is playing. The trail leads her to Venice and the sad tale of Lorenzo, an Italian Jew living during the turbulent 1930’s. The novel is a quick read, with a twist and one I would recommend. Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?

Origin – Dan Brown

It seems that Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon novels all seem to have the same plot. They are just set in a different country! If you cut out the tourism jargon, I think this book has to be the weakest of the series. Langdon, who is the main character, didn’t seem to have much influence moving the story forward. I liked the premise of Winston but think the whole plot was far fetched. If you’ve read this book, what were your impressions?

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I would love to see a re-imagining of this poem. I felt that the narrative was very modern, of zombie sailors, reminiscent of Pirates of the Caribbean. At a wedding party, a mariner tells his tale of a disastrous journey where he kills an albatross and of his subsequent guilt. The narrator describes the doldrums, seen as a punishment, where the crew of the ship die, but the narrator doesn’t. The crew then frighteningly become zombies. The narrator is eventually rescued but has to retell his tale to educate others of not to kill an albatross! I particularly enjoyed Orson Wells recital on YouTube.

Have you read this poem? What were your thoughts?

The Women of Heachley Hall – Rachel Walkley

This book is written in the vein of A Parliament of Rooks by Karen Perkins. It could have been so much better if there was less description of every nook and cranny. I like description but too much of it clogs the narrative. I felt this was the case with The Women of Heachley Hall. The narrative was trying too hard to be Gothic and the ghost story was fantastical! It was more a love story than a ghost story. The book did keep me interested, I just wasn’t too enamored on the style of writing.

Stressed, Unstressed – Edited by Bate, Byrne, Ratcliffe and Schuman

After taking the enjoyable Future Learn course, Literature and Mental Health a few years ago. I made a note to purchase this book, which is an accompaniment to the course. An anthology comprising of poems to aid in healing, grief and mindfulness. The book is very accessible and could be picked up if and when required. I don’t know whether it was because I read the book mostly at night, when I was tired, but I did find a lot of the poetry quite depressing. Possibly a book to keep going back to.

Open Water Woman Swims Windermere – Jacqui Hargrave

I didn’t particularly enjoy this book. I discovered whilst reading, that the chapters were really just blog posts stitched together for publication. Being from a blog, the chapters were succinct but lacked detail. There was so many grammatical errors, I wish the author had had the manuscript proof read before publication. I’d keep a wide berth from this book if I was you.

Crow – Ted Hughes

I don’t know if it’s me, or that my education is lacking but I find Ted Hughes’ poetry hard to fathom. I can pick out an undercurrent of threat and violence, a lot of hubris and humour but his poems on crow have been rather lost on me.

Do you like poetry? If so who is your favourite poet?

Birds – Edited by Mavis Pilbeam

It was Sharon from the delightful blog Sunshine and Celandines that suggested this book. I thought I would read it for The Wildlife Trusts30 Days Wild. I enjoyed many of the poems inspired by paintings in the British Museum. Poems by John Clare and Edward Thomas were among the highlights for me.

The Turn of the Screw – Henry James

I re-read this book due to being inspired by soprano Charlotte Hoather’s post on her participation in the opera of the same name, at the Royal College of Music. Charlotte sang the role of Governess who is employed by an enigmatic uncle of two young orphans. Everything goes well until Miles, the eldest is expelled from school and returns home with a question mark over his character. Henry James is not a favourite author of mine. I find his style of writing rather long winded. In The Turn of the Screw, James’ writing is even more ambiguous as the Governess narrates her tale of a haunting by two debauched ghosts, trying to steal away her two charges, or is she narrating a tale of her own spiral into madness? It is never certain as to which scenario it is. Have you read this book? Did you think it was a ghost story?

A Cold Death in Amsterdam – Anja de Jager

This is the first book in the Lotte Meerman series. Lotte is quite a complex detective with a lot of background story which comes out slowly within the novel. The stories themselves are also quite complex with many different threads running parallel. I did find it a bit hard going to start off with, knowing which plot-line was which but it all comes together quite well.

Have you read any of these novels?

I ended the quarter by starting Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman, which I am really enjoying at the moment.

Have you read any good books lately, any recommendations?

Thanks for dropping by,

Christine x

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Sunday Sevens #49

I love sharing my weekly updates with you in the form of a Sunday Sevens. Thanks to Natalie at Threads and bobbins for creating the series. 🙂

seven wonders of industrial worldBook I’m reading:

Seven Wonders of the Industrial World – Deborah Cadbury.

I’ve picked up a book from my library, (OMG I can say library!) OK, a very small library! :p (David is cringing with the amount of books I am buying!) It’s a book I bought years ago and not had the time to read. So I thought I would read it for my 2018 Year in Books. Deborah Cadbury’s book accompanied the acclaimed 2004 BBC series Seven Wonders of the Industrial World.

I have to admit the series was inspirational. The Industrial Revolution created revolutionary thinkers such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, whose world changing designs were built by the superhuman navvies who toiled, bled and died creating a modern world! It made me stop and think of how we take for granted these wonderful works of engineering.

Awe-inspiring accounts of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, (which to me will always be the Roebling Bridge), and of Joseph Bazalgette’s Cholera defying London sewers are among the best episodes of the series. Add wonderful music by the then up and coming Hollywood composer Steve Jablonsky and you have the ingredients for a superb TV series. I was gifted the DVD set for a birthday and the book only adds to the incredible achievement of these men of vision.

