What I read in February 2021

Hello! It’s somehow book day again… time is going fast! I forgot to write a draft of this post to add to throughout the month so now I’m having to type the whole entire thing during my lunch break (and partly after work because I didn’t get finished at lunch time). As you can see from the title, I am linking up with Steph and Jana to tell you what I read in February.

Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford. Sequel to Greenglass House. It’s the Christmas holidays again and Milo is looking forward to spending his school-free time with his family, but once again they end up with a whole house full of guests, both familiar faces and new ones. There are fresh clues to uncover as Milo and his friends search for a mysterious map and a famous smuggler’s lost haul. I enjoyed this book, but not quite as much as the first one. It’s just as charming and there are some fantastic characters (I would love to see Milo and Marzana’s friendship continue to develop) but it did feel a bit too similar to the first book at times. i really enjoyed the aspects of Nagspeake folklore and getting to know something about the world outside the inn. 4 stars.

The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. Mila and her sisters live with their brother Oskar in a small forest cabin. It’s been winter in their village for 5 years – so long that Mila’s youngest sister doesn’t remember anything else. Their mother is dead and their father is gone. One night, a fur-clad stranger arrives seeking shelter for himself and his men. But by the next morning, they’ve gone – taking Oskar with them and, as they later find out, all the other boys in the village. Mila is determined to find her brother and bring him back, so with the help of Rune, the Mage, she sets out to do just that. This is well-written, and the beginning in particular is very atmospheric, but the story felt a bit vague. It’s based on folklore and very reminiscent of a fairy-tale but it lacks detail. It’s all a bit simple and most of the characters felt a bit flat – particularly Mila’s older sister Senna and Rune, the Mage. I would have liked to find out more of his back story and motivations. I did really love Mila’s little sister Pipa though. 3 stars.

The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson. 12-year-old Yanka has always felt out of place in her small village. She was found abandoned in a bear cave as a baby and has always felt drawn towards the forest. When she wakes up one morning to find that her legs have become bear legs, she sets off on an adventure with her house weasel Mousetrap to discover who she really is. Along the way she is joined by a motley crew of animals, all of whom have a lot to teach her about friendship and belonging. This is a wonderful adventure about family, friendship and discovering who you really are. I loved the stories interwoven throughout and the characters Yanka met along the way. I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as The House With Chicken Legs though. Yanka is a great character but I somehow didn’t feel as attached to her as I did to Marinka. One thing I did like better in this one was the Yaga house – I want it to be my friend! 3.5 stars.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. Vasilisa – known as Vasya – the youngest child of Petyor Petrovich, is wild like her mother was. The family lives on the edge of the Russian wilderness (although at that point it’s not Russia yet, but Rus‘), where winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. Vasya spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. But then her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honouring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows. In a village caught between a pagan past and the Christian church, Vasya is perhaps the only one who can save her people from what’s coming. This is really well written and I found the Slavic folk tale elements absolutely fascinating. I love Vasya and the various creatures/guardians. However it felt pretty slow at times – it seemed to take forever for the “real” story to get going. I will read the next book because I want to know where Vasya ends up going. 3.5 stars.

Boy, Snow Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. When Boy Novak turns 20, she flees the home of her abusive, rat-catcher father – ending up in Flax Hill, Massachusetts, simply because it’s the last stop on the bus route she took from New York. There she meets Arturo Whitman – craftsman, widower, and father of Snow – a beautiful, cherished child who Boy is instantly smitten by. If Snow displays a certain inscrutability at times, that’s simply a characteristic she shares with her father, harmless until Boy gives birth to Snow’s sister, Bird. When Bird is born Boy is forced to re-evaluate the image Arturo’s family have presented to her and Boy, Snow and Bird are broken apart. There are a lot of themes in this book. Identity… what it means to be white/black, male/female. Appearances versus reality. There is a LOT to discuss and I feel like it would be a perfect book club book. It’s also really well written. But the plot kind of lost me. I felt like I was missing the whole point of the book. Then a few serious issues came up at the end that weren’t really explored at all and made me feel like I was missing something. The final twist at the end was handled fairly badly (to say how would be a spoiler though) and the book then ended abruptly without the reveal either being tied in to the rest of the plot or the author explaining what she was trying to do by putting that twist in there and having Boy react so badly. I’m not sure what the comparison with Snow White is about either. Sure there’s an obsession with mirrors and beauty but comparing the plot to Snow White seemed very far-fetched to me. 3 stars – maybe more 2.5 now I think about it.

The Floating Admiral by The Detection Club (various authors including Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers). In 1931 Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and 10 other crime writers from the newly formed Detection Club collaborated in publishing a unique crime novel. In a literary game of consequences, each author would write one chapter, leaving G.K. Chesterton to write a typically paradoxical prologue and Anthony Berkeley to tie up all the loose ends. The result was this book. Inspector Rudge does not encounter many cases of murder in the sleepy seaside town of Whynmouth. But when an old sailor lands a rowing boat containing a fresh corpse with a stab wound to the chest, the Inspector’s investigation immediately comes up against several obstacles. The vicar, whose boat the body was found in, is clearly withholding information, and the victim’s niece has disappeared. There is clearly more to this case than meets the eye – even the identity of the victim is called into doubt. Inspector Rudge begins to wonder just how many people have contributed to this extraordinary crime and whether he will ever unravel it… I love the concept of this book and it was interesting to see where each author took the story and what they added to it. Inevitably some chapters were better than others (or possibly more to my taste than others). I found the prologue by G.K. Chesterton surprisingly dull considering I like the Father Brown stories. Agatha Christie’s chapter was good, as could be expected. There were a few other chapters I enjoyed as well, some by authors I didn’t know, and I was impressed with how the last person managed to tie everything together. I had read this before but I was maybe 13 at the time so I obviously didn’t remember the solution! I do recommend it if you’re a fan of classic crime/mysteries – it’s definitely not the greatest detective mystery I’ve read but I still found it fun to see what people managed to do with someone else’s plot. 3 stars.

Cream Buns and Crime by Robin Stevens. A collection of short stories from the world of the Murder Most Unladylike series – including the Detective Society’s first ever mystery, the Case of Lavinia’s Missing Tie. There are also tips from Daisy and Hazel on how to found your own Detective Society, a story from “rival” teen detectives (but actually friends) The Junior Pinkertons, and some discussion of real-life unsolved mysteries. It’s cute but ultimately unnecessary. The tips for setting up your own detective agency and writing in code are fun and there are a couple of new stories in there – I enjoyed reading about the Junior Pinkertons case. But ultimately I didn’t think it needed to be a whole separate book. One of the stories is actually included as a bonus at the end of Mistletoe and Murder and I felt like the same could have been done with the rest of the content. Also, I had felt that Daisy was getting better in Mistletoe and Murder, but reading from her perspective in this book she came across as an awful person and horrible friend to Hazel. She’s so possessive of their friendship while at the same time constantly putting Hazel down and treating her like an idiot. And when she’s giving her tips for setting up your own club she also talks directly to the readers as if they couldn’t possibly be anywhere near as clever as the amazing Daisy. Ugh! 2.5 stars.

