Tuesday, March 31, 2015

March Book Update

Back at the start of the year, I made a plan to try to read through books I owned, and not buy new books until I'd made a substantial reduction in the (unread) books I owned. I did, however, allow myself library books (both those I order in because they are part of a series I'm reading and those which I happen to see which take my fancy) and a few gifts, e.g. birthday and Mother's Day. 

In January, I didn't gain any books, but I read a lot of stuff from the library and a few re-reads from what I already own, so I only managed to remove 2 titles from my list.  In February I added one title to my pile, bought in the charity shop, but even with some re-reading of other titles, I managed to read 6 books from the list and get rid of one after a few chapters - that's a net reduction of 8 books so far in 2015. March, on the other hand, has pretty much tipped the balance the other way. I blame this on charity shops, bookshops, authors who write more than one good title and well, on my own basic lack of willpower when it comes to buying books...

Reading in March: 
  • I managed to read 4 titles from my list. Not that many, but one of them was one of the longest books waiting tbr (the others being the Bill Bryson and the Amy Tan) so that's something of an accomplishment... (Island of Wings  by Karin Altenberg, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith and The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy by James Anderson, which I am less than 40 pages from the end of, so I'm counting it in March)
  • I bought four books from charity shops (City of Beasts by Isabel Allende, The Whole Day Through by Patrick Gale, The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood and Virals by Kathy Reichs - these are all books by authors I've read before rather than total impulse purchases, so that's something!) and got a book for Mother's Day (The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton). I also ordered one book online from AbeBooks (Goodnight, Nebraska by Tom McNeal) and bought four books in Waterstones (Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor, The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith, The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides and The Apothecary's Daughter by Charlotte Betts)
  • I read one library book this month - something which a friend recommended and which sounded good from the description (To be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal) - luckily ended up being one of my favourite reads so far this year.
  • I read some YA fiction which we already owned (The Maze Runner series by James Dashner), but which weren't on my reading pile, so they count as books read, but not as reductions from the list.
Which is a net loss - and 6 books added to the list (though it's still down over the whole of 2015 so far, though only just!), but then again, nobody's perfect. Especially me, when it comes to buying books. Or not buying them - I'm quite good at buying them!

Here's the updated list of Books to Read in 2015.  There are now 55 books on the list, with 9 months to go. That's 6 books from the list per month. Yes, it's still achievable, especially if I stop buying books. We'll see how that works for me!
  1. Isabel Allende, City of Beasts (charity shop, March 2015)
  2. Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin (charity shop, March 2015)
  3. Gerhand Bakker, The Twin 
  4. Charlotte Betts, The Apothecary's Daughter (Waterstones, March 2015)
  5. Jessie Burton, The Miniaturist (Mother's Day 2015)
  6. Bill Bryson, One Summer: America 1927
  7. Michael Collins, The Resurrectionists
  8. Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (this one would be a re-read)
  9. Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles
  10. Jim Crace, Harvest
  11. Esi Edugyan, Half Blood Blues
  12. Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides (Waterstones, March 2015)
  13. Jim Fergus, One Thousand White Women (Summer 2013)
  14. Anne Fine, All Bones and Lies
  15. Fannie Flagg, Can't Wait to get to Heaven (Feb 2015, charity shop)
  16. Ford Maddox Ford, Parade's End (Nov 2012 - birthday present - bought after the BBC adaptation - but I knew I wouldn't read it straight away as I wanted to let time pass from the adaptation.  Enough time has probably passed now...)
  17. E M Forster, Howards End
  18. Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Christmas 2014)
  19. Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career
  20. Robert Galbraith, The Silkworm (Waterstones, March 2015)
  21. Patrick Gale, Rough Music
  22. Patrick Gale, The Whole Day Through
  23. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (re-read, bought shortly after his death - spring 2014 - as I was reminded how much I enjoyed it and I didn't seem to own a copy - think my old one fell apart, probably...)
  24. Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South
  25. Rumer Godden, Kingfishers Catch Fire
  26. Laurie Graham, A Humble Companion
  27. Graham Greene, Brighton Rock
  28. Nicholas Griffin, The House of Sight and Shadow
  29. Jane Haddam, Glass Houses
  30. Laurell K Hamilton, Bloody Bones
  31. Anjali Joseph, Sarasawati Park
  32. Jim Lynch, The Highest Tide
  33. W Somerset Maugham, The Magician
  34. Tom McNeal, Goodnight, Nebraska (AbeBooks, March 2015)
  35. Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran
  36. Kate O'Brien, The Land of Spices
  37. Regina O'Melveny, The Book of Madness and Cures
  38. Michael Ondaatje, The Cat's Table
  39. Anuradha Roy, An Atlas of Impossible Longing (Winter 2013, bought in a cheap shop in Oxford)
  40. Kathy Reichs, Spider Bones
  41. Kathy Reichs, Virals (charity shop, March 2015)
  42. Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Watcher in the Shadows (Christmas 2014)
  43. Richard Russo, Straight Man
  44. Simon Sebag Montefiore, One Night in Winter
  45. Muriel Spark, Memento Mori
  46. Mark Slouka, The Visible World
  47. Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Summer 2013 - a re-read, as I read it when a teen)
  48. Magda Szabo, The Door
  49. Amy Tan, The Valley of Amazement
  50. Laini Taylor, Dreams of Gods and Monsters (Waterstones, March 2015)
  51. Rose Tremaine, Merivel
  52. Rose Tremaine, Music & Silence
  53. Barry Unsworth, The Ruby in her Navel 
  54. Ayelet Waldman, Love and Treasure (new in December 2014)
  55. December, Elizabeth Winthrop

