Thursday, April 30, 2015

Book Plan Update - April

For those of you who don't follow my life in intimate detail (what's wrong with you?), you may not realise that back in January, 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. How am I doing? Ok. Not brilliant, but ok.  To wit:

  • In January I didn't gain any books, but also didn't remove many titles from my list as I read a lot of library books and had some re-reads. (2 titles removed, 0 added; net result -2)
  • In February, I made bigger inroads in my owned titles (7 titles removed, 1 added; net result -6)
  • In March, well, you win some, you lose some (4 titles removed, 10 titles added; net result +6)

Reading in April: 
  • I managed to read 6 titles from my list (The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O'Melveny, Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan, The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje, Rough Music by Patrick Gale, Enchanted Inc by Shanna Swendson, A Humble Companion by Laurie Graham). 
  • I bought 5 books from charity shops (Tree Surgery for Beginners by Patrick Gale, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by John McGregor, The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness, The Circus of Ghosts by Barbara Ewing and A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka)
  • and one book from Abe Books (Enchanted, Inc by Shanna Swendson)
  • and added one book to my reading list, passed on to me by Geoff (The Anatomy of Ghosts, Andrew Taylor)
  • I read 2 library books this month (Climbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey, The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro)
  • I re-read a few books we own My Brother Michael and Thornyhold by Mary Stewart, Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C S Lewis) including Alex's bedtime book
  • and read one YA title that my girls have been recommending (and which we already owned), but which wasn't on my list (The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky), so it counts in the books read for the year, but can't be subtracted from the total waiting TBR (not quite finished, but almost, so counting it in April)
April's tally is therefore...  
books read: 12
6 titles removed, 7 titles added; net result +1

Here's the updated list of Books to Read in 2015.  There are now 56 books on the list, with 8 months to go.
  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. Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides (Waterstones, March 2015)
  12. Barbara Ewing, Circus of Ghosts  (charity shop, April 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, The Whole Day Through 
  22. Patrick Gale, Tree Surgery for Beginners (charity shop, April 2015)
  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. Graham Greene, Brighton Rock
  27. Nicholas Griffin, The House of Sight and Shadow
  28. Jane Haddam, Glass Houses
  29. Laurell K Hamilton, Bloody Bones
  30. Anjali Joseph, Sarasawati Park
  31. Marina Lewycka, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (charity shop, April 2015)
  32. Jim Lynch, The Highest Tide
  33. W Somerset Maugham, The Magician
  34. John McGregor, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (charity shop, April 2015 - will be a re-read as have read it in (apparently) October 2004 for a book group)
  35. Tom McNeal, Goodnight, Nebraska (AbeBooks, March 2015)
  36. Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran
  37. Patrick Ness, The Crane Wife (charity shop, April 2015)
  38. Kate O'Brien, The Land of Spices
  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 (Waterstones Piccadilly, not sure of date)
  44. Simon Sebag Montefiore, One Night in Winter (Waterstones Piccadilly, not sure of date)
  45. Muriel Spark, Memento Mori (Waterstones Piccadilly, not sure of date)
  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. Andrew Taylor, The Anatomy of Ghosts (passed on from Geoff, April 2015)
  51. Laini Taylor, Dreams of Gods and Monsters (Waterstones, March 2015)
  52. Rose Tremaine, Merivel (Birthdy, 2014)
  53. Rose Tremaine, Music & Silence
  54. Barry Unsworth, The Ruby in her Navel 
  55. Ayelet Waldman, Love and Treasure (new in December 2014)
  56. December, Elizabeth Winthrop

Book 36: A Humble Companion, Laurie Graham

This one was great. A historical novel about the (fictional) "Humble Companion" (i.e. ordinary (not noble) girl engaged to be a friend to) of Princess Sofia, Daughter of George III (not fictional). The lives of the many, many members of George III's family are portrayed fairly accurately, as far as I can tell, including some of the more surprising parts, though of course all the encounters with Nellie, the companion, are made up. The book also explores Nellie's own life away from The Royalties, as she refers to them, as a woman of the era - a relatively well-off one, as these things go, but still very much a woman of the people. The history is very interesting and the characters brilliantly drawn (the family has so much colour, it's not really necessary to invent much - one of those cases where truth is as strange as or stranger than anything one could make up), with the humour and lightness of touch you'd expect from Laurie Graham, for whom this is a departure - more serious in some ways than things like The Unfortunates or Dog Days, Glenn Miller Nights.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Dinner, 19/4/15: Chinese Ginger and Garlic Pork

Used to make this a lot, but haven't had it recently - time for a revisit!  Great for using up leftover rice, as well...

Monday, April 27, 2015

Dinner, 27/4/15: Tacos

...with some nachos to use up the leftover/broken taco shells at the end. Need I say more?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Dinner, 26/4/15: Baked Butternut Squash Rigatoni

...or in this case, penne. The squash is roasted with some garlic and then blitzed with some cream to make a sauce for the cooked pasta. Add cheese, sage, salt & pepper and hey presto - excellent variation on Mac& Cheese. Yum.  

