Friday letters

Friday has crept on me again this week… along with half of January. My dad’s, my sister’s and K’s birthdays have already been and gone. Just my grandma’s left now then I’ll have to start thinking about the February birthdays I need to make/buy things for. But first, what letters can I write to the universe this week?

Mail box

Dear birds. The lard ball we’ve hung out for you is exactly the same as the one you demolished within two weeks before Christmas, so I don’t understand why you’re shunning our balcony now? I’m sad to see my balcony so empty of little feathered friends.

Dear winter. Nice of you to actually show up this year . I’ve been waiting to see Basel in the snow since we got here (I mean, snow is kind of something I associate with Switzerland and we got basically none last winter…)

snow
How it looked here last week

Dear BBC. It’s exciting that you’re producing a TV series of Good Omens, but must it be a collaboration with Amazon Prime, of all things? There is no Amazon Switzerland, and therefore no Prime for those of us who live here 😦

Dear Dara Ó Briain. I am so excited to see you perform tomorrow night. Please be as funny as you usually are!

Dear Goodreads. Quit tempting me with your book recommendations! My wish list is already long enough to keep me busy for many, many years…

That’s all for today, folks. Happy weekend!

35 Before 35: Progress report 6

It seems my last 35 before 35 progress report was on 13th June 2016! So much for regular check ins 😉 Time for another one then. Here’s what I’ve managed to do in the last 7 months:

Number 13:  Read (or re-read) 50 non-fiction books

I had read 12 by last June and I’ve now reached 18. I’m not going to list all 6, but you can see them here. I need to get cracking with this one if I really want to complete by the time I turn 35! (Next year, by the way. Aarghh!).

Number 15: Read 30 books in German

Last time I had read 21, now I’ve read 22. Huh. I read Emmas Geheimnis by Liz Balfour, which would have been better if it wasn’t so predictable. I had only read one book in German between the last progress report and the one before that as well. Must try harder!

Number 18: Bake 10 different types of biscuits

I was on 6 before and now I’m on 7. The seventh was chocolate Christmas biscuits.

dscn9850

Number 21: Read all the books from the BBC Big Read that I hadn’t before starting this challenge

I’ve been trying very hard to incorporate BBC Big Read books into all my challenges and have managed to increase my number from 27 right up to 46! And one of those was the ridiculously long Shogun. You can see the full list here. I now have less than 100 to go… 86 to be precise.

Number 31. Watch 35 films I’ve never seen before

Last time I was on 27. I’ve watched two more since then: Mirrormask and Paddington. Six more to go. Watching films should not be this difficult!

And that’s everything. It doesn’t seem like much for six months! Apparently I’ve mostly just been reading.

1 year, 6 months and 27 days to go. Somehow I don’t think I’m going to make it to Slovenia, Champagne and somewhere to see the Northern Lights by then! Not to mention learning to knit…

The Book Review of 2016

I totally stole this from Kezzie. I think it’s a fantastic way to look back on the books I read last year!

2016-books

Best book you read in 2016:

This is really hard, but I think I would have to go for either Saturday Requiem by Nicci French or Different Seasons by Stephen King.

Best children’s fiction:

I don’t read a lot of “children’s” fiction as stuff, more YA. I think Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell counts as children’s?

Best crime fiction:

Oooh, this is hard! I read a lot of crime fiction! I will choose Friday On My Mind by Nicci French since Saturday requiem already got a mention above.

Best classic:

I suppose it depends a bit on what you actually consider a “classic”. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey was good, but if 1962 is too modern then Kim by Rudyard Kipling was my highest rated “true” classic of 2016.

Best non-fiction:

I read very little non-fiction, and I think I only read 2 or 3 non-fiction books again in 2016! Papillon by Henri Charrière is an autobiography and therefore technically non-fiction, but reads like a novel so I loved it. (Basically I prefer my non-fiction disguised as a story 😉 ).

Best dystopian fiction:

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman, without a doubt.

Best YA:

I want to say Noughts and Crosses again but that seems unfair, so Among Others by Jo Walton.

