A Year in Books 2019 – January to March

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A Year in Books

Welcome to 2019’s A Year in Books. This is my third year following the initiative run by Laura at Circle of Pine Trees, and I have decided 40 books in a year is achievable for me.

A new year means a new batch of books to read. For the first quarter of 2019 I managed to read a total of eight books.

Here’s my reviews below.

Almanac – Lia Leendertz (January/February/March) ✩✩
I don’t know what I expected from this almanac but some of the content in Lia’s compilation just doesn’t inform me enough. I particularly like the history behind the naming of months, stellar events and information from a bee hive but I feel I want more than what I am reading. Do you know of any better almanacs?

The History of Mary Prince – Mary Prince ✩✩
I don’t even know how this book got on my Kindle! It’s a recount of the life of a slave Mary Prince, in the 1800’s. Some of the accounts of torture are difficult to read. Mary finally escaped her brutal enslavement and took up residence in England. She is the first woman to present an anti slavery petition to parliament.

Into the Water – Paula Hawkins ✩✩✩
From the author who gave us Girl on a Train. Into the Water is billed as yet another thriller but it felt more of a detective novel. Just days before her sister drowned, Jules ignored her call. Now Nel is dead, and Jules must return to her sister’s house to care for her daughter, and to face the mystery of Nel’s death. But Jules is afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of this small town that is drowning in secrecy. From the reviews on Amazon not many people enjoyed this book, but I enjoyed it even though it was hard to get a grip of all the characters (there were a lot of them!)

The Turn of Midnight – Minette Walters ✩✩✩
I quite enjoyed this book. I didn’t rate the first installment of Minette Walter’s historical plague novel but I found that the pace got better in this second book. Character development seemed more progressive and the novel concluded satisfactorily.

Three Things About Elsie – Joanna Cannon ✩✩✩✩
By far the best book I have read this quarter. I found some of the passages were written so profoundly! 84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, she considers the charming new resident who looks exactly like a man she once knew – a man who died sixty years ago. His arrival has stirred distant memories she and Elsie thought they’d laid to rest. Lying prone in the front room, Florence wonders if a terrible secret from her past is about to come to light … Even though I had second guessed the third thing about Elsie, the narrative and how the story slowly developed had me gripped. The final chapters left me aching with sadness. Have you read a book that left a lasting impression on you?

Still Me – JoJo Moyes ✩✩✩
The third and final installment of the Louisa Clark series. Louisa relocates to New York for a job as a Personal Assistant. During her time in the Big Apple she meets many colorful and zany people. However these people are what save her from disillusionment and a miscarriage of justice. At the end of Still Me, Louisa Clark finds her true self worth and ultimately, happiness. I think this was the second strongest novel of the trilogy after Me Before You. Have you read any of these books or anything by JoJo Moyes?

The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris ✩✩✩
I had read good reviews about this book so when I saw it in Asda, I decided to buy it. Though the novel is in third person narrative it is told from the viewpoint of a survivor of the Holocaust. In 1942, Lale Sokolov arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival. Waiting in line to be tattooed, terrified and shaking, was a young girl. For Lale – a jack-the-lad, it was love at first sight. And he was determined not only to survive himself, but to ensure this woman, Gita, did, too. I found the writing style was easy to read but being third person I felt a lot of the descriptions of death were a little matter of fact, but perhaps living so close to extermination on a daily basis made you see death like that? The Tattooist saw a lot of the Nazi’s Final Solution, of the gas chambers and crematorium to the final destruction of records before the Russian’s arrived. In a time of death it was a story of determination and survival.

The Gap of Time – Jeanette Winterson ✩✩
A baby girl is abandoned, banished from London to the storm-ravaged American city of New Bohemia. Her father has been driven mad by jealousy, her mother to exile by grief. Seventeen years later, Perdita doesn’t know a lot about who she is or where she’s come from – but she’s about to find out. Jeanette Winterson’s cover version of The Winter’s Tale vibrates with echoes of Shakespeare’s original and tells a story of hearts broken and hearts healed, a story of revenge and forgiveness, a story that shows that whatever is lost shall be found. I found this modern retelling of one of Shakespeare’s later plays rather hard to digest. I felt the text rather crude and I cared little for the madness of Leo(ontes). The other characters seemed all rather ineffectual to the angst of Leo whose actions shouldn’t have been so easily forgiven. I had waited a few years to read this book. I really wish I hadn’t now.