Have you seen this TV series, read the book? What are your favorite industrial wonders?

Cooking:

Returning to the mundane, this week I managed to do some cooking. It’s been a while since I cooked a meal from scratch. It may have been for one (as David cooked himself a curry) but I was happy with the result. I followed the recipe from the Quorn site, of Fajitas with Quorn Pieces. I served with warmed tortillas. The meal was filling yet ultimately healthy as the main base was vegetables.

Yarden:

All the sun of last week has made a big difference to the yarden. The potato chits and wildflower seedlings have pushed through the soil and the red campion has started to flower. The only sad demise from this winter was my beautiful Salvia Mystic Spires. It was loved by bees well into the autumn months. I am mourning this beautiful plant and hope to find a replacement in the shops in future.

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#walk1000miles:

My miles this week have been an accumulation of walks with Riley, housework and sessions on the cross trainer. My miles this week has been 30, bringing my annual total to 607 miles.

 

Walking the Dog:

This Sunday David and I got up at the ungodly hour of 5.30am to take a drive to Formby Point for an early morning walk with David’s sister, partner and doggy nephew, Bennie! It was the first time both dogs had met each other. After a good sniff both dogs walked side by side as we took to the sand dunes and walked along the beach. I think they both enjoyed their 3.5 mile walk.

That was my week, how was yours?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

A Year in Books 2018 – January to March

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A new year means a new selection of books.

Thanks to Laura at Circle of Pine Trees for creating the challenge.

I started the new year finishing off a book from 2017.

A Parliament of Rooks – Karen Perkins

I did a short review of this book in my Sunday Sevens #40. Though the narrative brings clear visions of a modern day Howarth, the actual characters and tale fell rather flat. The modern day characters were rather annoying and two dimensional but if you like anything relating to the Brontë’s then you will enjoy this book.

The Raven – Edgar Allan Poe

I’ve read this poem a couple of times now. The first time I read it I was on a bus on a dark, cold January morning. I thought, ‘what on earth was all that about!’

Then on the second reading, I think I have understood a little more. The narrator is a man who mourns his lost love, Lenore. A raven visits him and in answer to the man’s questions the raven only says ‘nevermore.’ This perplexes the narrator who gets more and more exasperated. Others’ interpretations of the poem is that of the man slipping into madness.

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!

What do you think? Have you read this poem? What was your interpretation?

The Witchfinder’s Sister – Beth Underdown

Debut novel and one of Richard and Judy’s Book Club for spring 2018. The Witchfinder’s Sister is about Alice Hopkins who returns from London, widowed, to be reconciled with her brother Matthew (the self-proclaimed Witchfinder General) in the midst of the witch hunts of 1645-47. The English Civil War is waging, a time of religious, political upheaval, which the printing presses are at cost to publish. Reading what few facts on Matthew Hopkins there is online. I read that he and his accomplices were responsible for the deaths of up to 300 women in just three years. Legitimised serial killers is what I thought of them. Though men were not immune to being called ‘witch’ it was mainly females that were blamed for unnatural deaths of babies, droughts, famines and disease. When science and understanding was hundreds of years away, those without a voice (midwives, bewitching young women) were victimised. The author dips into that paranoia. Alice is at first an innocent bystander but is soon forced to be complicit in the torture and deaths of a number of women as she and Matthew travel through Anglia. Though a piece of fiction, it made me angry that this reign of terror was allowed to happened (an encouraged) in not just Britain but in Europe and the USA too.

The Crucible – Arthur Miller

After reading Beth Underdown’s novel, I just had to read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. I found my old copy and re-read the play written at the height of the Korean War (1950-53). The play, written when Communism was seen as a threat to the western world, can also be read as criticism of the ‘witch-hunt’ McCarthy Trials. Miller cleverly links this contemporary fear to the paranoia of the witch trials in Salem (1692-3).

Unlike Beth Underdown’s novel, who writes from the viewpoint of a witness, The Crucible quickly draws you into the drama where accusations and blame are voiced by Abigail Williams and friends. A sense of heightened fear is present straight from the start where Betty Parris, one of Abigail’s friends is lying prone, mute, for no apparent reason. The girls have been accused themselves of dancing with the devil but Abigail turns the tables on the adults and begins to accuse members of the cast. They believe her, due to her ‘purity.’ One of the main characters John Proctor who has had a fling with Abigail and afterwards rejected her, tries to show Abigail as a telltale but the cast, some of high office, seem bewitched by the girls’ accusations that devilry is rife in Puritan Salem.

The play in some ways is a tragedy. The final act is seen as redemption for John Proctor who finally denounces Abigail, however this does not stop the executions. In little over a year, due to the hysteria created by girls who tapped into the bleaker side of human nature, of fear and jealousy, 20 people were tried and executed in Salem.

The Ice Queen – Alice Hoffman

This book wasn’t what I had expected. ‘A fairy tale for grownups’, it was advertised. The story however is so sad. I was choked with emotion reading the final chapters. Perhaps it was the butterfly migration that set me off? The whole story is well written, you meet many strange characters along the way. The tale is of loss, love and acceptance. The best message I got from this book was that to conquer death you have to live. Something I have been trying to achieve these past few years. Is this a book you would enjoy? Let me know!

