Three Things #2

I am feeling very uninspired at the moment, hence the lack of blog posts. I could finally write up my travels from… ummm… two years ago(!), but that would involve resizing photos and I don’t wannaaaa. So I guess I’m both uninspired and unmotivated. Anyway, here’s a little filler in the form of a post I stole from Steph. So much excitement! You’re welcome.

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The picture isn’t relevant to the answers, but there are three birds so…

Three films I’ve watched more than 20 times 
1. The Lion King (thanks to my little brother who was obsessed as a kid)
2. Grease (same little brother. When he was 2-3 years old he literally refused to sleep unless he had watched Grease!)
3. Alice in Wonderland (the Disney version) – it only seems fair that I add this, since this was my childhood obsession. I wore out our video cassette of it, and I’m sure my mum was equally as sick of the sight of it as I was of Grease!

Three things I don’t do
1. Run – stole this one from Steph, but it’s true. Jan keeps trying to get me to go jogging with him. Hahaha, no!
2. Anywhere near as much housework as I should.
3. Iron. Ever.

Three things I’m always up for doing
1. Pub quiz
2. Reading
3. A day trip

Three good things that happened this month
1. Meeting up with friends (and meeting their babies)
2. I got to stroke a tiny puppy on the train to work the other week
3. I discovered that Manor in Basel sells self-raising flower and Bisto gravy granules. It’s the little things…

Three things I wish everyone knew so well it was ingrained in their bones
1. The difference between there, they’re and their.
2. Nobody’s life is perfect no matter how social media might make it look.
3. If you think that you’ll be happy once you achieve one specific thing (whether it’s losing X amount of weight, finding the perfect job, meeting someone you want to spend you life with, buying your dream home…), you’re wrong. Happiness comes from within. If you’re not happy now, then once you’ve achieved that thing you will just move on to the next thing that is absolutely, definitely all you need to make you happy.

Three things I’m tired of
1. Brexit – sound familiar?
2. Never-ending housework
3. Infertility

Three things I’ll never tire of
1. Tea
2. Pointing out every dog I see to Jan
3. Books, of course

Three things I like to photograph
1. Bees on flowers
2. Basel
3. Scenery

Three things I can’t resist
1. Chocolate… unfortunately
2. Adding new books to my wish list
3. Cute jewellery from Etsy

OK, that’s all. Over to you… tell me your three things for one of the categories in the comments.

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What I read in July 2019

Hello friends. Today is my birthday and also Show Us Your Books day… could there be a better gift? July was an excellent reading month for me… I managed to read 20 books, which is one fewer than in my best ever reading month. With so much to get through, I don’t want to ramble on too much, so I’ll just get on with it. Linking up with Jana and Steph, of course. TL;DR at the bottom if you just want to know which ones I recommend without reading the whole post.

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The first three weeks of the month were completely dominated by reading for Erin’s reading challenge, so the first ten reviews here are from that. If you want to know the categories, you can find them here.

Joyland by Stephen King. In 1973, Devin Jones gets a summer job at an amusement park called Joyland where he learns that a young girl was murdered on the haunted house ride a few years ago. Supposedly her ghost has been seen there since then. In between nursing a broken heart after being dumped by his first love and learning that he actually has a talent for entertaining kids, Devin decides to investigate the murder… or rather gets one of his friends to do all the work for him. He also befriends a single mother and her son, who is dying. This book is part ghost story, part murder mystery but mostly coming of age. It’s far from being my favourite Stephen King story but it’s a quick read and I was reminded, once again, that he certainly can write. Devin felt so real to me. A few things threw me though – were smoothies really that big in the 70s that someone would just casually invite someone in for one? I don’t think I’d even heard of a smoothie until about 2000, although I’m not from the US so maybe it was different there. Whatever. 3.5 stars.

The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey. I bought this book last year then I realised it’s not a sequel to The Girl With All the Gifts, but more of a companion… or prequel, really. But when I realised it fit a category for Erin’s challenge I decided it was time to get over myself and just read it. I don’t really know what to say about this one because if you haven’t read The Girl With All the Gifts you really should go into that one without knowing what it’s all about. So maybe skip to the next review if that applies to you? So, in this one a group of soldiers venture out from London , tracking down caches left my a previous team to find out whether any of them have been left in an environment that’s inhospitable to the pathogen the causes the plague that’s struck society. They also occasionally stop to take samples from the “hungries” for analysis. Meanwhile there are all sorts of tensions within the team – one is a spy, half the crew seem to hate the other half and many of them are hiding secrets. The story mainly revolves around Dr Khan, who discovers she’s pregnant after the start of the mission, and a teenager named Stephen, her ward, who is some kind of genius, probably on the autistic spectrum (although diagnoses kind of went out the window when the world basically ended) and invented the cream that makes people invisible to those who are infected. I  didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as The Girl With All the Gifts. I missed Melanie – she was such a fantastic character. Some of the characters in this one are cliché (particularly the soldier-types who shoot first and ask questions afterwards) and I hated the way they treated Stephen. But other than that I really did enjoy being back in this world. The ending really tied things together for me and provided some resolution for the first book as well so I’m glad I read it. Technically it could probably be read as a standalone but I don’t think it would be as enjoyable without having read the other book first. 4 stars.

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg. Ceony Twill has just graduated from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined at the top of her class and is really annoyed to have been assigned an apprenticeship as a paper magician – she wanted to learn metal and once bonded to an element you can never control anything else. Yet the spells she learns under her new master, the kindly Thane, turn out to be more wonderful than she could ever have imagined – animating paper creatures so they come to life, creating paper snow that’s actually cold, reading fortunes. But then an Excisioner — a practitioner of the forbidden dark magic involving flesh — invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will literally take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart. This could have been really good. The magic is fantastic – paper animals brought to life. I adored Fennel, the dog Thane makes from paper. But the writing and the whole world are just confusing. It’s supposed to be set in London but at one point the main character – born and raised in England – cooks biscuits and gravy. Biscuits in the UK are cookies and you certainly don’t eat them with gravy. Nothing about it sounded British! And it didn’t sound like it was taking place in the early 1900s either. There were a few “quaint” expressions that I suppose the author thought would make the book sounded dated but they really didn’t. It would have been a lot more convincing if it were set in modern day New York. A disappointing 2.5 stars.