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole. When Sydney Green takes part in a walking tour of the Brooklyn neighbourhood she’s lived in for almost her whole life, she is frustrated to find that the tour guide prefers to tell stories of the white people who lived there hundreds of years ago rather than the amazing African Americans – some of whom are actually still living there. Challenged to create her own walking tour if it means that much to her, Sydney decides to do just that, finding assistance from an unlikely – and unwanted – corner, one of the many new arrivals to the block – her neighbour Theo. As more and more FOR SALE signs pop up and the people Sydney has known her whole life gradually disappear – even while Sydney herself is literally battling to hold on to her own house – Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbours may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised. When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other – or themselves – long enough to find out before they too disappear? From reading the synopsis I could not figure out what the actual plot of this book was, I just knew it sounded interesting (and I had seen some high praise for it – I think actually through SUYB). It starts off fairly slow but by the end I was hooked – staying up until the early hours of the morning to finish it. I still have a few questions but overall it was a great read. Not a thriller in the traditional sense but certainly chilling and eye-opening. 4 stars.

Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson. When rookie policeman Ari Thór Arason is given his first posting in Siglufjörður – an idyllic (and remote) fishing village in the very north of Iceland, accessible only via a small mountain tunnel – far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik, he isn’t expecting much beyond routine small incidents. But then a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death in the local theatre, and Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life. An avalanche and unremitting snowstorms close the mountain pass, and the 24-hour darkness threatens to push Ari over the edge, as curtains begin to twitch, and his investigation becomes increasingly complex, chilling and personal. This is very atmospheric – you can really feel the claustrophobia of the small town, basically cut off from the rest of the world by snow and ice. The story itself is verrrry slow, which isn’t always necessarily a bad thing but unfortunately something about the writing style just didn’t jibe well with me. It felt choppy. In fairness to the author it’s possible that something was lost in translation, although I would think the translator would have tried to accurately represent the original style. I also didn’t like Ari Thor very much – he needs to learn to communicate and stop assuming he knows how other people (his girlfriend) feel. Towards the end things started to pick up and there was a bit of action, which bumped this book up from a 2.5 to a 3 star. I probably won’t bother reading book 2 though.

Cinderella is Dead by Kaylynn Bayron. It’s been 200 years since Cinderella found her prince but the fairy tale is over. Siyteen-year-old Sophia knows the story off by heart though. She has to. Just like she and every other teen girl has to attend the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are “forfeit”, leaving the kingdom never to be heard from again. Sophia doesn’t want to go to the ball though. She doesn’t even want to get married – or not to a man anyway. She would rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend. When Sophia’s night at the ball goes horribly wrong, she must run for her life. Alone and terrified, she finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s tomb, where she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all – and in the process, learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew. I enjoyed this book. I do agree with the reviewers who said they would have liked more world-building, but if you view it through the lens of a fairytale of sorts it makes sense in a way for there to just be a kingdom and a forest. I liked Sophia but I would have liked to see her reasons for wanting to change the system developed a bit more. Obviously wanting to defeat the evil and get equal rights for everyone is a good thing – I’m not questioning that. But why does Sophia in particular choose to fight back while others prefer to follow the rules and try to conform no matter how much it hurts them? We are told it has something to do with Sophia’s grandmother, who also rebelled and was taken away, but I would have liked to be shown how her grandmother shaped her thinking. Maybe a scene with Sophia reminiscing about something specific that happened with her grandmother instead of her just constantly telling everybody “my grandmother told me the king is bad and must be stopped!”. The king himself is almost a caricature of evil – towards the end there was a point where I actually had to laugh because it was just getting so ridiculous! (It reminded me of a scene from Death Becomes Her). The twist on the fairy godmother was awesome and she was probably one of the best developed characters in the book to be honest. The romance felt very rushed – I felt like Sophia got over Erin very quickly. I did enjoy the experience of reading the book though and despite its flaws I flew through it, so I’m giving it 3.5 stars.

We Are Giants by Amber Lee Dodds. Sydney thinks her mother Amy is the best mum in the world – even if she is a bit different from other kids’ parents. As Amy explains it, when she was a girl she got to 48 inches tall and then stopped growing right there. It’s the perfect height, in Sydney’s opinion: big enough to reach the ice cream at the supermarket, but small enough to be special. And though Sydney’s dad died when she was only five, her memories of him, her mum’s love and the company of her brave big sister Jade means she never feels alone. When Sydney’s mum is forced to sell her furniture shop and the family moves away from London, things get tricky. Sydney and Jade have to fit in at a new school, make friends, and deal with growing up in a strange town. And the last thing Sydney wants to do is grow up! For such a short book this manages to pack a lot in – family, grief, growing up, dealing with changes and fitting in/making friends – but somehow it doesn’t seem crowded. Sydney’s voice felt authentic (to me – who has no children and clearly hasn’t been a child for a long time!) and I even teared up at one point. Jade’s teenage rebellion felt a bit cliché but still realistic. It’s a great little book for children who are worried about growing up or are struggling to cope with changes. 4 stars.

Secrets of the Henna Girl by Sufiya Ahmed. Zeba Khan is like any other sixteen-year-old British girl: enjoying herself, waiting for exam results and hanging around with friends. When her parents decide on a family trip to their home country of Pakistan Zeba isn’t exactly thrilled, but she goes along with it. Although she finds it a bit weird that her parents seem very stressed in the run-up to the holiday, she doesn’t really think much of it. It’s been a long time since they went home after all. Then they arrive, and her future is threatened by an unthinkable – and forced – duty to protect her father’s honour. This is a thought-provoking read. I liked that the author made it very clear that arranged marriage and forced marriage are two totally different things, and that forced marriage is actually frowned on in Islam as well (although it still happens). Zebra frustrated me at times – I wish she had just communicated when she had the chance. There is a surprisingly sad part in the middle. Most of the characters were well developed apart from Zeba’s mum, who just follows her husband in everything. I know that was the point – she’s supposed to be traditional and think men know best – but I didn’t understand how she could show literally zero emotion about her own daughter, even when the husband she was supposedly obeying was very obviously upset about what he felt he “had” to do. Zeba’s grandmother was fantastic and I loved how the author showed that the people you would expect to be most traditional in their thinking (the older generation) are perfectly capable of having minds of their own. The ending is a little too predictable and straightforward, but I can’t see how else it should have ended either so I suppose it makes sense. 3.5 stars.

A Wolf for a Spell by Karrah Sutton. Since she was a pup, Zima has been taught to fear humans – especially witches – but when her family is threatened, she finds herself with no choice but to seek help from the witch Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga never does magic for free, but it just so happens that she needs a wolf’s keen nose for a secret plan she’s brewing, and before Zima knows what’s happening, the witch has cast a switching spell and run off into the woods, while Zima is left behind in Baba Yaga’s hut – and Baba Yaga’s body! Meanwhile, a young village girl named Nadya is also seeking the witch’s help, and when she meets Zima (in Baba Yaga’s form), they discover that they face a common enemy. With danger closing in, Zima must unite the wolves, the witches and the villagers against an evil that threatens them all. This is an absolutely magical book. The beginning gave me Red Riding Hood vibes, then it changed into something else. It has a definite fairytale feel, which isn’t surprising given it’s based on Slavic folk tales, but it also goes deeper than your traditional fairytale, which I liked. I loved all the characters, but my favourite was actually one of the supporting characters – I loved the raven with all his snark! One thing that didn’t quite work for me was the villain – he felt a bit flat and evil just for the sake of being evil. I guess he wanted power but that didn’t really come through. That’s a relatively minor complaint though – I definitely recommend this book. 4 stars.

I also read The Crowns of Croswald by D. E. Knight. Since it was from Netgalley, I’ve reviewed it separately here.

Total books read: 14. Books by BIPOC/BAME authors: 4 (not good enough!).

