Books I’ve enjoyed 001

The Aerialists by Katie Munnik is a fictionalised account of a true event which happened in Cardiff at the Fine Art, Industrial and Maritime exhibition in 1896. I was unaware of this exhibition despite it being on a scale to rival England’s 1851 Great Exhibition, held at Crystal Palace. It’s such an interesting story, but I do not want to give any spoilers. At it’s heart this is a story about Laura, we find out about the journey that brought her to the streets of Paris and her life with the Gauldrons. Her story, as you’ve probably guessed, involves flying!

I have to be honest and say that I felt there were some weaknesses in the writing and depiction of the behaviours and dialogue of the characters, particularly as it is set during Victorian times, but overall the story is a good one.

When you’ve read it look up the BBC article published on 24/07/21, 125 years after the festival. (Not before, because it will ruin the book for you.)

French Braid by Anne Tyler follows one family from the 1950s up to the pandemic present day.

The Garrett family take their first and last family holiday in the summer of 1959. They hardly leave their home city Baltimore, but despite this are not a close family.

I love Mercy, the mother of the family. She is definitely a free spirit!

As an Anne Tyler fan I read everything that she publishes, this was definitely a five star read, one of my favourites, alongside Breathing Lessons.

The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs is the fictionalised account of the real life and work of Eliza Acton, while she wrote her famous cookery book in England in 1837. The story also focuses upon Ann Kirby although no facts about her are known, beyond that she worked for Eliza and her mother. But her story helps to round out the book and is a good device to compare and contrast the differing lives and opportunities of the two women.

The Language of Food explores women’s freedoms (or lack of) and limited opportunities to work creatively under their own name. I felt the author successfully conveys the frustration and difficulties which must have been felt by so many.

And finally of course; the food! Luscious descriptions and well written passages illuminate Eliza’s process of developing and testing recipes. (Perhaps luscious is the wrong word for the recipe for brawn featured at the end?!)

Other People Manage by Ellen Hawley is written by a new-to-me author, but I will certainly look out for more of her books.

Set in Minneapolis in the 1970s, it tells the story of two women who meet in a cafe. Marge is a bus driver and Peg is training to be a psychotherapist. You find out about their relationship, the challenges and surprises they face over the next twenty years. Then one day things drastically change. It’s a story about family, love and loss.

I really enjoyed it; the style of writing and low-key tone reminded me of an Anne Tyler novel.

If you read this and don’t fancy making meatloaf (veggies excepted) by the end I’ll be really surprised!

One Day I Shall Astonish the World by Nina Stibbe. Have you read any of Nina’s books? If not, then do! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read Love Nina. And seen the TV adaptation. That’s one of my comfort reads / watches.

I also really liked Paradise Lodge, that’s great fun, with laugh out loud moments. I recommend the Audible version with Helen Baxendale narrating. She really cracked the Leicestershire accent, that isn’t easy.

Anyway, back to One Day I Shall Astonish the World; it focuses on the friendship between Susan and Norma. They are thrown together in a haberdashery shop in Leicestershire in the 1990s. Thirty years later Susan begins to wonder about the choices she has made in her life.

I’m sure all of us can agree that female friendships are weird, brilliant and challenging, when they’re good they can be one of the best things, but strange and stressful when they go awry. I think Nina Stibbe has captured this complex mix extremely well.

A Song for the Dark Times by Ian Rankin. I have a confession to make; this was my first book by Rankin, although I’ve heard him interviewed about every new John Rebus crime novel for years.

It was a bit mad to start with this one, because it is his latest. Number 23 in the series! I haven’t stayed up reading and chanting ‘just one more chapter’ for a long time, but found myself still reading this at 1 AM a few weeks ago. I just couldn’t put it down. I will look out for others in the series now.

Rebus is now retired, but definitely not planning on avoiding looking into other people’s secrets and crimes, he has kept hold of a large pile of folders of unsolved cases…

Before he evens finishes unpacking from downsizing his home, his daughter calls to say that her husband has been missing for two days. Rebus fears the worst and knows that his daughter will be prime suspect. He has to decide if he’s going to go to her as a father, or a detective.

The Keeper of Stories by Sally Page I read last week. It’s such a goody! I felt a little bereft at the end.

Janice is a cleaner and notices people always tell her their stories. (I’ve always experienced that too, so I was drawn to Janice.) Her rule is that she can save one story from each person, but she is very clear: she is the Keeper of Stories and doesn’t have a story to tell about herself. But when she meets Mrs B (who is no fool) things begin to change. Set in Cambridge this is a really lovely story about supporting other people, while finding yourself and realising what you do and do not want. There’s much empathy and masses of everything practical, including DIY. If Janice’s skills don’t leave you feeling a tad inadequate, then I’ll be surprised. There is lots of humour, I laughed out loud often. Look out for the dog. (Warning for the faint-hearted…he swears. A lot.)

Let me know if you decide to read any of the books I’ve recommended. Or maybe you’ve already read some of them? I’d love to know your take.

Time to make a G&T (it’s not Dry Lent anymore woohoo!) and quickly sort out what I want to watch. Someone is fishing with a friend this evening, so I shall make the most of the P&Q. New Grace & Frankie eps are now on Neflix, or do I rewatch The Split’s third series and cry all over again? Or…?

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?