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Dinner, 25/4/14: Chicken Escallopes, Green Beans, (Leftover) Chow Mein

I was going to do new potatoes with this dinner, but as we had lots of noodles left from dinner last night, it seemed sensible to serve them along side. When I was a kid, one of my favourite meals was when my mother made schnitzel (though she used pork, not veal) - we usually use chicken breast when we do these, but I still love them...

Book 35: Rough Music by Patrick Gale

I always enjoy Patrick Gale (think I've read 4 or 5 of them) - a good, solid family story, with well-drawn characters with a plotline that isn't predictable necessarily, but is believeable, rather than soap-opera-like, even when there are crises and ructions. He does portraits of relationships very well, and I really like his writing style, too. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Book 34: Thornyhold by Mary Stewart (re-read)

After re-reading My Brother Michael recently, I fancied some more Mary Stewart, so grabbed this one as my bedtime book. Didn't take long to get through it - it's very short - and when I got to the last few chapters, I just finished them off even though it wasn't bedtime (shock, horror).

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Dinner, 21/4/15: Feta, Pea and Dill Pasta

Original recipe uses orichiette, which my local didn't have, so I've used shells instead. Very similar result, and the way of coooking the pasta in stock adds richness, which is nice.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Book 33: Enchanted, Inc. by Shanna Swendson

I picked this up recently after a friend mentioned it in a Facebook conversation and I was going to use it as my bedside book, but yesterday afternoon, I just fancied something light and cheerful that I could read without too much thought (but which was still enjoyable) and this seemed likely to fit the bill - I was right, it did. It was cute, well written, nice premise.  It's part of a series, so I've ordered a few more in the series from Abe Books (great online source for used books) for future light relief. And now back to my regularly scheduled reading (who am I kidding - I usually have several books on the go at once anyway!)

Dinner, 20/4/15: Carrot, Potato and Leek Soup

Recipe from The Crepes of Wrath.  A really nice, spicy carrot soup, with roasted garlic (and other roasted veg) for a mellower flavour. Yum. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Dinner, 19/4/15: Pizza Night

Olivia's pizza (top right) was a sort of re-creation of a Pizza Express pizza she likes, with pesto on the base, then proscuitto, rocket, shaved pecorino cheese and caesar dressing (the rocket, pecorino and caesar added after it's cooked). The others were a bit more usual...  Geoff's away, so it was only a 4 pizza day.

Book 32: My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart (re-read)

This has been my bedside book for a few weeks (I don't always keep a separate book at the bedside for night time reading, but sometimes I do) - I found a copy in a charity shop to replace my old, falling apart copy and decided to re-read it at the same time. I always enjoy Mary Stewart - good solid romance/thrillers of the slightly old-fashioned vein, which is nice sometimes (not a fan of novels with a lot of graphic sex, generally). Especially restful when trying to fall asleep!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Dinner: Spicy cajun chicken quinoa with salad; rice pudding

My first time cooking quinoa, that trendy new grain - I've been contemplating it for a while, and when a friend recommended it, I decided it was time. It was very nice, not particularly exciting or not, just a good solid grain alternative to some of the other things we use. I think it will be particularly nice in salads, so I imagine we'll be seeing more of it this summer, especially. Found this recipe on the good food website...  And then rice pudding for dessert - mmm.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Dinner, 17/4/15: Italian Stuffed Courgettes, Salad, Greens

This was very tasty; I could have eaten more, easily.  Next time, I'll make more!

Book 31: The Cat's Table, Michael Ondaatje

This was great. I've read other Michael Ondaatje books before (most famous title of his is probably The English Patient, which I don't think I've actually read), so I knew he could write, so I guess it's not surprising, but still - always nice to find. It's the story of a young boy's (told in retrospect, with some of his adult life interspersed) journey from Sri Lanka to England on board a large ship, and what happened on board. I really enjoyed the way that got inside the young boy's point of view enough so that we, as adult readers, could sometimes see what he was seeing from an adult perspective, but sometimes, not quite get the full picture until a little more had been revealed. A good story, with interesting characters and great writing. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Book 30: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Well, hmm. To be honest, I really don't quite know what to make of this book. It's an odd book, I think, kind of a fable, told in an unusual, conversational way. Ishiguro plays a bit with narrative style anyway (thinking of When We Were Orphans, which while not really a pastiche certainly emulates the style of detective stories of a certain era), so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but still - not sure what to make of this. One might call it fantasy, I suppose, but it's presented almost as history - like old oral tradition tales, Beowulf or something, except it's so conversational in tone. I didn't dislike it, but I'm not sure I precisely liked it either. Given that the novel's themes of loss and memory are pervasive, perhaps the somewhat disquieting feel you get from the book is simply part and parcel of the author's intent. I think I shall have to reserve judgement on this one. 

Dinner, 15/4/15: Chili con carne (Geoff cooking)

One of the advantages of a husband who works at home a lot is that sometimes he cooks dinner. Mmm. I did make the cornbread muffins, but who's counting...

Books in - kind of

Two books to add to my reading pile  - one is a legitimate purchase (the left one, mentioned in a FB discussion, sounded fun), the other I bought a while back from a charity shop for Geoff, but he's now read it and pronounced it good, and passed it back to me to read, so it doesn't count as a purchase, but I guess it counts as an addition to my list...