TL;DR: All the children’s books mentioned here are great – I particularly recommend The Girl Who Speaks Bear and A Wolf for a Spell if you like middle grade fantasy. If you (or your children) prefer more realistic stories then We Are Giants is also great. When No One is Watching is fantastic but don’t go into it expecting your typical thriller. I really enjoyed the experience of reading Cinderella is Dead but for me it lacked depth. None of the rest are terrible but they aren’t my new favourites either. Read them if they sound good to you.

That’s all from me. Visit the Show Us Your Books link up for more book reviews!

February 2021 recap

Hello, hello! Can you believe we are four days into March already? Time seems to be flying by again. For me at least. Maybe not for you.

So, it’s the start of another month and that means another recap post. I sometimes wonder why I still bother writing these. Like everybody else I can’t really do much at the moment. But then I think it might be interesting to look back on them in a few years and remind myself of how I got through the pandemic. Will WordPress still exist in 10 years time I wonder? Maybe I should download my posts and keep them somewhere safe.

Anyway… February. The month started with an egg retrieval. If you read last month’s recap you will know we were doing a stimulation round/I was in the midst of daily injections. At the beginning of February, my follicles duly reached the right size and my hormone levels were where they needed to be, so I gave myself the trigger injection (which is actually two injections – one on either side of my stomach – and whatever solution is in there burns while I’m injecting it! I actually took a photo of my stomach with the red rashes that appeared after the trigger injections plus the bruises from some previous injections that decided to bleed loads but I don’t think anyone wants to see that). 15 eggs were retrieved, 12 fertilised and we ended up with 6 that reached the stage where they could be frozen. So with the one we have left from the first time we have seven embryos. Seven more tries. If it doesn’t work with those that will be it. No more stimulation. No more IVF. Don’t be expecting a pregnancy announcement any time soon though – apart from the fact that I’ll be terrified to announce anything until I at least get past 16 weeks and 4 days (when I lost the twins), I have 2 months of treatment to go through before we even try another transfer. So, that was that. Moving on.

5th February was our anniversary. Of getting together that is, not wedding anniversary. We’re not married – I know some people assume we are, so sorry to disappoint you, I guess? Also if you’re bothered by the fact that we’re a) living together and b) trying for a baby without being married then this really isn’t the blog for you. Anyway… we’ve been together 17 years. In other years we’ve celebrated by going out for a meal but you know. Pandemic. So I cooked. Lamb, roast potatoes, orange carrots (roasted using some orange flavoured olive oil I was given for Christmas). Then the next day we got a car and took a trip to Stein am Rhein. We took disinfectant and kitchen roll and cleaned every surface we might think of touching in the car, then disinfected our hands. In Stein am Rhein everything was obviously closed so we just walked around. It was cloudy and cold but the town is still pretty. One restaurant had set up a grill outside so we got a sausage each then some hot apple punch (alcohol free) from another place. It was nice.

It snowed. And then it got really cold and all the snow froze over. On Valentine’s day we went for a long walk into town (the closest we’ll ever get to celebrating) and the Tinguely Fountain (or Fasnachts Fountain) was all frozen over! A week after the photo below was taken it was suddenly spring and 16°C during the day!

Fasnacht – the Basel version of Carnival/Mardis Gras – was cancelled for the second year in a row but there was a Fasnacht walk with various stations around town, including this giant “confetti” by the river.

On another walk a few weeks later we saw loads of storks and herons in a field – storks are not that unusual, there are lots of them here, but I’ve never seen that many herons at once! Here are some of them (I hope you can make them out):

I made cards for Post Pals – a 4th birthday card for a blind girl and a Sweet Sixteen card for one of the older pals. I also made a few Valentine’s cards for pals – I think about 6.

16th February was Pancake Day/Shrove Tuesday in the UK. Obviously we had pancakes for tea. Savoury ones with mince and vegetables then sweet ones with sugar and lemon/sugar and cinnamon. No photo… I didn’t take one and they never look that great in pictures anyway. They tasted good though.

What else can I tell you? Not much. I read some books – 14 if you’re interested. More about that on Tuesday. We continue to regularly watch Richard Osman’s House of Games. I feel like we watched a film as well, but I can’t remember what it was. Jan constantly has the TV on (when he’s not working) but I don’t always pay attention. I also did some decluttering, sorted out loads of craft stuff and put a box outside the building’s front door marked “Gratis” (free) – a very common thing in Switzerland. It’s still down there. Most of the stuff is gone but soon I will have to bring what’s left back upstairs. Sigh. Work has been kind of slow, but should pick up again from next week – I have a couple of things planned in that are yet to arrive.

Coronavirus cases in Switzerland are stagnating at around 1,000-1,200 cases per day (we’ve yet to drop back below the 1,000 mark and numbers seem to be rising in some cantons). Meanwhile vaccination is going at snail’s pace. Actually that’s unfair to snails. Some places are doing better than others but as far as I’m aware every canton is still only vaccinating over 75s and those categorised as “highest risk”. Jan is part of group 1 b (people with chronic illnesses who are not classed as highest risk) and currently he can’t even register for an appointment! The cantons blame the Federal Government, the Government blames the manufacturers. Or the approvers. Or possibly the cantons. And so we go round in circles with hardly anyone actually getting vaccinated. Pfizer and Moderna are currently approved here. Astra Zeneca won’t be approved until Easter at the earliest, and now the Government are saying Switzerland won’t even need it and talking about selling on what they’ve ordered to another country. I’m sure it all makes sense to someone, somewhere…

That’s all I’ve got for you this month. I hope you are all happy, healthy and somehow managing to keep yourselves occupied!

Happy TARDIS birthday Kezzie!

Hello lovely readers. I am doing something a little bit different today.

It’s the lovely Kezzie‘s 40th birthday (HAPPY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY KEZZIE! I hope you have a wonderful day) and since she can’t have a celebration she has asked her blog readers to join her in an online fancy dress party.

Kezzie takes part in something called TARDIS Tuesday, which involves cosplaying as characters from Doctor Who and then posting the pictures each Tuesday. So Kezzie asked whether her followers would be willing to take part in TARDIS Tuesday. Now, obviously you will have noticed that today is not Tuesday. She wanted us to publish our posts a few days early to give her a chance to gather all the photos and put them in a master post on actual TARDIS Tuesday.

The idea was that we would try to imitate something from Doctor Who using items from our own closet – so now buying anything specially. After ages and ages of scrolling through photos from all eras of Doctor Who, I finally found an outfit I thought I could copy.

The outfit I am trying to copy is on the very right – that’s Susan Foreman, The Doctor’s granddaughter. As you can see, it’s in black and white – this episode was broadcast in 1964. The man on the left, William Hartnell, is the very first ever Doctor of Doctor Who! So, Susan is wearing a blouse/shirt – presumably white – a pinafore dress in a dark colour and knee high socks that also appear to be white. I then managed to find this DVD cover in which the dress is blue. So this is the outfit I eventually came up with.

I don’t have white knee socks (in fact, the only knee socks I own are highlighter pink with luminous* yellow and green patches, a joke Christmas present years ago!) so I went with white tights instead. My white blouse is different to Susan’s but I think it works and the dress is fairly similar if we ignore the rainbow! I couldn’t find a single image from The Sensorites online that actually showed Susan’s shows, but based on what you can see of her feet in the image above and looking through the galleries on the three episodes from series 1 of Doctor Who we own (episodes 1-3) she seems to be wearing the same shoes as here:

I also tried to tie my hair back in a way that looks short – although not as short as Susan’s!(Story interlude: many years ago, when I was about 11-13 years old, I had my hair cut really short. I then moved schools and was asked numerous times “Are you a boy or a girl?” by people who obviously thought they were original/funny. Since then I’ve hated the way I look with short hair!)

