Books I’ve enjoyed 007

I read all year round, but January and February are particularly good months to curl up with a book; it’s cold, icy or wet, dark and the nights are long. I’m already on my fifth and sixth books. I’m glad to be on a bit of a roll with my choices, so far so good anyway. I’m currently reading a debut novel, a detective story set in a wonderfully isolated place. I keep thinking about all sorts of practical issues. I love it when a book engages you so much that you find yourself wondering how you could manage, would you be able to live there? Also I have just started a non-fiction book, due to be published at the end of next month. If it’s interesting I’ll tell you all about it.

The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves

What a fantastic start to the story! A snowy dark evening near Christmas, with a house party in full swing and detective Vera Stanhope nearby when a body is discovered. Plus there is the promise of some backstory about her family, what’s not to like?

Stolen by Ann-Helén Laestadius

Stolen describes the life of a Sámi community, many of whom are part of a reindeer collective in a small village in rural Sweden. It’s an unflinching look at the reality of life there for the people; who experience racism, threats to their way of life and the killing and theft of their reindeer herd.

Elsa is a vital part of her family; she has grown up to become one of the collective, which is against tradition, the role for women has always meant marriage and children, keeping the home fires burning. She’s a very memorable character who carries the story forward with her brave and outspoken ways. Elsa is very much a 21st century woman.

I did not know much at all about the Sámi (commonly known as Lapps, although I have learnt they dislike the term and prefer to be known as Sámi.)

The snowy setting is described so clearly by the author, you feel you are skiing along with Elsa. The winter world drew me in from the beginning. The tension and sense of a family and community under duress is well drawn.

It’s worth highlighting that there are some extremely gruesome parts which detail the harm and killing of reindeer by poachers. It is possible to skip those graphic paragraphs and carry on with the story, without losing a sense of the horror experienced by the community.
Stolen was a little slow in pace for the first part of the book, but I was never tempted to put it down and stop reading. Elsa is a compelling character, you will find yourself wanting to find out what happens to her and her family.

Stolen will be published this Thursday, 2nd February.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

My latest audio book, this is the story of an aging Hollywood actress, once world famous. Evelyn Hugo finally decides to tell her story, detailing her rise to the top of the fame tree, the lives she intersected with, the men she married and a long held secret.

There is a dual storyline about Monique the journalist to whom Evelyn chooses to tell her story. Why did Evelyn choose a rather obscure writer? The story starts with Evelyn’s move to LA in the 1950s up to her decision to leave Showbusiness in the 1980s.

At first I was wondering why I would be interested, couldn’t really remember why I selected this book awhile back. Would it be a shallow story? Then… I really got into it! It’s a goodie. I recommend the audio book. The narrators are very convincing.

Then, if you’ve liked the style of writing try the author’s Daisy Jones and the Six. I liked that even more.

The Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn

A transporting, irresistible debut novel that
takes its heroine, Cristabel Seagrave, from a
theatre in the gargantuan cavity of a beached
whale into undercover operations during World
War Il-a story of love, family, bravery, lost
innocence, and self-transformation.
From GoodReads.

I’ve just read this book and loved it. I snapped it up when it was a Kindle Daily Deal for 99p. There is a big cast of characters, a brilliant seaside setting for the first part of the book, complete with a a rambling old house (we all love those, don’t we?), servants who become as close as family in some cases, World War II draws in and the story moves to France. It’s an absorbing novel with sympathetic characters. I would really love to read more about Cristabel, post-war.

As a side note; this was quite an interesting read too because I’m sometimes contacted by a blog reader who works as a transcriber, translating books into Czech for a publishing company. There are some phrases in this nove, which I probably wouldn’t have thought too deeply about, except they jumped out at me because I’d been sent several to provide synonyms, or explanations for. I hadn’t known which book she was transcribing when I received most of the emails. So found it fascinating to see how my take fitted when I knew the characters and the overall context.

The Paper Palaceby Miranda Cowley Heller

I’m quite torn about this book. I’ve thought of adding it here quite a few times and dithered several times since I read it last autumn.

The descriptions of the setting, the lake and woods I really enjoyed, and I can see why there are parallels with Where the Crawdads Sing. Heller’s writing evokes a very strong sense of place. It’s just unfortunate that all of the children, especially the sons, of boyfriends, stepfather and family friends are all so strange, if not downright unpleasant. Also nearly every boyfriend or step-father is weak, hateful, controlling or worse. Pretty much every character in-fact is unsympathetic. The only ones who you might feel you’d like to meet would be Anna and Dixon.

Eleanor’s mother has all the best lines, she’s the one with some humour and gosh it’s really needed by the end.

