Confuzzledom

Just a place for me to gather my thoughts


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Two book reviews for the 2015 summer reading challenge

I read these two books one after the other and both are set (or partly set) in Afghanistan, so I thought I’d review them both in one blog post. I read The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul for the category “Read a book with the name of a city, state or country in the title”, worth 20 points, and The Kite Runner for the category “Read a book that has been on your TBR list for 2+ years”, worth 10 points.

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez

Little Coffee ShopThe plot: This is the story of a little coffee shop, run by an American expat, and all the people who work and gather there. It’s mostly the story of five women, Sunny – the owner of the café, Halajan – an Afghan woman who works for her and still remembers the days before the Taliban, Isabel – a British journalist on the trail of a risky story, Candace – a wealthy American whose desire to help (and desire for a man) threatens to cloud her good judgement and Yasmina – a young, pregnant woman stolen from her village and then abandoned on the streets, who Sunny takes in. As the group get to know each other, they discover there’s more to each of them than meets the eye and form an unlikely friendship that will change their lives forever. (According to the blurb, said friendship will also change Afghanistan forever but errm, I don’t think so!).

My review. First of all, I have to say this is basically chick lit! Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with chick lit, but if you were looking for a book that depicts the hardships of life in Afghanistan… this is not it! I mean, it does touch on those aspects (it’s pretty difficult to entirely ignore the fact that the plot takes place in the middle of a war zone!), but even when bad things happen, they never feel particularly shocking or devastating, and all the way through you just know things are going to work out in the end. Of course there’s a romance or two weaving through the plot, and in typical chick-lit fashion, everybody ends up with the right man for them. This is a quick read, perfect for a day at the beach or a rainy day stuck at home. Despite a few interesting elements that come about mainly thanks to the setting, it’s basically a mindless read for those days when you just don’t feel like taxing your brain. 3 stars.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite RunnerThe plot: This is the story of two boys growing up together in pre-Taliban Afghanistan. Amir is the spoiled son of a rich man, Hassan is the son of a loyal servant. Despite that, the two boys are best friends. The year the boys are 12, Amir is desperate to win the local kite-fighting tournament, and Hassan promises to help him. But neither of the boys can predict what will happen to Hassan that afternoon, an event that will shatter their lives. later, after the Russians invade, Amir and his father flee to America, and Amir realises that one day he will have to return to Afghanistan to find the one thing his new life cannot grant him:redemption.

My review. This is a surprisingly easy read, in the sense that you can get through it fairly quickly, once you’ve got used to the author’s style of writing. But in terms of subject matter, it’s tough. There are a number graphic scenes of war and violence, including rape (so don’t read it if such things are likely to upset you!). I spent most of the book wanting to sake the narrator, Amir. He’s a spoiled, selfish daddy’s boy and a coward. Yes, he was a child during the main events of the book and can in no way be blamed for his cowardice, but even before that he was jealous, self-centred and spoiled. And even when he does the right thing in the end, I felt as if he was doing it more for the sake of purging his own feelings of guilt than for the right reasons, to save a child.He does redeem himself but I still don’t find him very likeable. Having said that, I did like the book. It’s very different to the kind of thing I normally read and, while disturbing at times,  I think we all need to have our eyes opened about the things that go on in the world. However, I didn’t love the book like 99% of reviewers seem to have. 3 stars.

So there you have it. One location, two very different stories. I would say both are worth a read, depending on your own personal preferences, but I probably won’t read either of them a second time.


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A final visit to Karlsruhe zoo

While going through some photos that were still on my camera, I realised I hadn’t uploaded these ones from Karlsruhe zoo yet. The week before I left for good, Jan and I went with some friends to say a final goodbye to the animals. The red pandas in particular, of course. It was a beautiful sunny day – perfect for a stroll around the zoo. Here are a few impressions from our afternoon out:

A separate gallery for my favourite little pandas :-) You’re going to want to click on some of these to enlarge then. Trust me!!

Some more animals, including the dwarf otters that sound exactly like squeaky dog toys!

I know there are mixed opinions about zoos, and I do feel a bit guilty seeing the animals behind bars, but in the end the chance to actually see such animals (even if it is caged in) always wins. I just love their little faces too much to resist. Sorry if you think that makes me a bad person.