If you want to know where the clothes I am wearing came from, here’s a breakdown: the label in the blouse says “Clockhouse”, which is C&A. I think I bought in when I lived in Austria in 2005/2006. The dress is by Run & Fly. I bought it two years ago and they don’t seem to sell it any more but they do have some other amazing pinafore dresses, including one with a dinosaur print! The tights were most likely C&A or H&M and the shoes came from New Yorker about 10 years ago (and what you can’t tell from the photo is they’re absolutely destroyed!).

OK, that’s all from me. I will add the link to the fancy dress party once it’s up so you can see everyone else’s outfits. For now please pop over to Kezzie‘s blog and wish her a very happy birthday! Oh, and let me know what you think of my attempt at being Susan!

A Photo an Hour: 16 January 2021

Hello lovely readers! Yesterday was February’s photo an hour date, which of course reminded me that I hadn’t actually written my post for last month’s photos yet. And so here I am attempting to catch up. The chosen date for January was the 16th. As usual it wasn’t the most exciting of days, but here it is anyway.

10 a.m. The day always starts with tea.

11 a.m. Time for a shower.

12 noon. Went down to collect the mail and was very excited to find this book had been delivered.

1 p.m. Putting on a load of laundry (having taken an identical photo yesterday I suddenly realise just how boring my life is!).

2 p.m. Quiet time is over so the hoover can come out.

3 p.m. Sat down to read for 15 minutes while I waited for the washing machine to finish.

4 p.m. On the way back from taking away the organic waste and recycling. As you can see, we had snow.

5 p.m. An appropriate candle for the whiteness outside!

6 p.m. Time to make some food.

7 p.m. Tuna pasta bake is ready!

8 p.m. Watching Green Book.

9 p.m. The film finished!

10 p.m. A spot of reading before bed.

11 p.m. Bedtime with Eeyore.

And there you have it. Another boring lockdown Saturday* Hopefully I will get this month’s post up faster!

(*Disclaimer: we are not actually in “lockdown”. Although shops (other than supermarkets/DIY stores/flower shops), museums, zoos, galleries, restaurants, bars are closed we can go out and meet people if we want to, hairdressers are open, public transport is running. We can’t do much but we are not in lockdown. And personally I don’t want to go to crowded places anyway.)

Book Review: The Crowns of Croswald by D. E. Night

Hello! Ages ago, the publisher of this book (Stories Untold) contacted me on Instagram to ask whether I would be willing to read and review this book – which I thought meant they would give me, it turned out I had to sign up Netgalley and request it with the guarantee of approval. Then I had to download an app to my tablet so I could actually read it, the first one I tried kept asking for authentication but wouldn’t actually let me set a password. And once I found one that worked it took me far too long to actually read the book because I discovered I hate reading on my tablet. Basically I’m saying my days as a Netgalley reviewer are probably over before they’ve really started because who will ever approve me again? (Plus the whole reading on my tablet thing…).

Anyway, since this is a Netgalley review, I thought I’d better give it its own post instead of just adding it to me February round-up. So here we are.

Plot: Ivy Lovely was found as a baby and has spent 16 years working as a Scaldry Maid (I may have spelled that wrong) looking after the scaldron – a special type of dragon that is used in the castle to produce heat for cooking. Ivy is blessed with the ability to remember her dreams, a photographic memory and the ability to perfectly sketch whatever she sees – all traits of a type of magic-wielder known as Scrivenists, which is everything Ivy dreams of being. But her castle is hidden among the slurry fields – a substance that suppresses magic. After a series of unfortunate events leads to Ivy and a scaldron (who she names Humboldt) leaving the slurry fields, she is whisked away to the Halls of Ivy, a school where those with magic learn how to use it. When Ivy’s magic – and her life – is threatened by the Dark Queen, she quickly has to uncover the mysteries of her past and save her friends and all of Croswald before the truth is swept away forever. This is book one in a series of currently 3 (I don’t know if any more are planned).

My review: This is a fun book but I found parts of it confusing and other parts obvious(view spoiler). The pacing is all over the place. Sometimes a lot happens very fast and then at other times you turn a page and it’s somehow the end of year ball when I swear the year had only just started? Parts of it definitely reminded me of Harry Potter – mistreated young person (girl in this case) who has no idea who she really is gets an invitation to attend magic school and discovers powers they never knew they had. Even the shop where Ivy bought her school supplies wouldn’t have been out of place in Diagon Alley! But the magic system and powers are different enough for her to have managed to make it her own. I feel like the characters could have been fleshed out more – I never fully felt connected to Ivy while she was running around doing whatever and as for the other students, all I know is one is mean and snobbish, one likes to eat butter, and Fyn is mysterious and constantly shows up wherever Ivy is but I can’t work out whether it’s just because he fancies her or there’s more to it. Rebecca, Ivy’s room mate/supposedly best friend seemed like a fun character but all I can really tell you about her is she apparently doesn’t want to be royal and can’t control her magic. I assume some things will be cleared up in book 2 but it’s a little disappointing to reach the end of a book and realise that 90% of the characters are entirely forgettable. There were aspects of the book I really enjoyed though and overall I liked it but it’s far from being a new favourite.

☆☆☆ – 3 stars

What I read in January 2021

Hello and happy Show Us Your Books day! I am linking up with Steph and Jana to tell you what I read in January.

I read 14 books and interestingly 5 of them had people’s names in the title. That was not intentional! Here’s what I thought of them:

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert. Chloe Brown is chronically ill and still lives with her family. After almost being hit by a car while out for a walk, she decides she needs to “Get a Life” and comes up with a list of things she feels she “needs” to do, number 1 being get her own place. Other items include riding a motorbike… enter Redford ‘Red’ Morgan, her building’s maintenance guy. There’s just one problem: Chloe and Red hated each other at first sight! Can they get past their initial assumptions and learn to like – or even love – each other? This is sweet and sad and sexy. I really enjoyed it. There were a few strange phrases though – who refers to their nipples as “slutty batteries”? Lol.

Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley. Uncle Montague lives alone in a big, creepy house and whenever his nephew comes to visit he tells him the scariest tales he knows. But as the stories unfold, another even more spine-tingling narrative emerges, one that is perhaps the most frightening of all. This was fun to read. The stories are creepy in an old-fashioned, gothic kind of way. Some were better than others. A few ended a bit abruptly and the final, bonus story, was rather underwhelming, but overall it’s enjoyable. I would certainly have been deliciously creeped out and entertained by it as a child – this was exactly the kind of thing young me enjoyed. 3.5 stars

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, a deadly strain of flu sweeps across the world wiping out most of humanity. Kirsten sees Arthur die as a child actor, and fifteen years later she’s part of the Traveling Symphony – a group of actors and musicians that tours the small towns of the post-apocalyptic landscape. Arriving in the town of St. Deborah by the Water, the troupe encounters a young man calling himself “the prophet” who threatens to destroy the life Kirsten has come to love. Moving back and forth in time the book tells the actor’s story from his early days as a film star to his death, and Kirsten’s story in the present, post-apocalyptic world. I thought I would fly through this book but parts of it were really slow. I did enjoy the post-pandemic parts, but I couldn’t have cared less about some actor’s marriages and affairs. I did appreciate how it all tied together in the end. 3 stars.

