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 #39

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hans Zimmer Live

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

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

 

 

Shiverpool – Ghost Bus

This weekend we made use of the competition prize I had won during the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic‘s most recent prize draw on Facebook. So David and I wrapped up warmly and made our way to the Suitcase Monument in Hope Street to embark on the Shiverpool Ghost Bus.

Shiverpool bus tour

Shiverpool bus tour

It was a clear, yet windy night, perfect for haunting stories and ghostly apparitions.

When we got to the monument there were already lots of people waiting for the bus which arrived a little late, (typical of the buses in Liverpool!) :p However it was nice to listen to the harmonious bells of both cathedrals, at opposite ends of Hope Street ringing into the dark evening as we stood waiting.

In hindsight perhaps I should have booked a tour on a weekday as town on Saturday became busy with revellers and the roads chocked with traffic.

When the bus finally arrived it was a red double decker and looked impressive.

Shiverpool Ghost Bus

Shiverpool Ghost Bus

Our tour guides for the evening were a duo of ‘brother and ‘sister,’ both lightly joked with the passengers who were all asked to go upstairs on the bus. This was by no mean feat with heels and an ankle length dress which I wore. The staircase was narrow and the steps uneven and in darkness was a bit of a safety hazard! The deck below was commandeered for a hen party from Ireland who held the tour up by 10 minutes!

While the bus waited for the late comers, the tour guides bantered with the passengers, asking where everyone lived. David and I had been the last to go upstairs and ended up seated at the back! We were, on more than one occasion singled out as a couple on a date. Apparently ‘I had made an effort’ on my toilette. Why thank you! 🙂

David and I have been on many ghost tours while holidaying in Edinburgh so the Shiverpool Ghost Bus had a lot to live up to!

The tour took us around the beautiful Georgian Quarter of Liverpool, visiting Rodney and Huskisson Street. The guides spoke of George Huskisson who was the first person to be killed by a steam engine at the Edge Hill trials and unknown to me Huskisson Street was also the home of Florence Maybrick who was charged with the death of James Maybrick, A.K.A. of Jack the Ripper fame.

The 90 minutes or so of the tour flew by and unfortunately the stories the guides narrated were rattled out at such a lightening speed that come to recap the experience, I am finding it hard to recall some of the tales. One such story, as we pulled alongside the leafy Falkner Square was about child murders and witches.

The tour was punctuated by the appearance of ‘ghosts’ who seemingly had come to life as the stories were recounted. The first appeared while we were parked outside St Bride’s Church, off Catherine Street. It was of a young bride to be, who was buried alive in the grave yard. The actor was dressed in white with a veil covering her face. She silently walked around the bus before being scared away by the tour guides. The creepy part of these ‘apparitions’ was looking out of the back window to see them just standing on the pavement silently watching as the bus drove off!

There was however a downside to having other actors joining us along the journey. This was, that while they were terrorising the passengers, as in the case of an angry drunkard tearing through the bus, you didn’t get to hear the story. So I missed a lot of the narrative due to this.

One good thing that came from the tour was a greater appreciation of the city and it’s architecture. Liverpool is indeed beautiful! The bus drove past the Anglican Cathedral, the biggest in the UK, and took us along the waterfront to see the Albert Dock and the Three Graces all lit up!

At one point in the tour we had to get off the bus. We all stood huddled together outside the iconic Royal Liver Building whose clock face is bigger than the Elizabeth Tower clock, ‘Big Ben‘. Here, outside the old insurance building, the guides told us a tale of poison and fraud. The silliest part of the night was when one of the guides got a gentleman to re-enact the symptoms of arsenic poisoning! Chronic diarrhoea and all!!

However let’s not forget that the tour tickets were free and it was something different to do from the usual humdrum routine of a Saturday night. It’s just sad that the stories were really not that engaging, nor scary enough! We have been on better ghost tours!