Dinner, 31/3/15: Sweet-Sour Salmon, Pak Choi, Rice

I had a side of salmon in the freezer, thanks to Ocado doing half-price sales on such things. Just about manages to feed all six of us (my mother visiting). Modified this recipe below to make more marinade, but the basics are all there.

The Great Dye Eggs-periment...or, Any Colour So Long As It's Blue

So, having been encouraged by other people in dying brown eggs - both people I don't know, blogging across the interwebs and people I do know (Hi, Barbara!) - I decided to have another go at dyeing brown eggs.  I used a stronger concentration of dye than I've used before and left the eggs in for quite a while (15 minutes  or so)...and here were the results: 

The top right is a regular, un-dyed egg, I didn't dye it because it split open in boiling a bit, so I thought it would be a bit extreme inside if dyed. The others were all in dye baths. You can tell that they were coloured, if you look hard, and compare to the un-dyed egg, but on the whole, only the colours made from blues and the black really came out at all well. The red was a complete dud (bottom left - I expected better). 

So I re-did the dud ones in the blue baths and now have a load of very pretty blue and black Easter Eggs. So much for that!

Books In...I know, right?

Actually, if you think about it, given the fact that I went into (I think) six different charity shops today, I did pretty well... Also bought a pair of linen trousers, and a few DVDs...

Monday, March 30, 2015

Dinner, 30/3/15: Lemon and Herb Chicken with Orzo

...and a salad.  Totally forgot to take a photo before eating (my mum arrived today for a visit, so it's been a bit more busy than usual - I don't usually end up with people standing chatting to me while I cook, I guess), but luckily, there were some leftovers to photograph...  We've had this before and really like it - it's easy, and dumping the orzo in with the cooking juices from the chicken gives it a lovely flavour...

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Dinner, 29/3/15: Cauliflower and Spinach Dhansak

An old standby. Can't even say how many times I've cooked this, but it always works.

Book 24: The Cuckoo's Calling, Robert Galbraith

All thoughts of JK Rowling aside, this was a super book. A very quick read (because I tend to devour crime fiction when it's good, and this was extremely good) and I've already obtained the next one in the series, though I'll probably put it aside until I need another sure-thing-crime-read (meaning one I know I'll enjoy rather than end up frustrated with for poor characters, poor plot or poor writing).   I'm not surprised this is well-written and well-plotted, as I've read the Harry Potter books, so I am well aware of just how good Rowling/Galbraith is with those things. This was just the right amount of hard-boiled for me - not too dark, but not all bright and cheery either. The plot was well-drafted and although I did consider the possibility that the murderer was indeed the murderer it was by no means a sure or obvious thing* and I couldn't quite make it work (which is why I'm not the person plotting the novel in the first place - one of many reasons). I liked both detective characters in this - Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin and look forward to reading more of their adventures.  I'm always glad to have a couple of crime series to fall back on and as the authors I like can't write as fast as I can read, it's good to have another one (other current favourites include Louise Penny and Donna Leon).

*and anyway, I always consider how every substantial character might have done it - after all, SOMEONE has to be the murderer, right? It's not like real life where you might never track the murderer down - in books it has to be one of the characters or it's cheating!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Waterstones made me do it...