Uncommon Type – Tom Hanks

I have to admit, I found it hard to get into Hanks’ writing. The choice of first short story to open this collection wasn’t the strongest. I found the unending list of commercial brands exhausting to read. Does it really matter what name of footwear a character wears or what brand of fridge freezer a man gets his chilled beer from? There are better ways of creating a time in history than listing company names. I found Hanks’ writing very like Dan Brown’s, perhaps it’s a style American’s default to? I did persevere and his style grew on me. There were a few stories I enjoyed, These are the Meditations of my Heart, Stay with Us (screenplay) and The Past is Important to Us. Have you read this collection? What were your thoughts?

The Waste Land – T.S. Eliot

Regarded as one of the most influential poems of the 20th Century. The Waste Land was written a few years after the devastation of WW1. The poem loosely follows the legend of the Grail, and is set in five parts which lack any cohesion. The fragmentation of structure and voice is a reflection of a post war world. I enjoyed the lyricism of the poem and the images it created. I wouldn’t say the poem was easily understandable. The many vignettes of peoples’ daily lives is intersected with lines taken from world mythologies, literature and languages. I think the poem needs further in-depth study. Have you read this poem? What was your interpretation?

Autumn – Ali Smith

I downloaded this book onto my Kindle before I decided to read 1 star ratings on Amazon. What I read worried me a little but once I started reading the stream of conscious type narrative, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Though the story doesn’t really go anywhere, it is a study of time, and poking fun at British life and society. I liked Smith’s style of writing. I look forward to seeing what her next novel Winter is about.

1st quarter books

A Gathering Light, The Secret Life of Bees, The Pier Falls and Pax

A Gathering Light – Jennifer Donnelly

I don’t remember who recommended this novel to me but I didn’t really enjoy it. I found the narrative very tedious. The secondary tale about a real life crime rarely featured. The writer could have done so much more with this idea but the result was a novel I would not recommend to anyone! How about you? If you have read this book and felt differently, then do let me know!

The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd

Set among the backdrop of racial tensions in 1960’s South Carolina, this coming of age tale is both entertaining and emotive. The protagonist, Lily goes on a journey that takes her away from her abusive father, to the protection of three bee keeping sisters, where she learns about her mother and herself. The novel has a strong cast of female characters. From the tormented May to the resilience of Rosaleen and the wisdom of August. It is a feel good book, one that I would recommend. Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?

The Pier Falls – Mark Haddon

Sadly Haddon’s collection of short stories left me feeling sad and morbid. Most of the tales centre around death which was rather difficult to read one after another. There were a few standout stories. I enjoyed the tale of the Wodwo or ‘wild man,’ it made me think of Ted Hughes’s book of the same title. Another was the claustrophobic atmosphere of the Woodpecker and the Wolf. The title does not bring to mind astronauts stranded on an desolate, unforgiving planet. However I enjoyed the characters and there is a happier ending!

Pax – Sara Pennypacker

I decided to get this book as other bloggers have read it and been enchanted with it. The illustrations by Jon Klassen are beautiful but I have to admit I struggled to get into the narrative. As the story progressed, however I soon warmed to the characters. I enjoyed the Pax chapters more so than the human story. The underlying sadness to the writing is that animals suffer during war, and there is a lot of animal suffering in the novel which was painful to read. I had expected the ending to be emotive but I just felt numb, it wasn’t very satisfying. It made the whole novel seem a bit of a waste of time to me. Have you read this novel? Did you enjoy it?

A Cold Case in Amsterdam Central – Anja de Jager

This copy was kindly gifted to me by a lady who I chat to whilst waiting for the bus to work. Anja de Jager draws inspiration from cases her father worked on as a policeman in the Netherlands. To date she has written three crime novels in the Lotte Meerman series. This was the second book. It was easy to read and could be read as a stand alone novel. I enjoyed the read and will probably look up the other novels in the series in future.

The Famished Road – Ben Okri

I’ll probably still be reading this book come April. It is such a word dense book, separated into eight books. I’ve read book one and the language and imagery is beautiful, almost psychedelic. The tale is of spirit-child Azaro, who turns his back on the land of spirits to experience the life and death of the living. Okri blends human hardships with fantastical beasts from the spirit realm and beyond. I am enjoying the telling so far. I will let you know how it goes.

Have you read any good books lately, any recommendations?

Thanks for dropping by,

Christine x

A Year in Books – October to December

I can’t quite believe that this year is almost at an end. Where has the time gone? At the beginning of the year I quoted I wanted to read 40 books before the end of 2017, unfortunately I have only managed to read 35! Not a bad attempt! Thanks to Laura at Circle of Pine Trees for creating the challenge. Hopefully the challenge will continue into 2018! I will keep my target at 40 books to be read in 2018! Do you fancy joining in?

oct to dec

The Diary of Anne Frank – Anne Frank

I’ve seen films and TV productions of the diary, but I have never read the book until this year. The diary is painfully poignant due to the foreknowledge of what happened to Anne and her family and friends who resided in the annex. Only her father survived the holocaust and made it his life’s work to educate people on the horrors of ethnic cleansing. Anne from the pages seems a voracious girl; her humour, angst and love leaps from the pages, overshadowed by the real fear of being discovered. The diary has made me want to visit Amsterdam and the Anne Frank House in future. What were your thoughts on the book? Have you been to Amsterdam?