I completely agree with other reviewers that there should be trigger warnings on the blurb of this book and certainly on all the book selling sites. The content is not what you expect from what is essentially described as a love story, a love triangle. There are explicitly disturbing scenes from the beginning of the book onwards.

The Unseen by Katherine Webb

England, 1911. When a free-spirited young
woman arrives in a sleepy Berkshire village to
work as a maid in the household of The
Reverend and Mrs Canning, she sets in motion
a chain of events which changes all their lives.
For Cat has a past – a past her new mistress is
willing to overlook, but will never
understand ..This is not all Hester Canning has
to cope with. When her husband invites a
young man into their home, he brings with him
a dangerous obsession…During the long,
oppressive summer, the rectory becomes
charged with ambition, love and jealousy – with
the most devastating consequences.
From GoodReads

I read this years ago, loved it at the time and as it’s shelved on my Couldn’t put down shelf on GoodReads, I thought I’d share it with you. I’ve read The Legacy and Half Forgotten Song, but The Unseen was my favourite, by far.

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How have you been? Has January been good to you. It’s been a mix for me, I have to say. Not great, but that’s life. I can’t believe it’s the last day of the month already.

Have you been reading during the long dark cold nights of January? (Or are you in the Southern Hemisphere, basking in the warmth with a book and a cold drink?)

December

Visiting: Blenheim Palace to see the rooms decorated, the theme was the story of the Snow Queen this year, magical and so Christmassy on 23rd December. Perfect

Making: Mulled Cider, again

Making: Rainbow salad sprinkled with mixed seeds, a lot of crunch drizzled with a lemony, sesame dressing

Staring: at the beautiful sunsets

Cooking: Spicy rice with mixed peppers, mushrooms and tender-stem broccoli later. I need another meatless meal, it’s come to that point in the week. I found a Facebook memory which said similar on this day a year or two ago. Though I opted for fish pie back then

Visiting: Waddesdon Manor Christmas on 18th. The Manor was decorated nicely, but the weather for the outdoor market and illuminations eeek! It was only 3 degrees with pelting rain for the whole time. I became cold to the bone, brrrr!

Reading: a very promising advance reader copy of a novel to be published next summer. It’s about a heist planned by an all women team, in London in 1905. As I read I keep seeing it as a film, the writing is very cinematic. If the other half is as good I’ll tell you more about it near the publication date. I really hope it continues to be this good, I’m enjoying it so much

Wondering: about joining a book club but unsure I want to read others’ choices, especially as the first of next month is by Matt Haig. I’m not a fan, so far

Looking: at the sparkles on the Christmas tree

Listening: to music

Wishing: for a happy and healthy New Year for me and mine, you and yours too

Enjoying: crocheting by the Christmas tree, my bobble cowl is really growing. I can do around 40 minutes at a sitting, a couple of times a week. It’s slow crochet, but better than no crochet

Appreciating: the texture of this ball of Hayfield Spirit yarn, it’s got a crunchy crispy texture and great stitch definition

Sipping: Twinnings Spicy ginger tea. Tasty and warming while I am

Eating: Artisan du Chocolat salted maple caramels, bliss!

Liking: Crimbo Limbo very much; this chilled out time which is like no other during the rest of the year between Christmas and New Year

Loving: Carols From Kings College Cambridge, such a Christmas Eve tradition, did you watch it too? I know it’s broadcast around the world. Did you join in with Hark the Herald and realise it was pitched too high, for the choir boys? Tee hee

Buying: tea bags, peppers, red and yellow tomatoes, hovering over reduced parcel toppers and eco friendly twine for next Christmas and thinking “Nah! I can’t face it buying it all again.”

Feeling: reflective

Managing: a verbal Gold Star from my excellent physio therapist yesterday, for my “self-mobilisation”. December has been a challenge; full of exercises, walks, hot water bottles, massage, stretches, Sarah Keys Back Block stretches before bed. If you know, you know…

Watching: Ghostbusters, Knives Out, Ghosts Christmas special (made tears roll down my face at the end remembering those who have gone), Mortimer and Whitehouse Gone Fishing Christmas Special, The Snowman, The Snowman and the Snowdog (Someone is always so sad when the dog dies) Mrs Brown’s Boys (terrible, but traditional) The King’s Speech on Christmas Day (not the film, the actual King.) Tonight it might be Detectorists Christmas special or the second Knives Out film or…

Noticing: it’s lighter later, or is that wishful thinking? It’s lighter 2 minutes earlier every day from 21st after all