I’ve felt this first quarter’s reading has been rather mediocre. Have you read any good books lately, any recommendations?

Thanks for dropping by,

Christine x

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Sunday Sevens #60

It’s Sunday! Time for a quick Sunday Sevens!

Cinema:
How to Train Your Dragon 3
It’s been some time since we’ve been to the cinema. To see the last installment of the How to Train your Dragon trilogy, David and I visited the newly opened Cineworld in Speke. The film was a fitting finale to the trilogy and I’m not ashamed to admit that I shed a tear or too.

Family walks:
Last Sunday we took a four mile walk around Mere Sands Wood nature reserve. Unfortunately the rain put a dampner on any nature sightings but we enjoyed the rain sodden walk anyhow!

This Sunday, with the weather no better, we headed towards Liverpool’s Calderstones Park.

#walk1000miles:
Even though David and I have had a few days off work this week, even taking in a two mile walk around The Countess of Chester Country Park. Longer days in work has meant that my miles this week has been down on previous weeks.

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David looking for otters

My total for this week is 38, bringing my overall total to 435 miles. If you are participating in the challenge, how are you doing?

RSPB Membership:
On Monday, David and I visited RSPB Leighton Moss, near Morecambe. We spent a leisurely four hours walking the paths and taking lunch with hungry robins, tits and pheasants. Among the highlights of the visit was hand feeding a great tit and robin and seeing a marsh harrier hunting. Have you visited this reserve? What were your impressions?

Anniversary:
13 anni

Monday was also our 13th year anniversary!

Book I’m reading:
I’ve picked up The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. I’ll let you know what I think of it! Have you read it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

The Aviary:
On Wednesday David and I said goodbye to Pie our Cut-throat finch. He was five years old and hadn’t shown any signs of illness. It was a shock and a sad loss.

Philharmonic

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The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

This Saturday David and I attended an eclectic concert at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, featuring music from Vaughn-Williams, Tchaikovsky and Villa-Lobos. I enjoyed it very much!

So, that was my week, how was yours?

Thanks for reading, Christine x

Sunday Sevens is a series devised by Natalie at Threads and Bobbins!

Sunday Sevens #42

sefton park palm house run 1

Thanks to Natalie at Threads and bobbins for creating the series, Sunday Sevens. Here’s a quick update on my week.

Walking the Dog:

I thought I’d begin this week’s post with our run with Riley. It seems like every weekend when we arrive at Sefton Park, it hails on us. Today it was also blowing a gale! Riley didn’t seem to mind though as we followed his path around the park. We had a good 2 mile walk and even spotted parakeets flying from the tree tops.

#walk1000miles:

Tying in neatly with dog walking, is the #walk1000miles challenge. This week I’ve been feeling pretty lazy. Though recently recovering from a chill, I’ve had no excuse to not crank up the miles. However I’ve just felt to tired. I think the coldness of February is filtering into my bones, making me want to hibernate. I keep dreaming of warmer days. They will be here soon. I just need to get through the winter months. My weekly total has been 27 miles, bringing my annual mileage to 196 miles.

A Year in Books:

This week I’ve picked up Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees. I can’t remember who suggested it to me but at present I am enjoying the story and characters. I think this book will be bitter sweet. Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?

Aviary:

This week sadly our little aviary has become one less as we found Paris, one of our male owl finches, had passed away. He had been fluffed up for quite some time. I had hoped it was just with the cold, but it must have been with some illness. He was adorable and my love affair with owl finches will continue. I think they are so beautiful.

A New Friend:

Keeping with the avian theme. This week I’ve been trying to gain the trust of a visiting robin. He’s pretty brave and sings softly to me as I hold out the bird food to him. Sadly I’ve not been able to have him eating from my hand but he has been hopping close by. He watches me as I lay the food out and when I turn my back he jumps down and helps himself to the fare. I’ve been enjoying his daily visits. Long may they continue.

