40 before 40: progress report #1

St Chrischona TV tower

Since it is somehow 13th March already, which makes it exactly 5 months until my birthday and the end of year one of my 40 before 40, I thought I would give you a little progress report. Not that I’ve done much in the seven months since my last birthday, but I do have a few things to report on.

Number 2: Beat Jan at mini golf

Jan always beats me at mini golf and I was determined to beat him at least once. Amazingly, I actually managed this just a couple of weeks after starting the challenge. You can read about it here.

Number 5: Read the rest of the books from the BBC Big Read that I didn’t manage before turning 35

At the start I had 63 left to read and since last August I have finished five of them. Outlander, Trainspotting, Far From the Madding Crowd, The Woman in White and The World According to Garp.

Number 14: Read a book published in each year of my life ( =one book each from 1983 until 2023)

So far I have read books from 20 years, which is almost half (I need 41 in total). You can see them all here. Of course I have read multiple books for some years, but only the first one counts.

Number 16: Try 10 foods or dishes that I haven’t had before

I ate veal kidneys in Yverdon-le- Bains. Admittedly by accident because Jan didn’t know the French word for kidney so I only knew I was getting veal something. But it still counts!

Number 22: Visit a new place in Switzerland for each letter of my first name

So far, I have visited four – Burgdorf, Einsiedeln, Lugano and Yverdon-les-Bains. Not in that order. I actually went to Yverdon-les-Bains first. Nothing like beginning at the end 😉

So only one thing actually crossed off but quite a few in progress. Not a bad start. Obviously I won’t be able to complete number 14 until the year I turn 40 because I can’t read books that haven’t even been published yet 😉 but hopefully I will have a few more things completed the next time I check in… whenever that might be.

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February 2019: The month with all the books

Hello friends! It’s Show Us Your Books day again with Jana and Steph, and I feel like I should warn you in advance that this one is going to be long. February may have been a short month, but I managed to read a whopping 21 books, which I think might be the most ever in a month. Six of those were read in a single weekend, when I took part in the first ever Show Us Your Books readathon (and also my own very first readathon). So I’d better stop chatting and get on with the books. I’ll try to keep it as brief as possible. Some of these books were read for the bonus round of Erin’s challenge, so I will put the category in brackets after the author. For the bonus round you get extra points for reading books that somebody else chose in the first round, so I read a few I may not have otherwise.

If you can’t be bothered to read all 21 synopses/reviews, skip to the end for a TL;DR.

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Apartment 16 by Adam Neville. I started this on the flight back from England and finished the last few pages the next day. In Barrington House, an upmarket block in London, there is an empty apartment. No one has gone in or out for 50 years – until Seth, the night watchman, hears noises and decides to investigate. What he finds will change his life forever. Meanwhile, a young American woman, Apryl, has inherited an apartment in Barrington House from her mysterious Great Aunt Lillian who died in strange circumstances. Rumour has it Lillian was mad, but her diary suggests she was implicated in a horrific and inexplicable event decades ago. Apryl starts to investigate and discovers that an evil force still haunts the building, and it all centres around apartment 16. This book started off well. It’s very atmospheric and creepy. But it almost felt like too much was going on. Apryl’s story (and Lillian’s) would have been enough without adding in Seth’s as well. Also, this is slightly petty, but the spelling “Apryl” really irritated me. It held my attention through 2 flights though, so 3.5 stars.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. Samuel W. Westing is dead and sixteen people have been gathered for the reading of his will. And thus begins a bizarre game. The will turns out to be a contest – working in pairs, the group has to figure out who among them murdered Samuel Westing. Whoever gets the right answer wins his fortune. This book is an absolute delight. I would have given it 5 stars as a child. As a an adult I wished it had been longer and some of the characters had been fleshed out more. 4 stars. Maybe 4.5.

Nora and Kettle by Lauren Nicolle Taylor. Seventeen-year-old Kettle has not had it easier. An an orphaned Japanese American, he is struggling to make a life in the aftermath of an event in history not often referred to — the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the removal of children from orphanages for having “one drop of Japanese blood in them”. Now things are finally looking up – he has a hideout in an abandoned subway tunnel, a job, and his gang of Lost Boys. Naive 18-year old Nora is desperate to run away from her violent father, a civil rights lawyer who is building a compensation case for the interned Japanese Americans. But she is trapped, enduring abuse to protect her younger sister Frankie. When Nora is nearly killed and her sister taken away, their worlds collide as Kettle, grief stricken at the loss of a friend, angrily pulls Nora from her window. This book is utterly heart breaking. The awful things humans do to each other, fathers to their children and powerful groups to minorities. Nora and Kettle are both such strong characters and the way Nora cared for her sister was both beautiful and devastating. There is a follow-up to this and I truly hope things work out well for all the characters in book 2. (Except Nora’s dad. I hope nothing goes well for him ever again). 5 stars.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (challenge category: read a book with a six-word title). Every day at 11 p.m., Eveyln Hardcastle will die at a party thrown by her parents. Unless, that is, Aiden Bishop can identify her killer and break the cycle. The only problem is that Aiden wakes up in the body of a different party guest every day. Some of his hosts are more helpful than others. Evelyn has already been murdered hundreds of times – can Aiden prevent it this time around? I got this book for Christmas and was dying to read it, so I pleased to see it had previously been chosen for this challenge. It’s Clue meets Groundhog Day meets Agatha Christie, which sounds bizarre but is actually really fun. I loved it! 5 stars.

