Books I’ve enjoyed 002

A Tidy Ending by Joanna Cannon

Linda is on the face of it not a very interesting character; she is living the kind of life that millions of people live day by day. Going to work, plodding along, cooking uninspired dinners and pushing the hoover around the house. There is no real communication, or any sense of a spark of connection between Linda and Terry, her husband.

There is plenty of black humour and characters who are all too familiar in this book. From Linda’s mother to nose-in-everything neighbour Malcolm. What happens after the girls on the estate go missing and turn up one by one is very well plotted. I don’t want to say anything more about it all, as I’d hate to spoil it for other readers.

The Beloved Girls by Harriet Evans

Fantastic!

Twisty turny, with a slow-building atmosphere of menace. I had so many questions and thoughts about what might happen when I was not reading, always a good sign of a compelling story.

This novel is deftly plotted, with leaps back and forth in time and to completely different settings. 1989 was interesting, the references took me straight back to my teens. Researching (or just remembering?) that period must have been fun.

The characterisation is solid; because despite a large cast I was never confused about who was who.

It also has to be said (because I bet I’m not the only one) that any book which is set within a large country house and grounds gets my vote too. Woodland, a pool and a view of the sea too? Tick, tick, tick!

My heart was beating so hard by the end. Loved it. This is a book I’ve already recommended to many friends. 5 *****

Meredith, Alone by Claire Alexander

An engrossing read as we find out exactly what has driven Meredith to stay in her house for over three years, and what happened to cause her to become alienated from her family. Along the way she makes two new friends who have some issues of their own.

Meredith, Alone is in the same genre as Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and A Man Called Ove. All are linear stories following characters who have deeply personal issues to resolve, as they form new relationships along the way and change through the course of the story.

Meredith is a really sympathetic character, so proactive in her self-care and very likeable, while supportive of others. I imagine the dishes Meredith makes and the items she bakes will inspire. It certainly makes for a cosy read. The food, the cups of tea and the cat. Perfect.

There is one aspect of the story that could have been much darker, which could have changed the path of the story as it moved forward in the present time, but the author chose not to go there.

Breadsong by Kitty and Al Tait

What a fabulous book! It’s warm hearted, honest and incredibly positive. You feel there is nothing the family won’t overcome, because there’s no such thing as giving up. There’s a problem, then there’s research, teamwork and problem solving. Breadsong is a very uplifting read. Yes, I found myself welling up at times, but then I was laughing out loud and I’m pretty sure there were a few shouted “Hurrays!” And, of course, there is bread. A lot of bread.

I’ve been making bread every week since 2014 when I read The Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan, a warm and cosy novel which really inspired me to make my own. After all I’d grown up eating homemade bread, I knew how much better it was than shop bought. My Mum would come home on a Friday night after working hard all week and make a batch of loaves. I’d wait the minimum amount of time allowed to cut a slice or two. I always spread the crust with butter and honey. For the last 4 years I’ve been baking sourdough, also inspired by some of the bakers Kitty mentions. (Happy 4th Birthday Marve the Marvellous starter!) So, I completely and utterly understand the appeal of dough and baking. It is therapeutic and apart from ending with something hugely tasty to eat, you feel a huge sense of achievement.

I can’t wait to try some of the recipes, in Breadsong. I didn’t realise that there would be so many! HURRAY!

Also I should go and visit the bakery sometime soon. Who can resist a visit after seeing all the beautiful photographs in the book? (And on their wonderful Instagram account.)

Appetite by Ed Balls

Part memoir, part cookbook, this is a very engaging read. I found the descriptions of Ed Ball’s years working in government very interesting. I also loved snippets about Ed’s family life both then and now. Ed always seems likeable on TV and radio appearances and comes across favourably in this well-written book.

I’ve saved some of the recipes to try: including the baked chocolate mousse, the custard (I’ve never actually made custard from scratch, so when it comes around to apple picking time I might make a crumble and serve it with homemade custard, instead of my usual extra thick double cream. My husband will be pleased) the soups and Cajun beans, which I plan to cook this week.