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta. Michael is a half-Jamaican, half Greek Cypriot boy growing up in London. All his life he knows he’s different, first because he’s mixed race, then because he would rather play with dolls and his female friends than participate in traditionally “male” activities, and because he’s gay. When he gets to university, hethinks he can finally be free but he still feels out of place, until he discovers the drag society and finds his wings as The Black Flamingo. This book is wonderful! I loved Michael and it made me so happy to see him figuring out who he is and who he wants to be. Being neither black (/mixed race) nor gay I obviously couldn’t “relate” as such but this book gave me so many insights into how it must feel to be different (I have often felt different/out of place but never because of my race or sexuality.) For some reason I thought this was set in America so it was a nice surprise to find it took place in the UK. 5 stars.

Do Not Disturb by A. R. Torre (Deanna Madden #2). In book 1 we met Deanna Madden, a camgirl who hadn’t left her apartment for 3 years for fear of what she might do. Until she had to leave when she believed one of her clients was responsible for a girl’s abduction. Now Deanna is back in her apartment and back to following the three simple rules she’s set for herself: 1. Don’t leave the apartment. 2. Never let anyone in. 3. Don’t kill anyone. Well, mostly. She does allow herself to leave occasionally with Jeremy, the delivery driver who helped her in the first book and now – dare she say it – her boyfriend. But somebody out there has become obsessed with Deanna’s alter ego, Jessica. If he manages to find her, who knows what might happen. I enjoyed this just as much as the first one! It’s a little repetitive at times – Deanna thinks about killing. Deanna distracts herself with cyber sex. But when the tension picked up I was hooked, even though the “bad guy” is a bit of a cliché. I also loved Deanna’s developing relationship with Jeremy. It’s am looking forward to finding out where things go in book 3. 4 stars.

The Unadoptables by Hanna Tooke. The rules for baby abandonment at Little Tulip Orphanage are simple. The baby should be wrapped in a cotton blanket. The baby should be placed in a wicker basket. The baby should be deposited on the top step. Not once have they been broken, until a few months in 1880 when five babies are left in outrageous circumstances: one in a toolbox, one in a coal bucket, one in a picnic hamper, one in a wheat sack and one in a coffin-shaped basket. Those babies were Lotta, Egg, Fenna, Sem and Milou. Twelve years later, their cruel matron has dubbed them “the unadoptables”, but they know their individuality is what makes them special. When a sinister gentleman appears and threatens to tear them apart, the gang make a daring escape across the frozen canals of Amsterdam. I’m o torn on this book. I loved, loved loved the characters. The story itself is fantastic – the writing, the adventure. But I could not in good conscience give it to a child. Based on the blurb, I thought the evil matron would hate the five children because they were quirky and curious and bright and wonderful (and they are all of those things) when she wanted drab, obedient, conforming orphans. And while it’s true that she hates all orphans, it becomes clear that these particular ones are labelled “unadoptable” because – for want of a better word – they have something “wrong” with them. One is mute, one has extra fingers, one is Asian. And it would be fine if only the matron, who is clearly the bad guy, thought that way, but very close to the beginning a couple come looking for someone to adopt and almost physically recoil when they realise Lotta has six fingers on each hand… and nobody ever explicitly points out how wrong that is. Yes the five orphans are the heroes of the story and yes there is one adult later who is kind about Lotta’s extra fingers, but the subtle message is still there that it’s okay to discriminate against people for being different. As an adult I know it’s wrong, but as a child? I most likely wouldn’t even have noticed (just like it never occurred to me that, in the Narnia books, the only people described as having dark skin are the bad guys!), but subconsciously taken onboard that it was absolutely fine to be racist or ableist or just plain cruel. And as for children who look different themselves, or have a disability, or are clumsy and not traditionally cute… how could reading a book like this NOT make them feel awful? It’s a shame because the story itself really is wonderful and I genuinely enjoyed reading it. *Sigh*
Note: I am aware that it’s historical fiction and that’s exactly how things would have been in those days, but I still feel like there should be something, somewhere that explicitly lets children know that THIS IS NOT OKAY. As an adult I know things weren’t great in the past, I can look past it and simply enjoy the story for what it is, but this is a children’s book and it really should be made clear that just because this kind of thing was common in the 1800s doesn’t make it right!

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman. Rumi Seto spends a lot of time worrying. What to eat, where to go, who to love. But one thing she is sure of is that she wants to spend her life writing music with her younger sister, Lea. Then Lea dies in a car accident, and Rumi is sent away to live with her aunt in Hawaii. Miles from home, Rumi struggles to navigate the loss of her sister, feeling abandoned by her mother, and the aching absence of music. With the help of her aunt’s neighbour, teenage surfer Kai who doesn’t take anything too seriously, and old George Watanabe who succumbed to grief years ago, Rumi seeks her way back to music, to write the song she and Lea never had the chance to finish. This is a very emotional book, as you can probably guess from the synopsis. Rumi is a difficult person to like. She’s prickly, sour and prone to childish tantrums. And the way she spoke about her mother is awful – I understand that she’s grieving but even before Lea died, in her flashbacks, she often seemed to be mean to/about her mother, basically accusing her of being neglectful and forcing Rumi to be a substitute mother to her sister. But at the same time I could really relate to Rumi – I have often been guilty of not thinking before I spoke and saying something cynical or sarcastic that came across as mean. And how many times have I wished I was a naturally sweet, cheerful,kind person who everybody loved? Rumi’s love for her sister shines through at all times and I truly felt for her in her grief (even if I wanted to shake her at times), which is a testament to how good the writing is. 4 stars. (Also Rumi is probably asexual and possibly also aromantic – she’s still working things out. I don’t want to comment on how good the rep is since I am neither of those things but it’s something people might want to know is in there.)

Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montogomery (Emily #1). Emily Starr never knew what it was to be lonely–until her beloved father died. Now an orphan, she left in the care of her mother’s relatives at New Moon Farm where she’s sure she won’t be happy. Emily deals with stiff, stern Aunt Elizabeth and her malicious classmates by holding her head high and using her quick wit. Things begin to change when she makes friends, with Teddy, who does marvelous drawings; with Perry, who’s sailed all over the world with his father yet has never been to school; and above all, with Ilse, a tomboy with a blazing temper. Amazingly, Emily finds New Moon beautiful and fascinating. With new friends and adventures, Emily might someday think of herself as Emily of New Moon. There was quite a bit I enjoyed about this book but also a few things I didn’t. It’s definitely darker than Anne of Green Gables – one character’s mother KILLS ANIMALS because she thinks her son is getting too attached to them and she wants him all to herself. Wtf? Dean Priest is creepy and actually so is Mr Kelly (I think that’s his name). Who tells a 12 year old she has “come hither eyes”? I don’t care which century it was! I did really enjoy Emily’s friendships (with people her own age!) and her love of writing – in some ways she reminded me of myself as a child. I actually like Emily better than Anne. She felt more real to me. Other than Anne’s supposed “red-head temper” I always thought she seemed too sweet and perfect. Emily with all her faults is much more human and interesting. My favourite character in this book is cousin Jimmy. I also really liked Great Aunt Nancy – she just didn’t care what people thought of her and it was AWESOME! 3.5 stars

Birthday by Meredith Russo. Eric and Morgan were born on the same day, at the same time, in the same place. They’ve always celebrated their birthday together, but as they grow up they begin to grow apart. Everyone expects Eric to get a football scholarship, but no one knows he’s having second thoughts. Former quarterback Morgan feels utterly alone, as she wrestles with the difficult choice to live as her true self. Both of them are struggling to be the person they know they are. Who better to help than your best friend? I loved this book, but it’s so emotional. It made me cry – more than once. But despite the sadness it’s also heart-warming and I adored the ending. 5 stars.