Whizziwig and Whizziwig Returns by Malorie Blackman. This was published as two separate books, but I read the omnibus edition. Whizziwig, a small, furry alien, was on her way to visit her aunt when she crash-landed on Ben’s wardrobe. Once Ben recovers from the shock, he’s delighted to learn that Whizziwig is a “wish giver” and she needs to grant wishes in order to repair her ship. Unfortunately Whizziwig can only grant accidental wishes, and they have to be made for someone else. Naturally chaos then ensues! I remembered seeing a TV series of this in the 90s, but had no idea it was a book, so when I discovered it I obviously had to read it. This is very much a children’s book so the wishes are pretty harmless – things like wishing someone was a little lighter only for them to float up to the ceiling. Whizziwig causes a lot of chaos but she’s also a lot of fun (as long as you’re not on the receiving end of a wish!). It’s possible that the nostalgia factor played a part in my 4-star rating, but I’m sticking with it.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (challenge category: freebie). It’s the 1920s and childless couple Jack and Mabel have recently moved to Alaska to start a new life. But things are tough out there, and they are drifting apart – he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone – but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. Gradually, Jack and Mabel come to know and love the little girl – Faina – who seems to be a child of the woods. The writing in this book is magical and poetic and I was captivated throughout most of the book. But I feel like I just didn’t get the ending. I can’t tell you what happened though or I will spoil it! Also, Mabel lost a child to stillbirth many years before and the sections where she was grieving her baby were hard for me to read. I gave it 4 stars in the end.

A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay (challenge category: set in Europe). Anotoine Rey thought he had the perfect 40th birthday surprise for his sister, Mélanie a weekend on Noirmoutier Island, where the pair spent many happy childhood summers playing on the beach. A place they hadn’t returned to since their mother died 30 years before. But along with the happy memories, the island reminds Mélanie of something unexpected and disturbing about their last island summer. When she tries to tell Antoine what she’s remembered on the drive home, she loses control of the car and crashes. Now Antoine must confront his past and also his troubled relationships with his own children. How well does he really know his mother, his children, or even himself? I chose this from the list of previously chosen books because I recognised the author’s name – Sarah’s Key has been on my to-read list for ages. This one started off well but in the end it was somehow lacking. The writing is a little clunky and I couldn’t connect with the main character. At the beginning he seemed whiny and sorry for himself. Then he meets a love interest starts to read like a horny old man – even though he’s only supposed to be in his 40s. At one point something bad happens and he literally thinks to himself “I’m glad I’m a man and can lose myself in imagining how it would feel to touch this beautiful woman I just met’s breasts instead of thinking of the bad thing”. And the secret isn’t at all shocking for today’s standards. 3 stars. I still want to read Sarah’s Key though.

Mary’s the Name by Ross Sayer’s. Mary is an eight-year-old orphan who lives with her granpa, but after he is mixed up in a robbery at the bookies where he works, they flee to the Isle of Skye. Gradually, Mary realises that her granpa is involved. And the robbers are coming after him–and their money. I absolutely loved this. Mary’s a fantastic character and I loved seeing the world through her eyes. Mary and her Granpa’s relationship is so adorable – reading about him from her perspective means you can’t help but like him even though, as a reader, it’s obvious that not everything he does is right. This book is both heart-warming and heart-breaking, and I gave it 5 stars. A wonderful debut – I will definitely be looking out for more books by this author.

Consumed by Abbie Rushton. Myla used to love long, hot summer days at the beach. Until her sister was taken and murdered two years ago. Since then, cripping agoraphobia and panic attacks have kept Myla confined to the house. Jamie is new in town and also struggles with things most people find easy – nobody understands why it’s so hard for him to eat. When their respective guardians bring them together, the two gradually begin to trust each other. Are they willing to reveal their secrets and start facing up to things, or will they allow the past to consume them? This is a quick read – I finished it in two hours – and I was totally engrossed throughout, but it does have some weaknesses. The two characters’ struggles felt realistic and were well written but it felt like things were resolved too easily. Even without having ever experienced agoraphobia it felt like Myla made it out too easily. On the other hand she needed to leave the house for the resolution to happen. Maybe if the book had been longer and built her outings up more gradually it would have been more believable. On the other hand the mystery sucked me and I didn’t guess the killer. I also enjoyed Myla and Jamie’s relationship and appreciated that it went relatively slowly. Despite its flaws, I did like it so I’m giving it 4 stars.

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (challenge category: read a book that’s been turned into a film). Believe it or not, I had literally no idea what this was about before I read it – and my copy was a 10-year anniversary of the film edition, so instead of a synopsis the back cover just had a letter from Nicholas Sparks. An old man reads to a woman from a faded notebook, a morning ritual that she doesn’t understand. The story he tells is of thirty-one, Noah Calhoun, back home in coastal North Carolina after World War II, is haunted by images of the girl he lost more than a decade earlier. Unable to find her, yet unwilling to forget the summer they spent together, Noah is content to live with only memories. . . until she unexpectedly returns to his town to see him one last time. Twenty-nine year old socialite Allie Nelson is now engaged to a wealthy lawyer, but she cannot stop thinking about the boy who long ago stole her heart. With her impending marriage only weeks away, Allie needs to make a choice about her future. For the first half of this book I was sure it was going to be a three-star read. The writing feels very simple and the story of young lovers was cute enough but felt generic. Then the second part was beautiful. I mean, it’s incredibly cheesy, but sometimes cheesy is okay. Not sure I’ll read it again but I rounded by 3.5 stars up to 4.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (challenge category: read a book published over 100 years ago). I started this book, read about 20 pages, then put it down and read three other books before picking it up again and almost finishing it on the train to and from work. This is a classic and you may already know the plot, so I’ll be brief. Two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, each fall in love only to find that the man the admire is engaged to another. Marianne immediately goes into deep mourning while Elinor tries to hide her pain from those she loves to avoid making them unhappy too. This was hard to read at times just because of the old-fashioned language and I felt like it took me forever, but it’s a really good book. Jane Austen could certainly write. I love the sisterly relationship between Elinor and Marianne. There are a few funny lines in there as well. 4 stars.