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A Photo an Hour: 23rd May 2015

Saturday was photo an hour day again, hosted by Jane and Louise. My first one in Switzerland! Here’s what I got up to:

10 a.m. I’m up! Instead of starting yet another photo an hour post with a picture of a cup of tea, I went with my slippers. Immediately after taking this I of course put the kettle on :-D

11 a.m. Haven’t moved from the sofa yet! Here’s a photo of some of the creatures that live there.

12 noon. Jan got up and put the kettle on again, so I decide to have another cuppa before going for my shower.

1 p.m. Showered and dressed, time to dry my hair.

2 p.m. Midday quiet time is over, so now we’re allowed to put together the spare bed. But first these boxes need to get out of the way.

3 p.m. Space cleared, now to do something with these bed parts! (Or so I thought, what actually happened was I took the picture while Jan hoovered the space where the bed was going to go. Then I said I was going to see if we had any mail, Jan asked me to pop to the shop for milk and I returned to find him sitting at the table claiming he hadn’t been able to find the bits for the bed (screws, etc.) 20 minutes of searching in boxes later, I went and examined the bed only to find the parts already attached to it! Apparently he hadn’t looked particularly far. So we were finally ready to start assembling the bed just in time for the next photo…)

4 p.m. This is the way we assemble a bed!

5 p.m. Finished! All I need to do now is wash the quilt cover and another pillow case, then we’ll be ready for visitors.

6 p.m. Watching a bit of Celebrity Mastermind.

7 p.m. Tea nearly ready. Vegetable chilli in case anyone is wondering. We ate it with tortilla wraps and a tonne of cheese.

8 p.m. Loading the dishwasher. I love my dishwasher!

9 p.m. Eurovision time! Snacks and drinks at the ready.

10 p.m. Watching Eurovision. Perfect timing with this picture :-D (The cartoon men were my favourite part of Sweden’s entry)

11 p.m. Still Eurovisioning, still drinking.

Midnight. Finally points time! The end is in sight.

1 a.m. I went to put my pyjamas on and took a photo of the bed I was preparing to get into (say hi to Eeyore!). I then went back to the living room, where Jan had insisted on turning on the computer for a work thing. Yawn! By 1.30 p.m I was in bed though, so the last photo of the day still fits.

So, that was a typical Saturday in Switzerland. New country, but not much difference (as evidenced by my this photo an hour post from February). Photo and hour takes place every month. If you want to take part next time, keep an hour on Jane and Louisa’s blogs, Is That You Darling and Duck in a Dress, and also the hash tag #photoanhour on Twitter.


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Friday letters

I decided to finish work an hour early today, because I had an hour of overtime I could use and I’d run out of work to do. And thanks to Whit Monday, it’s another long weekend. May really is the best month for public holidays (although it only has 3 this year because the fourth has crept into June due to Easter being later)

Here are some Friday letters for you.

MailboxDear Amt für Migration. Please hurry up and do whatever bureaucratic things it is you do so I can find out whether I’m allowed to stay in Switzerland!

Dear weather. Please keep your promise of being nice on Sunday. We want to go up a mountain somewhere!

Dear right thigh. I have no idea what I’ve done to you to make the muscle feel sore, but please stop it so I can walk around on the aforementioned mountain on Sunday!

Dear Swiss cheese. You are far too irresistible and definitely not doing my waistline any good!

Dear spare bed. Hopefully we will actually get round to putting you together tomorrow…

Peering bird

Peering bird

Dear birds. I can hear you cheeping outside as I type and it’s so adorable!

Dear clothes. I’m sorry most of you are still in boxes/suitcases. I promise we’ll buy a wardrobe for you soon!

That’s all I’ve got for you today. Have a great (long) weekend everybody. I hope you have fun plans!


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Ghost Girl by Lesley Thomson

I am on a roll now with my summer challenge reading – six books down already! I bought this one on a whim from Amazon – even though it’s a sequel and I haven’t read the first book – because it was actually quite difficult to find a book with an alliterative title, especially since Megan had specified that all words had to start with the same letter, so Pride and Prejudice, for example, wouldn’t count. I discovered a few books that would fit – Rob Roy, Everything’s Eventual, Ella Enchanted and Nicholas Nickleby being a few – but could find none of them in my local bookshop, and while Amazon obviously had all four, Ghost Girl won simply because it was available ridiculously cheaply from somebody who was willing to deliver to Switzerland. This category is worth 30 points.