I, Coriander by Sally Gardner. The daughter of a merchant and his beautiful wife, Coriander’s childhood in seventeenth century England is a happy one, until her mother dies and her father – a Royalist – is driven into hiding by her wicked stepmother and the rise of Oliver Cromwell. When the fanatical (and evil) Puritan minister Arise Fell locks her in a chest and leaves her to die, she is transported to fairyland where she discovers her mother was actually a fairy princess and her daughter has inherited some of her magic. Now it’s up to Coriander to use her new-found magic in order to save both herself and an inhabitant of the fairy world from the evil-doers of both worlds. is a cute book. I would have appreciated more detail on the fairytale world – maybe some explanation of must what was so special about the prince. But this is Coriander’s tale and her life is rooted in London. I did appreciate Coriander being the one to do the saving – no week girls relying on men-folk here! And I loved Hester. It was a pleasant surprise that Coriander’s step-sister was not portrayed as “wicked” but as much a victim of her mother as anyone else. 3.5 stars.

Lost Boy by Christina Henry. We all know the story of Peter Pan, the boy who doesn’t grow up. But that’s just one story. What about the other side? Peter brought Jamie to the island many years ago because there were no grown ups and they could play and do as they liked all day. He brought boys from the Other Place to join the fun. But it’s never been all fun and games on the island, where their neighbours are pirates and monsters, their toys are stones and knives and their games are violent – and often deadly. Peter promised they would all be young and happy forever. Peter lied. This is Jamie’s side of the story… better known to readers as Captain James Hook. This is a dark and twisted tale that takes just enough from the original story to make it seem like it *could* have happened like that. I thoroughly enjoyed this other side of the story retelling. 4 stars.

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh. Eileen Dunlop is an unassuming yet disturbed young woman, trapped between her role as her alcoholic father’s caretaker in a home whose squalor is the talk of the neighborhood and a day job as a secretary at the boys’ prison. Consumed by resentment and self-loathing, Eileen’s days are filled with perverse fantasies and dreams of escaping to the big city. All while she fills her time with shoplifting, obsessing over a prison guard named Randy, and cleaning up her increasingly deranged father’s messes. When beautiful, bright Rebecca Saint John comes to work at the prison just before Christmas, Eileen is unable to resist what she thinks is the start of a wonderful friendship. Until her affection for Rebecca pulls her into complicity in a crime. I liked this book to start with. Eileen is a thoroughly unlikeable character – tightly wound, disturbed, you could even call her disgusting. She dresses in her dead mother’s clothes, has a really messed up relationship with her body, hates the idea of anyone knowing she has actual body functions and frequently neglects even the most basic hygiene. But for all that, she’s utterly fascinating. The writing is so good that you can’t help but read on even while wondering why you would possibly want to read about such an awful person and her mundane little life. But after a while things started to get repetitive and I found myself wishing the book would hurry up and get to whatever point it was trying to make. There were so many references to “the last time I would see him” or “if I had known that I wasn’t coming back” that I wanted to shout at her to just get on with it! The ending, when it finally came, was anti-climatic. If this hadn’t been short and for a challenge I probably wouldn’t have bothered finishing it. 2.5 stars.

The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye.  Ashton Pelham-Martyn is the son of an English botanist, born on the road while his parents are travelling through India. His mother dies shortly after his birth. When he loses his father just a few years later, his nanny is supposed to take him back to his people, but circumstances intervene and result in her adopting him as her son and raising him as a Hindu, believing it’s the only way to keep him safe. When she dies, he finds out his true parentage. As a result, Ash ends up torn between his two identities, always able to see both sides of the picture, resulting in lots of trouble when he later joins the army. He then falls in love with a beautiful Indian princess, complicating matters even further. This book went on and on and on. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. I liked parts of it. I enjoyed most of the childhood part and I was genuinely invested in Ash and Juli’s love story and wanted to know how things would work out for them, I also loved the character of Wally. In between there were parts that dragged. There was a lot of history, which makes sense given that the author most likely assumed the readers would know very little about India (probably true), but a lot of those sections read like a history book. Surely there must have been a better way to do it? At times it almost seemed like the author was trying to pack in everything she knew about Indian history just to prove that she did know it. I think the main problem is that it didn’t really know what it wanted to be. It’s definitely historical fiction (with too much of an emphasis on history, if you ask me) but is it a romance, a war book, the story of someone trying to find his place in a world where he doesn’t fully belong to any one group? It was supposed to be Ash’s story, but half the time it felt more like the story of the British occupation of India. It’s all of those in one and it’s just too much. There are also too many places. Ash must have been in every region of India at some point! (As well as England and Afghanistan). There are enjoyable parts and the writing is mostly good. If it wasn’t so long I would probably recommend it but honestly it’s not worth slogging through all the politics/history for the sake of the actual story. 3 stars.

Der vertauschte Mantel by Jean-Pierre Gattégno. André Jefferson is a French teacher at a secondary school in Paris, and he hates his job. He was meant for a completely different lifestyle, far away from the humdrum of everyday life. After all, his father was no less than Sir James Andrew Jefferson, British diplomat in Cairo and Alexandria. Such a shame a single financial scandal cost him all his riches and, ultimately, his life, leaving his only son stuck in a dead-end job, scouring second hand shops to be able to buy the expensive clothing brands he loves. Then, one evening, the mother of one of his pupils offers him the chance to earn some money. Lots of money. This book was so weird. The main character is obsessed with clothes. He goes on and on about brand names, what he’s wearing, what he was wearing on another occasion. And he keeps repeating himself. I can see why his colleagues didn’t like him – I didn’t either! He’s also totally naive. Someone offers him a huge amount of money to do something and it never occurs to him that the “something” could be criminal. Then when he agrees to help with the crime he’s surprised when the people involved continue to commit crimes. It picked up a bit towards the end but I can’t say I was sorry when it was over. Very much just okay. 2 stars.