The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen (challenge category: read a book that was originally written in a different language). The boy has spent his whole life underground, in a basement with his mother, father, grandmother, sister and brother. His family were disfigured in a fire before he was born. His sister wears a surgical mask to cover her burns. He spends his days with his cactus, tracking the beam of sunlight that comes in through a crack in the ceiling, or reading his book on insects. Ever since his sister had a baby, everyone’s been acting very strangely. The boy begins to wonder why they never say who the father is, about what happened before he was born and why they can’t leave the basement. This book is so disturbing! It book started really well. I was sucked in and needed to know what was happening. Why was everyone in the basement? Then there’s a major reveal/twist the writing changes to third person POV, which makes sense because the boy can’t tell the story of before he was born, but it also felt like the tone of the book changed at that point and it almost felt like an intrusion, although it was good to finally get some answers. Then came the ending and I HATED it. I can’t say why though because spoilers. I was genuinely sucked in by the rest of the story though and the writing/translation are excellent so 4 stars. Read this if you are intrigued, but be warned there are lots of disturbing things that I can’t tell you about without spoiling it.

The next six books are the ones I read for the readathon (minus about 20 pages of the first one since I started it the night before).

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley (challenge category: read a book with a compass direction in the title). Terra Cooper is tall, blonde and has an amazing body. But with one turn of her cheek, all people notice is her “flawed” face with its large birthmark. Terra secretly plans to leave her small town in the Northwest and escape to a college on the East Coast, but her controlling father puts an end to that. When an unexpected collision puts Terra directly in the path of Jacob, a quirky goth, he immediately challenges her assumptions about herself and her life, forcing her in yet another direction. Will Terra ever find her true path? This was okay. It’s cute and there’s a map theme running through it, which is interesting but the “beauty is skin deep” and “be true to yourself” message is kind of obvious. Generic YA that passes the time fine. 3 stars.

 

I Have No Secrets by Penny Joelson. Fourteen-year-old Jemma has severe cerebral palsy ad is confined to a wheelchair, unable to move or communicate. Her family and carer have to do everything for her. She has a sharp brain and knows all sorts of things, she just can’t express them. When somebody tells Jemma a terrible secret, then someone close to her goes missing too, she is utterly powerless to do anything about it. But that may be about to change… I thoroughly enjoyed this. Jemma is a well-written character. I found myself getting frustrated along with her. The mystery aspect was good but I actually found that I was more interested in reading about Jemma’s everyday life with her carer and foster siblings. 5 stars.

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon. 84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, she begins to reflect on past events – both recent weeks and from her younger years, and particularly her friendship with her best friend Elsie. Recently, a charming new resident has arrived and Florence thinks she recognises him. The only problem, is the person she thinks he is died sixty years ago. Is a horrifying secret from her past about to be revealed? This is an adorable book, so heart-warming. I enjoyed seeing the characters try to solve the mystery of the new resident. Poor Florence just wanted to be taken seriously, but since she obviously has Alzheimers people mostly just assumed she was confused, even when she wasn’t. There were a few parts that quite didn’t hold my attention so that I wasn’t 100% wowed by it but overall it’s a wonderful story and beautifully written. 4 stars.

The Last Secret (Scarlet and Ivy book 6) by Sophie Cleverly. Scarlet and Ivy are back at Rookwood school for what could be their final term. The school is in danger of closure, and they will have to confront old enemies and uncover more secrets if they are to have a chance of saving it. I think the fact that I have already read this book is a testament to how much I’ve enjoyed this series – it’s rare that I read books in the year they came out, even rarer for me to have read a book from the current year when it’s still only February! This was a wonderful end to the story. It was good to have a resolution to the story of Scarlet and Ivy’s home life as well. I’m a little sad to be leaving Rockwood School behind but can’t wait to see what Sophie Cleverly does next. 4 stars.

Day of the Dead by Nicci French. Another final book in a series – this is number 7 of the Freida Klein books. On a north London high street, a runaway vehicle crashes into a shop window. The man in the driving seat turns out to have been murdered a week earlier. On Hampstead Heath, a bonfire blazes; in the flames the next victim. A serial killer runs amok in the capital, playing games with the police. But this is no ordinary criminal. He has a message for one specific person – psychologist Frieda Klein, who has gone into hiding. An old adversary wants her to know he’s coming for her. A worthy ending to this series. New character Lola is flipping annoying and I wanted to shake her. Josef  is wonderful, as ever. It was good to see things resolved. Maybe not everything was tied up with a neat little bow but that’s okay. I am satisfied with how it ended. 4 stars.