Probably, I just shouldn't go into bookshops. But then again, I do have to do my share of making sure that real, live bookshops off the internet don't completely vanish off the planet, right? Here are the second in two series (well, Dreams of Gods and Monsters is a sequel rather than 2nd in a series) of which I've read the first - the first  Robert Galbraith is my current book, and I have about 50 pages to go - it's excellent.  The Jeffrey Eugenides is his first book, which got excellent reviews, and as I enjoyed Middlesex so much I definitely wanted to read it. The last book is just a browse book, but it looked good. As I said, I really shouldn't go into bookshops at all...

Friday, March 27, 2015

Dinner, 27/3/15: Pea & New Potato Curry

Served with flatbreads. Tasty. 

Book in...

I was enjoying To Be Sung Underwater so much that I felt I had to read his first book - unfortunately, my library system didn't have it at all (even in the London-wide option, which is unusual), so I decided to order it from AbeBooks, and shortly after, received this nice used copy, for a very reasonable price. March is not going to be the best month for book reduction, I can tell!  On the other hand, lots of great things to read...

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Book 23: To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal

Well now, this. A new author to me, from a friend's recommendation list, and golly am I glad. Just the sort of thing I like to read. Perhaps not entirely perfect; I read a review which argued that the main character's mid-life unravelling (for it was not entirely a crisis) was not entirely supported, and that's a fair point, but in many ways, it's a minor quibble from a book so beautifully written and on the whole compelling. My only reservation - and frankly, it's minor - is that I liked the glimpses of the younger self of the protagonist so much more than the present day one (who seemed a little underdrawn) that I kept wondering how she went from A to B. Which is guess, is similar to the review's point made above.  I have ordered (I know, I know) another title (Goodnight, Nebraska) from this author - the library system didn't have it, so I've bought a used copy from AbeBooks. It's supposed to be even better  so I'm looking forward to it... And as my dad lived in Nebraska for a number of years, I have a little fondness for books set there - so long as I don't have to live there myself. All that winter; no thanks!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dinner, 24/3/15: What's in the Fridge Fritatta

This was originally going to involve new potatoes (and peas & courgettes & onions), but then I discovered that we hadn't bought them on Saturday.  So I threw in some sun blush tomatoes and a couple of pieces of bacon, which were lurking in the fridge. And served it with lots of toast.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Dinner, 22/3/15: Chicken with olives and chickpeas

The chicken and olives were cooked together in the oven, while the chickpeas were done in a pan on the cooker (the oven potatoes I just added) - all were nice, though. And easy. And as I had a £3 voucher for chicken from Waitrose, the whole meal cost practically nothing, which is even nicer...

Present from Lausanne

...courtesy of Geoff, who has been away for a few days on business. Can't go to Switzerland without buying some chocolates, right?

Marsden March

The kids and I did the Marsden March today - 14 miles from the Royal Marsden in Chelsea to the Royal Marsden in Sutton. It was a long walk, but good fun. If you want to see loads and loads of pictures, I've put them all on Facebook (most of you probably saw them there already anyway...)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

My exciting Saturday

Actually, my Saturdays aren't usually that exciting, what with being filled with swimming lessons (Alex), music theory classes (Olivia), maths tutoring (Sarah - she's the tutor, not the tutee), grocery shopping (me) and various other things. However, this week was even more so than some, as we had loads of errands to run in our local high street, including an appointment at the optometrist for Sarah (verdict: yep, she's begun the slippery slope of myopia and will need glasses (very small prescription) for seeing things at a distance) and loads of other stuff. Geoff is away, so we decided to grab a bite to eat at Nando's (new one opened in New Malden back in December) when we were done - about 2.30 in the afternoon - and then forego dinner. Here's my chicken wings with garlic bread and fries (the two sides were shared around), some little knit hats in the coffee shop from the Innocent Big Knit, and yes, a couple of books from the charity shop - though one was bought with Geoff in mind. Which isn't to say I won't read it, but I bought it mainly for him as it's an author he likes (Andrew Taylor) and a ghost story...  The Patrick Gale is mine, but as he's an author I always like, I felt justified. Someday I should take a picture of all the books I look at and don't buy!


We none of us had room for dessert after our meal out last night, but as we were in Picadilly Circus, we decided to pick up a treat for the morning. Mmmm...

Friday, March 20, 2015

An evening in London

We met up with some old (or perhaps it's better to say "long-time") friends in London, for an evening stroll around the National Gallery (which is open until 8 or 9 on Friday nights) and then some dinner.  I always love London, at night or during the day, so it was fun.  My friend Michael had never been to London before, although his wife lived here briefly many years ago... Geoff is away at the moment, so he wasn't able to join us, but the kids and I had a lovely time and a great dinner, thanks to Spaghetti House (which does much better food than one might surmise from the name, which seems kind of downmarket). 

