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

30 Days Wild 2018 – Day Five.

twt-30-days-wild_countdown_05Day 5: This Tuesday I’ve been timetabled into doing a long day at work. *sigh* So I thought I would take the opportunity to document the nature sightings I see on my walk to work. I tend to get off the bus earlier than needed and then walk for 35 minutes to work. Meaning 1. I get in two miles a day and 2. I can look out for nature!

On my walk, I notice lots of bees enjoying the dog and wild roses that line the paths. The heady scent of elderflowers wafts on the breeze, while the songs of sparrows, blackbirds, robins and chaffinches lace the warm air. A buzzard is seen in a heated argument with a crow. On this occasion the buzzard won!

Hot an sweaty I arrive at work for a long day ahead.

What nature do you see on your way to work?

Thanks for reading and stay wild!

Christine x

Sunday Sevens #40

Happy New Year!

I know it’s a bit late but I thought I would do a quick Sunday Sevens, devised by Natalie at Threads and bobbins.

This first week of 2018 has been all about the #walk1000miles challenge. David and I had a few extra days off work so we utilised it by going on two walks!

My total miles for the week has been a very reasonable 34 miles. If you have signed up for the challenge, how are you doing?

A Year in Books:

I spent most evenings this week reading and finishing A Parliament of Rooks by Karen Perkins. Unfortunately I did not enjoy the book as I had hoped. It seemed that every new chapter, the characters were cracking open a bottle of alcohol and the end was rather disappointing. There didn’t seem a reason why the protagonists were being ‘haunted.’ It wasn’t a very satisfying ending if you ask me. Have you read this book? Perhaps you enjoyed it more than I did?

Yarden:

We may be in the grip of winter but there are many signs of spring. The hellebore in the yarden has been blooming since mid December. I think the flower heads are so pretty!

Future planning:

Looking ahead to summer and The Wildlife Trust’s 30 Days Wild, I’ve recently purchased an illuminated mini beast centre to help in my exploration of the insect world this June. I’ve not tested it yet but the solar powered light looks bright enough to attract some moths. Hopefully!

Busy buying:

While doing the weekly shop I could not help but buy this beautiful new dinner set from Asda. It was only £15! The design is of an enchanted woodland and indeed the pattern is imaginary! The martens have antlers and the foxes have crow wings!

And finally:

Today has been a gorgeous, bright winters day here in the NW, so David and I took a leisurely 1.6 mile walk around Festival Gardens.

That was my week, how was yours?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

A Year in Books – January to March

I thought I would give a little update on how I am progressing with the challenge, A Year in Books. As I was displaying some of the books I’ve read for a snap-shot Artie came over to give me his approval.

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It was a slow beginning to the challenge. All I read in January was two books. Since then I have managed to read more frequently, even taking the Kindle with me on the bus to work. Reading while travelling usually tires me, which is why I have only just started up again.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers – Max Porter

This novella featured as part of a short Open University course I took last year. David kindly bought it for me for Christmas. The theme is of grief and survival. After a sudden death of a wife and mother, two son’s and a father are visited by a crow (personified from the Ted Hughes book of poems Crow.) The narrative is quite fractured and erratic. The story just features short scenes of the family in states of ‘coping/or not coping’. Crow is depicted as a wild, untamed creature with bad manners and equally bad language. I think I need to read the story again as a lot of the message was lost on me.

Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?

In Parenthesis – David Jones

David Jones was a survivor of the First World War. I came across his work featured in a documentary on the writers of WW1. In it’s time, In Parenthesis was hailed as a classic, but now sadly seems to have been forgotten. I managed to get a cheapish copy on eBay. The writing can be difficult to understand at times as Jones dips into Welsh and Arthurian legend. The narrative is his own experiences in the British Expeditionary Force and of one attack during the Battle of the Somme, at Mametz Wood. Some of Jones’s writing of trench warfare can only be described as lyrical, even his depictions of disemboweled men and decapitated heads smiling back from the crook of trees like Cheshire Cats is somehow horrifyingly captivating. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in history.

H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald

Yet another book on grief, though totally different in it’s approach to Max Porter’s book. I think this has been one of my favourite reads so far. I thoroughly enjoyed Macdonald’s description of Mable and how her relationship with this wild bird became cathartic to her wound gaping grief at the loss of her father. The chapters featuring her inspiration, T.H.White made me feel a little uneasy in his behaviour to his Goshawk, though he was writing from a different time period, still doesn’t make the reading any the easier.