Felicia’s Journey by William Trevor. Felicia is a young, unmarried and pregnant Irish girl who has come to England to look for her lover. Instead she is found by Mr Hilditch, a strange and lonely man, who at first seems to be trying to help, but gradually reveals that he has something else entirely in mind. This is well written and parts of it are creepy. Mr Hilditch made my skin crawl at times. But it’s verrrry slow and I was confused by some parts. The “twist” wasn’t particularly surprising, to me at least. Not bad, but not great either. 3 stars.

Schwarzer Regen by Karl Olsberg. It wasn’t a question of “if”, but “when”… and now it’s finally happened. A deadly attack on a major German city. One of the many victims is Ben, son of ex.police officer Lennard Pauly. While completing a surveillance mission, the private detective discovers something that makes him doubt the official explanation for the attack. While the whole country is being consumed with hate, violence and hostility towards foreigners, he sets out to find out the truth. So, first of all, when I read “major German city” I was not expecting it to be Karlsruhe. It was very strange reading about landmarks in a place where I have lived being blown up! As for the review… this book is is weird. Most of action happens at the beginning, then we have a confusing mishmash of characters who are bound by a very flimsy thread. There’s also a random mathematician character who has been looking at the writings of Nostradamus and sort of predicts the attack but gets the time and place slightly wrong, then reappears once more later in the book but is ultimately utterly pointless and I didn’t understand why he was even in the book. Parts of it are exciting but then the resolutions of the various threads are just incredibly disappointing. 2.5 stars.

Once I was done with Erin’s challenge, I moved onto the Reading Rush, a week long readathon with seven categories to complete. Each completed category earned you a badge on the website and you were allowed to use one book for several prompts, but there was also a bonus badge for reading seven books so obviously I wanted to go all out and have one book per category. Here’s what I read for that:

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Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez. Duke and Earl are just passing through Rockwood county in their pick-up truck when they stop at Gil’s diner for a quick bite to eat. They’re not planning on sticking around for long, but then owner Loretta offers them 100 dollars to help find out why zombie attacks are such a regular occurrence at the diner. Given that Duke is a werewolf and Earl’s a vampire that shouldn’t be too much of a problem, right? But the shambling dead are just the tip of the iceberg. Someone’s out to drive Loretta from the diner, and is more than happy to raise a little hell on Earth if that’s what it takes. This is not exactly high literature, but it’s a fun and entertaining read. I liked Earl and Duke’s friendship. There are some sexist bits when it comes to describing how “hot” the girl causing all the problems is, but nonetheless I liked it for its sheer silliness. 3.5 stars.

Alex, the Dog and the Unopenable Door by Ross Montgomery. For centuries, people have been trying to discover what lies at the centre of the Forbidden Lands. One of those is Alex’s father, the most famously failed explorer in the history of the Cusp, who has just escaped from hospital again, yelling ‘squiggles’. Now the evil Davidus Kyte and all his henchmen are after Alex, convinced he alone knows the meaning of the word ‘squiggles’. Alex really isn’t the type of boy for adventures, but with the help of a talking dog and a girl with unfeasibly sharp teeth, he just might have what it takes to cross the Forbidden Lands, escape the evil Davidus Kyte, and find out what lies beyond the Cusp. I enjoyed this. It’s fun and quirky, but with a surprisingly deep storyline underneath the silliness. 4 stars. Also, this was my 100th book of the year. Just thought I’d point that out.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Ivan, an easygoing gorilla, lives at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. He has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He hardly ever thinks about his life in the jungle. Instead, Ivan occupies himself with television, his friends Stella and Bob, and painting. But when a newcomer arrives at the mall in the form of Ruby, a baby elephant taken from the wild, he is forced to see his art and their home through new eyes. Ivan knows Ruby doesn’t belong at the mall, but how can he possibly change things for the better? Based on a true story, this book is heart-warming and heartbreaking in equal measure. Everyone should read it! 5 stars.

Chasing the Stars by Malorie Blackman. Olivia, or Vee, and her twin brother Aidan  are heading back to Earth after a virus wiped out the rest of their crew three years earlier. Nathan is part of a community heading in the opposite direction. But on their journey, Nathan’s ship is attacked. Olivia tries to save them, but most of the community are wiped out. The few survivors join Olivia and Aidan on their ship, where Nathan and Olivia are instantly attracted to each other, deeply, head-over-heels – like nothing they have ever experienced. But not everyone is pleased with this development. With people being murdered on board and suspicions and rumours flying, is a happily-ever-after even possible? For the most part I liked this book. I read it quickly and even though I worked out some of the twist I still thought it was well done. There are lots of little hints dropped throughout so you can work out what’s going on if you’re paying attention. But Nathan’s character really let it down. I really didn’t like him. Especially after a certain scene which is, quite frankly, abusive. I don’t care what he thought Vee she had done – that is never okay. Both he and Vee seemed really immature for their age – and in Vee’s case at least I could kind of understand it. She hadn’t really been around people since she was 15 so she didn’t really have a chance to mature and grow. The world building was… not great. There’s a lot of mentions of different planets, etc. but no real explanation of how they all fit into the overall scheme. And there’s something called “the Authority” that certain people are apparently working against, but you never really find out what exactly the Authority actually is. You also don’t find out until almost the end what Vee’s ship was doing out there before the rest of the crew get wiped out. It definitely feels like it’s been set up for a sequel. Supposedly this is a retelling of Othello. I can’t comment on that since I either never knew or have completely forgotten the plot of Othello. 3 stars.