An Inspector Calls – JB Priestley

I took a leaf from Liesel, The Book Thief in obtaining this book. I didn’t exactly steal it, but I did find it on the pavement as I stood waiting for a bus to work. I did a double take, wondering whether to rescue the book or leave it where it lay, its pages crumpled and sprawled in the mud. I decided to rescue the book and took it home with me. I had already watched the recent BBC adaptation of this play in 2015 with David Thewlis in the leading role, so I knew the synopsis of the play. An inspector interrupts a dinner party to investigate a girl’s suicide, and implicates each of the party-makers in her death. It’s a very supernatural play, full of foreboding of war. I enjoyed reading the play very much.

A Kestrel for a Knave – Barry Hines

I reviewed this painfully sad novel in my Sunday Sevens #37.

The Hiding Places – Katherine Webb

I do enjoy Katherine Webb’s books, though they are not of the caliber of other writers of similar vein. I almost forgot the plot to this story when reviewing it and I only read it a month ago! The story centres around a rural town in Wiltshire, recovering from the effects of The Great War. The plot focuses on three women. Irene has escaped a scandal in London by marrying the local paper mill owner, she meets Pudding, who is a girl groom for Irene’s new family and then there’s Clemmie who is a mute from a farming family. When Irene’s husband Alistair is murdered, she and Pudding endeavour to find out the truth behind his ghastly killing. Though I enjoyed the story of a murder most foul. The ending did confuse me, I wasn’t sure who I was reading about!

Jane Austen at Home – Lucy Worsley

In the bicentenary year of Jane Austen’s death I felt it quite apt that I managed to read Lucy Worsley’s biography. I don’t know what I was expecting from the book, but I had hoped Lucy’s humour from her TV programmes would shine through the narrative. It didn’t. Jane Austen to me still seemed a veiled character and Lucy’s narrative tried too hard to be academic, which it wasn’t. It was easy enough to read but it would make me think twice to read any more of Lucy Worsley’s works.

Persuasion – Jane Austen

Something from Lucy Worsley’s biography must had stayed with me as I decided to dig out my old copy of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Her last published novel. However I wish I hadn’t. Though I managed to read it within a week, I found it hard going. It made me aware of how much literature and novel writing has developed and changed since the 1800’s! For the better I say! Persuasion is all about second chances, something Jane Austen in her own life never had. It wasn’t what I would call a romantic novel and the actually falling in love of the two protagonists seemed to happen off page. It affirmed my suspicion. Jane Austen is not my favourite novelist.

At the Water’s Edge – Sara Gruen

I loved Sara Gruen’s previous books, Water for Elephants and Ape House and I equally enjoyed At the Water’s Edge. Three Americans, used to the high life try to out run the second world war by travelling to Drumnadrochit, Scotland in search of the Loch Ness Monster, but ultimately the tale is about awakenings and second chances. I couldn’t put the book down!

Parliament of Rooks – Karen Perkins

I don’t really know what I was expecting when I bought this eBook. I knew it was set in Brontë country but other than that I didn’t know the story. I’m seventeen chapters in and it seems to be shaping up to be a ghost story/romance. It’s written well and is keeping my interest though a bit slow going. Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?

I’m always open to recommendations, so if you have read a book you have enjoyed and think I would like it too, then do let me know.

Will you be joining in next year’s challenge?

Thanks for following my year in books 2017. Here’s to many more good reads in 2018!

Christine x

Sunday Sevens #39

This weekend, I wasn’t going to compile a Sunday Sevens, (devised by Natalie at Threads and bobbins), however after witnessing something amazing on Saturday, I just had to share it with you!!

Birthday: Monday was my birthday. I was kindly gifted some beautiful flowers and the 50th anniversary editions of Wainwright’s Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells.

#walk1000miles: As part of the celebrations, David and I headed towards Snowdonia for a 4.5 mile walk. We took the path overlooking Dinorwig Power Station before visiting the shores of Llyn Padarn.

With still counting my miles for the #walk1000miles challenge, at the time of writing I am currently at, 1,102 miles!

Collecting: This week I came across the 2017 edition of the 50 pence Peter Rabbit. There’s still Tom Kitten, Benjamin Bunny and Jeremy Fisher to find! Have you found any?

Book I am reading: I am currently ploughing through Katherine Webb’s post WW1 mystery, The Hiding Places. I must admit there is a lot of preamble. However it is keeping me company on the daily commute. Have you read any good books lately?

Ok. Now for that something amazing I was talking about at the beginning of this blog! This Saturday our yarden witnessed a beautiful visitor. He was not enjoying the seed on offer but waiting for a tasty morsel of a goldfinch, or perhaps a starling? He was a sparrowhawk.

Now you maybe thinking, nothing special about that sighting, but living in a city, you don’t often come across raptors. David and I stood in awe for over five minutes watching the sparrowhawk survey the territory. We’ve had many charms of goldfinches and rowdy starlings visiting our feeders this weekend, so this activity possibly drew the sparrowhawk to our yarden. Ultimately it was a thrilling experience. He stood still long enough for me to grab my camcorder and film him. Have you had a close encounter with a raptor? What is your favourite bird of prey?