Under Milk Wood – Dylan Thomas

One of Thomas’s last works, commissioned for BBC radio. This play for voices is a day in the life of a small Welsh village. An omniscient narrator introduces each character and a second narrator tells more about their hidden thoughts and desires. Each character has their own vignette, though written in prose the language is poetic, sometimes lewd, often humorous and occasionally poignant. I found though that my reading lacked the power of a TV or radio production. Perhaps I would benefit from a second read?

The English Girl – Katherine Webb

I reviewed this book in my Sunday Sevens #24.

The Haunting – Alan Titchmarsh

All I know of Alan Titchmarsh is from his gardening programmes and his Saturday show on Classic FM. When I saw one of his books, The Haunting on the shelf in WHSmith I was curious. The story is a dual narrative, historical drama set in 1816 and 2010 respectively with a hint of ghosts and a splash of romance. The book is an easy read but the narrative won’t tax the mind. The story is a little contrived and could have been better but it is what it is. I enjoyed it enough to buy another of his novels. Folly.

The Red Letter (short) – Kate Riordan

If I had known this was only 30 pages long I wouldn’t have bought it, however the writing was good and I enjoyed it. The characters were from a previous novel by Riordan, The Girl in the Photograph. Though reading the novella I couldn’t remember the original novel. I had to read the blurb to get any recall. Set in the 1930’s the story is of Marjorie who finds out her husband is having an affair. During the too few pages Marjorie awakens and becomes self aware. The novella ends with Marjorie riding on her bike with her future stretched out with many possibilities.

Birdcage Walk – Kate Riordan

If I like a book by an author I usually seek out other works by them, this was the case with Birdcage Walk, Riordan’s first published work, and you can tell it is! It’s very different in style to that of her later works, The Girl in the Photograph and The Shadow Hour. The story is based on a true tale of murder, mystery and a possible miscarriage of justice. Sadly, Riordan spends too long setting up the back story. Both protagonists are rather quarrelsome and two dimensional, and I didn’t bond with either of them. The narrative only improved after the subsequent murder and trial. There wasn’t much evidence of a miscarriage of justice, but that’s up to the reader to decide. The inevitable wasn’t much of a surprise when it finally arrived.

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David has chosen the next book for me to read. Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing, I have no expectations on what to expect within it’s pages.

Have you read any good books lately, any recommendations?

Thanks for dropping by,

Christine x

 

 

30 Days Wild 2016 – Week Three

o0OhgWNNI can’t quite believe how fast this June is going, too quickly for my liking! Unlike last years 30 Days Wild, I am trying to look beyond the yarden. Taking more days out in the country for long scenic walks and wild swims.

Here’s a summary of week three!

Day 15: Wednesday

The third week of The Wildlife Trust’s 30 Days Wild dawned with a migraine. So I forsook the treadmill and spent a lazy day of watching ‘wild’ webcams. I particularly enjoyed watching the Derby Cathedral peregrines. It had four, close to fledgling peregrine chicks in a nest that had lots of pigeon kill! I also tried to spot the puffins on the Teaching Through Nature website. David had chosen this ‘wild’ card and it was perfect for the type of day it became. I frequently tune into the RSPB’s Lodge webcam to watch garden birds visit the feeders. Today when I logged on, two grey squirrels and a great spotted woodpecker hung off the feeders. It cheered me up!

RSPB webcam 2

Day 16: Thursday

20160618-181526I wasn’t feeling very wild today. It was a staying under the bed covers kind of day. So I thought I would ID a plant that was growing in my yarden. I used the Pl@nt.Net app, but the programme was having trouble identifying the leaves. I said to David ‘I’m sure I’ve seen the buds before,’ but on what plant I could not remember! Then I realised! The flower buds are very like borage, though the leaves look very different. I grew borage for the bees last year as one of my 30 Days Wild and it looks like some have seeded themselves! I am not complaining though, they’ll be more food for the bees! 🙂 And I suppose it ticks off another wild task without me even trying! 🙂

Day 17: Friday

Today was a special day. It was a day I got to go wild swimming again!! The weather may have been much grottier than my first time in Derwentwater, but it was a much special day. I got to swim in the waters of my favourite lake, Buttermere! 🙂

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After walking three hours alongside Crummock Water and then back towards Buttermere, I finally submerged my weary body under the cool, clear waters of the lake, with Fleetwith Pike as the glorious backdrop.

