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 women’s’ 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

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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

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

 

 

Sunday Sevens #3

20160313_110739Last week, after a traumatic Saturday, in which my road witnessed a tragic, sad event. Sunday dawned bleakly. David and I decided it was time to sew the seeds I had bought. We planted sweet peppers, spring onions and green beans, in the hope that something will grow come summer. I am waiting for the frosts to end so I can plant maris bard potatoes and my dahlia tubers.

Now after a week of sitting in front of the window in the guest bedroom, we have shoots finally pushing through the soil! There is hope yet!

Mum decided to treat me on Tuesday with a little trip to Costa for a cappuccino and a toasted teacake. It was very restorative.

This was the final week of my Future Learn course: Literature and Mental Health. The six week course has been tremendous and I have loved reading an eclectic mix of poetry, novels and plays. The course has me reading again after a lull of some time and has inspired me to re-read Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea.

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Aura by David Evans

It was decided that we should capture our elderly and much loved, Lady Gouldian Finch, Aura to clip his overgrowing beak. Last November Aura had the same problem and we don’t know if it was connected but he became very ill. He had fits and lay about the bottom of the cage looking exhausted. It was by fluke that his beak was sheered to its proper size and we started him on vitamin supplements. I put it down to David having healing hands and Aura was nursed back to life. Perhaps it was malnourishment due to an inability to eat with an over long beak? Either way I didn’t want a recurrence. So David captured Aura, not without some stress as the other finches were flying about the room! I held him and David clipped the tip of his beak. He seems much better now!

On Friday I didn’t have a clue what to make for the evening’s dinner. To be honest I am feeling a bit fed up with cooking. I find it exhausting looking for new recipes. So David defrosted the final serving of his curry base and made a vegetable karahi. It indeed had a kick to it!

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The weekend was spent doing the usual, shopping, cleaning, cooking. Artie was exhausted!

While Artie slept during the evening. I decided to dress up, even if it was just for a salad dinner at our house, Bistro No. 49!

What kind of foods do you enjoy? Have you read any good books recently?

Christine x

Sunday Sevens was devised by Threads and bobbins.

The Beginning…

This new year has begun in much the same vein as the parting year ended. It sees me re-evaluating my life. (You don’t know how fed up I am of doing that!)

January 2014 saw me working in an ecstatic frenzy! While listening to Hans Zimmer’s Lasiurus, from the Batman Begins film soundtrack, my impassioned imagination took the idea of a historical romance and ran with it. I wrote until the summer. Then I took a job that saw me sitting inanely on a bus for three hours a day, commuting, which killed my soul and subsequently my characters.

Now, with all this wasted time on my hands, it makes me think that maybe 2016 is a year when I should publish a novel? Where I should stop being a lazy writer and work for my living?! Maybe I should not only re-evaluate on the job front but the latest novel to hit the scrapheap? What do you think?


I have been meaning to write a blog post for a while now and yet each time I have planned a post the meal has fallen decidedly flat. Like tonight.

Yesterday, I felt the nervous excitement of finding a recipe I looked forward to making, (I need to get a life) but come this afternoon, I found I had no green lentils and only half a tin of chopped tomatoes. I decided to go ahead with the recipe anyway, which I found in the Asda Good Living magazine. I do like trying out new recipes, so I decided on the Lentil and Chickpea Curry, as I had no spinach.

I used what I had in, meaning half a red onion, half a carrot and half a yellow pepper as well as 100g of red lentils and a can of chickpeas, plus spices. The meal looked and tasted like every other vegetable stew/curry I have ever made. I can’t complain as it was eaten by everyone so it must have been ok?! I served it with brown rice which apparently ages you, according to a report David had recently read. However the health benefits are better than white rice, so a few wrinkles have to be better than being in an early grave?

Ingredients:

  • Olive oil
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves crushed, (also used pepper and carrot… I hate waste)
  • 2tbsp of medium curry powder
  • 400g of chopped tomatoes
  • 400g can of green lentils, drained. (I didn’t have enough so used 100g of red lentils, dried)
  • 400g of chickpeas, drained.
  • Baby spinach (I never had any)
  • salt for seasoning
  • Naan or rice to serve

Method:

  • Heat oil in pan, cook the onion, slowly and then add the garlic.
  • (I added the onion, garlic and pepper together and simmered in a lidded pan until soft)
  • Then add the curry powder and cook for 1 minute
  • (I also added a squirt of tomato paste just to add taste)
  • Add the tomatoes, lentils and chickpeas and simmer for eight minutes, or until thickened.
  • Add the spinach at the last minute to wilt it
  • I also used brown rice which took 25 minutes to cook, adjust cooking times accordingly

The finished recipe if following the above should look like this:

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