Pax by Sara Pennypacker. Peter rescued Pax when he was just a kit, after the fox cub’s family were all killed . Now the country is at war and when his father enlists, Peter has no choice but to move in with his grandfather. But far worse than leaving home is the fact that he is forced to leave Pax behind. Before Peter spends even one night under his grandfather’s roof he sneaks out into the night, determined to find his beloved friend. This book is very simple. For some reason I expected there to be more too it. I thought it would be really sad, but actually I only teared up at the ending. It was the perfect ending, but I still felt sad. I think kids will love it though – I certainly would have. 3.5 stars

Chocolat by Joanne Harris. When the exotic stranger Vianne Rocher arrives in the old French village of Lansquenet with her daughter, Father Reynaud immediately identifies her as a serious danger to his flock. Especially when she opens a chocolate boutique called “La Celeste Praline” directly across the square from the church at the beginning Lent, of all times. To make matters worse, Vianne is an unmarried mother, does not go to church and has a penchant for superstition. But she quickly begins to win over customers with her smiles, her intuition for everyone’s favourites, and her delightful confections. Her shop provides a place, too, for secrets to be whispered, grievances aired. She begins to shake up the rigid morality of the community. Vianne’s plans for an Easter Chocolate Festival divide the whole community. This was a reread for me, but it had been a while and I had forgotten some things. I enjoyed it just as much as the first time round. I love Joanne Harris’s writing. I wish I could be like Vianne and enjoy my life without caring what people think of me. Now I want to reread the other books as well before I try to get hold of the fourth book in the series, which has recently been released. Beware, this book will make you crave chocolate! 4 stars.

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman. Erin is a documentary filmmaker on the brink of a professional breakthrough, Mark a handsome investment banker with big plans. Even though Mark has just lost his job, the newly weds head off on a dream honeymoon to the tropical island of Bora Bora, where they enjoy the sun, the sand, and each other. Then, while scuba diving in the crystal blue sea, they find something in the water. Suddenly, they are faced with a choice… to speak out or to protect their secret. After all, if no one else knows, who would be hurt? Their decision will trigger a devastating chain of events. This book should have been good, and it starts off well, but it’s sooo slow and bogged down by way too much irrelevant detail. I didn’t need to know every choice they could have had on their wedding menu or an intricate description of how to take a gun apart. It took me 6 days to read it because I kept putting it down. I also didn’t really like the main character – she annoyed me from the very start. There were a couple of more interesting parts in the middle but overall it’s just not a good thriller. Also, the main character is randomly pregnant which seemed totally irrelevant to the story, other than as a weird way of showing her relationship isn’t so perfect as she keeps putting off telling her husband. Every time she said “I’ll tell him after I do this thing” I wanted to slap her. Meh. 2 stars.

On the final day of the Reading Rush, having completed by last book, I decided to pick up another one to try and clear away the lingering taste of Something in the Water. I chose something quick and easy that I expected to be good, and managed to read half of it that night.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. Leo Borlock follows the unspoken rule at Mica Area High School: don’t stand out – under any circumstances. The Stargirl arrives and everything changes. After 15 years of home schooling, the colourful Stargirl bursts into tenth grade, completed with ukulele, and commences scattering kindness like confetti, serenading people on their birthdays and cheering both teams at sporting events. But popularity is fickle, and suddenly Stargirl is shunned for everything that makes her different. Somewhere in the midst of Stargirl’s arrival and rise and fall, perfectly normal Leo Borlock has tumbled into love with her. I wish everyone could be more like Stargirl – although a couple of things about her did disturb me. Turning up uninvited at a stranger’s funeral was a little creepy. It was nice that she wanted to do things for other people, but her parents should maybe have taught her at least a little about boundaries. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than someone singing happy birthday to me in front of my entire high school! Also, I kept thinking the characters were younger than they were supposed to be. The first time Leo mentioned driving I was shocked because in my head all the characters were about 13. I think 11 or 12 would be the perfect age to read it – I’m sure I would have given it 5 stars back then. But with no nostalgia factor it’s a 3.5 for me.

Finally, with all reading challenges done, I slotted in two “just because” books at the very end of the month.

Words in Deep Blue by Cathy Crowley. Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie are best friends. Or they were, until Rachel moved away. Before she left, she placed a note for Henry between the pages of his favourite book at his family’s used book store confessing her love for him. Henry never responded and continued going out with pretty, popular Amy, who only loves herself but is happy to tolerate Henry loving her too. Now Rachel is back and grieving for her brother Cal, who drowned in the sea that he loved. To make matters worse, she has to work with Henry. I expected this to be a 5 star book, but somehow it just wasn’t quite there. I really enjoyed the bookish aspect and the sibling relationships (Rachel/Cal and also Henry and his sister). And I cried, so obviously I felt something. I did really love it, but it was just missing that final extra spark that would make it a full 5 stars. I think the overall popular/pretty girl vs best friend storyline was just a tiny bit too predictable. 4 stars.

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway. When sixteen-year-old Grace gives up her baby for adoption, she decides its time to find out more about her own biological mother, and in doing so discovers she has two siblings. There’s Maya, her loud-mouthed younger sister. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. When her adopted family’s problems begin to surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where it is that she belongs. Then there’s Joaquin, their older brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that it’s best to keep his secrets and fears to himself, where they can’t hurt anyone but him. This is such an emotional book. All the siblings have their own problems and I really felt for each of them. Also, I that neither the adoptive parents nor the biological mum were painted as “bad guys”. Both Maya and Grace knew they were adopted and neither of them wanted to know where they came from because of any issues at home, and the bio mum wasn’t shown to have been in the wrong for giving up her children. Basically I loved it and think you should read it. 4.5 stars.

TL;DR: If you liked The Girl With All the Gifts you should read The Boy on the Bridge, but be aware that it’s not a sequel and doesn’t follow Melanie. Everyone – child and adult – needs to read The One and Only Ivan. Lost Boy is excellent and Gil’s All Fright Diner is a lot of fun but beware of sexism. Chocolat is just as good as I remembered. Fans of YA and books about books should definitely read Words in Deep Blue, and Far From the Tree was my second favourite book of the month so obviously I highly recommend it.

And that, finally, is that. If you haven’t read enough book reviews yet make sure to check out the link up. And even if you have had enough for one day make sure you check it out tomorrow!

July 2019 recap

Hello everyone. Happy first day of August! I’ve taken today off work because it’s the Swiss national holiday. I’m still trying to figure out how I want to do these monthly update posts, so this time I’m trying out a different style. Let me know what you think. Linking up with the lovely Kristen, of course. If you’re not following her blog yet, you really should!