Find the written article here.

Day 18: Saturday

Today was busy with shopping and visiting family, so I didn’t have much time to do anything ‘wild’. In the evening, I decided to try my hand at identification, with little result. I began by looking at Google images in the hope of identifying the owner of this feather I found at Crummock Water the day before. Then I turned to the Forest Xplorer app by the Forestry Commission to discover what type of tree I had hugged.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I am useless at identification. After a good few hours searching, I stopped feeling frustrated, with still no answers! I really need to improve my skills, perhaps I should take a course in the future?

Day 19: Sunday

Today’s ‘wild’ card was, keep an eye out for newborns. Once again I had set my camcorder at the kitchen window overlooking the bird feeders. During the hours recording, it captured a baby Goldfinch visiting the feeders with two adults!

Day 20: Monday

Happy Summer Solstice or Litha. I don’t think I have sat up and watched the Longest Day of the year dawn, if I have in the past it was unintentionally! For one of my 30 Days Wild this year, I wanted to wake up with the city dawn chorus. I decided it would be a perfect way to celebrate the solstice too.

Sunrise was at 4.42am. I crawled out of bed blurry eyed an hour before. I left David in the thrall of Morpheus. With a hot drink in hand, notepad and pen, camcorder and phone, I sat in the guest bedroom with the window open wide and listened to the soft breeze for any birdsong.

It was faint, ethereal almost in the gloaming, but there was the sound of sweet birdsong. I think if I lived closer to a park the volume would have been louder. I tried to record the sound, which I have mixed in a video below.

I found it difficult to identify the birdsong. I had expected to hear a blackbird’s call but I think the predominant song was that of a robin. (I heard the blackbird before I returned to bed.)

Half an hour before the dawn, I saw herring gulls circling in the sky. These birds get up early! Members of the tit family were also calling and flying between the houses at this time.

It was after sunrise, when the birds came to the yarden, that I captured the loudest of the birdsong. It seemed that the lighter the day became the louder the sounds! 5am seemed to be the best time! Goldfinches came to the yarden in charms. I saw a crow fly over the roof. Mr. Dunnock sang so loudly he almost deafened me! Pigeons visited the feeders and magpies cackled somewhere in the near distance. Also at this time a tree bumblebee was heard and seen buzzing loudly around the campanula, bell flowers. If that was not enough for my small yarden oasis, a black cat walked along the wall crying. It jumped into the yarden and went for a long, quenching drink from our pond before jumping back on the wall and walking out of sight!

The sunrise was less eventful than the dawn chorus. The day broke grey and uninspiring. I retired to bed, to a fitful snooze after 5.30am.

Day 21: Tuesday

David went back to work today, so I spent the day looking over the pictures we took during out visit to Chester Zoo on Monday. I know I am cheating a little here and its not totally nature or indeed wild but the weather in the morning could have been described as wild so its going into my 30 Days blog.

Chester Zoo do have an initiative called Act for Wildlife. They have conservation projects not only around the world but in the UK too.

We spent a good three hours dodging the showers. We spent over half an hour watching the Aye-aye (Madagascan Lemur), he is so cute, and marveling at the new dinosaurs collection. We both liked Utahraptor with his feathers!

Summary:

This week has been quite a diverse one! Like last years 30 Days Wild, I am loving every moment! I am continuing to read and enjoy other blogs and I am learning along the way.

With only one more full week left of June, I hope you will continue to follow me as I discover more wildness in my life.

Christine x

A-MA-ZING!!

Can I say that one more time?

AMAZING!!

I’ve been talking about the experience all afternoon and evening! I simply can’t get over it! It’s always only me that sees it! I’ve joked with David that I must be ‘high’ on something! That quinoa last night must have been infected with mould, as this afternoon, after preparing my Sunday dinner, I looked out of the kitchen window to see if there was any bird activity at the feeders and there it was! A Sparrowhawk!

I wish I had my camera to hand as it’s just my word to say that it was in the garden, but there it was attacking whatever was sheltering in the Laurel Bush, probably a Sparrow or Starling!

I gasped in amazement and then it turned its orange eyes towards me before it spread its wings and flew off.

I have seen a Sparrowhawk in the area before, in 2012, the day of my father’s funeral. Today, one was in the garden looking for it’s lunch!

The whole incident happened so fast that I am writing this account so as to remember it!