Shopping:

Saturday was all about shopping. David and I headed into Liverpool city centre before driving through the tunnel to Cheshire Oaks, where I managed to get a white fleece from Mountain Warehouse. David was looking for waterproof jackets, this was one of his favourites.

Yarden:

I thought I’d finish this post with an update on the yarden. I have one lowly snowdrop blooming. It looks rather chewed upon but at least it has made a show. I have a few more iris flowering and thought their petals looked nice with raindrops on them.

So, that was my week, how was yours?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

Sunday Sevens #38

This week’s Sunday Sevens, (devised by Natalie at Threads and bobbins), comes mostly from the Lake District where I’ve had a wonderful few days away with David.

B&B: Yet again we stayed at Hermiston Guesthouse in Braithwaite for our two night stay. We were given the very comfortable Latrigg double room!

Birthday: This third ‘Lakes holiday’ of 2017 was a birthday treat. Phil and Helen, the proprietors of the guest house, gifted me a bottle of bucks fizz to celebrate!

Wild Swimming: Of course I planned some wild swims alongside our many walks. I spent a wonderful impromptu 20 minute swim at Buttermere! The water temperature was about 12° but in the sunshine it felt much warmer. However the shakes on shore afterwards were some of the worst I’ve experienced. It was hard to drink my hot cup of coffee!

Buttermere swim 2 (2)

Buttermere

#walk1000miles: Even though I have completed the walk 1000 miles challenge, I am still counting my mileage. David and I walked a good seven miles around Haweswater where there are gates made for giants!

On returning home, among the post was my completers medal! Yay!! 😀

Derwent Water: Of course no visit to Keswick would have been complete without visiting the shores of Derwent Water. I think this picture of the Borrowdale end of the lake is among the best I’ve taken.

Derwent Water 2 (2)

Derwent Water

Tux: Unfortunately on our arrival home, we were dismayed to have had yet another death in the aviary. Poor Tux, who was our eldest owl finch, was found at the bottom of the cage. We have buried her in the yarden with her partner Troy (who died earlier this year).

I’ll finish this post with a photo of the beautiful flowers David bought me for my birthday!

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

Tomorrow Isn’t Promised

daf69acd5b56a7e615a891b2cd2769d8Recently I have been thinking of my own mortality. It’s not a topic many people want to discuss. Whilst contemplating the end of life, the phrase tomorrow isn’t promised, cropped up. This made me think of being mindful. To live life in the present. It is a mantra I have been trying to follow every day this year; to take each day as it comes and not to think too much of the future. However much we may plan, life has a way of throwing spanners in the works! So enjoy today and be thankful for the people we share our life with and of the places we see along the way. Life is like a journey. It’s not the destination that matters, but our route along the way!

So as a little recap of the year so far, here’s some of the people and places that have made my journey through 2017 a joy!

I am thankful to have David in my life. He is quietly strong, someone who you can depend upon and a wonderful friend. I love you with all my heart! We have been on many walks this year. Lake District walks to Thirlmere, Dodd Wood and a walk through the bluebells at Rannerdale.

We have shared walks along hot, sunny beaches, picked our own strawberries and visited nature reserves. I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather be on these walks than with you, David!

On many of our local walks, to Liverpool Festival Gardens, Sefton Park and Crosby Beach, we have taken bubbly, lively Riley with us.

If I have to mention Riley, I have to mention Artie and Evie and my wonderful aviary of foreign finches.

My mum has been a constant support over the years and I thank her for her love. We shared a special afternoon tea at Jam, Liverpool in March.

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Mum and I

Music has such a big place in my heart, and the music of Hans Zimmer is right up there with the symphonies of Mahler and Rachmaninov. In 2017 I luckily saw Hans’ World Tour visit Liverpool. To say his music is electrifying is an understatement, just listen to his Dark Knight medley from his live concerts!

A new passion of mine has become wild swimming. This year I have had seven wonderful swims. Blea Tarn was not disappointing.

Work takes up a lot of my time but working with Sue and her guide dog Kallie often doesn’t feel like work. It feels like muddling through a day with a friend. Sue has become a wonderful confidante.