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Renovation stuff

Pretty much everything was already done in our flat before the month started – the missing glass wall cover thing for the kitchen having arrived at the end of June. At the beginning of July they painted the stairwell, including our door frame (every time they wanted to do something there they rang the doorbell so I would open the door for them). Then on the 5th the construction manager and the architect came by to do a final inspection – even though we were still missing one radiator and the glass wall for the shower. The letter we got informing us about the inspection requested access to the entire flat so I spent the first week of July sorting out more things so that a) they could get to the windows/radiators and b) they wouldn’t see that we’d still been living like savages after the kitchen and bathrooms were complete. This meant unpacking the final box (which contained bathroom stuff), taking things back out onto the balcony, hoovering everywhere again (how was there still construction dust floating around?!). It doesn’t sound like that should have taken all week but I also had to work, do the usual household chores, make food every day. And it was hot for most of that week. Anyway. The spare room is back to pretty much normal, which means it still looks like a storage room with a bed. Before the renovation, I made Jan help me empty the final few boxes that had been in there so it would have been box free for the first time since we moved in if I hadn’t decided to pack away most of my picture books. I could still move them to the cellar but that feels too defeatist, like I’m accepting the fact that our chances of becoming parents are so remote that there’s no point in having anything relating to babies easily accessible. This week a man came to install the glass panel/door for the shower so finally the bathrooms are completely finished. The only thing missing now is that one radiator, but basically it’s done and I can finally shut up about the renovation 😉

Reading

I was participating in Erin’s book challenge so most of my reading revolved around the categories for that. You can see my list here. I then participated in the Reading Rush, because apparently one challenge in a month isn’t enough?! The list of books I read for that is here. If you want to know what I thought of the books you’ll have to wait until Tuesday for Show Us Your Books.

Cross stitch stuff

In my world summer means the start of birthday stitching season, with two people to make cards for in August (one right at the beginning) and another two in September – although this year might be the last time I make one for my little brother. He’s turning 13… at what point does a cross-stitched card from your older sister become uncool? I stitched one and a half cards for friends’ children in July… I really need to get that half one finished! I made a previously cross-stitched design into a card as well and sent that to a Post Pals sibling. Totally winning!

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Travel/days out

On the first Sunday in July we went to the zoo in Basel. I have no photos for you because we spontaneously decided to go in as we were walking past and my phone camera is terrible. It was fun to see the animals (they had baby beavers!) but I counted no less than three sets of twins and every person I saw with a toddler either also had an older child or a baby or was very heavily pregnant and I was so jealous that they had clearly not only been able to get and stay pregnant but apparently also plan to the extent that their children were close in age. I mean, obviously I don’t know their history but emotions don’t do logic. I should really have known better than to go to the zoo on a sunny weekend in the middle of summer!

As I’ve mentioned, today is Swiss national day, so last night we went to the Rhine Falls to see the fireworks display. We’ve been to the Basel one a few times and I just wanted to do something different. We got there early, which was good because there were a lot of people in the end and it meant we were able to get a great spot. It was definitely a cool setting for fireworks!

And that’s about it. We didn’t really do any travelling in July. I did spend a day in the office in Germany, as usual, but that definitely doesn’t count!

Miscellaneous/general life stuff

Jan was participating in the Basel Tattoo again as a member of the choir. I went to the parade on the first Saturday and then attended the Friday night concert. It wasn’t quite as good as in previous years – it seemed like there weren’t as many acts so some were repeated (the Red Hot Chilli Pipers performed three oo four times). But it was still entertaining and the Chinese lions were fantastic!

Basel Tattoo lions

Apart from that it was honestly a pretty boring month, at least I can’t really think of anything else I did. Work was busy again so I did a fair amount of overtime, but other than that I guess I pretty much just read. For this month I have a few plans with friends (yes, I do actually have a few of those in real life) plus August is my birthday month so maybe I’ll have more to say next time.

Meanwhile, why don’t you tell me what you’ve been up to recently? And check out the link up, of course.

60 Questions

I’m feeling very uninspired right now so it seemed like a good time to use this post that I’ve been gradually working on for a while. I got it from Audrey, who got it from Emelia. Audrey answered 45 questions, Emelia’s version had 73 and I went for something in between. So here are my answers to 60 questions. Maybe you’ll learn something new about me.

1. What’s the best thing that happened to you this month?

Kristen sent me Wundersmith  (book 2 of the Nevermoor series). I literally hugged the book while I was telling Jan about it. Before it arrived I was planning to say receiving positive feedback from a customer at work, but honestly the book made me much happier – not the book itself  (although I have been desperate to read it) but the fact that someone was thinking about me and wanted to make me smile  ❤

2. What’s your favourite game?

Articulate – it’s sort of like Taboo but my opinion much better. I also love Trivial Pursuit.

3. When are you most inspired?

Immediately after deciding to try something new. Which is why I have crochet hooks and a book for learning to crochet but have never actually tried it. By the time the stuff arrived my inspiration was gone.

4. If you could teach one subject in school, what would it be?

I worked as an English language assistant for two year and realised during that time I hated teaching so preferably none 😉 If I have to choose something then English literature.

5. What’s your favourite beverage?

Dandelion and Burdock.

6. What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?

After I lost the twins someone said they hoped we wouldn’t give up trying because we would make great parents. That’s definitely the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.

7. What is your favourite birthday cake?

Is birthday cake a separate thing to just cake? Probably something chocolate.

8. What is one thing you still have from your childhood?

Other than books…. Nick the purple mouse I’ve had since I was born.

10-bed

9. What is your favourite film?

My go-to answer is A League of Their Own but actually there are others I love equally. I’m useless at picking favourites.

10. What is something you can’t do?

Touch my toes… I’m so not flexible! Also play an instrument. I could probably learn with many years of practice but I’ll never be more than just competent. Also draw.

11. Window or aisle seat?

Window on short flights, aisle if it’s like an 8 hour flight.

12. What is something that makes you laugh no matter what?

The film Clue. Always hilarious no matter how many times I watch it.