I have no pictures myself of the Sparrowhawk, so I have had to borrow from Google/YouTube. The below footage is by Brian Ewen.


After some reading I have discovered that if a Sparrowhawk is in your garden then it is a sign of a healthy population of birds/prey. I like to see it as a healthy micro-system. I have put feeders in my garden to encourage small birds like the Blue Tit, Dunnock and Goldfinch. This in turn has encouraged Pigeons and Starlings to visit. This movement and frenzied activity has alerted the next stage of the chain. The predator, like the Sparrowhawk.

The system is very like that of my planting for bees, butterflies and moths. Their presence in the garden has brought the arrival of Swallows to feast on the abundance of insects. It certainly shows that we are all interconnected.

I have read that some people dislike Sparrowhawks being in their neighbourhood. I have to accept that even Sparrowhawks need to feed otherwise they will starve to death.

On the RSPB website it states that Sparrowhawk numbers were heavily in decline due to pesticides used in farming from the 1950’s onwards. Thankfully, numbers seem to be on the increase due to the banning of certain chemicals. The RSPB also states that the predation of Sparrowhawks on songbirds has ‘no or little impact on songbird populations.’ The Wildlife Trust produced a report on the predation of songbirds and concluded that songbird ‘numbers over the last few decades should not be blamed on predation by Sparrowhawks and Magpies.’

In my area there are not just Magpies, but other crows and Seagulls present. Recently, there seems to be a healthy balance of numbers from the smaller birds. I counted at one time, up to, if not exceeding 20 Goldfinches, 10 House Sparrows and over 20 Starlings, mostly fledglings. Pigeon numbers seem to be increasing steadily also.

The presence of predators therefore does seem to indicate that there are a healthy number of smaller birds. Chris Mead from Jacobi Jayne & Company states, ‘numbers of Sparrowhawks are controlled by the numbers of their prey.’ I like to think that since I have been encouraging Goldfinches, House Sparrows and Starlings to my garden that I am creating a healthy ecosystem where there is enough prey numbers for a predator to flourish. Time will tell if the Sparrowhawk will return.

I have been researching the presence of Sparrowhawks in Liverpool, and have come across a number of blogs from 2010 and 2012 stating Sparrowhawk sightings. It’s not uncommon for Sparrowhawks to predate in city gardens. However, I just find it amazing that one appeared in my inner city garden, though more like a yard than a garden!! I am feeling proud that I have made a little oasis in a rather built up area. 🙂


And in other news:

I seemed to have been on a health kick recently. I have been treadmilling, doing squats and abdominal workouts daily. I don’t know whether this is the fact that I have lost an inch around the chest and half an inch from the waist. Either way I think healthy eating has helped.

Lentils are a great source of protein and low in calories. They lower your cholesterol and help maintain blood sugar levels. So, today I made a Vegan, Spicy Lentil Soup. I got the recipe from Cookie and Kate. Though I changed a few quantities and added a potato and green beans.

Ingredients:

  • Splash of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped
  • 2 celery sticks chopped
  • 1 small potato, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
  • Handful of green beans chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 400g can of diced tomatoes
  • 200g of green lentils
  • 1 litre of vegetable stock, reduced salt. I used two cubes
  •  ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Method:

  1. Warm the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.
  2. Once the oil is shimmering, add the chopped onion, celery and potato and cook, stirring often, until the onion has softened and is turning translucent, (about 5 minutes.)
  3. Add the garlic, cumin, curry powder and thyme. Cook until fragrant while stirring constantly, (about 30 seconds.)
  4. Pour in the tomatoes, green beans and cook for a few more minutes, stirring often, in order to enhance their flavour.
  5. Pour in the lentils and stock. Add 1/2 a teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Season generously with freshly ground black pepper. Raise heat and bring the mixture to a boil, then partially cover the pot and reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender but still hold their shape.
  6. Transfer 450ml of the soup to a blender. Protect your hand from steam with a tea towel placed over the lid and purée the soup until smooth. Pour the puréed soup back into the pan and warm up.
  7. Remove the pan from heat.Taste and season with more salt, pepper. Serve immediately.
Spiced Vegan Lentil Soup

Spiced Vegan Lentil Soup

The soup turned out really well. Though it looked more brown than the original recipe. (It doesn’t look very appetising from the picture, but believe me it was very appetising and healthy). It made four bowls, so have enough for tomorrows dinner. 😀

Have a pleasant week ahead.