Instructions for a Second-hand Heart by Tamsyn Murray. Jonny has spent every day in hospital. He has a faulty heart and his time is running out. But for him to get a new heart, someone else has to die. That someone turns out to be Niamh’s twin brother, who lost his life in a tragic accident. When Leo was alive, all Niamh wanted was for him and his perfection to go away. Now he actually has gone she has no idea how to cope. When Jonny walks into her life, he initially just wants to find out about Leo, the first owner of his heart. He doesn’t plan on falling in love. is such a sad book. I really felt for Niamh, trying to deal with grief while at the same time feeling guilty about not liking her brother more. The family relationships and different ways they all deal with Leo’s death are really well written. Johnny’s story was also good although I found his relationship with Niamh a little creepy – I could understand why he tracked her down but he should have told the truth sooner. I would also have preferred them to stay friends. The romance felt forced and unnecessary. It’s a really well written book though, and genuinely moving at times. Also, I recently learned that this genre is apparently known as “sick lit”, so that’s weird. 4 stars.

How It All Began by Penelope Lively. When Charlotte is mugged and breaks her hip, she has to move in with her daughter, Rose for a while. As a result Rose can’t accompany her employer, Lord Peters, to Manchester so his niece, Marion goes instead, leading her to send a text message to her lover Jeremy. Unfortunately, said message is intercepted by Jeremy’s wife, Stella. And thus begins a life-altering chain of events for all our characterss. This is an interesting concept, how one incident has a ripple effect on many people’s lives. I enjoyed some stories more than others. I couldn’t have cared less about Jeremy and Stella or Marion. Charlotte’s story was interesting, and I liked her student, Anton. 3.5 stars. Good but not great.

Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid (challenge category: read a book that is another participant’s friend or family member’s favourite book). Finally my last book for Erin’s challenge arrived! At age twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in various cities and had countless pointless jobs since graduating college. Now, after breaking up with her married lover, she’s moving back to her home city of Los Angeles to live in her best friend Gabby’s guest room. One night, Gabby arranges a get-together with old friends, where Hannah runs into her high-school boyfriend, Ethan. At midnight Gabby wants to leave and Hannah has to decide whether to go too or stay with Ethan. From that point on, two concurrent storylines tell the tale of what happens to Hannah if she makes each decision, quickly diverging into two very different lives. This book is cute and fun. It’s interesting to think about how one decision can affect the way your life turns out. This is billed as a romance but I actually thought it was more about friendship. Hannah does end up with a love interest in each story, but the really central relationship for me was Hannah and Gabby’s friendship. There is a dog in one of the time lines who I looooved. She was honestly my favourite character in the book. 4 stars.

The World According to Garp by John Irving. Jenny Fields is a nurse who isn’t a particular fan of men. However, she does want a child, so she goes about getting herself pregnant by… let’s say unconventional means. As a result, T.S. Garp, known to all as just Garp, is born. And this book is his life story, from conception through to adulthood. This is a weird book. It’s mostly about sex. And lust. Parts of it are very dark, parts are amusing and others are just plain bizarre, but somehow it’s always captivating. I wasn’t expecting to love it but I actually did. 5 stars. Definitely not one for everyone though.

If you’ve read this far, I’m sure you will be very pleased to know that, although I started one other book in February, I didn’t finish it. That one will hopefully be included in my March roundup – although I keep having to put it down because it includes a secondary storyline about infertility and that’s not something I constantly need reminding of.

And as promised, here’s a TL;DR: I highly recommend Nora and Kettle, I Have No Secrets and Three Things about Elsie. Read Instructions for a Second-Hand Heart if stories about sick teens are your thing. The Light of the Fireflies is well-written but be aware that there are lots of disturbing elements. I don’t want to spoil it, so basically if you can think of a thing that would put you off a book (along the lines of violence, sexual stuff, etc.) you should probably stay clear.

And that, finally, is that. Check out the link up for even more book talk!

February 2019 recap

Hello friends! Welcome to my second monthly recap of 2019. February has mostly been the month of boiling the kettle multiple times but never actually making a cup of tea, or making tea but not getting round to taking the teabag out, resulting in a ridiculously strong, lukewarm cuppa that I only managed to drink half of. I need to set a timer on my phone or something so I don’t end up getting so immersed in my work that I forget I actually put the kettle on.

Anyway, it is the first Thursday of the month, which means it’s time to link up with the wonderful Kristen for What’s New With You?

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We started February in England. We flew over on 31st January and then spent most of the 1st February in my dad’s house waiting for our suitcase. Our flight to Amsterdam was delayed resulting in a short connection, so while we made it onto the second flight the suitcase didn’t. According to KLM, the courier was supposed to call to arrange a time, but he didn’t and so we waited. I took the opportunity to go through some of my stuff that was still at my dad’s, which he was pleased about. We ended up with about 30 books, a pile of CDs and a few DVDs that I didn’t want any more. Handily, a charity bag then came through the door specifically requesting books, DVDs, CDs and ornaments – usually they’re all for clothes – so that was cool. And I found a CD of photos that I spent ages looking for last year when my cousin wanted photos of our grandma… I knew it existed somewhere! It immediately went in my bag to come back to Switzerland with us. In the evening we had a table booked for a meal to celebrate my grandma’s 80th birthday (which was on 27th January). The suitcase hadn’t arrived by the time we had to leave but luckily I had put clean underwear in my hand luggage and the clothes I wore on the plane weren’t too terrible ;-). Plus my dad had a spare, unused toothbrush and my uncle picked one up for Jan while he was shopping, so we were at least clean and presentable. The suitcase finally showed up at about 8pm – we were at the pub so my dad’s partner signed for it.