Most surprising (in a good way) book read in 2016:

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake was actually quite good, which I didn’t expect at all! Strange, but good. (I only read it because I need to read the sequel, Gormenghast, for the BBC Big Read). The Secret History by Donna Tartt is another one that I went into with no idea what to expect and ended up really enjoying it.

Book You Read In 2016 That You Recommended Most To Others:

I don’t really recommend books as such. I review some on my blog and say which I’ve liked, but I can’t remember a single real-life conversation where I’ve actually recommended a book!

Best series you discovered in 2016:

I didn’t really discover any series in 2016, just read books from series I already love. Noughts and Crosses is the first in a series though, so I’ll say that even though I have no idea whether anything beyond book 1 is any good…

Favourite new author you discovered in 2016:

I’m going with new to me rather than author who released their debut. To avoid repeating previous answers I’ll say Nicola Yoon.

Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love But Didn’t

Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay. I had heard the TV series was really good and the idea of a serial killer who only kills “bad” people was intriguing. Well, the TV series may or may not be amazing, but this book is most definitely not amazing. It wasn’t particularly thrilling and half the time it almost felt like it was written for children. Except with more violence and prostitutes than is generally allowed in children’s fiction.

Best Book That Was Out Of Your Comfort Zone Or Was A New Genre To You

I’m not even sure what genre Shogun by James Clavell is. Nautical fiction? Japanese historical fiction (told by a westerner)? A war story? Not a clue! But I am very sure I would never have picked it up if it hadn’t been on the BBC Big Read list. I would never read it again, but I did mostly enjoy it.

Book You Read In 2016 That You’re Most Likely To Read Again In 2017:

I highly doubt I will read anything again as soon as that, but I will probably read As Chimney Keepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley again at some point (along with the rest of the Flavia de Luce series, but I only read that one in 2016).

Favourite Book You Read in 2016 by an Author You’ve Read Previously:

Ohhh, that’s difficult! Again, I think I will go with avoiding repetition rather than necessarily choosing the absolute best and say Gavin Extence.

Best Book You Read In 2016 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:

I read Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen because another blogger suggested it as a book featuring a character with my name. Sadly it wasn’t that great, but I can’t think of any other book I read solely based on recommendation and weren’t already on my list.

Favourite Cover of a Book in 2016:

Again, assuming books I read in 2016 rather than ones published in 2016. I loved the cover of The Girl Who Couldn’t Read by John Harding (and I enjoyed this sequel much more than the first book!). Here it is:

book-cover

Book That Had The Greatest Impact On You In 2016:

I keep repeating myself, but probably Different Seasons by Stephen King. Specifically the novella Apt Pupil. It really brought it home that you can’t spot “evil” just by looking at people, and that literally anyone can be responsible for bad things.

Book You Can’t BELIEVE You Waited Until 2016 To Read

The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I put off starting it so many times, then once I picked it up I had no idea why I didn’t read it sooner!

Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc.) Be careful of spoilers!

Is it weird that I can’t think of any? Possibly the final scene in The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. All I could think was “Uhh, what just happened?!”.

Favourite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2016 (be it romantic, friendship, etc)

Carolina’s relationship with her grandfather in Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager. From not even knowing him at the start of the book to the events of the ending… it was just so perfect.

Most Memorable Character In A Book You Read In 2016:

In the interests of fairness, I will pick a new to me character (because obviously I find the characters in the series I already love memorable!). Will from If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie is my choice. For someone who had never been outside he took to it like a duck to water.

Genre You Read The Most From in 2016:

To be sure I would have to go through all my books, and I’m not going to do that, but I would guess crime/thrillers.

Book That Was The Most Fun To Read in 2016:

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde. Less fun than his Thursday Next series, but still very quirky and funny. Maybe I should have picked the Quarkbeast as my most memorable character? 😉

Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2016:

Okay, confession: lots of books make me cry. So much so that I can’t remember any specific ones from 2016. I’m pretty sure Among Others made me cry a couple of times though. Oh, and I definitely cried at the end of Hour of the Bees.