I noted how the finer details of recipes were sometimes lacking, for instance: how big a shoulder of pork for the bbq recipe? Around how many bananas might be required for the stated 425g? Smaller shops do not have scales to weigh produce and it is useful to know in advance. Do you remove the garlic from their skins and eat in the chicken soup, or discard when serving? When making the Yorkshire puddings the instructions state to divide the batter equally, but it does not say around how many portions the roast beef and puddings serves, so it would be rather a guessing game the first time. We tend to take specifics for granted when reading the cookbooks of experienced food writers. None of these are insurmountable problems, but some recipes could be tweaked a little.

Ed’s observations of the Sundays of his youth with the rituals and the patterns of roast lunch, football, the BBC serial and teatime were interesting as he states it was a true day of rest. I’m certain that his Mum didn’t get much rest! However I enjoyed the nostalgia of reading his recalling those quieter, far less commercial Sundays.

I quite often look up unfamiliar words when reading, my favourite in this book was policy wonk! I didn’t think it for a minute it would be in any dictionary. I thought it was probably political slang. Wrong!

I hope there are more books from Ed as I genuinely enjoyed reading his stories and would definitely read another of his books, if it was in a similar vein.

This is not a Pity Memoir by Abi Morgan

Heartwrenching, hopeful, a testament to love, family and loyalty. There is also humour, a lot of it bleak, but it lightens the reading of what is a devastating story.