The next day, finally wearing clean clothes, we met up with my mum and brother. We had lunch at a Wetherspoons (non-Brits: a cheap-and-cheerful pub chain that does alright food for a reasonable price) then went for a walk along the river – parts of which were frozen totally solid! When my brother had to go to work the rest of us went back to my mum’s, picked up my sister’s dog (who was staying there while my sister and brother-in-law were in Venice) and then had a walk up to the churchyard where my grandparents are buried. It’s also where Emily Wilding Davison is buried… claim to fame! (If you don’t know your history, that’s the suffragette who was killed by the king’s horse.) Tea was an Indian take away, before my mum drove us back to my dad’s house to finish packing. On Sunday morning we ate bacon sandwiches then my dad drove us to the airport. I brought a few books back with me, including my Narnia box set that I want to reread this year. There is still an entire bookcase full of books that I intend to bring to Switzerland at some point… I’m sure you can imagine how thrilled Jan is about that ;-). For some reason my dad also gave me two packets of mini malt loafs to take with me. I mean, I like malt loaf but it’s not something I particularly miss or crave. It did make a good breakfast for a few days though so I’m not complaining.

Emily Wilding Davison

On 5th February, it was 15 years since Jan and I got together. Unfortunately he had to work late so I celebrated by eating alone, finishing a book and almost finishing another. My perfect evening, tbh. He came home with chocolates for me and we ate the heart-shaped dessert I had bought (the perks of having an anniversary close to Valentine’s Day) the next evening. We then celebrated properly by going for a meal on the Saturday. We went to a restaurant called Rubino where the concept is set menus that are a surprise. You can choose meat or vegetarian and two, three, four or five courses. We went for four courses and I vowed to eat everything they gave me (unless it was hard boiled eggs, which make me sick). I did indeed eat everything – including the mushroom course. There were three types of mushrooms and I can’t say I enjoyed any of them. The pepper encrusted cheese and quince pieces that came with them were delicious though. For drinks, we went with the wine accompaniment, which meant a different wine with each course, selected by the restaurant.  I took zero photos because I just wanted to be in the moment and celebrate our anniversary so you’ll just have to believe me when I say everything looked and tasted delicious (except the mushrooms!). Sunday was rainy and windy so we had a lazy day. I stitched a design for my cousin’s wedding card (no photo because it had their names on it) and finished a book. We were planning to go to the quiz but the friend we were meeting didn’t want to venture into the storm so we stayed home and ordered take away instead. Jan watched TV and I started another book (Mary’s the Name by Ross Sayers, if you’re interested).

The following weekend “Show Us Your Books” hosts Jana and Steph organised a readathon. I had never taken part in a readathon before! It was very relaxed – basically start reading at any point on the Friday (in my case it had to wait until after work), finish at any point on the Sunday, post photos on Twitter or Instagram and tag the hosts. Jan had an all-day choir rehearsal on the Sunday so it was the perfect day to do nothing but read. That Saturday was also Photo and Hour day – you can see my hourly photos here.

And then it was the last weekend of the month. Craziness. After January seemed to drag on for a thousand years, February felt like it was over in a flash. I mean, I know it’s the shortest month, but there were still supposedly four whole weeks in there! I actually had the Thursday and Friday off since I needed to use up two days of holiday from last year before they expired, so it was a long weekend for me. Thursday was appointments all day, so I was only really home for lunch then dinner. Friday was my monthly deep-clean day – second month in a row that I’ve cleaned the oven. Go me! Then Jan came home from work on the Friday and suggested we go somewhere the next day. He suggested Lugano and since it’s a bit far to do justice to in a single day we spontaneously decided to book a hotel and have a weekend away. Saturday was cloudy, Sunday less so, and both days were warm. It was honestly just nice to get away and have a relaxing break, just the two of us.

In between weekends I worked. A lot. This is becoming a theme. At least I’m collecting plenty of overtime, which may be useful at some point. And actually this week has been a lot quieter so maybe March will be the month of normal working hours? I managed to drink more water in February, which is something, but I didn’t manage to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day – or even most days. Must try harder with that!

And that was my month. Going forward, I feel like I want to try out a new format for these catch-up posts because this recapping (mainly) weekends feels like a lot of uninteresting text to force you to read. We’ll see. For this month I’m afraid you’re stuck with my ramblings 😉

Why not visit the link up and see what the rest of blog land has been doing recently? And while you’re at it maybe write a post and link up yourself. Or just tell me what’s new with you in the comments.

A Photo an Hour: 16 February 2019

Over a week ago, I took part in February’s photo an hour with Jane and Louisa. I had planned to write up my day over the weekend but instead we spontaneously decided to go to Lugano. So here I am finally posting about it over a week later. Whatever. I was also taking part in my first ever readathon that weekend, organised by Show Us Your Books hosts Jana and Steph, so my day involved quite a lot of reading.

Let’s just get on with it shall we?

9:30 a.m. Morning cuppa… a literary mug seemed appropriate for readathon weekend.

10:30 a.m. Reading in my pyjamas

11:30 a.m. I had breakfast. By the time the hour was up I had finished eating, so my photo was a very uninspiring one of an empty plate. (I had toast with fig jam if you’re wondering).

12:30 p.m. I finally actually had a shower and got dressed. A miracle?

1:30 p.m. Another tea and on to my next book.

2:30 p.m. I had to pop to the supermarket for some bits.

3:30 p.m. Back home and back to reading

4:30 p.m. Reluctantly washing the dishes.

5:30 p.m. Emptying the dishwasher.

6:30 p.m. Time to start cooking.

7:30 p.m. Colourful food!

8:30 p.m. Jan put on The Great British Sewing Bee. It was surprisingly compelling viewing.

9:30 p.m. Changed into clean pyjamas and back to reading.

10:30 p.m. Time for bed. Introducing Cuddles the bear, who I picked up from my dad’s at the beginning of the month.