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukaemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate – a life and a role that she has never challenged…until now. Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister – and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable, a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves: she hires a lawyer to sue for the rights to her own body. This was a re-read for me. I would have been in my early 20s the last time I read it. This time the ending felt almost emotionally manipulative but it did still make me cry. I’m not sure what the point in the Campbell/Julia side story is (I’d forgotten about that to be honest). I do still think Jodi Picoult is a good writer though. So I’m downgrading my former 5 star rating to 4.

The Original Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig. Meet Ginny. She is 14, autistic, and after years in foster care, Ginny is in her fourth forever family, finally with parents who will love her. Everyone tells her that she should feel happy, but she has never stopped crafting her Big Secret Plan of Escape. Because Ginny has a secret – something happened, a long time ago, something that only Ginny knows, and nothing will stop her going back to put it right… I don’t want to say I enjoyed this book because the subject matter is not enjoyable! Poor Ginny has been through so much and she deserves the world. I don’t know how authentic Ginny’s autism was (this is not own voices but the author does have an adopted autistic daughter) but she felt like a real person to me. Most of the adults in this book are despicable though! Well, Brian I guess is at least kind of trying. Obviously the birth mom is supposed to be an unfit parent but the adoptive mom (“Forever Mom” in Ginny’s words) made me so mad. You don’t get to get rid of your adopted daughter because you have your own baby now! She wouldn’t even give poor Ginny a chance. Also I guessed Ginny’s “secret” almost immediately so how NOBODY figured it out – including the therapist she had been seeing for about 5 years is beyond me! 4 stars.

The Winter House by Nicci Gerrard. When Marnie receives a phone call that summons her to the side of a once-beloved friend who is dying, she is wrenched from her orderly London life and sent back into a past from which she has fled but never escaped. Ralph, Marnie and Oliver once knew each other well, and now they meet again in Ralph’s secluded cottage in the Scottish highlands, to spend the precious days that Ralph has left with each other. As they reminisce, Marnie is taken back to the summer years ago when everything changed between them and heartbreak and desire broke up their little group. Will Ralph finally say what needs to be said before it’s too late? I had read this before but I didn’t remember much of it.
The best word I can think of to describe this book is “melancholy”. And not just because somebody is dying. Marnie takes us back through her memories, telling Ralph the story of their lives together, but there always seems to be an undercurrent of sadness even in the supposedly happy times. And I did not like Ralph! While he was obviously troubled and fragile, and honestly could probably have done with some therapy, he came across as really selfish. I wondered how Marnie’s life would have turned out if she hadn’t spent most of her teens trying to protect Ralph and his feelings. Lucy also deserved better (and thankfully seemed to have got it – I think she was the only character in the book who did manage to escape the teen drama!). The ending at least seems hopeful and the writing is beautiful. 3 stars.

Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely. Blanche White is a feisty, middle-aged African-American housekeeper recently returned to South Carolina from NYC. When she is called into court for a bounced check after a client fails to pay, she goes on the lam, hiding out as a maid for a wealthy family at their summer home. Although distracted thinking about how to deal with her own problems, Blanche gradually realises that her employers are acting strangely, even for white people. And when there’s a murder that Blanche fears she could be blamed for, she’s forced to use all her savvy, sharp wit and her old-girl network of domestic workers to discover the truth and save her own skin. wasn’t what I expected. It’s pretty slow until almost the end (the murder that the synopsis refers doesn’t even happen until over halfway through!). I was expecting a bit of actual detecting, but all Blanche seemed to do was gossip with her friend (which did lead to some answers but Blanche herself wasn’t involved and we didn’t see any of the information gathering process), worry about her sister’s kids (who she is guardian for) and then finally sit down and properly listen to someone at the very end, which led to her solving the “mystery”. I really liked Blanche but the story itself was too repetitive and honestly a bit boring. 2.5 stars.

Gargantis by Thomas Taylor (Eerie on Sea #2). There’s a storm brewing over Eerie-on-Sea, and the fisherfolk say a monster is the cause. Someone has woken the ancient Gargantis, who sleeps in the watery caves beneath this spooky seaside town where legends have a habit of coming to life. It seems the Gargantis is looking for something: a treasure stolen from her underwater lair. And it just might be in the Lost-and-Foundery at the Grand Nautilus Hotel, in the care of one Herbert Lemon, Lost-and-Founder. With the help of the daring Violet Parma, ever-reliable Herbie will do his best to figure out what the Gargantis wants and who stole her treasure in the first place. In a town full of suspicious, secretive characters, it could be anyone! This was another fun adventure. It’s very atmospheric and you get a real sense of danger. I was truly worried for Herbie at some points. I really enjoyed Herbie and Violet’s friendship and it was nice to find out something of where Herbie came from and what happened to his parents, although I definitely have more questions. It doesn’t quite have the spark that would make it 5 stars, but it’s a solid 4-star read. I highly recommend this series.

And here’s something new I’ve decided to do this year… I’m keeping track of how many books I read by BAME/BIPOC authors. This month it was 4 – not good enough.

TL;DR. I highly recommend The Black Flamingo and Birthday, recommend Get a Life, Chloe Brown and the Deanna Madden books (in both cases only if you don’t mind explicit sex scenes). I also really enjoyed The Original Ginny Moon and Summer Bird Blue. The Eerie on Sea series is excellent for children (and adults) who like an adventure. I really enjoyed The Unadoptables but I’m not sure I would let a child read it without adult guidance and I recommend that you look into it yourself before giving it to the children in your life.

What have you been reading lately? Don’t forget to check out the link up for more reviews!

January 2021 recap

Phew, January is finally over! It went quickly at first but by about the 25th it was really starting to drag!

Jan and I both had the first week and a bit of the month off work. I couldn’t really tell you what we did though. Went for walks. Played board games. Finally watched Season 12 of The Big Bang Theory (which Jan got for Christmas 2019!). I read some books. One day we went for a drive in search of snow because I was jealous of everyone else’s pictures.

Snow at the Passwang Pass

We actually got out own snow later in the month, and our downstairs neighbours (parents and two kids) built a snowman.


The 11th was my first day back at work and also my first fertility clinic appointment of the year – at 7am! Admittedly the early hour was my own choice but I still didn’t appreciate it very much. As those who read my recap of 2020 know (hi to all 5 of you, Kezzie sorry for making you cry!), we are doing another round of IVF stimulation before starting treatment to hopefully he’ll with my adenomyosis. The appointment on the 11th was just to make sure I had actually ovulated and start on progesterone to delay the start of my next cycle. I had to go out in the evening to pick up the prescription and also another repeat prescription that was at a different chemist. So lots of rushing around. Sigh. After that I put myself into semi-isolation. The last thing I wanted was to experience any coronavirus symptoms and have to cancel the cycle partway through! So once I had the progesterone I stayed home, apart from one walk where I stayed on the opposite side of the road to other people at all times. I went to the cemetery to see the memorial in the snow and was sad to see that a new name has been added. I hate that another family has had to experience the loss of a child before they even had the chance to meet them.