Book You Read in 2016 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out:

The Mirror World of Melody Black came out in 2015, but I had never heard of it until it came up on Goodreads. It deserves more attention if only to raise awareness of mental illness.

Total number of books read in 2016:

Goodreads says 83, so unless I forgot to enter any there I’ll stick with that number. I know some people read 100 and more books, but considering one of mine was 1,210 pages long I think I can live with 83 😉 My goal was only 75 so I’m happy.

How was your 2016 reading year? If you decide to answer these prompts let me know so I can come and by nosy!

Laufenburg Cross-Border Christmas Market

This is the final post for my 2016 Take 12 Trips challenge, then I will be all caught up. So, let’s get on with it shall we?

Laufenburg in Aargau, Switzerland and Laufenburg in Baden, Germany are two towns that used to be one… until Napolean decided to place the Swiss/German border right in the middle of the Rhine, leaving the two parts of the town in two different countries. A bridge connects the two, and every year the towns join together to hold a cross-border Christmas market, with stalls in each of the towns and also across the bridge. I loved the idea of a Christmas market in two countries at once and as soon as I read about it I knew I wanted to go. The market is only on for one weekend in December, but luckily we had time that weekend – and Laufenburg is only about a 20-minute train ride away.

On arriving in the Swiss Laufenburg, we immediately saw the ruins of a castle on the hill, so that was our first stop. You can climb the tower that is all that remains of the castle and get a nice view of both Laufenburgs. We could actually see the market from up there as well, but I couldn’t get a photo because there were trees in the way.

Back down from the tower, we took a wander through town in the general direction of the river, working on the assumption that we would have to come across the bridge (and thus the Christmas market) somewhere down there. The town turned out to be really pretty, so of course I took photos.

After a while, we reached the Rathaus (town hall), where we could already see signs of the Christmas market.

The Christmas market stands did look very cool crossing the bridge! Also, the two photos below were taken from different countries.

Before buying anything from the Christmas market, we had a wander through, across the bridge and into Germany, to see what was on offer. The German side turned out to be very pretty too! (Unlike in Rheinfelden, where Switzerland got the pretty old town while Germany has nothing worth looking at.)

Apologies for the photo overload… and I haven’t even included all of them!

There was a Rathaus on the German side as well, and the Christmas market ended on the square in front of it. From town hall to town hall, via the bridge 🙂

By this time it was getting a bit chilly, so it was time for some Glühwein. We chose a stand that was selling a cherry version. Then we moved on to another stand for a bacon waffle… I had never seen anyone put bacon bits in waffle batter before but it was very tasty!

Having eaten , we wandered our way back through the German side and back onto the bridge, where we picked up a Christmas gift for Jan’s mum and grabbed another Glühwein.

Back on the Swiss side, we found another bit of market round the corner from the bridge, bought some biscuits and a marshmallow snowman from a stand run by a school (the snowman later went in some hot chocolate) and even spied a Santa on a motorbike before deciding it was time to head back to catch our train.

I was expecting Laufenburg market to be tiny, just going across the bridge with maybe one or two stands on either side, but it turned out to have a lot to offer. There are various different food and drink stands along with ones selling hand-made items (there were some lovely bird feeders!), jams and condiments, candles and more. They certainly go to a lot of effort for something that’s only on for three days! The Christmas market and both of the towns are well worth a visit, and we’ve already decided that it would make a nice day trip with any visitors we happen to have in the summer. If you’re ever in the area and fancy doing something in two countries in one afternoon I would definitely recommend Laufenburg!

This was my December trip for Take 12 Trips 2016, and meant I had completed the challenge for the second time!

 

2017 aims (or something)

basel-rhine

As I mentioned, today is a public holiday in the part of Germany where I work. However, it is not in Switzerland (or at least not in Basel – I don’t know about other cantons), so I took advantage of having the place to myself to get rid of the chaos of Christmas. The decorations are down and have been put away, as have the Christmas papers, ribbons and other embellishments I was using for my cards. I’ve found homes for the last few gifts and even took away some of the glass recycling, which is usually difficult because both my lunch break and the time I finish for the day are during “quiet hours” when you’re not supposed to use the glass bins. Most productive use of my time.