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Hans Zimmer Live

To finish off:  While writing this blog, I’ve been listening to tracks from Hans Zimmer’s Live in Prague CD. As you know I have seen Hans’ concerts twice now, more recently in Liverpool this year. When I heard he was releasing a compilation of the concert I just had to pre-order. I am biased as I love the medley’s featured of Pirates of the Caribbean and The Dark Knight Trilogy, the music is skin tingling and exhilarating! I would recommend if you like movie soundtracks!

So, that was my diverse week. How was yours?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

Sunday Sevens #37

It’s been such a long time since I have written a Sunday Sevens, devised by Natalie at Threads and bobbins. So, I think a catch up is much needed.

New Friends: 

Last Saturday David and I visited our favourite pet shop, Clipsley Pets and Aquatics in Haydock. I had decided that if there were any owl finches then I would buy one. On the day there were two. I couldn’t leave one on its own, so both came home with me and I was £80 the poorer. They settled into their new home so quickly! They look so cute snuggled up with our other owls. Here they all are, Hector, Paris, Tux and Cox.

owls together

Owl Finches

Storm Ophelia and a Saharan sun:

Monday brought ex-hurricane Ophelia to the UK. The morning was swathed in ochre coloured clouds. The air had an unearthliness to it. While standing for a bus I noticed the shrouded sun burned a blood red. In times past it would have been seen as an omen. I later read that it was to due to sand particles blown from the Sahara.

#walk1000miles:

I am happy to report that I completed the #walk1000miles challenge on Sunday the 8th of October. It felt a bit of an anticlimax at first, as I had hoped to complete on my next break to the Lake District. In reality it was while I wandered around a Liverpool shopping park. However the achievement soon dawned on me. I was chuffed with myself, I’d walked 1000 miles in 10 months! I can’t wait to receive my completer’s medal! I am continuing to count my miles to see what tally I reach come 31st December 2017!

Have you participated in the challenge? If so, what has been your memorable moments of the year?

Book I am reading:

I’ve just completed Barry Hines’s painfully poignant A Kestrel for a KnaveI am of the age when this book/film was on the GCSE curriculum. I recall the film being grey and bleak. The book of a similar vein, has some wonderful descriptions of nature. There was one scene in the book that I felt I had read before, in Chris Packham’s Fingers in the Sparkle Jar.  The scene where Billy uses the lure with Kes while his teacher watches on awestruck, I felt echoed Packham’s own experience. Hine’s depicts a hand to mouth existence for Billy in a brutal northern industrial town and the narrative depicting Kes tucking into her meals is a reflection of that wildness. Even though I appreciated the reality of the novel, at the end I was left feeling despondent that life for Billy, like many who lived then, as of today, will always be cruel.

Have you read this book? Seen the film? What were your impressions?

Rehabilitation: 

For the past 3-4 weeks we have had a guest staying, in the form of a pigeon. We affectionately named her Shaky due to a constant tremor. At first we thought Shaky had canker but after medication she grew confused. With some vitamins and garlic water Shaky grew in strength and this weekend we decided to try and release her. However, we could have chosen a better weekend, what with Storm Brian on the horizon, but the winds helped raise Shaky on the wing and she flew from our garden. Hopefully we have given her a helping hand and she can join her friends and live her remaining years as a pigeon.

Wild About Gardens Week: 

This Monday is the beginning of an initiative by The Wildlife Trusts and RHS (Royal Horticultural Society), Wild About Gardens. The week long initiative is focusing on bees and what we can do to attract them to our gardens. There is a downloadable pack that gives useful information. You can help by building homes to growing nectar rich flowers.

The wildflower seeds I sowed for 30 Days Wild in June have been flowering all summer and well into autumn! I’ll end this post with a collage of some wildflowers. If you can recognise any of them, then I would be most appreciative if you could let me know which ones in the comments below, some I could not identify.

That was my week, how was yours?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

 

 

A Year in Books – July to September

I can’t quite believe this quarter has gone so fast! I’ve hardly any books to share with you. It has been a very sparse few months of reading!

This is what I have managed to get through, plus one on Kindle! All of five books and I am still struggling my way through one. Can you guess which one?

july to september

Face Paint – Lisa Eldridge

Lisa Eldridge is a renowned makeup artist whose YouTube videos have helped plain women, like myself make their daily embellishment that little bit better! This book had been sitting on my shelf for well over a year. I’ve been meaning to read it, but somehow hadn’t found the time, nor the energy. One evening, I decided to read it before bed every night for a week. I enjoyed delving into the history behind makeup and how it’s intrinsically linked with womens’ suffrage. I particularly liked the the mini biographies of influential women throughout history.

The Child in Time – Ian McEwan

I was expecting greatness when I picked up this book by Ian McEwan, (1987 Whitbread winner, now Costa Award). I thoroughly enjoyed his writing in Atonement, so expected more of the same. However, as I made my daily commute through Liverpool to work, this book was not a welcome companion. Perhaps it was the theme of the book, of a couple who have their child taken from them? Whatever it was, I was not blown away by the narrative. I felt rather bored with the plot that didn’t seem to go anywhere. I guessed that the actual child in time was the narrator, Stephen. We are perhaps all children in time one way or another. I hope that the new BBC production starring Benedict Cumberbatch captures the imagination a bit more. Have you read this book? What were your impressions?