Where the snow has been cleared is the new little name plaque. Someone has put a candle and little decorations on it, which I didn’t think you were allowed to do (there’s a separate area at the front where you can place plants, etc. but I didn’t think you were allowed to put anything directly on the name). If you’re wondering, out boys’ little name plate/plaque thing is to the right of the one you can see and further from the carving, more towards where I took the photo from. I’ll never show you it though because we decided not to make the names public. (We have told a few people privately but Jan didn’t want them on Facebook or anywhere so they definitely won’t ever appear on this blog!)

This next bit is mainly about IVF appointments and it’s pretty boring. Skip if you’re not interested – I’m only writing it down because I regret not having a record of my last stimulation cycle to refer to now!
The following Wednesday I ventured out after work to pick up the rest of my prescription – the actual IVF drugs this time. Pergoveris in a pre-filled pen to make my eggs grow and Orgalutran in pre-filled syringes to stop me from ovulating. Since it was rush hour, as well as keeping my distance as much as possible I wore an FFP2 mask. After picking up what I needed I went to the supermarket and stocked up on as much food as I could carry. Then it was back into isolation until the Friday when it was back to the clinic for my first actual IVF appointment. This involved a baseline ultrasound to find out how many potential follicles I was starting with and a blood test to determine my starting dose for Pergoveris. Since I had already picked up the meds, I only went to the clinic and then home. Then it was back into semi-isolation apart from my weekly walk on the Sunday. The nurse called in the afternoon and told me to start with 200 units of Pergoveris. It has to be injected at the same time every day and I decided on 5 p.m. this time (it can be between 4.pm. and 6 p.m. – for my last IVF cycle and the IUI cycles before that I chose 4:30 p.m. so that on the days I had to go into the office I could do the injection before leaving for my train home). The first few days the Pergoveris gave me a headache, but by day 4 it wasn’t as bad and after that I was fine. I guess I got used to it. Four days later, on the Tuesday, I had my next monitoring appointment. Again I only went to the fertility clinic and then straight home, before going back into semi-isolation. I ventured to the postbox once but that was it. Everything was pretty much on track, and in the afternoon I was told to increase my Pergoveris dose to 250. Appointment number 3 was on the Friday (29th January). This time I had to get another Pergoveris prescription since I only had enough left for that day’s injection. My appointment that day was later, meaning the chemist was already open, so I picked up the pen immediately after the clinic appointment, saving me from a second trip across town that day. I learned very early on not to bother trying to get fertility meds from my local chemist when they first stared at my prescription like they had never seen one before, then said they had never heard of Orgalutran and would have to order it before finally trying to bill me for it twice after I picked it up! Now I only go to the chemist near the clinic. Once I got home, I had to give myself my first Orgalutran injection since I was now at the stage where my body could potentially try to ovulate. I remembered that it burned going in but had forgotten about the itching! Oh well, it only lasts about an hour. I can handle anything for an hour! From then, I had to inject Orgalutran every morning until trigger day. After work, I had to come out of my self-imposed isolation for a supermarket trip – again I donned an FFP2 mask and stayed as far away from other people as I could. On Saturday I was very silly… while preparing my Pergoveris injection I got distracted by Jan talking to me and put the needle on but forgot to set the dose, so I stabbed myself for no reason! It then decided to bleed loads when I pulled the needle back out. I actually had to give myself two Pergoveris injections that day since I was coming to the end of one pen, so after switching the needle I got the first part in no problem. I then had another 175 units to inject with the second pen… and that injection site decided to bleed loads as well, so now I have matching bruises on either side of my stomach. And I had been doing so well this time with barely any evidence of the injections! My fourth monitoring appointment was yesterday, 31 January – you might have noticed that they get closer and closer together as things progress. But the remaining appointments were in February so that’s it for now.
OK, end of boring IVF talk. You can continue reading again now if you want, although the rest of my month wasn’t much more interesting.

That first week of work I had enough to do thanks to a job from the end of last year, but the rest of the month was a bit up and down. A few orders trickled in, but mainly short translations. There are things I can do when we don’t have many proper jobs, but it meant things felt verrrry slow and I was often pleased when the working day was over. The last 2-3 days of January were a bit busier so hopefully things are starting to pick up now!

Apart from work and IVF appointments I didn’t really do much. Switzerland finally decided to close most shops on 13 January (restaurants, bars, gyms and museums were already closed) so I there wasn’t really anywhere to go even if I hadn’t been isolating myself. I read all my books for Erin’s current challenge – you can see my list at the end of this post – then read a few more. We watched a German film called Angst essen Seele auf (apparently the English title is Ali: Fear Eats the Soul). It’s apparently a classic. I found odd and a bit melancholy, but I’m not sorry I watched it. We are also still watching Richard Osman’s House of Games during the week. I love it! I stitched a birthday card for my grandma, who turned 82 on 27th January. (My dad and sister also have January birthdays, but I didn’t make them a card. I did send them a gift though – they both got a book.) I also sent New Year cards to Post Pals families – most were shop bought but I made 5 to send to blind pals. For each of them I cut numbers for 2021 from part of a cardboard box, coloured them in then added glitter glue to make them nice and tactile. I then stuck them on a card together with some kind of decorative element that could be felt.

I made scones, but we didn’t have any clotted cream so we had to eat them with butter and jam.

They didn’t rise evenly and some of them look more like rock cakes but oh well. They tasted good.

I bought two new folders (one for everything to do with the fertility clinic and one for some miscellaneous stuff that there isn’t enough of to justify a whole folder to itself) and finally sorted out some papers/documents that have been lying around for way too long. I would like to say I had a real sense of achievement and relief when it was done, but actually I just felt dusty, exhausted and had a headache. The last of those may have been caused by the fertility meds though.

I honestly couldn’t tell you anything else I did last month so I’ll leave this here. How was your January? Anything interesting to report? I hope you have a happy February!

2021 goals

Hello friends. Once again I haven’t felt like sitting down and typing up a blog post after being on the computer all day for work, but it’s the weekend now and I think it’s about time I posted my goals for the year! Once again, I’m splitting them up into sections.

Reading goals

Read 104 books (Good Reads challenge goal). That probably sounds like a strange number. It’s two a week, which seems sensible. Of these:

  • 10 should be non-fiction – I failed at this again last year but I’m giving it another go.
  • 20 should be from the BBC Big Read list – I only managed 2 last year and I’m way behinf, do I am upping my game.
  • 52 should have been physically on my to-read shelf before the year started – I have way too many unread books that I really should be getting to before buying even more! I think making half of the books I read ones I already own seems fair.
  • 6 should be in German – I only managed to read one book in German last year. Six is such a small number, but it means I only need to read one every two months. Surely that’s doable!
  • 24 should be rereads of books I already own and need to read again before deciding whether to keep them (the aim here being to hopefully clear some space on my shelves). That’s only two rereads a month – there’s really no reason I shouldn’t be able to manage that!

Cleaning goals

Deep clean once per month. I actually did really well with this last year so I want to continue. This will include:

  • Cleaning the bathrooms/kitchen including mopping the floors
  • Changing the bedding
  • Cleaning the oven (at least using the “cleaning” function even if I don’t manage to wipe it down)
  • Washing the dishes that can’t go in the dishwasher
  • Hoovering and dusting the entire flat
  • Taking away recycling, etc. as needed

Some of those things obviously need doing more than once a month, but the aim is to have one day/weekend a month where everything is done and the flat actually looks semi-decent.