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dinner, 14/4/15: Penne all'Arrabbiata

Recipe originally from Good Food Magazine website, though I only follow it loosely, anyway...

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Dinner, 12/4/15: Spinach and Potato Pastries, Beans, Carrots

A family favourite - made also because tomorrow at work we are having a bring and share lunch (or potluck as the two North American staff members like to call it!) and this is what I decided to make...

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Dinner, 11/4/15: Creamy Chicken, Ham & Leek Pie

A Hairy Bikers recipe, which I've cooked a number of times before. Always tasty...

Book 29: CIimbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey

I'm not a big reader of non-fiction, as you'll have gathered by now, and I'm really not keen on biography, but I do enjoy the occasional memoir/travel book, especially when it involves food. This was a very light memoir about Madhur Jaffrey's childhood in India, very readable and with lots of descriptions of food. I read most of it yesterday afternoon sitting in the sunshine on the patio  (an appropriate place to do so, I think!) and finished it off today at Alex's swimming lesson. Some family recipes included at the back, too. Though I have several MJ cookbooks already.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Dinner, 10/4/15: Sausage, Root Vegetable and Apple Roast

I added some beetroot because we all like it. And potatoes on the side, not pictured.

Painshill Park

Another nice day - not sunny all day, but on and off, and very warm for much of the time. So we went out again - this time just Grandma, Alex and me; Sarah was off to Cambridge for a university visit and Olivia decided to stay home and work on her art portfolio. Only a few more days of the Easter Holiday, then it's back home for Grandma, back to school for the kiddies, and back to work for me. But at least it's spring!

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Book 28: Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

I admit to being unsure of this in the first few pages, as it's narrated in a very specific voice, but I got accustomed to it very quickly, and actually, it added a lot to the bluesy-jazzy feel of the book. It's the story of a group of young (mostly), black (mostly) jazz musicians (mostly) in Berlin and Paris right at the outset of WWII; of what happens to them, and of what happens fifty years later when some of them travel back to Europe (the narrator is originally from Balitmore and returns there after the war breaks out) for a commemorative Jazz Festival. I don't imagine there's anyone who reads who hasn't read at least one book dealing with Jewish experience during the second World War, and most readers have probably read something dealing with other European civilians or the resistance movements, or...  Lord knows I've read loads of them (some very good, don't get me wrong). This was the first book I've read which addressed what it was like to be black in Germany at that time, so in addition to a very good story in other ways, I also was interested in that perspective. A great story.

Dinner, 9/4/15: Caramelised Leek and Bacon Pizza

Quite rich and filling because of the mascarpone, but tasty. Works better than regular pizza for my mother (who is visiting), who can't eat heavy tomato sauces. I made my pizza dough in the bread machine, of course...

Wisley Gardens on a Sunny Thursday

An absolutely glorious day, so we (and thousands of others) headed our case, to Wisley RHS Gardens, which is about 25 minutes away from our house. Although it looked a bit like it was going to be heaving with people, it was actually fine - the garden is pretty substantial, and we stayed away from the most crowded areas (like the kids' play area), so it was surprising how little we had to share the walks and views with others. Only two of three kids came along with me & my mother (Sarah had Economics revision at school in the morning), but we still had a lovely time. Tomorrow also due to be an excellent day, weather wise, so I think we'll be out and about again (but with even fewer kids - Sarah is off to a Uni open day in Cambridge, for which she's getting up at stupid o'clock to catch a train and Olivia is going to spend the day with her art homework)...  Not sure where we'll go - Painshill Park, perhaps or Poleseden Lacey?  Watch this space!

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Dinner, 8/4/15: Roasted Pepper and Feta Fritatta, Greek Salad

I confess to using roasted peppers from a jar - quicker, easier, and actually (surprisingly?) cheaper. And because I had lots of new potatoes, I just used a load of them rather than larger ones. 

Peanut Butter No-Bakes

This is something I usually only make at Christmas - more from habit than for any particular reason. Today is a good friend's birthday, so I decided to make some as a present - it makes two square trays, so one for her and one for us. Yummmmm.

Book 27: The Book of Madness and Cures, Regina O'Melveny

Historical fiction, about a woman doctor in 16th century Europe. The main character sets off on a journey to find her father (also a doctor), leaving Venice to travel across Europe and North Africa. I enjoyed this - it was a good story, and the "medicine" in the book felt authentic to the time (though what do I know). 

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Book 26: Voyage of the Dawn Treader (re-read, aloud)

This has been the bedtime book for Alex & me (I'm sure he will soon outgrow having a bedtime book - he's lasted much longer than either of the girls, but it's nice to read aloud so I am happy to continue!) for a little while now - I alternate nights with Geoff and of course, there are some nights when it's not feasible to have a story, so it takes a while to get through them.  There are two more volumes in the Narnia Chronicles (The Silver Chair and The Last Battle) and unlike the previous books (excepting The Magician's Nephew, which was new to me as well), I've never read them before, so I'm looking forward to them. First, though, we will read something a little different.