Ghost GirlThe plot: Terry Darnell was a detective with the Hammersmith police. Now, one year after his death, his daughter Stella is clearing out his house when she finds a folder of photographs hidden in his cellar. Why did he take so many pictures of deserted London streets? Stella is determined to find out, and enlists her friend/employee Jack to help her.

One particular photo dates from 1966, to a day when a little girl, just ten years old, witnessed something that would haunt her forever. The two stories, of the present-day investigation and the events surrounding the little girl back in the 60s, are told in parallel.

My review: I had a hard time relating to the main characters in this book at first, possible because I hadn’t read the previous book. Because of that, at first I enjoyed the parts that took part in the past more at first. Thomson did a good job of getting inside the mind of a lonely child and at times my heart ached for her. Gradually, I was drawn into the present-day story as well and found myself eager to know just what was going on. And unlike some of the reviews I’ve read, I definitely didn’t guess whodunnit (well, maybe who did one thing, but not who Stella and Jack were looking for) and was very surprised to find out who one of the characters was. This is an enjoyable crime novel, but I’ve taken one star off because I didn’t really like the main character (Stella) very much until near the end and also some parts seemed a bit boring and unnecessary. I liked it overall though, so 4 stars. I would probably recommend reading The Detective’s Daughter first though to get a bit of background! (Note: I have not read it so I can’t tell you whether it’s any good.)

So with this and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, that’s 55 points so far from books I’ve reviewed. Add to that the 45 points from the books I haven’t written up here yet and you get a total of 100 points. Halfway there!


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Border crossings

Flags

Three weeks on, I am still waiting to find out whether I’m actually going to be allowed to be allowed to stay in Switzerland. In the meantime, we’re acting like we assume we will, taking trips and joining in with local customs. Last weekend, we thought we would take a tram to Weil am Rhein in Germany to see what’s there. The original plan was to take the tram to the train station and go from there, but when we reached a stop called Dreiländerbrücke (Three Countries Bridge), it seemed like a good place to get off. Technically the name of the bridge is misleading… one end is in Germany and the other is in France (although Switzerland is about a 2 minute walk – if that – from the German side). This is the German side of the bridge:

Over on the French side (Hunigue for those who are interested, or Hüningen in German), the first thing we spotted was this:

On the French side

A ship

We then walked down to the river where there were a few ducks and loads of swans! Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many swans in one place.

In the background of the picture with the many swans, you can see Switzerland. And behind the bridge is Germany. Here’s some more Germany:

We also spied an interesting looking pigeon. And a crow.

Once we’d finished admiring the wildlife, we crossed back over the bridge into Germany. There’s a shopping centre right on the border and inside it is a Marktkauf so we popped in to buy a few relatively cheap bits, including toppings for the homemade pizza we planned to have for tea the next night – relatively cheap because, although it’s cheaper than Switzerland, Marktkauf is one of the more expensive German supermarkets.

It only cost me just over 10 Swiss francs for a 24 hour ticket that included all of Basel plus the area just over the border so it most definitely won’t be the last time I pop over the Germany for an afternoon (provided I actually get my residence permit at some point…)


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The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

When the 2015 summer reading challenge started, I decided my first book should be the one for the category “Read a book with more than 500 pages” (thanks for that, Kristen) to make sure I actually had time to get through it! The Wind-up Bird Chronicle had been sitting on my shelf for months and has 606 full pages (plus one paragraph on page 607). This category is worth 25 points.

Wind-up BirdThe plot: Toru Okada’s cat has disappeared, which has unsettled his wife so much that she insists he go out looking for it every day. Meanwhile, his wife is herself becoming more and more distant. On the search for the cat (and his wife), Okada gets involved with a succession of increasingly bizarre characters, each with a tale to tell, and finds himself on a journey that he never really seems to understand.

My review: This book has so many high ratings on Goodreads that I can’t help but feel like I’m missing something! I didn’t hate the book (as evidenced by the fact that I managed to get all to the end), but I mostly found it bizarre and confusing. Most of the characters’ actions make no sense and while all the individual stories do eventually kind of come together, I still felt like things weren’t fully explained. I’m sure there’s some deep, philosophical meaning that I’m missing, but oh well – I don’t mind being an idiot! 3 stars.

I’ve read two more books for the challenge since I finished this one, so look out for more reviews soon. And if you want to join in with the challenge, you can find more information here on Megan’s blog. Any book you’ve read since 1st May that fits into a category can be counted and the first check in is on 1st June. Good luck!

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