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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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

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 – 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?

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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

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

12 Hours of Day #5

Sharon from Sunshine and Celandines messaged me on Friday informing me that this Saturday was another Photo an Hour. Though I had nothing planned, I thought it would be good for you to see into an ordinary day of mine. So here goes! 🙂

Photo and Hour – 22nd April 2017

8am to 10am:

Most of my Saturday’s start at 8am. Today was no different. I crawled out of bed sleepy eyed and had breakfast with Artie sitting at the bottom of the bed, with wonderful spring sunshine streaming through the bedroom window.

After breakfast I got dressed and put my ‘face’ on for the day ahead.

10am to 11am:

Saturday is shopping day, so David, mum and I headed towards Asda, or in Liverpool it’s ‘the’ Asda! :p The alarm for the hour sounded when we were heading into the frozen section of the supermarket, so we turned and smiled for the camera! Cheese!!

10 to 11

11am to 1pm:

Since the sun was shining, (though it was cold), David and I decided to take Riley to another local park, Sefton Park. We walked around the boating lake and played fetch on a field full of daisies and dandelions. 🙂

1pm to 2pm:

We arrived home for lunch at 1pm. I sat down with a Tassimo Costa coffee, the last of the hot cross buns and the final chapters of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.

2pm to 3pm:

While I took to doing some housework, David started preparing the ingredients for his curry base. He’s cooking Sunday’s dinner, so I left him to it! 😀

3pm to 5pm:

While dinner cooked I pottered about the yarden. I enjoyed listening to the buzz of two bees visiting the lithodora and red campion. Both were hairy-footed flower bee’sthe cream one is a male and the black is a female.

5pm to 7pm:

Saturday’s dinner was a Quorn Sausage and Lentil Cassoulet. I adapted the recipe from Donal Skehan. I used red lentils instead of puy lentils, perhaps I should have used green? Halfway through the meal I gasped, ‘I’ve forgotten to take a photo.’ So I apologise for the half eaten picture of the meal.

6pm’s photo comes courtesy of David. I was upstairs doing something or other. When I came down, David said, ‘there’s a new picture taken for the hour.’ I scrolled through the gallery and there was a picture of Artie, David had taken. Though Artie doesn’t look that enamoured :p

7pm to 8pm:

My last photo of the day. With the sun setting, I pour myself a glass of pinot, David switches his PS4 on. An evening of Classic FM and reading is ahead.

7 to 8

Evening’s entertainment

Thanks to Janey and Louisa for setting up the challenge.

How did you spend today’s photo an hour?

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

 

 

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

Sunday Sevens #25

Wow! These week’s come round quick! It’s that time again! Time for some more Sunday Sevens, devised by Natalie.

Walk 1000 miles: The beginning of the week saw my #walk1000miles badge arrive in the post! I am excited to take it on my future walks.

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My Walk 1000 Miles badge

My total for this week has been 26 miles bringing my overall tally to 277 miles. A culmination of getting off the bus earlier to enjoy the warm sunshine and to look for signs of spring.

Wild Swimming: With the help of David, we put up my Lake District map. We used string as pointers to pictures of the lakes I’ve swam in. Thanks to Sharon from Sunshine and Celandines for the inspiration. Her dog Hugo has a map featuring all his dips, I thought ‘what a great idea, perfect for my wild swims!’ 😀

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My wild swim map

Wildlife: This week I signed up for the Great British Bee Count, an incentive by Friends of the Earth. Much like the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, it is a survey to track the health of bee populations in the UK. The count this year will be between 19th May to 30th June 2017, just in time for the Wildlife Trust’s 30 Day’s Wild! Will you be joining in?

Earth Hour: Once again David and I participated in WWF’s Earth Hour. For an hour between 8.30pm and 9.30pm on 25th March 2017 we turned off all the lights and used the time to reflect. It made for a very calm hour.

Did you participate in this years Earth Hour?

Afternoon Tea: This weekend it was Mothering Sunday here in the UK and the day before was my Mum’s birthday. To celebrate both, I surprised my Mum with an afternoon tea at Jam.

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Afternoon Tea at Jam, Liverpool

The restaurant was busier than last time I visited with David, you can read my review here. The afternoon tea had some changes. Mum had beef bread rolls and thankfully there was no egg to be seen. The cake selection was a little different too. There were slices of red velvet cake, bakewell tarts and small doughnuts. The scones went down very nicely with cups of Assam tea!

Birdcage-Walk-UseReading: The book I have begun reading this week is Birdcage Walk by Kate Riordan. It is set at the turn of the 20th century and is based on a true crime. However I think the adapted story is a little far fetched but I am over half way through so will persevere to the end.

Have you read any good books lately?

In the kitchen: While I was out with Mum, David was busy in the kitchen baking another cake. This time he made a classic Victoria Sponge, with yummy fresh cream and strawberry jam.

For this Saturday’s dinner I made a Brown Lentil Chili and served it with oven baked tortillas. I adapted the quantities for two people. It makes for a gorgeous, healthy, filling chili. I have made this recipe several times this year.

These have been just a few highlights from my week. How has yours been?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

Sunday Sevens #7

This Sunday Sevens has been rather hard to compile. I only seem to be taking pictures of plants and food recently. Oh. I need to find some excitement in my life!

During breakfast on Sunday, (I have mine snuggled up in bed while listening to Classic FM) David called me downstairs. He had spied a new visitor to the yarden. It only stayed briefly and I didn’t have time to take a picture but I think it was a male Black Cap. He probably just used the yarden as a pit stop on his way to better feeding grounds, much like the Chiffchaff earlier in the year.

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By Tony Hisgett via Wikimedia Commons

David cooked Sunday dinner. He used a curry base and added spices to make a very tasty Rogan Josh.

We attended a family funeral mid week. Funeral services always make me think of this Emily Dickinson poem

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading – treading – till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through –

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum –
Kept beating – beating – till I thought
My mind was going numb –

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space – began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here –

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down –
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then –

After reading Kate Riordan’s second novel, I bought her first novel the Girl in the Photograph. It was only £2.75, second hand from Ebay. It’s another one of those novels that has parallel narratives.

While passing the University of Liverpool, I caught sight of this very striking statue in the quadrangle!

For Saturday’s meal I cooked a vegetarian bean chilli. However, I made a few adjustments to the original recipe, which you can find here. I just used what I could find in the store cupboard. I swapped borlotti beans for pinto, used red lentils instead of puy and left out the marmite altogether! It made for an inexpensive yet healthy meal, even if it was rather hot with two teaspoons of chilli powder! I thought it was very tasty!

For the final picture, in the past few weeks I have been monitoring a strange plant that has been growing in the yarden. At first I didn’t know what it was but now that it’s budded, I remember planting snake’s head fritillary bulbs a year ago.

Have you had any strange looking plants grow in your garden? Cooked any yummy meals recently?

Christine x

Sunday Sevens was devised by Threads and bobbins.