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

I’ve consciously been trying to read books this year with birds featured in the title. However I’ve hit a snag with The Goldfinch. Being 700+ pages long, the narrative is about a boy who loses both his parents (in different incidents) and what befalls him thereafter. It’s been rather hard to read. Perhaps I have been lazy? Even though Tartt’s writing is elegant and creative, I have struggled with the content. It leaves me feeling sad. I can’t wait to finish this book. Have you felt the same over another book?

And the Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini

I really enjoyed Hosseini’s previous books, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. However Hosseini seems to have fallen down with his third novel. I can see what he meant by the type of narrative he went for. Of an interweaving of differing stories, all coming from the same source, but it somehow fell flat. I got through the book eventually, but would not recommend. Would you?

9781780748436_13A Siege of Bitterns – Steve Burrows

Can you see a pattern develop? Yet another book with a bird in the title, but again I have been struggling to get through the narrative. It’s a detective novel set in Norfolk, but I just can’t warm to the cast of characters. The style of writing is more tell than show which doesn’t lead well to character development.

So, there you have it, my abysmal tally for this quarter. Are there any books you have read recently that you have enjoyed? Do let me know.

Thanks for stopping by,

Christine x

A Year in Books – April to June

april to juneEven Artie looks shocked at the amount of literature I have devoured this quarter! It has been a very productive period. 13 books I have read between April and June. While sitting on buses during the daily commute I have been able to immerse myself in narratives that have taken me to occupied France, to the inhumanity of Auschwitz and war ravaged Afghanistan.

I have laughed with Maude who was looking for Elizabeth and cried with Conor when his mother faced an incurable illness.

Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey

I think this has to be my favourite read of 2017, so far! I had no expectations when I opened the pages but from the very beginning I was enthralled by the skill of writing and the subject matter. The narrative is slightly fractious due to it being narrated by a woman with dementia, but it is written in such a way that you slip from the present to the 1940’s very easily. Maud is seeking her friend Elizabeth, however underlying her search is a historic case of her missing sister. The first person narrative is funny, poignant and highlights the fear and confusion dementia sufferers have. It’s a very enlightening book, fabulously written. I won’t spoil it for you but the ending is sad yet hopeful too. I’d definitely recommend this book, it is a book I wish I could write!

The Taxidermist’s Daughter – Kate Mosse

I hate to say it, but I am not a lover of Kate Mosse’s writing. I still have to read the last installment of her languedoc trilogy. I don’t know what it is but I just can’t warm to her style of writing. I did think her Mistletoe Bride collection was readable but not memorable. The same could be said about The Taxidermist’s Daughter. Though Mosse can evoke a dreary Gothic atmosphere (i.e. rain and flood waters rising on a Sussex landscape), I just didn’t think her characters were developed enough. Neither character of Connie or Henry were likable enough to care what happened to them. It’s one book I’ll probably forget I’ve read.

Perhaps you have a different interpretation?

To Kill a Mocking Bird – Harper Lee

I really didn’t know what I expected from this book, but as I began to read it, it wasn’t what I had imagined it would be. Narrated by six year old Jean Louise it is a fictionalised account of growing up in the American South in the 1930’s. To me it seemed a book of its time as class and race hierarchies were commonplace. Though the main core of the plot is the trial of Tom Robinson accused of raping a white girl, the events leading up to it is seen through the eyes of Jean Louise and so the injustice of the system is even more shocking. I did enjoy the novel and would recommend, but its not one that has stayed with me.

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

Another of the best reads this year! I reviewed this book in my Sunday Sevens #28.

Folly – Alan Titchmarsh

I read this book on the recommendation of reviews on goodreads. I wish I hadn’t. The narrative was laborious and characters two dimensional. Titchmarsh had researched the area of fine art galleries and auctions indepthly, but just did not create a tale interesting enough to capture the readers imagination.

The book received a higher score on goodreads than The Haunting but I felt the story wasn’t as strong.

Do you have a different opinion?

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

I read this book before seeing the film and I must say the book is by far better than the film! It is a very emotive story. Thirteen year old Conor O’Malley is struggling to accept his mother’s terminal illness. The monster who calls helps Conor come to terms with his emotions. I must admit I was choked when I finished the novel. Though written for the young adult market I think it’s a story that can be read at any age.

The Lonely – Andrew Michael Hurley

This book was a 2015 Costa awards winner for a debut novel. It’s a Gothic tale with most of the action happening on a desolate coastal area in Lancashire. It is narrated by ‘Tonto’ whose brother Hanny is mute. A group of Christians visit the area at Easter hoping for a miracle, what they find is much more darker. The landscape is forbidding, the locals unfriendly and ultimately the miracle is only eluded to. Nothing is spelled out and I think that was the novels downfall. For me I didn’t care about the characters, in fact most annoyed me and at the end I was left feeling I had read a lot of words that didn’t make much sense. If you like vague narratives then this book is for you!