If you’re interested in taking part in Photo an Hour, the next date is 23rd March. Simply take a photo every hour to show what you’re doing and post it to Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #photoanhour or save your photos and put them into a blog post once the day is over(or you can do both, like me).

What I read in January 2019

Hello lovely people. It’s the second Tuesday of the month, which means it’s time for another round-up of what I’ve been reading. I’m linking up with Steph and Jana, of course.

Most of the books I read were for Book Challenge by Erin 10.0, which I realise I never actually posted about on here, so I’ll add the categories after the book title/author. I read 11 books, which is a decent number but not as many as in other months. I blame the fact that I read two classics, which both seemed to take me forever to read! Anyway, I should get on with the reviews…

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Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (challenge category: read a friend or family member’s favourite book – this is my grandma’s favourite book, apparently). The book starts with farmer Gabriel Oak meeting a woman named Bathsheba Everdene who has come to stay with her aunt. After roughly two conversations with her, he falls in love and asks her to marry him, which he refuses. A short time later, she disappears from the village to take up her position as farmer of a large estate near Weatherbury on the death of her uncle. Farmer Oak then loses all his sheep, meaning he can no longer be a farmer, and through a series of coincidences ends up working as a shepherd on Bathsheba’s farm. Another farmer falls in love with Bathsheba and then a third person comes into the mix, but I don’t want to say too much about what happens with all these suitors in case I spoil things.
First of all, I have to say Hardy doesn’t half go on! At one point there was literally a three-page description of a barn and the positions of the people within it. More than once I found myself thinking “get to the point will you!”. It is an interesting story and towards the end especially it picks up a bit as Hardy finally leaves off describing and starts getting to the action. Bathsheba is a strong and independent woman for her time (insisting on running the farm herself, for instance) but is remarkably silly at times. 3.5 stars.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (challenge category: read a book that has won a Newberry Award). Mrs Frisby, a widowed mouse and mother to four small children, has a problem. She needs to move her family to their summer quarters immediately before the farmer ploughs the land it’s on, but her youngest son Timothy is gravely ill with pneumonia and if he moves he will certainly die. Fortunately, she meets the rats of NIMH, an extremely intelligent group of animals who have the perfect solution to her dilemma and the means to help her.
Where has this book been all my life? I mean, given it was published in 1971 it definitely existed before I did so why did nobody ever tell me about it? It’s adorable! I loved the rats’ story and Jeremy the crow. The start is a bit slow, but I actually don’t mind that… I kind of liked the contrast between everyday mouse life at the beginning and the extraordinary story of the rats later on. I could see some children getting bored before it reaches the “exciting” part, but it’s 5 stars from me.

The Dinner by Hermann Koch (challenge category: read a book that was originally written in a language that isn’t your native language). This is the story of two couples who meet at a fancy restaurant for dinner. Things start off harmlessly enough, with talk of work, films, and holidays, but all is not as it seems. Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son, and together their sons have committed a horrific act that has triggered a police investigation. Just how far is each couple willing to go to protect those they love?
This book is so odd… not so much a roller coaster as a spiral into madness. Which isn’t too say I didn’t enjoy it… although “enjoy” seems like the wrong word given the subject matter. It’s strangely compelling… like a train wreck that you just can’t look away from. I don’t want to say too much – I went into it with little idea of what it was about, and I honestly feel like that’s the best way. I would say if you’re at all intrigued read it (but if you don’t like violence steer clear). Also, it goes off on tangents a lot. 4 stars.

The Never List by Koethi Zan (challenge category: read a book that starts with the letter N). For years, Sarah and Jennifer kept the Never List: a list of things to be avoided at all costs. Never go out alone. Never get in the car. But one night they broke their own rules, with horrifying consequences. Ten years later, Sarah is trying to forget her horrible ordeal and get on with her life, but it seems the killer hasn’t forgotten her! This book is so disturbing, and filled with twists and turns. I was not expecting the final reveal at the end at all! (Some reviewers have said it was obvious, so maybe I’m just not clever enough?). My only issue is that the writing style occasionally seemed slightly juvenile, which briefly threw me out of the story. But generally it sucked me in and had me up way past my bedtime reading just one more chapter. 4 stars.

The Girl in the Broken Mirror by Savita Kalhan (challenge category: read a book with exactly six words in the title). Until I started this book I had forgotten I’ve actually read one by this author before (The Long Weekend is a scary middle-grade thriller, this one is YA). After Jay’s father died, life was hard for her and her mother, but they managed to get by. Now they’re moving in with relatives, including an aunt who has super strict rules on how Indian girls and boys should act. Jay will be expected to have only Indian friends, if she has any at all. How can she see her school friends, Chloe and Matt? But forcing her to conform to Indian customs and traditions is only the beginning of a nightmare for Jay. When her life implodes, how can she hide the shame and how will she find a way to keep going?
I don’t want to spoil anything but I do feel like this needs to be said… this book involves a sexual assault. If that’s not something you can read about then avoid this one. This is a really hard book to review partly because of the subject. It’s raw and seems realistic. Not what I would call an “enjoyable” book but it’s well-written and compelling. I really felt for Jay and was her mother’s response to what happened was perfect. 5 stars.