I have tried to read and follow as many blogs as I can. There is one blogger who has become an online friend (we shall have to meet in person one day, with our dogs) and that is Sharon from her wonderful blog sunshine and celandines. I have enjoyed our many online chats on the culture/holidays and walks we both blog about!

I love street art. So when there is a new Wild in Art animal trail or a mural, I try and visit. Birmingham’s Big Sleuth was entertaining and Paul Curtis’s For all Liverpool’s Liverbirds mural was a must for any Liverbird to visit!

I have tried to notice the smaller things in nature this year. It really does make you more appreciative of life. Feeling the warm sun on your skin to foraging for berries. Seeing a bird of prey being harried by a family of swallows or seeing a snowdrop during the coldest of days makes your heart swell. These small events make life’s worries and trivialities disappear or seem easily overcomable (if that’s really a word!)

There’s four month’s left of 2017, but for now I want to live for today and feel blessed with the memories of the places I have seen, with the people I hold dear.

Thank you for reading,

Live life in the moment

Christine x

Sunday Sevens #33

Today’s Sunday Sevens (devised by Natalie at Theads and Bobbins), will be a mishmash of pictures and info. I hope you don’t mind?

cartoonWork: This week has been heavy on the workload. With only working 18 hours a week, a full days work is squashed into just 3-4 hours daily. Feeling slightly under the weather and tired has made for a hard week to get through. However spirits were high at the centre I work at, as they celebrated 40 years since their opening. As part of their celebrations a local artist George Brooks was commissioned to draw caricatures of staff and people who access the day centre. Here’s my mug shot!

#walk1000miles: While in previous weeks I have been breaking my own record mileage. This week I have found less time, nor the inclination to do much than the bare minimum. My mileage for this week has been 26 miles bringing my annual total to 683 miles. Not bad but I hope to do better this following week.

New Life: For the past three weeks our blue-faced parrot finches have been laying and sitting on eggs. At first there were eight eggs laid. Then as the weeks progressed they threw a few eggs out of the nest. On Thursday David was replenishing their food and water when he stooped to have a look into the nest. ‘There’s a baby!’ he whispered.

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Baby Blue-faced Parrot Finch

‘What?’ I asked disbelieving. David nodded for me to have a look and I gazed at a tiny, naked creature writhing about the eggs. Even though the baby was blind its bulbous black eyes seemed to protrude from its head. I still can’t quite believe that our finches have had a baby. I wonder what the future will hold for the little nestling and whether there will be any siblings?

An update: Sadly our little nestling only survived two days before we found it dead. RIP little one. 😥

Metamorphosis: What with hatching eggs, fledged goldfinches, pigeons and starlings visiting the feeders, it has all been about the young ones this week! Summer is amazing for seeing new life! I recently noticed a chrysalis attached to a jasmine leaf. We could see the colour of the butterfly through the transparent casing. About two weeks ago on the very same plant I had taken a picture of a green caterpillar. The chrysalis would be the next stage of the metamorphosis!

On Friday during our daily perusal of the yarden David noticed that the chrysalis was empty and the poor, newly emerged butterfly, a large white was sitting on the floor. We picked it up and placed it on a buddleia.

We noticed it had a crumpled wing and I later read that if a newly emerged butterfly ended up on the floor, it could reduce its chance of having pristine wings. It takes a day for the wings to harden and take shape. I hope that our new friend hasn’t damaged its chances of survival. I also noticed that it had just one antenna. I read that it could have been due to a deformity in the chrysalis. The antenna helps determine smell and balance. We left the new butterfly clinging to the biddleia. Hopefully it will be able to warm its wings, the crumple unfold and be able to feed and go on its merry way. Only time will tell.

Another update: This one a little happier, (though only a little). The large white butterfly is still with us. It moved from the buddleia to the floor again, though I did see a white butterfly flutter about the rockery plants earlier in the day. Whether that was our little friend I don’t know. David took the butterfly indoors and fed it sugar/water solution. David noticed that one antennae is under developed and that the butterfly does not have control of one of its front legs. The prognosis for survival is poor, but we shall keep an eye on the butterfly and keep feeding sugar/water. That is all we can do sadly.

I was reading up on metamorphosis and what happens inside a chrysalis. Enzymes are released dissolving tissue but keeping essential organs before remodeling begins. National Geographic have an interesting report on 3D scanning of the process. You can read it here.