Book 22: Middlesex, Jeffery Eugenides

This was a long but very readable family epic type story, with all kinds of fun features like Greek immigrants, recessive genetics, speakeasies, love between cousins (and siblings) and of course, a hermaphroditic narrator. I enjoyed it, though - great writing (as long as you can deal with that sort of sardonic narration style - personally, I am usually a fan of that sort of thing - reminds me of John Irving, who I usually like very much) and a good, compelling story - we know from the outset that the hermaphroditic narrator's condition is the result of a genetic bomb so as we follow the family's story from generation to generation, we are waiting to see what happens and how the whole thing develops, and...  I haven't read his first book (the highly praised Virgin Suicides) but I think I might now have to go back and check it out; if it's anywhere near as good a story as this, it would definitely be worth it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Dinner, 18/3/15: Chicken Soup

Leftovers from the pot roast on the weekend, with a bit of added barley, a little more veg and some leeks I had hanging out in the fridge.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Dinner, 17/3/15: Courgette and Lemon Spaghetti

Yeah, I know, the recipe says linguine. I'm a rebel... Another easy midweek dinner - quick, healthy, cheap - my favourite. Served with some granary bread (not pictured)...

Monday, March 16, 2015

Book 21: The Death Cure, James Dashner

I've actually been reading another book in the interim, but took time out to finish this trilogy once it was done with by other house readers. It was a satisfying conclusion, for the most part; I found the whole series very enjoyable, though as I said before, very action based. Would definitely recommend this series to teen boys who are a little reluctant to get stuck into a good book.

Dinner, 16/3/15: Yellow Lentil and Cauliflower Curry with Coconut

Curry. With lentils. And cauliflower. And coconut. What more is there to say? (ok, and some cashews thrown on, as well...)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Dinner, 15/3/15: Cottage Pie, Cabbage

Yum! ...and I didn't cook it - Geoff did - it's my day off...

Happy Mothers Day to me

Some pressies from my lovely kiddies - an iPod shuffle for the gym, the new Imagine Dragons album, a book I've been wanting to read, some bath goodies and a paint-your-own push up giraffe (this is an excellent gift because I collect little push-up toys - I have over a hundred different ones; this is the first time I've ever seen a paint-your-own one!). Fun!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Dinner 14/3/15: Pot roasted chicken with lemon; rhubarb and pear crumble

From the cook book Slow Cooker by Sara Lewis. This was a great pot roasted chicken - lemony but not too lemony. I cooked some rice to serve with it and the leftover chicken, veg and rice will all go into the leftover cooking liquid to make a soup later in the week. Along with some other stuff, too, perhaps.

For dessert, pear and rhubarb crumble, as I was inspired by some early forced rhubarb which was on sale. It was a little tart, but still very nice. We all (except Sarah, who doesn't like cooked fruit) love a crumble, so it makes a frequent appearance at dessert. Plus, it's easy.

Book buying...

We were in the charity shop today and I couldn't resist these two things - the chocolate cookbook was only £1.50 and the paperback even less - I've always liked Isabel Allende and this one sounded particularly good (City of the Beasts), so I let myself buy it. That's only two this year so far and I've read loads of others! I shall really have to watch myself over the Easter holidays when my mother is visiting, though, as we love to hit all the charity shops, and that's a real danger in terms of book-buying...  The cookbook doesn't count, though I do try not to buy too many, as I have loads already. However, I did recently get rid of a couple, so I think this one can sneak in...

Friday, March 13, 2015

Dinner, 13/3/15: Cheesy Veggie Burgers (with salad and pickles)

These were very tasty, though when I increased the recipe to make sure we had enough (we did) I didn't put enough extra breadcrumbs in, so they were very soft and squishie. Lesson learned for next time.... I froze the leftovers (with additional breadcrumbs) so there are half a dozen veggie burgers waiting, perhaps for summer on the barbecue?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Dinner, 11/3/15: Tofu, Greens & Cashew Stir Fry

Not much to say. Yum. Don't really need a recipe for something like this, but sometimes it's nice to have a place to start so you don't have to think about what to do...

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Book 20: The Scorch Trials, James Dashner (YA)

The second book in this trilogy - not much more to say about than what I said about the first. The premise is still interesting; I'm not sure how it's going to come out, though I have a few ideas. Still very plot/action driven rather than having highly developed characters, but for the type of book it is, that's ok. Looking forward to the third, which I will have to wait a little while to read as someone else in my house is currently reading it. Watch this space!