13. What are your favourite lyrics of all time?

All time? Wow. Umm. That’s asking a lot. Again, terrible at picking favourites. We’ll go with this:

I need to know that you will always be
The same old someone that I knew
What will it take till you believe in me
The way that I believe in you?
Just the Way You Are – Billy Joel

Also including this because the third line makes me laugh:

I met Jane at the centre of the earth
It was dark there was dirt all around
But I gather you can figure that
Devil in the Wishing Well – Five for Fighting

Other strong contenders were lines from Landslide by Fleetwood Mac, Desperado by The Eagles and The New Year by Death Cab for Cutie.

14. What is your favourite holiday?

Pancake Day!

15. What’s heavily played on your music play list right now?

I listen to music on my phone and I always have it on shuffle so no one thing is usually played heavily, unless shuffle goes mad and plays several things from the same artist. The last song I listened to was Forget Tomorrow by Feeder if that helps.

16. If you could raid one woman’s closet, who would it be?

Kezzie‘s. She always wears the best outfits.

17. Must have purse item?

Since I’m British purses are not handbags so obviously money 😉 That and cards are the only things that fit in there.

18. What did you want to be when you grew up when you were 12?

Author. I’m such a cliché.

19. What is something you will not be doing in ten years?

Given I’ll be about to turn 46 I’m guessing no matter how things work out with IVF I’ll have given up trying to get pregnant by then.

20. What is an important life lesson for someone to learn?

Whatever it is you’re going through, its not the end of the world. It may not feel like it right now, but you will get through it. However, while you are going through things, it really is okay not to be okay. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you feel. And don’t let anyone else tell you when it’s time to move on. There is no time limit to feeling bad. (However, if it’s been a while and you truly can’t imagine ever feeling okay again, it is okay to ask for help… even professional help if necessary). Wow, that was long. Sorry if you were expecting something more succinct.

21. How do you start your day?

On week days by snoozing my alarm and wishing that time of morning didn’t exist. Once I’m up and showered the day always starts with tea.

Tea and biscuits

22. Would you ever live anywhere besides where you do now?

I love where I live now! I would live in Austria again given the chance though. Maybe Salzburg.

23. What is your favourite dessert?

Again with the favourites 😅. I like a good crumble. Also chocolate fondant.

24. Is there a dessert you don’t like?

I hate melon so probably melon sorbet or fruit salad containing melon  (or even worse grapefruit!)

25. It’s brunch! What do you eat?

All the potato-based products, scrambled eggs, bacon. Maybe some fruit.

26. Where was the best vacation you’ve ever taken?

New Zealand.

27. Favourite Disney animal?

I like Bernhard from The Rescuers.

28. What is a book you are planning on reading?

All of them? Lol. Obviously I am hoping to get to Wundersmith soon and I’m looking forward to reading The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau.

29. What did you read most recently?

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman. I do not recommend.

30. Favourite solo artist?

Tina Dico

31. What is something you’re tired of?

The never-ending story of Brexit. I still think it’s a bad idea but at this point I think if they’re really determined to ruin the British economy (and possibly make me lose the right to work in Germany) I wish they’d hurry up and get on with it already!

32. What’s a city you wish to visit?

Copenhagen

33. Heels or flats?

I only wear heels for weddings. Lol.

34. Where does one go on a perfect road trip?

Around Switzerland, obviously 😉

35. What do you do on a rainy day?

Read, cross stitch, drink tea.

36. What’s your favourite exercise?

This is a joke, right? 😂 Um, I’m saying walking counts

37. What was your worst subject in school?

Art and music. Both teachers strongly advised that I drop their subject when it came to GCSE options. I also hated Design Tech because I was terrified of most of the machines.

38. What animal do you identify with the most?

Red panda. Mostly solitary, spends most of the day sleeping, needs to eat a lot and only comfortable at temperatures ranging from 17 to 25 °C. Sounds like me 😉

red panda3

39. What do you usually eat for breakfast?

Toast… except when it’s plastic-free July and I can’t buy bread 😦

40. What do you usually eat for dinner?

Um, different things. There is no “usually”. I don’t like to eat the same food every night.

41. Cooking or baking?

I enjoy both although when I’m only cooking for myself it seems pointless. I don’t bake as much as I would like because I hate all the cleaning afterwards.

42. Favourite baked good?

Yorkshire Parkin, made to my grandma’s recipe.

43. What is something you wish you could be good at?

Any of the things that is traditionally considered a “talent”… drawing, music, any sport. Oh, and Spanish. I can never seem to get beyond beginner level.

44. Skiing or surfing?

I’ve never done either. Yes, I live in Switzerland and have never skied. I also lived close to a ski resort in Austria. I’m terrible…

45. First celebrity crush?

Devon Sawa based on those few minutes in the film where Casper is alive.

46. Most recent celebrity crush?

I don’t think I have any “recent” crushes. I’ll say Billie-Joe Armstrong

47. What colour was your prom dress?

Purple

48. How do you manage stress?

Badly? Umm, I don’t know. Writing my diary usually helps. Or going for a walk. Also tea  – tea always helps. course, when the stress is caused by work none of those are possible … then all I can do is power through and hope I can actually meet all the deadlines my wonderful colleagues have given me.

49. What do you do to relax?

Read, go for walks, drink tea, sleep.

50. Shoes or bags?

I’d rather buy books. Lol. But seriously in terms of accessories I have more tights than either shoes or bags. I love colourful tights.

51. How do you know if you’re in love?

Personally when I can stand to be around the person every single day without eventually wanting them to just go away. And I still love him even when he’s annoying me. But honestly I feel like you just know.

52. Who do you turn to when you’re sad?

Jan.

53. What are you most enchanted by?

Nature… a waterfall, a mountain view, a beautiful lake.

DSCN8535

 

54. What is your biggest strength?

Manners. I am always unfailingly polite to shop assistants/waiting staff, etc. Even if I’m having the absolute worst day of my life, I will never be the customer that ruins your day. (I was even polite to the nurses at the clinic who needed four tries to get an IV in me and then got my blood all over the bed.) Is that a strength? I think it is.