Book I am reading: I’ve finally picked up Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winner, The Goldfinch. I’m only a few pages into the narrative but so far I am enjoying Tartt’s writing style. Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?

The Yarden:  To cheer myself up I decided to visit a local garden centre and purchase some perennials for the yarden. There wasn’t much of a selection but I came away with an achillea (yarrow) and chrysanthemum, both had the RHS Perfect for Pollinators sign.

Looking forward: I have a few days away booked to Keswick this coming week. I am so ready for a little break away. Need to recharge my batteries or I feel I will crumble. Look out for blog posts on how the planned swim/walks pan out!

That was my (rather upsetting) week, how was yours?

Thanks for reading,

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

My Father’s Daughter.

I didn’t enter the water gracefully. It was a precarious balance on slippery rocks, before I lost my footing, gasped as my whole body plunged under the waves. Though it was September and there was still warmth to the sun, the body of water that lay before me was chilling beneath the wind that whipped the surface into tiny white peaks. ‘Keep swimming,’ was the motto, and swim I did, even if the cold of the water numbed my fingers, made my skin tingle. 2 km didn’t sound like much, but previously I hadn’t had much practice. I was rusty and my muscles let me know it!

As a child, my family would have weekly swimming evenings at the local pool, followed by a chippie tea and Doctor Who on the TV. I was lucky to be born when the old Victorian school buildings still stood, before modernisation bulldozed them for clinical, soulless buildings. My school, red bricked and full of ghost stories had a wonderful heated swimming pool alongside it. Even before entering the building, with towel rolled under an arm, the smell of chlorine always tickled the nose, cleared the senses.

The noise at poolside was often deafening! Children shrieked with nervous excitement, trying to stay afloat with giant orange inflatables around their arms. I would emerge from a blue curtained cubicle like a butterfly from its chrysalis, proudly wearing my red swimsuit. Always, my father would be in the pool first, beckoning me into the cradling waters, challenging me. In his youth he had been a finalist in the inter-city championships, had numerous certificates and badges. He still enthused about the sport and would encourage me to swim further than I could ever think possible. 100 metres was a long way for a young girl.

Where I swam now was very different to a pool and I was no longer ‘Daddy’s little champion.’ I was a woman of 40. An infinite expanse of sky, pregnant with clouds arched overhead. Shingle beaches lined the shores and jagged mountains crowded around, like they were bringing me into their confidence. Crows shrieked their good morning. Day would soon arrive and with it the chance of rain. As I pushed my body through the water, soft like silk, Nathan sat alongside me, paddling silently.

I met Nathan at a turning point in both our lives. I was chopping vegetables in the kitchen of a hostel, where I was holidaying in Scotland. Onions sizzled in a pan while tears tore down my face. ‘Something smells good!’ I started and the knife I held clattered to the floor.

‘It’ll be a chilli once it’s cooked.’ I turned to face a larger than life man. He was still wearing his hiking gear and had trodden mud through into the kitchen. ‘Hungry?’

‘Famished!’ He grinned.

The evening sun dipped beyond the horizon, turning the clouds into a kind of pink blancmange. The air was still, sweetly scented. Spring in Scotland has its own beauty. Trees slowly unfurled their tender leaves and rivers raged with melt-water from the mountains. Nathan, freshly showered, and I sat on a bench eating our bowls of chilli in the hostel’s garden. A bottle of wine shared between us. ‘What brings you to Scotland?’ I asked.

‘Adventure,’ he shrugged, then looking up at me he said shyly. ‘A broken heart. You?’

‘I recently lost my father.’ I took a mouthful of bitter wine. ‘We had been estranged the last couple of years, so the news was pretty hard to take.’ I paused. Nathan sat silently, listening. ‘I just had to get away, escape. You know how it is?’ He nodded. ‘I just packed the car and headed up here.’

‘Planning on staying long?’

‘A day or two. Depends if there’s anything to stay for.’ It was then that we shared one of those looks and the world suddenly shifts. Two people, lonely and broken, found comfort in each other’s arms.