With the final reminders of the holiday period gone, it seemed like a good time to finally start looking forward to 2017. I’m not making resolutions as such, but I do have a few aims… or maybe guidelines… that I want to bear in mind this year. So here they are. By the way, the photo at the top has nothing to do with anything, I just thought the post needed a photo…

  • Get regular exercise, even if it’s just walking into Basel more often instead of taking the tram (I did this today actually, so I’ve started well!). After spending all of October and part of November hobbling around, I was starting to feel a bit sloth-like, so this year I want to try and get out there and move!
  • Eat healthily most days. I don’t want to obsess about it, and if there happens to be cake on the days I have to go into the office I will definitely be having some! But I do want to try and fit in some vegetables every day and try to have some healthier breakfasts on hand (or eat breakfast at all!). My aim is to experiment with more vegetarian recipes at the beginning the year when I’m still motivated so I hopefully find a few quick and easy ones for later on when I can’t be bothered. A simple way of getting into the routine of having vegetables every day 🙂
  • Try not to stress over things I have no control over. What will be will be, and obsessing over things doesn’t make life any easier.
  • Spend more time with Jan without any screens being involved! Most of our evenings seem to end up with us either watching something (be it on TV or a DVD), Jan on his laptop doing more work or both of us sitting in the same room, but mainly looking at our respective devices. I want to try and have at least some time this year where we’re both in the flat and not looking at a screen! I think I’ll start by suggesting we try to eat at the table once or twice a week and go from there.

That’s basically it. Apart from that I plan to continue exploring Switzerland, keep cross stitching, read lots and basically just try to enjoy myself in the moment. With all the terrible things that happened in the world last year and that are set to continue this year (and I don’t mean celebrity deaths! There were many scarier things going on than that last year!) I want to try and keep my little corner of the world positive and happy place. Here’s hoping for good things this year!

Do you have any goals or resolutions for 2017? I hope it’s a fabulous year for all of you, whatever your plans.

Recent doings #13

Hello everyone! I hope this first week of 2017 has been treating you well thus far? Today is only my third day back at work and already I have a long weekend since tomorrow is Epiphany, and a public holiday in the part of Germany where my work is based. Not a bad first week back 😉

Since today is the first Thursday of the month, it’s also time to link up with Kristin and Gretch again for What’s new With You? So here is what I got up to in December:

Reading. Apart from my challenge reading, which I updated you on in my last post, I also read The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton and The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry in December. I gave both three star ratings on Goodreads.

Watching. We finally finished the first season of Mr Robot and it was amazing. But now I’m annoyed because we have to wait for the second season to come out on DVD since it’s an Amazon Prime TV series and there is no Amazon in Switzerland. Grr! We also watched Paddington with my sister and her fiancé because it came on TV and none of us had seen it. I thought it was cute but not a patch on the original books.

Eating. Christmas dinner, of course. What else would I eat at Christmas time? 😉 My dad did turkey with all the trimmings and we had more turkey plus gammon and three different types of cake at my grandma’s for Christmas tea. We also ate fish and chips and a couple of pub meals while we were in England. And before we left for the holidays I may have eaten an entire box of chocolate Lebkuchen to myself. Basically, December was about eating all the things. All of them.

Making. Christmas cards. I literally posted the last three the day before we left for Christmas, so who knows when they actually arrived! Here are a couple that I don’t think I’ve previously shown you:

Hosting. My sister and her fiancé came to stay for a weekend in December, so we did the whole Basel tour again… complete with a trip to a bar that’s on the 31st floor of a hotel building.

Buying. Many more books than I should have plus a top that was on sale for 7 francs.