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

This book had been on my Kindle for over a year. While looking for new books to read I remembered the stage play that was in Liverpool and which, I wish I had gone to see as it had rave reviews. Hence why I downloaded the book. So I decided to give it a try. The book lives up to its hype. The tale is of two boys, Amir and his ‘servant’ Hassan. The narrative is from Amir’s point of view, of a young boy growing up in Afghanistan before the Russians arrive and then the Taliban. Always trying to capture the eye of his father, Amir is jealous of Hassan and it is only later that we discover the true relationship between both boys. Amir who comes from a wealthy background managed to flee with his father to the USA, while Hassan stays in Afghanistan.  The story is beautifully written, the language lyrical. The ravages of war is sometimes too hard to read. Hosseini’s book makes you realise what hell it must have been like to live in Afghanistan during those turbulent times. Hosseini has set up a non profit foundation to help refugees returning to their homeland after three decades of war.

The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas – John Boyne

The narrative of this book is so painfully naive as it is written from the viewpoint, of a child called Bruno. The Final Solution is viewed by this nine year old who has accompanied his family from Berlin to ‘Out With.’ The book relies heavily on the readers knowledge of ‘Out With’ (Auschwitz) and who the sad people in the stripped pyjamas behind the fences are. I think the book is more agonisingly sad because of this foreknowledge. Bruno who isn’t happy at Out With, finally befriends a boy from the other side of the fence, Shmuel. I won’t spoil the plot for anyone who hasn’t read it, but the final chapters will leave you sobbing!

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

It’s difficult to find the right words this book made me feel. Written in the 1980’s, though it can be applied to today’s world too, more so when news of atrocities to women in Europe, the Middle East and beyond occur daily. Offred is a Handmaid of the dystopian Republic of Gilead, (you don’t find out her real name!) It is a place after a catastrophe. Nuclear war has decimated the world and the human populace (birth rates have plummeted). In it’s place has risen a religious order which has reduced women to property (once again). I find the implications of the book hard to swallow as the unknown leaders have imposed a strict order on the women. Those who are breeders (the Handmaids), those who are not (the Wives) and those who are servants (the Marthas). There are other classes in the Gilead regime like the Aunts (who train the Handmaids), and Commanders (the highest ranking men). Everyone has their place in society, even the poorest of women like the Econowives.

Offred as narrator, I think is quite unreliable as her tale is rather vague. There are flashbacks of her life before the catastrophe. There is a general feeling of threat and violence but it is so muted in the narrative that by the time you come to the truly atrocious scenes you are left feeling numb. I found it hard to like any of the characters. Perhaps my Western upbringing has caused me to react negatively to this book?

As an aside I am currently enjoying the dramatisation on Channel 4, though again some of the episodes have left me reeling.

Have you read the book? Watched the series? What are your thoughts? Do you disagree with my ideas?

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

Much like the Handmaid’s Tale, Hosseini’s second novel, (also based in Afghanistan,) is about the bonds between two women and of their daily struggles during the restricting Taliban regime. Women were among those who were so poorly affected by this regime and Hosseini writes eloquently about the physical and mental abuse of Mariam and Laila. Though I did not enjoy the novel as much as I did the Kite Runner, the narrative does keep you engaged. Like the Kite Runner it is a story of sacrifice and endurance. There is a resolution but like many human stories, it is tinged with sadness.

Finger’s in the Sparkle Jar – Chris Packham

I don’t know why but this book left me feeling sad. Maybe it was because of the curious mix of narratives that sat uneasy with me? Or perhaps it emphasised that however beautiful nature is, it can be brutal! After getting to grips with Packham’s switching from first person narrative to third, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I preferred it when Packham wrote in the first person, his experiences seemed all the more real. The scenes with the fox and kestrel had me close to tears!

Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak.

As the end of June was in sight, I hurriedly finished The Book Thief. It was with a tear in my eye that I read the harrowing final parts of the novel. Another book set during World War II. The narrative is told by Death. There is a balanced mix of humour and sadness as Death goes about his job of collecting souls. Though the novel is about Death, the story is a very human one. You quickly grow to like the characters of Liesel, Rudy and Max, and even though Death prepares you for each of their fate, the sadness is still real.

Have read the book? Seen the film? What was your favourite?

41HJJM1VNYLFor July’s first read, I have chosen The Child in Time by Ian McEwan. I don’t know what to expect but hopefully it will be as well written as his Atonement.

Have you read any good books lately, any recommendations? Thanks to Laura at Circle of Pine Trees. for creating the challenge.

Thanks for dropping by,

Christine x

Sunday Sevens #32

I haven’t written a Sunday Sevens in a while, and I so love doing them. So thanks to Natalie at Theads and Bobbins, who devised the wonderful series, and here’s my seven (plus a few more), for Sunday!

back bedroom

New work space

DIY: Last weekend, David was busy sprucing up the guest bedroom/study. We spent most of Saturday driving back and forth from Warrington’s IKEA to purchase box cupboards which would conceal all our detritus. I think he’s done a fantastic job! We have so much more storage space and a bigger work surface.

#walk1000miles: I think it’s always nice to update you all on how my walk 1000 miles challenge is going. This week I have managed to rake up a reasonable 34 miles, (my best tally so far!), which brings my total for the year so far to 601 miles! My miles are mainly made up of hours on the treadmill, walking between bus stops, lots of scanning in work (the scanner is at the opposite end of the corridor from the office) and walking the dog. I think Riley appreciates the increase in walks. He is eight now and carrying a few extra pounds due to being neutered when he was three. I thought I was doing the right thing by neutering him, but no one told me he would put on weight after it! Anyway, Riley (and myself) has loved his park runs and visits to Crosby Beach, even if the wind was fierce the last time we visited!