Hoping: those who have been unwell over Christmas will be much better soon

Wearing: relaxed house clothes, leaning against a hot water bottle. Prob unsafe, but far more comfy than a lumpy wheat bag

Following: our own agenda this week, while calling in to see older relatives regularly, we know we’re lucky to have them

Sorting: out how to use my new Contigo mug

Getting: lots of lovely things to use, drink and cook

Coveting: another year of Spotify Premium, mine ends on Sunday. I’ll miss it

Hearing: Holding onto You by Olivia Broadfield, one of the tracks on my ‘Soothing’ Spotify playlist, but it’s Goal of the Century which still makes my heart lift everytime it begins to play. I’ve been gradually adding to the playlist for years, it’s gorgeous. Perfect for Crimbo Limbo week

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How are you? Have you celebrated Christmas, had time to chill, or is it work as usual? Either way I hope you’re healthy and have escaped the lurgy. I’ve know so many have been affected this week, I’ve sent much love and healing vibes to them.

It’s my blogging birthday on New Year’s Eve on Saturday, eleven years! 11. WOW.

Baby it’s cold outside!

After marvelling about the geraniums still blooming with more buds to open and roses on bushes during November and into the beginning of December, and lots of mutterings about climate change, the weather decided to move into a proper old-fashioned winter. The type we used to have. It started with a heavy frost last Saturday and then snowed on Sunday morning. It’s been very cold all week.

The grocery delivery was delayed on Tuesday morning because the driver said she helped tow someone out of a ditch, as their car had slipped off the road. What a heroine.

It’s really cold out today, it was -6 at 7 o’clock this morning, it’s now noon and is 0°. The snow still hasn’t melted in places, but it looks absolutely beautiful, it’s a winter wonderland!

I’ve loved wrapping up warmly and going for walks. As long as you keep moving briskly, it’s fine. And however cool the house is when you return it feels absolutely roasting in contrast.

I made mulled cider with a measure of Angostura rum on Sunday, which was definitely warming. It practically put me to sleep by 8 o’clock.

I’ve cooked a spicy lentil parsnip and apple soup this week, you can find the recipe here on BBC Good Food site. When I first made it last year I found it a little sweet, so I cut down the amount of apple down to half, but it’s obviously all down to personal taste. It’s worth looking out for Justine Pattison’s recipes, I think she’s really good.

When I’ve been for an icy blast of a walk, soup is what I crave to warm me up and fill the gap at lunchtime.

I’ve made a double batch of mincemeat this week. Ooh the smells in the kitchen were amazing. It’s made with dried cranberries, a mixture of raisins, sultanas, citrus peels, fresh orange zest and juice, Bramley apples, mixed spice and a quadruple of something very alcoholic! It’s a make and use now, or store in a cool place for six months recipe. But it’s so good, there’s no way there’s going to be any left in a month’s time.

I’m making my own pastry for the first time in absolutely years next week and taking mince pies to share with two special people. Wish me luck with the pastry!

I’ve been waiting for publishing day to tell you about The Secrets of Rochester Place by Iris Costello. It’s a goodie.

There are multiple characters and timelines from 1937, leading to the beginning of the Second World War and the current day.

The Secrets of Rochester Place begins with a ship of Basque children being evacuated to England, following the bombing of Guernica in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. There is also detail about the Irish famine and the fight for independence from The United Kingdom, when Mary is introduced into the story, plus there is quite a bit about Grace O’Malley, the 16th century Irish pirate Queen. In short there is a lot of history, which roots the story and characters into their times and helps to illustrate their motivations.

The story moves on to the beginning of the Second World War and the Blitz. There is a lot going on! (Lots of further reading too, with a helpful bibliography at the end of the novel, for those who are interested in learning more.)
There are a few mysteries at the heart of this book; what has happened to Theresa the young child who has been brought to England as a place of safety, who is Mary Davidson the woman who fosters Theresa and where is Theresa’s sister? And many more missing people, but I will not reveal any more for fear of plot spoilers.


I was gripped. I really liked the quality of the writing, the pace of the book, the jumping back and forth in time and the (mostly) London setting. Overall this is a really absorbing read. Let me know if you try it?

As for crafting I’m still hooked on bobbles. I’m crocheting a Christmas tree! Of course I am, aren’t we all at this time of year?! Free pattern on See Love Share blog here.

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What are you doing, cooking, reading and crafting?

I hope you’re managing to stay warm and cosy, or cool and comfortable if you’re not waking up to -6° temps.

* I am editing this while balancing on my wooden 66 Fit rocker board for 5 minutes. Google if you don’t know what it is. I think you might be impressed! I’m multitasking; blogging while doing some of my physio.