Health goals

  • Have at least one portion of fruit or veg with lunch (a glass of juice or a smoothie counts). I haven’t been doing this so far – because I only just thought of it – but starting from February I’ll give it a go. I failed at having fruit/veg with every meal last year but maybe I can at least manage to have some with lunch? And we always have vegetables with dinner so that should increase my intake at least a little bit.
  • No more than two cups of black tea per day. I started doing this because cutting down on caffeine is supposed to help with fertility and will continue until I successfully give birth to a living child.
  • Drink at least two pint glasses of water per day. Last year I forgot I had made this goal and I’m not sure whether I consistently managed it. Trying again this year.
  • Go for a walk once a week. I actually managed this last year! There were only 2 weeks that I didn’t go for a walk (with good reasons) and since there were also weeks that I managed more than two it balanced out well. So I will be keeping it up this year. I should really think about getting some other form of exercise as well, but we’ll start with the walking and go from there.

Social/life goals

  • Write at least two pen pal letters every month. I did a reasonable job with this last year – in September I only managed one letter, but I wrote at least two every other month. Having this goal definitely helped me keep on top of things and not leave people waiting months for a reply so I’m going to keep it up this year.
Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Learning goals

  • Go on Duolingo at least once a week. I asked Jan to think of a goal for me and he suggested a language one, so this is what I’ve come up with. Again, I haven’t actually been doing it ye because I’ve only just come up with it, but starting from February I will give it a go!
  • Learn to crochet. Last year I made myself a goal to take an in-person class/course and the one I was going to do was crochet… but then the pandemic started before I could sign up. I still want to learn to crochet and I’ve already bought a book so I’ll be trying to teach myself this year. Wish my luck!

And that’s it. They all seem achievable and, for the most part, fun. (Not the cleaning ones. Cleaning will never be fun, but will always need to be done).

Do you have any goals for the year? Is there anything new you want to learn while you’re being forced to stay at home? Let me know!

Style imitating art: Nebra Sky Disk

When I saw the inspiration for this round of style imitating art I immediately knew I had to join in. This time the host is Salazar herself, creator of Style Imitating Art, and she chose the Nebra Sky Disk.

When I showed Jan what the inspiration was, he said “Good job you have a dress that’s the exact right colour for the background!” He was referring to one that my mum bought me when I was moving to Austria to be an English language assistant. That was about 15 and a half years ago by the way so it’s held up pretty well! It’s from Primark, if you were wondering.

I added a pair of tights with stars that match the dress (purchased at Karstadt in Karlsruhe, 7 or 8 years ago) then I remembered a necklace that my sister had given me for Christmas a few years ago.

It was Jan’s idea to add the star lights that we still had on the bookcase from Christmas. Please ignore the state of my hair – I thought I could get away with not washing it for one more day but it really does look quite limp and greasy.

Here’s a close up of the necklace. It’s so pretty!

How would you interpret this art in an outfit? If you would like to join in send a photo to 14shadesofgreyblog@gmail.com by Tuesday, 26 January. It can be a flat lay if you prefer not to send a picture of yourself. Then go to 14 Shades of Grey on Wednesday for a round up of everyone’s submissions.

Did I achieve my 2020 goals?

I’ve been meaning to write this for ages, but after working on the computer all day I can’t seem to bring myself to get back on it again in the evening. I do want to finally put a lid on 2020 before January is over though, so here I am – on the computer again after work.

So, what were my goals for 2020 and did I achieve them?

Reading goals

Read 100 books (Good Reads challenge goal). – I read 185 so that’s a win!
Of these:

  • 10 should be non-fiction – Nope. I read 2. One year I’ll actually do this…
  • 12 should be from the BBC Big Read list – I managed 8 last year so I’m going to try and top that. – Again, nope. I read 2. Better than nothing, I guess.
  • 36 should have been physically on my to-read shelf before the year started – I have way too many unread books that I really should be getting to before buying even more! 36 is just three a month, so that gives me plenty of scope for reading newly acquired books I’m excited about. – 88 of the books I read had been physically on my shelf before the start of 2020. So I definitely achieved this one! Said to-read shelf is still overflowing though…
  • 6 should be in German – I have a few German books on my shelves that sound really good but I’ve fallen out of the habit of reading in German so I need to get back to that! – You would think 6 would have been achievable, but no. I read 1 and started another.
  • 12 should be rereads of books I already own and need to read again before deciding whether to keep them (the aim here being to hopefully make room on my shelves for more books). – I managed 6, so half, and I ended up not keeping most of them. So not too bad, but not all that helpful either.

Cleaning goals

Deep clean once per month. I did pretty well on it last year, so I’m sticking with it. This will include:

  • Cleaning the bathrooms/kitchen including mopping the floors
  • Changing the bedding
  • Cleaning the oven (although the new one has a “cleaning” function so that won’t be as hard as it used to be)
  • Hoovering and dusting the entire flat
  • Taking away recycling, etc. as needed

Some of those things I obviously do much more than once a month, but I want to check off that I’ve definitely done them at least once a month. Otherwise I can definitely go several months without ever taking out the mop…

I did indeed do some kind of deep clean once a month, every single month. However, I only dusted three times. And *mumbling, ashamed* I didn’t mop the bathroom floors even once. I am a terrible housewife.

Health goals

  • Eat a piece of fruit or a vegetable with every meal. In 2019 I tried to eat my 5 a day on at least 3 days a week, but it was too hard to track. Someone mentioned they eat fruit or vegetables with every meal (it might have been Hazel? If I’m wrong and it was you let me know!) and I thought it was a great idea so I decided to try doing that in 2020. – Nope. I started well but gave up when I was ill in March then never managed to start again.
  • No more than two cups of black tea per day. – I think I actually achieved this. For a while I stopped drinking black tea entirely and only had green tea in the morning then fruit/herbal teas the rest of the time. I started drinking black tea again in October but I don’t *think* there’s been a single day that I had more than two cups.
  • Drink at least two pint glasses of water per day. – I… don’t know? Honestly, I stopped keeping track.
  • Go for a walk once a week. I did not get even close to enough exercise last year. This will be a start. I will allow walking to the supermarket and back to count if it’s the supermarket at the train station, but not if I walk to any of our local ones. – I only missed two weeks, and I had good reasons for both. Since I also had weeks when I went for more than one walk I’m counting this one as a win.

Social/life goals

  • Write at least two pen pal letters every month. I got way behind last year and didn’t write to some people at all. This year I will be better! I’ve already three in January so I’m winning. – I managed this most months. There was one month that I only wrote one, but since I wrote 7 the month before and at least 2 every other month I’m saying I achieved this.
  • Take some kind of in-person course. It doesn’t matter what, as long as it’s something I have to physically go to and interact with actual people. – Hahahaha. Nope. Clearly not. I found a beginner’s crochet course I wanted to take and had planned to book it after we returned from our trip to Poland. Then came the pandemic. Poland was cancelled and in-person courses were out for the rest of the year. I guess even the universe thinks I’m better off at home away from my fellow humans?

Overall I did pretty well. Apart from the last goal, which was out of my hands. And the fruit/vegetables thing. It’s not as though we ate terribly, but there are definitely days that I only eat one or two portions of veg, so I need to find a way to do better on that. Hopefully I’ll also do a bit better with reading non-fiction and in German this year! Goals for 2021 coming soon.

Do you have any goals for the year? Or will you just be taking things as they come while we continue to deal with everything the world continues to throw at us until the pandemic is over and we can go back to something resembling normal again? Either way, I hope 2021 is all you want it to be.