Two years later, I found myself immersed in nature, practicing for a charity swim. The northern shore of the lake loomed ahead, trees, tall and prickly stood sentinel. From the water’s surface I suddenly noticed a familiar figure standing motionless by the lakeside, his arm raised in a wave. I stopped kicking, felt my body suspended by the water, while minnows gently swam between my fingers. ‘Sarah!’ Nathan called. ‘Don’t stop!’

‘Do you see..?’ I shouted, treading water.

‘What?’ I looked back towards the shore, to where only trees huddled around a burnt shell of a building. ‘It was probably a dog walker.’ Nathan encouraged. ‘You’re almost there! Don’t give up!’ I stretched my tired arms forward and pressed on for the last 50 metres or so. Soon my legs hit rocks as I crawled out of the water. My muscles ached, my skin purple with bruises. ‘You made it!’ Nathan cried jumping out of the kayak, ‘and in under an hour!’ His feet splashed in the shallows before he draped a towel around my shivering body.

‘Maybe I am my father’s daughter after all,’ I panted.

‘And more,’ Nathan cupped my face in his hands. ‘He would have been amazed at what you can achieve.’ Wells of tears unexpectedly flooded my eyes.

‘Really?’

‘Yes. Sure, he would have been jealous. Swimming in a lake! That has to beat swimming in a pool any day!’

‘I suppose,’ I smiled through chattering teeth.

‘You’ve swam further than you’ve ever done before. He would have been so proud of you!’ I felt Nathan’s lips, hot on mine as he wrapped his arms around me. I leant into his warm body.

‘I know it sounds silly but I could have sworn I saw him standing by the boathouse.’ Nathan looked to where the wooden structure stood derelict. There was no other living soul, save them at the lake.

‘Perhaps he was, cheering you on as he used to.’

‘It’s a nice thought.’

‘Come, let’s get you warm. A strong, celebratory coffee is in order. Perhaps I’ll buy us cake!’ We turned our backs to the lake laughing as we went, and the rain that was promised began to fall.

© 2016 Christine Lucas


I haven’t written anything of note in a while. The above story was written in response to an advert for submissions for an anthology on wild swimming. Needless to say I was not successfully chosen, so I’ve posted the piece for you, my lovely readers. It was written with a word count restriction, so forgive the fractured feel to the narrative.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Christine x

Scenes from the Lake District. (Whinlatter Forest.)

Our last breakfast during this short break to the Lake District, was shared with another couple who had arrived the previous evening. I felt rather sad that we were going home later that day, yet I knew Artie was missing us. Breakfast was a relaxed and leisurely beginning to the day.

On leaving Hermiston, Phil and Helen said goodbye to us with more hugs and handshakes. It was a wrench to leave, they do indeed make you feel like friends.

David and I headed 10 minutes up the road to the visitor centre at Whinlatter Forest. I had planned a three hour walk to the top of Seat How. On arrival the car park was already busy with bikers and families. We donned our walking boots and headed towards the red way-markers.

The winding pathway took us past a Gruffalo and through tall trees. The walk wasn’t too strenuous and we got to the top of Seat How earlier than planned. I thought the pathways were better sign posted than our visit to Grizedale last year. We stopped and ate our packed lunch with views of the surrounding fells, Keswick and Derwent Water before us. We watched transfixed as a pair of buzzards drifted elegantly on the breeze.

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Seat How Summit

As we made our journey back to the car park, the clouds broke and the sun came out!

Our time at Whinlatter Forest was shorter than I had planned, though we had enjoyed our time spent beneath the trees. The paths towards Lord’s Seat and Grisedale Pike will have to be revisited some other time. After 1pm we decided to make the journey home. I was sad to leave the Lake District but knew I would return again soon. My wild swims beckon!

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Fudge

The news we were greeted on arrival home, was that we had lost one of our finches while away. R.I.P. Fudge, you are still sadly missed.

Artie however was happy to see us and for this past week has been more clingy than normal. He is usually such an independent cat.

Thank you for joining me as I recap my short break to the Lake District. The change of scenery was much needed, and even David said he had a good time! Thank you Phil and Helen for making our stay at Hermiston such a relaxing and pleasant time.

Are you planning a trip/day out to the lake District? Do you know of any sights David and I would enjoy visiting?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x