55. What is your biggest weakness?

Caring too much what people (might) think. I find it difficult to make friends because I’m scared of talking to people I don’t know… I’m always afraid I’ll say the wrong thing and think I’m weird/not like me. So instead I say nothing and they think I’m weird anyway… and antisocial. I know it shouldn’t even matter what they think of me, but it does. And that’s why most of my friends live on the Internet 😉

56. What are 3 words to describe living in your city?

Rhine, culture, basilisks

57. Cutest thing on planet Earth?

Well-behaved dogs. Seeing them trotting along beside their owners,  off the lead, occasionally glancing up for reassurance/approval melts my heart. If they’re carrying a favourite toy  (stuffed friend!) it’s doubly adorable.

58. Favourite colour?

Red

59. Favourite time of day?

At the moment… when work is over 😅 (can you tell it’s been busy again?)

60. Favourite band?

I usually say Green Day but I haven’t even listened to their last album so I feel like that makes me a bad fan. Although in fairness I haven’t listened to any music released in the last five years except by accident so…

That’s it from me. Tell me your answers to some of these questions in the comments. Or let me know if you’ve done/are going to do this and I’ll come and check out your post.

Plastic-free July: Sustainability Struggles

Hello my lovelies! We are in the final stretch of plastic-free July now and Steph has asked people to talk about where they are still struggling when it comes to reducing plastic. You can read her post here.

Before I go into the areas where I’m still struggling to find an alternative, I should tell you that I will definitely not be continuing with my efforts to use close to zero plastic beyond July. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop caring about single-use plastic and buy things willy nilly – I didn’t do that before this month either! But I won’t spend the rest of my life basing all my decisions about what to cook/eat on whether it comes in plastic or not. It went okay this month, only because I allowed myself to use things we already had and made exceptions for a couple of things, but not buying any single-use plastic is not sustainable over the long-term. And now some products I’ve had trouble finding alternatives for.

Toothpaste. I have been using the toothpaste I already had throughout this month, but I’ve also had a think about how it could be replaced. I did notice that Lush has dental tab things but they were in a plastic bottle. There was a note saying the bottle was made from 50% recycled plastic, but it’s still a single-use plastic bottle!

Milk. I know milk in glass bottles is a thing that exists, but I’ve checked every supermarket local to me (plus the big one behind the train station) and none of them have milk in glass bottles. I know at least one brand in Germany has milk in glass bottles but going to Germany just to buy milk seems excessive! For the record, milk bottles here can be returned to supermarkets for recycling. The same with PET drinks bottles – I’ve even seen adverts in the tram recently telling people to take their drinks bottles to a PET container rather than throwing them in the bin!

Bin liners. This is one I’m not going to be able to do anything about. The plastic-free July website suggests alternatives to plastic including lining your bins with paper, but that isn’t going to work here. As I’ve mentioned before, general household rubbish is allowed to go in bags of 2 sizes, which you then stick either half a sticker or a full one on based on their volume (one whole sticker for a 35l bag). Also, general waste is incinerated here, so whether I use plastic bags or paper it’s all getting burned! (In Basel city, they don’t have stickers but an official bin bag – called Bebbi Sack. If your rubbish isn’t in a Bebbi Sack they simply won’t take it.)

Cheese. We found one kind of soft goat’s cheese that was wrapped in paper rather than plastic and one brand of flavoured Cheddar (they had smoked and garlic & chive) that was in wax with a sticker on. Other than that, every cheese in the supermarkets is wrapped in plastic. Even if you go to the cheese counter, they have the large blocks wrapped in cling film. Technically I am not throwing away single-use plastic in that case (if I can persuade them to give me my piece of cheese in a container from home instead of wrapping it in plastic) but passing the buck doesn’t make the plastic disappear!

Frozen vegetables. Yes, it’s always better to buy fresh vegetables, but I do like to have some frozen veg on hand, in particular spinach and peas. In Germany, I used to buy frozen spinach in cardboard boxes but I’ve checked every supermarket here and all of them use plastic bags. For the record, fresh spinach also comes in plastic bags here (you can possibly get loose spinach at markets but my local market is on from 7 a.m.-11 a.m. on Fridays and I have to work so that’s not happening).

Meat. I’ve barely eaten any meat this month simply because it is all in plastic packaging. Even if you go to the meat counter, they wrap your purchases in plastic. Admittedly I haven’t tried asking them to put it in my own container – trying to explain in German was a challenge I wasn’t ready to take on – but I suspect there are some health and safety rules that speak against it. And I’m sure at least one person out there is now thinking I could solve most of my problems (milk, cheese and meat) by going vegan – which is sooo much better for the planet anyway. But all the vegetarian/vegan alternatives are packaged in plastic as well. The milk issue applies just as much to almond, oat and soy milk and all the veggie burgers, etc. are packaged in plastic. Also, a lot of alternatives are based on soy, which can affect your hormones. I’m already infertile as it is without adding excess soy consumption to the mix!

Bread. Here, I’m talking the toastable kind. I usually have toast for breakfast but I haven’t been able to do that for the whole of July. I’ve been having organic cocoa porridge most days but 1) it’s too hot for that and 2) it also comes in plastic (the outer packaging is cardboard, but inside there’s a plastic bag). If I hadn’t already had it in my cupboard, I wouldn’t have been able to buy it (which would have made breakfast even more difficult!). Of course I could buy ordinary loaves of bread at a bakers, so bread is not out entirely, but I do like a bit of toast in the morning.

Cleaning products. Tips for this include buying cleaning products in glass bottles (do those exist? Not in Switzerland!) and making your own. I have actually tried the second option before – I’ve used the baking soda and vinegar trick to unblock a shower many times. (It doesn’t work for long, by the way. In my experience once a plunger stops doing the trick harsh chemicals are the way to go. Sorry). In this country, baking soda comes in little packets wrapped in plastic. The kind of vinegar you use for cleaning comes in plastic bottles (and also stinks!). Lemons are pretty much the only thing I can buy without plastic. I will have to take another look at the zero-waster supermarkets, but as far as I could see they only had washing powder, washing liquid, dishwasher powder (we use the tabs) and washing-up liquid. So for now I will keep buying eco-friendly bathroom cleaner in plastic spray bottles.