West of the Moon by Margi Preus (challenge category: read a book with a compass direction in the title). Astri is a young Norwegian girl desperate to join her father in America. After her aunt sells her to a cruel goat farmer, Astri makes a daring escape. She quickly retrieves her little sister, and, armed with a troll treasure, a book of spells and curses, and a possibly magic hairbrush, they set off for America with the “goatman” in pursuit. This book reads like a mixture of historical fiction and a fairytale, with the main character drawing constant comparisons between folk tales and her own situation. It’s a really well-told story and I enjoyed it but it’s quite dark with death, violence and subtle references to sex. It’s supposed to be a children’s book but I’m not sure I would recommend it to anyone under about 12 or 13. 4 stars.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. Another one of those supposed classics that I somehow missed as a child. This is the only book I read in January that wasn’t for Erin’s challenge. Jess Aarons’ greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. He’s been practising all summer and can’t wait to see his classmates’ faces when he beats them all. But on the first day of school, the new kid – a girl no less – outruns everybody. Not the most promising start for a friendship, but Jess and Lesley quickly become inseparable. Together, she and Jess create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen. Then tragedy strikes. This starts off as a lovely story about a friendship between two people from totally different backgrounds. Then it gets really sad and the bubble of innocence is burst. I’m not really sure why it’s labelled as “fantasy” though – it’s clear all along that Terabithia only exists in Jess and Lesley’s imaginations. Anyway, 4 stars.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (challenge category: read a book published over 100 years ago). For some reason I always thought this was a ghost story. It’s not. However, it is among the first mystery novels and may have been the first novel written with multiple narrators. On a moonlit London road, Walter Hartright encounters a mysterious woman dressed all in white who asks him from directions. He then discovers she’s escaped from an asylum. Not long after he travels to Cumberland where he is hired as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie and her half-sister Marian Halcombe. Of course, he falls in love with Laura but can’t do anything about it because 1) she’s rich and upper class while he’s the opposite and b) she’s already engaged to be married to Sir Percival Glyde, baronet. Gradually Walter and Marian become convinced that Sir all is not as it seems with Sir Percival and his ‘charming’ friend Count Fosco. This is a fantastic book. For a classic the language is actually quite readable. Wilkie Collins was a great writer. My only complaints are it was about 200 pages too long and I would have liked Marian to play more of a role in the last third. I imagine this book must have been a true sensation in its time. 4 stars.

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (challenge category: read a book set in Europe – it’s set in Ukraine). I’ve owned this book for years, having bought it after enjoying Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. A young American man arrives in the Ukraine searching for the village of Trochenbrod, where his grandparents came from, and  the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis fifty years ago. He is aided in his quest by Alex, a similarly-aged young man who has been hired by his father to act as a translator, Alex’s “blind” grandfather and a “seeing-eye bitch” named Sammy Davis Jr, Jr. This book was a mixed bag. At first I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, then just as I started to get into it there would be a slow/weird part. I liked Alex’s letters and story but couldn’t really get into the Trachimbrod parts until close to the end. Also, the “young American man” is Jonathan Safran Foer… the book is a fictionalised version of his family background and he inserted himself into the story, which was just weird. I gave this 3.5 stars, mainly for the Alex parts and because it’s set in Ukraine.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (challenge category: freebie). My mum lent me this book so I needed to read it before travelling to England so I could return it. I feel like everyone has read this recently so I’m not sure I need to summarise it, but I will anyway. Lale Sokolov is well-dressed, charming and a ladies’ man. He is also a Jew, and is sent to Auschwitz on the first transport. There, he is put to work in the privileged position of Tätowierer– the tattooist – marking his fellow inmates with their prisoner numbers. One of them is a young woman, Gita, who steals his heart at first glance. With a new purpose, Lale is more determined than ever to survive is time in the camp. This story is based on years of interviews author Heather Morris conducted with real-life Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov. It’s hard to know how to rate this book. The actual story is compelling but it feels like something is missing in the execution. The writing is too simplistic for the momentous events and at times it’s feels almost detached. At the same time I could not stop reading. I gave it four stars on Goodreads mostly because I felt bad giving it three.

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick (challenge category: a book that has been made into a film). I just sneaked this one into January – I read it on the way to England on 31 January, finishing about 10 minutes before we landed in Newcastle. Substance D, or Death, is the most dangerous drug ever to find its way on to the black market. It destroys the link between the brain’s two hemispheres, leading to disorientation and ultimately brain damage. Bob Arctor is an undercover narcotics agent trying to find a lead to the source of supply, but to avoid blowing his cover he has to become a user, not realising that he’s becoming just as addicted as the people he surrounds himself with. This is billed as science fiction, but really I think it’s more dystopian. Apart from a special suit Bob wears when reporting to his superiors there’s not much in it that points to science fiction (although it was written in the 70s but set in 1994, so maybe the future setting is what made it science fiction at the time?). Anyway, this was not what I was expecting. The writing style is easy to read and the story is strangely compelling considering it’s basically the ramblings of a drug addicts who is slowly losing his mind. 4 stars.

And that’s it for January. Have you read any of these? If so, do you agree with my review? Check out the link up to see what the rest of the SUYB community has been reading recently. You know you want to add more books to your list 😉

Beautiful stars

I have been meaning to write this post for a while, but things kept getting in the way.

A few weeks after we lost the boys, I unexpectedly received post from the lovely Alison, aka Fat Dormouse. Inside the envelope was a card with a lovely message that made me cry and a beautiful zentangle.

stars zentangle

It’s now hanging in the corridor, just outside our bedroom, where I can look at it every day and remember our tiny stars. Once again thank you so much Alison for thinking of us.

The kindness of fellow bloggers never fails to amaze me. From wonderful gestures like this to a simple email just to check in and see how I’m doing. It is all appreciated. I may have never met most of my long-term readers, but I consider each and every one of you a friend ❤ (My real-life friends have been fantastic too but the kindness of what are, essentially, “Internet strangers” is honestly overwhelming.)