Very best wishes to Abi, Jacob and their families.

~~~~~~~~~~~

And there you go, there’s a booklist for your holiday reading, or for lounging about on sunny afternoons (or for cosy winter nights if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere.)

What about you, have you read any corkers lately?

Cosy Friday afternoon

Brrrr! It’s suddenly got properly wintry cold and I’m not jumping the gun; I know we are still in autumn, but by golly it’s all changed this week. I never say by golly. I’m not an oldie, or from an Enid Blyton or PG Wodehouse book, but it just seems to fit. (I’m grinning at myself. I’ve been teased in the past for using words like poorly and gosh, but it only makes me use them more.) When you look out of the window first thing and all the conifer hedges are white, the grass is white and the cars are white… It’s definitely an old-fashioned “By golly it’s cold !” kind of week.

I’ve just been on the phone for nearly an hour and a half and added some rounds to my granny square. I can’t remember whether this is the last one I need to do, or if it’s the penultimate square. It is such good ‘phone crochet: mindless, easy and an enjoyable rhythm. It’s really relaxing too, while the conversation meanders along.

On Monday I approached a shop assistant and said I had a really bizarre question to ask her. She looked delighted and said “Bring it on! It makes the time go faster.” Bless her.

I’d lined up three or four different shades of green, and asked her which one was most Brussels sprout like? She really threw herself into it and reckoned it was this one, but then when we checked a photo decided that it could be a couple of different shades. To keep things simple I bought this one (a bargain £1.49) and promised to go back to show her a photo of the finished sprout! She was definitely keen to see it.

This all came out of a photo that my cousin sent me of a knitted Brussels sprout you can buy from White Stuff. £8! For one Brussels sprout decoration! Of course it set us both off with a flurry of messages. She reminded me that she knitted some a few Christmases ago and gave me one. I’d forgotten because all the Christmas decs are in a box, up in the loft. I hope I forget again and then it will be a nice surprise in December. We did laugh at the time, because her knitted Brussels sprouts all looked furious… we’re wondering if my crochet version will be happier. I’ll be looking for a pattern, but not until the Gingerbread Man has at least another leg and his body. Then I will be cosy and crocheting sprouts. Don’t think I ever expected to write that.

Here’s the White Stuff sprout. And I’m not even right, he’s not £8, he’s £8.50! Blimey.

Friday night is Pizza Night this week. My sourdough starter is bubbling away by the radiator. It’s the first time the bowl has been left anywhere other than on the kitchen side, since early Spring. But it needs to be in a warm place while the yeast activates. It certainly seems happy. I can’t wait to eat a few slices of pizza while watching a film later. My no-cook pizza sauce will be spread on the dough, with toppings of red onion, peppers, salami, Kalamata olives and a good handful of mozzarella. Yum yum yum coming soon.

And WOOHOO! Friday Night is also Craft Gin Night! I cheered as I opened the door to the lovely post lady. She said she’s delivered other November gin boxes today as well.

I’ve opened the box, but won’t show you the contents yet. I don’t want to put any spoilers online, as I’d hate to think that I might ruin the surprise for any member who reads this blog. It always feels a bit like Christmas, or as if a birthday present has been delivered. I will put a photo of the contents here soon. I will say that I absolutely love the gin bottle label and am intrigued about the where it’s come from… as young woman my Granny worked there as a Nanny, a long time ago.

If you’re in the UK and want £20 off your first 2 boxes, you can use this referral code for Craft Gin Club Gin Pals. I get points, you get 2 big boxes of half price goodies. Then you can cancel and not have anymore ever. Bet you will though! If you clicked the code when I mentioned it before, I hope you enjoyed your tipples and treats.

This week we’ve had some absolutely stunning sunsets. Last night I could see something orange glowing through the frosted glass of the bathroom window, before I pulled the blind down. I went to the bedroom to have a look and WOW! As the sky got darker the orange and gold seemed to intensify. It was fantastic.

My current read. I started an advance reader copy last night (in return for an honest review) and I have found it difficult to put down. I loved Joanna’s debut The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and enjoyed Three Things about Elsie, so am delighted that I’ve got her third book. It’s out next Spring. I’ll let you know nearer the time if it’s worth buying or reserving at the library. So far, so good.

Do you also find that themes or characters seem to continue in your next book? I just read another ARC called Other People Manage by Ellen Hawley and the main (USA) character Marge was a very tall and big girl. Often she felt awkward or uncomfortable around others. Linda (British) in this story is the same. Similarities often jump out, with settings or characters. It’s completely random too, as I often do not know much at all about the books I choose. I just quickly scan the blurb, or not at all if I know the author, as they give too much away.

If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere are you staying cosy? Or are you in the Southern? Is it a warm Spring?

Most importantly: what are you planning to make, eat and are you reading anything you can’t put down?

A third 

Rather than tidy away leftover yarn from The Blackberry Ripple I just grabbed a hook and began another star ripple blanket. It’s such a neat little pattern by Celeste Young and can be found here on Ravelry.

The first, made a few years ago, I gave to my hairdresser for her new baby. She used it as a car blanket and said it was a perfect size. The second I sent off to Knit for Peace along with the Baby Hexagon blanket and the Squares and Stripes blanket. I’m not sure what I’ll do with this third one; I’m not making it for any reason other than to make something new. Ahem, also after my Dry Lent finishes I thought it might be good to take to the pub, when I meet up with other crafty people, as it’s simple and easy. You know what I’m saying?!

I’m still listening to The Trouble with Goats and Sheep  by Joanna Cannon (still very good) and have picked up  The Cursed Child by J.K Rowling et al once again.

Ginny has decided to stop hosting the Yarn Along, while I thoroughly support her decision I am sad because I’ve enjoyed joining in so much. I’m wondering if I could host a similar weekly link-up? But it obviously requires participants…

The final round 

If you’re reading this then you already know how we woolly types like to live life in the fast lane; regularly playing yarn chicken, Googling wool shops whenever we visit somewhere new and fearlessly knitting and crocheting in pubs. So what you see now won’t surprise you…I’m doing the two colour edging rows in one go, the yarns chasing each other around the edge! I know – yikes! 

 I’m listening to The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon and loving it. Actress Paula Wilcox is a great narrator and so far I’ve laughed out loud lots of times. Do you remember the long hot summer of ’76? (My wax crayons melted.)

I’m joining in with Ginny’s Yarn Along