I think that’s all the things I haven’t been able to find an alternative to. There are a few things that there are alternatives too if I’m willing to go out of my way. For instance, at the supermarkets the organic vegetables are wrapped in plastic while the non-organic stuff is loose. I want organic vegetables. There is an organic supermarket in town that sells loose vegetables, but its opening hours aren’t great if you work full time. I also discovered that the only pasta at my local supermarket that features no plastic is green lasagne sheets. All the other ones in cardboard boxes – including the ordinary yellow lasagne sheets in the same brand – have a little plastic window. Obviously I can go to one of the zero-waste supermarkets and fill my own container with pasta, but again the opening hours aren’t the best if you work full time (actually the one that’s basically at the other side of town has slightly better opening hours, but I shouldn’t have to go all the way across town just to buy some pasta without plastic!). Of course inconvenience is no excuse. Buying pasta (or rice) in a plastic bag because I would either have to leave the second I finish work or sacrifice part of my Saturday otherwise is sheer laziness in my case. But that’s me. Other people don’t even have the option of going to those places. Elderly or disabled people can’t be expected to cross town just to buy some groceries. People in the villages surrounding Basel shouldn’t have to travel into town to buy their groceries. And plenty of people don’t finish work until 6 or later… the organic supermarket and the zero-waste supermarket closest to me both close at 6:30. That doesn’t leave a lot of time to get there and actually do your shopping! So while I will, of course, continue to do my bit and save plastic where I can, as of August I will be going back to buying meat and toast in plastic containers. Sorry, but there’s only so much an individual can do. Now if only the supermarkets (or, really, the producers behind them) would start doing their bit to help those of us who are trying our best!

A Photo an Hour: 20 July 2019

Hello lovely readers! Saturday was July’s photo an hour day. I took part on Twitter and now I also want to post the photos on my blog.

10 a.m. Obviously my day starts with tea.

11 a.m. Shower time. We’re still using the bath but the glass for the actual shower is due to arrive on the 29th! Also, we are not currently using those plastic bottles of shampoo/shower gel but of course I haven’t thrown them away because pouring out half the contents is even worse than having single-use plastic bottles in the first place!

12 noon. Waiting for a bus.

1 p.m. We met a friend (technically Jan’s friend, but who’s keeping track?) and went for a drink by the river.

2 p.m. Still by the river. It started to cloud over (but then brightened up again)

3 p.m. We went for food. I took this photo slightly late because I got distracted by eating 😉

4 p.m. Jan wanted caffeine. He went to Starbucks (which we never usually do) because he got a discount for being part of the Basel tattoo cast. Annoying that they give you plastic cups even if you sit in! This branch didn’t have any normal glasses and only small mugs.

5 p.m. Slightly delayed again as I was paying for some purchases then had to run for the bus. Photo taken on said bus.

6 p.m. Home and reading my penultimate book for Erin‘s reading challenge.

7 p.m. Another tea – ginger and lemon this time so I switched cups. Looks more like autumn than summer.

8 p.m. At this time of year I have lots of cards to stitch (it’s also about time I started Christmas cards!). This one is for my friend’s son, who is turning 5.

9 p.m. I wasn’t hungry for dinner after that huge lunch, but I popped to the shop because I fancied some chocolate. Plastic-free options are limited at the only place that’s open at night… I pretty much had the choice between this and Toblerone (or a grapefruit Lindt bar which quite frankly sounds disgusting).

I could have taken a 10 p.m. photo but I didn’t because I always like to have an even number, so that’s yer lot for today.

What did you do on Saturday? I hope it was a good one!

Apparently I’ve signed up for the Reading Rush!?

Because with just one book left to read for Erin‘s challenge I couldn’t let myself get complacent, could I? 😉

The Reading Rush is a week-long readathon, formerly known as Booktubeathon. I had never heard of it until this year, but apparently it changed its name so people who are not on YouTube wouldn’t think they’re not allowed to join in.

This year’s Reading Rush runs from 22-28 July. The books you read have to match seven categories. They can overlap (so you can use one book for multiple categories) but there is also a bonus challenge to read seven books in a week. Here is my tbr:

Read a book with purple on the cover – Chasing the Stars by Malorie Blackman. I think this cover has purple on it. Let me show you:

I’m not sure if the dark but is blue or purple, but there’s the pinkish bit and then before that merges back into the dark blue(?) there’s a definite line of purple.

Read a book in the same spot the entire timeGil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez. This one from my old, hand-written list of books I want to read and I’m 100% certain it was the title that drew me to it back then! I’m trying to gradually cross those books off my list so I thought I’d include at least one in this readathon. I mostly read either on the sofa or in bed (unless I’m on the train to work but I don’t have an in-the-office day next week) so it shouldn’t be difficult to read all of it in the same place. (It doesn’t have to be in one sitting, you just have to go back to the same place each time you pick it up). This is also this author’s first (published) novel so would count for the first book category.

Read a book you meant to read last yearPax by Sara Pennypacker. Lots of others would fit for this category as well, as you will see.

Read an author’s first bookSomething in the Water by Catherine Steadman. Also, when checking whether this was a debut, I found out that Catherine Steadman is an actress. Huh. I got this for my birthday last year so it could count for the previous category too if I wanted to overlap.

Read a book with a non-human main characterThe One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Ivan is a gorilla, I believe. Another one that could also count for a book I meant to read last year – I’ve been saying I’m going to read it for ages.

Pick a book that has five or more words in the titleAlex, the Dog and the Unopenable Door by Ross Montgomery. That’s seven words… definitely more than five. Once again, this could be counted for the meant to read last year category. It features a talking dog o I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to pick it up! Also, I think said dog is a main character so that’s another category this one overlaps with.

Read and watch a book to movie adaptationChocolat by Joanne Harris. I don’t have Netflix or anything like that, so I had to choose from films I own on DVD. Not a single book on my to-read shelves matched that description so this is a re-read. I did love this book when I first read it though and it’s been a while.

Is anyone else doing the Reading Rush? If you’re on the website and want to add me, my user name is Confuzzled Bev. Seven books in a week… wish me luck!