January 2019

Ah, January. The month that should have been my last one at work before going on maternity leave. Instead it’s just the start of what feels like it’s going to be a long year. I mean, there’s still a chance I could end up with a baby in 2019, a December baby could still happen, but it’s hard to believe I’ll ever be able to conceive again when some days I find it hard to believe I ever conceived in the first place. A combination of that, the cold, dark days and the relentlessness of work made it difficult to be positive. Mostly I was just tired. I either need a holiday or spring to hurry up… or a combination of both. I’m okay though. Some days are just hard.

Anyway, I’m here to talk about what I got up to in January. And to link up with Kristen, of course, because link ups seem to be the only thing I post these days!?

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We started the year with a slow day. I mean, we were up relatively early to have breakfast with a friend who had stayed the night, but neither of us actually left the house on 1st January. We watched something. I don’t remember what. The BFG? Or was that in December? Maybe it was The Jungle Book. No clue. Then I started my first book of the year, which was Far from the Madding Crowd if you’re interested. It took me days to finish.

2nd January was my last day of freedom, and Jan was also off because it’s a holiday in Zurich. Berchtold’s Day. Don’t ask me! We got a car and drove to Einsiedeln. There’s a big abbey there that I can only show you the outside of because you’re not supposed to take photos of the inside. Some people were, of course, but I am a good girl ;-). There was snow, so that was nice… but cold! We then went to a café and had hot chocolate and cake. We wanted to drive to Glarus then to Lake Lucerne and finally to Schwyz, but once we got to Glarus we discovered that the pass to get to the lake was closed and we had to drive back the way we had come. We stopped at a shopping centre where we found some mini drawers for my craft stuff then we drove to the motorway and just came straight back to Basel. Schwyz will have to wait for another day.

Einsiedeln Abbey

My first day back at work was a long one because I had to be in the office on my 2nd day, meaning I worked 9.5 hours on my first day back to make up for only working 6.5 hours the following day (and even though my working day is shorter when I go into the office, it’s a two-hour train ride to get there, so overall the day is longer). I was so glad my first day back was a Thursday and the weekend came after a mere two days!

The first weekend of the year was pretty uneventful. On the Saturday we went to the furniture shop where we bought the light for our “home office”. It hasn’t been working properly for a while and Jan wanted to ask them about it. There’s another branch of the place where we bought the mini drawers in the same area so we also went there and bought a third set. I finished reading Far from the Madding Crowd and started my second book of the year. Sunday was going to be the day the tree came down (6th January… it’s the tradition) but we discovered it wouldn’t be picked up until the 14th so we decided to let it stay for another week. Last year we took the tree down on the 6th then realised too late we had to wait 2 weeks for another collection day so it sat on the balcony for ages and dropped needles everywhere. So this year it stayed. I did take down most of the other decorations on the 6th though. And we hung this year’s calendar… most likely the last time it will show the correct month until about April (typing this has reminded me that 7 days into February it hasn’t been changed yet). I started stitching my grandma’s birthday card then stopped when I ran out of the right thread colours – the two colours I needed to complete it were ordered but hadn’t arrived yet.

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Jan took the legs off two of the sets of drawers so I could stack them

The following weekend was a fairly boring one. Saturday was mostly housework and I wrote two pen pal letters… I’m way behind on my replies! Sunday we took the tree down ready for collection the next day. The living room looks so boring and empty. The threads I needed for my grandma’s card hadn’t arrived, so instead I started cross stitching a motif to make a birthday card for a friend’s son. I still haven’t actually made the card and his birthday is in 8 days so I need to get a move on. While I stitched we continued watching Season 2 of Pushing Daisies.

On weekend number three, Saturday happened to be photo an hour day. You can see my hourly photos here. It was sunny, so in the afternoon we decided to take a drive out. We went to Burgdorf in Emmental. The castle turned out to be closed for renovation so we didn’t stay long. We then drove towards the mountains but it got dark fairly quickly so we didn’t stop anywhere else, just took the scenic route back to the motorway then came home. We watched the final episode of Pushing Daisies while eating dinner. I am so mad that it was cancelled. There are things I need answers to! Sunday was a lazy day. I started cross stitching a unicorn that would later become a card for a Post Pals child and we watched some random stuff on TV, including Tatort. The threads I needed for my grandma’s card finally arrived the next day (Monday), so I spent that evening working hard to get it finished so it could be posted.

On the fourth and final weekend of the year, Jan had a choir rehearsal weekend so I had the place to myself. Saturday was the first deep-clean day of the year… I’m determined to at least keep that resolution (not doing so well on the drinking water one). I changed the bedding, cleaned the oven, hoovered and mopped, scrubbed the shower. I also picked up a prescription and took books to a free public bookcase. Not bad! Sunday was my grandma’s 80th birthday, so I called her, of course. (We spent the following weekend in England so we could celebrate with her, but that’s for February’s recap.)

In between weekends I worked, shopped, cleaned. I’ve been cooking a lot of soups/stews/broths lately – it’s the only way to cope with the grey miserableness of January. That and chocolate, which I’ve definitely consumed too much of recently. Thankfully all the Christmas junk food is finally gone so I can stop making a pig of myself now…

So that was January. February is a short month and then March brings my due date, two days later it would have been my other grandma’s 90th birthday and at the end of the month it’s Mother’s Day in the UK. Can’t wait to get that one over with!

I hope your January was a good one. How’s everyone doing with their yearly goals so far? Don’t tell me you’ve all given up already 😉 Check out the link up to see what’s new with everyone else.