Collecting: It’s been a while since I found a Beatrix Potter 50p. This week while counting the petty cash in work, my boss and I found a third collectible, Squirrel Nutkin! How cute is he?

Pets: This week our Blue-faced Parrot Finch, Forrest has been laying eggs. Her mate Leaf has been busy lining the nest with feathers and straw. I wonder if any of the eggs will hatch? We shall see in a fortnights time! I’ll update you all!

Book I am reading: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I’m only 50 pages into the book but it’s accompanying me while on my daily commute to work. I am enjoying the characters so far. Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?

Culture: This Saturday (17th) was the day Hans Zimmer and his Live on Tour came to Liverpool. This was my second time of seeing him live on stage. You can read my review on the Birmingham 2016 concert here. Though it was the same programme as his European tour, there were subtle differences. The orchestra and choir had been paired down. I personally preferred the energy of the Birmingham concert, but there was the same chat by Zimmer with anecdotes on the films he had scored. The lighting was just as fierce but I think there was less camaraderie between the principal performers. The Liverpool audience were a little too vocal for my taste but the show of phone torches after Aurora was touching, though I wish he wouldn’t talk over all of it. It is a beautiful composition, reminiscent of the vocal version of Barber’s Adagio for Strings. My two favourite pieces did not disappoint, in fact One Day from Pirates of the Caribbean Three brought tears to my eyes. The Dark Knight medley was just as energetic and inspiring! I felt blessed to see my music hero live onstage!

Have you been to see any live music recently? What’s your experience of arena tours?

Days out: The weather this weekend has been beautiful. Perfect summer days filled with lots of warm sunshine and mild clear evenings. I must say it has been a very full weekend! I was going to end the post with Hans Zimmer’s concert but I just wanted to share with you my wonderful Sunday.

After visiting Claremont Farm in the Wirral and picking our own juicy strawberries. David and I headed for the coast and Thurstaston Beach, to have our lunch overlooking the sandy estuary. I’ll write more in my 30 Days Wild – Week 3, but for now here are some pictures of our wonderful day.

That was my week, how was yours?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

Sunday Sevens #28

Just a quick round up of my week in a Sunday Sevens, devised by Natalie.

red campion

Red Campion

Plant ID: In my last Sunday Sevens, I asked if anyone could ID a plant for me. Thankfully I have managed to ID it myself and found that the plant in question is a red campion.

Book I’m reading: I have recently finished reading Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. Doerr’s book was epic in size but the chapters were manageable. I like short chapters. I read before bed and on the commute to work. I was amazed at how quickly I got through the book as my mum said she couldn’t get into it. The narrative is during the 2nd World War. Two character’s stories intertwine, that of a blind French girl, Marie-Laure and an intelligent German youth, Werner. They only briefly meet in the story but the plot follows them growing up before and during the war. It is a tale of people striving to live when the wold around them is disintegrating. I found it sadly, echoed today’s political environment. The writing is easy to read, however the matter of fact description of death (an everyday occurrence in wartime) is in places shocking. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in historic fiction, though the end feels a little bit rushed.

I have just begun Folly by Alan Titchmarsh, I have no assumptions about the novel, but hope the writing is better than his other book, The Haunting.

The Easter weekend: for me is all about the Classic FM Hall of Fame. Four days of none stop music, counting down from 300 to 1!In January I voted for my top three. It’s hard to pin down just three favourites. This year I chose:

hall of fame 1

Rachmaninov’s 2nd Symphony.

Mahler’s 5th Symphony.

Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto.

Sadly the only one of my three choices that ascended the chart was Rachmaninov’s 2nd Symphony, which climbed nine places to number 29! His 2nd Piano Concerto stayed firmly at number two, the Lark Ascending by Vaughn Williams held it at bay! Unfortunately Mahler fell out of the top 50, only coming in at a lowly 66! You can view where your favourites came here.

Out and about: On the Easter Monday we listened to Mahler’s Adagietto on the car radio while we travelled to Formby Point. We spent a few hours walking the beach and giving Riley a good run.

We were out walking again at the end of the week, as David and I took Riley for a walk around Liverpool’s Sefton Park on Saturday.

#walk1000miles: Though I have been working longer hours at work this week, I have managed to maintain my average mileage of 25 for the week. On my daily route to work I passed many clumps of bluebells turning the grassy verges blue. Amongst all the swaying heads were a mass of pink and white bluebells. I don’t know whether they are native plants or not.

The Big Bluebell Watch:  The Woodland Trust have a new initiative, to survey all the bluebells across the nation. Click here to add your sightings to the map. I’ve added my lowly two bluebells. I think they could be native as they have white pollen but they could very well be crossed. Have you seen many bluebells where you live?

Bees: This weekend the NW of England has been blessed with some wonderful weather, if a bit cold. A familiar buzz sounded in the yarden. I spotted a male and female hairy-footed flower bee as well as a red mason bee. Have you seen many bees this spring?

hairy footed flower bee female

Female Hairy-footed Flower Bee

Well, that was my week, how was yours?

Until the next Sunday Sevens!

Christine x