Visiting. The Christmas market in Laufenburg (post to come… soon I hope). And, for another kind of visiting, So many friends and relations in England! We met up with two different friends for lunch on consecutive days, spent Christmas morning with my mum and brother, went to see my godson’s family for a couple of hours on boxing day to exchange gifts, popped round to see my maternal grandmother (who is bedridden and has dementia, but seemed happy enough) and had a look at my sister’s new house. So many people, so much rushing around, but it was lovely to see everyone.

Travelling. To England for Christmas (and we managed to land in Newcastle before storm Barbara came calling, which was nice) and then to Scotland, specifically to Arran for one night and Glasgow for Hogmanay.

Seeing. The Jungle Book as performed by the always amazing Oddsocks.

What's New With You

That’s all I can think of right now. What did you do in December?

Semi-Charmed Winter 2016 Book Challenge complete!

Hi all! I hope you all had wonderful holidays (whether you celebrate Christmas or not) and made it to the new year healthy and happy!

For my first post of 2017, I am checking in for the Semi-Charmed Winter 2016 Reading Challenge, which I completed yesterday, managing to finish my final book while waiting for a delayed flight. Here’s what I read since the last time I checked in:

books2016

20 points: Read a modern retelling of a classic.

I read Splintered by A. G. Howard, with the classic being Alice in Wonderland. This book is kind of a mixture of sequel to Alice in Wonderland (the main character is a descendant of Alice who goes back to Wonderland) and a retelling of the original (the story discusses the original book as if it were real and C.S. Lewis had just misunderstood/got things wrong, and so retells the story as it “really” happened in this particular world). I thought this book was just okay. The discussion of mental illness was awful – for a supposedly modern-day story the treatment seemed very old-fashioned and harsh. The love triangle was unnecessary, Morpheus was such a caricature  of “bad guy” that I couldn’t take him seriously most of the time and Jeb annoyed me from the very start. But the actual writing was good and the reinterpretation of Wonderland was imaginative and interesting. I gave this one 3 stars.

30 points: Read a book with a character that shares your first or last name.

Thanks to fellow blogger Jamie I was actually able to find something for this! I read Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen. Interestingly, the character named “Beverly” (not my spelling, but oh well) is actually male in this book, which Beverley was before someone, somewhere decided it sounded more feminine. This was a quick read and nothing particularly special. I liked the descriptions of the scenery on the island and the changing relationships between the four main characters. The storyline with the two husbands annoyed me though – both couples had been having problems, but the minute the husbands appeared on the island all the wives wanted to do was have sex and forget anything else had ever happened. Uhh, no! Apparently this is a modern retelling of The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Armin (which I had never heard of!) so I may give that one a go. Enchanted August gets 3 stars from me.

30 points: Read two books: a nonfiction book and a fiction book with which it connects.

I had started reading The Once and Future King for this, but I realised that will be one I need to pick up and put down a lot over a longer period of time so I changed my mind. Instead I read The Asylum by John Harwood (fiction) and Bedlam: London and Its Mad by Catharine Arnold (non-fiction). The connection is asylums, or mental illness, or treatment of mental illness in Victorian times. You pick!

I really enjoyed The Asylum. It’s a little sensationalist maybe and there are a lot of events crammed in at the end with lots of complicated links between characters and weird coincidences. But while reading it I had no problem with suspending my belief and taking all the action at face value. Despite the subject matter (person incorrectly imprisoned in an asylum), it’s a surprisingly fun read and I got through it pretty quickly. 4 stars.

Bedlam had some interesting information and provides a starting point for people who want to know about Victorian treatment of mental illness and the history of asylums, but overall I felt like the author had tried to fit too much subject matter into a short book. Just as I started to get interested in something that topic was finished with and it was on to the next one. Particularly the final case studies and discussion of madness in literature section felt rushed and incomplete. 3 stars.

And that’s it. Done! Erin’s latest book challenge started on 1 January so I will be moving on to that now, starting with The Secret by the Lake by Louise Douglas.

Oh, and speaking of reading challenges, I’ve set my Goodreads goal for this year as 78.

What reading goals have you set yourself for 2017? Will you be taking part in any challenges?