Monday, August 31, 2015

Book Plan Update - August

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 already had. I've been tracking my progress/recidivism:
  • 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)
  • In April, better, but not perfect (6 titles removed, 7 added; net result +1)
  • Not too bad in May, either (5 titles removed, 6 added; net result +1)
  • Great inroads in June (11 titles removed, 3 added; net result -8)
  • Well done for July, as well (10 titles removed, 2 added; net result -8)
and so, on to August: 
  • I managed to read 7 titles from my list (Harvest by Jim Crace, Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg, Tree Surgery for Beginners by Patrick Gale, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor, Amy Snow by Tracy Rees, Don't Hex with Texas by Shanna Swendson)
  • I started (and abandoned) 1 title from my list, which I just couldn't get into (Circus of Ghosts by Barbara Ewing)
  • I bought 4 books in the Big Waterstones in Piccadilly (Longbourn by Jo Baker, Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson, All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Darkling by Laura Beatty) and three books in the Waterstones in Durham (The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, Us by David Nicholls)
  • I bought 1 book at a church jumble sale (The Mammoth Book of Edwardian and Victorian Ghost Stories) but it's one of those I will dip in and out of, so it won't go on the To be Read shelf.
  • I bought 6 books in charity shops, including some crime fiction, so although they will go on the list, I'm sure it won't be long until at least some of them are read (A Cold Day for Murder and Play with Fire by Dana Stabenow, Abbatoir Blues by Peter Robinson, The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruis Zafon, Only Say the Word by Niall Williams, The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer)
  • I read 2 library books this month (Ratking by Michael Dibdin, Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee)
  • I re-read 5 books I already own (To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - as I had ordered Go Set a Watchman from the library I thought I'd re-read Mockingbird, as it's probably been 30 years since I first read it, Sweet Dreams, IreneDear Irene and Remember Me, Irene by Jan Burke (working my way through the series again as I get rid of the books) and The Heroine's Sister by France Murray because it's set in Venice)
August's tally is therefore...
books read: 14
titles removed: 8,  titles added: 13 ; net result +5

Here's the updated list of Books to Read in 2015.  There are now 45 books on the list, with 4 months to go - so that's 10 and a half books per month if I buy/receive no more books before the end of the year (unlikely with both a birthday and Christmas to come!) (Books with an asterisk are ones which were on the list at the start of the year.)
  1. Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin (charity shop, March 2015)
  2. Jo Baker, Longbourn (Big Waterstones, August 2015)
  3. Philip Baruth, The Brothers Boswell (Waterstones Canterbury bargain bin, July 2015)
  4. Laura Beatty, Darkling (Big Waterstones, August 2015)
  5. Charlotte Betts, The Apothecary's Daughter (Waterstones Kingston, March 2015)
  6. Stephen Burke, The Good Italian (Fiumicino Airport, July 2015)
  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. Anthony Doerr, All the Light we Cannot See (Big Waterstones, August 2015)
  11. Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides (Waterstones Kingston, March 2015)
  12. Jim Fergus, One Thousand White Women (Barnes & Noble (in MD), Summer 2013) *
  13. Nathan Filer, The Shock of the Fall (charity shop, August 2015)
  14. 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...) *
  15. E M Forster, Howards End (late 2014) *
  16. Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career *
  17. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (would be a 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...) *
  18. Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South *
  19. Graham Greene, Brighton Rock *
  20. Frances Hardinge, The Lie Tree (Waterstones Durham, August 2015)
  21. Emma, Healey, Elizabeth is Missing (Waterstones Durham, August 2015)
  22. Smith Henderson, Fourth of July Creek (Big Waterstones, August 2015)
  23. Alice Hoffman, The Museum of Extraordinary Things (Waterstones online, June 2015)
  24. Anjali Joseph, Saraswati Park *
  25. Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian (charity table, Wetland Centre, May 2015)
  26. 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)
  27. Tom McNeal, Goodnight, Nebraska (AbeBooks, March 2015)
  28. Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran *
  29. Patrick Ness, The Crane Wife (charity shop, April 2015)
  30. David Nicholls, Us (Waterstones Durham, August 2015)
  31. Kate O'Brien, The Land of Spices *
  32. Kathy Reichs, Virals (charity shop, March 2015)
  33. Peter Robinson, Abbatoir Blues (charity shop, August 2015)
  34. Anuradha Roy, An Atlas of Impossible Longing (Winter 2013, bought in a cheap shop in Oxford) *
  35. Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Prisoner of Heaven (charity shop, August 2015)
  36. Simon Sebag Montefiore, One Night in Winter (Waterstones Piccadilly, not sure of date) *
  37. Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Barnes & Noble (in MD), Summer 2013 - a re-read, as I read it when a teen) *
  38. Dana Stabenow, A Cold Day for Murder (charity shop, August 2015)
  39. Dana Stabenow, Play with Fire (charity shop, August 2015)
  40. Amy Tan, Valley of Amazement *
  41. Andrew Taylor, The Anatomy of Ghosts (passed on from Geoff, April 2015)
  42. Rosie Thomas, The Illusionists (WH Smith, May 2015)
  43. Rose Tremaine, Merivel (Birthday, 2014) *
  44. Barry Unsworth, The Ruby in her Navel  *
  45. Niall Williams, Only Say the Word (charity shop, August 2015)

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Book 90: Don't Hex with Texas by Shanna Swendson

The fourth in this cute series. The others don't seem to be readily available in paperback, but I might get them for the kindle (Alex has one; he'll let me borrow it.)  This was my bedtime book for the past few days, but when I finished Go Set a Watchman earlier today  I decided to finish this one off this evening...

Apricot & Plum Shortcake

This is one of those really simple recipes, which is great for using up fruit which is getting past its best. I know the recipe in imperial measures rather than metric because of the fours, but it would be simple to convert:  4oz sugar, 4 oz butter, 4 oz self-raising flour, 4 oz ground almonds, 1 egg. Process in food processor until it forms a rough dough.  Pat half of the dough into a lightly greased small cake tin (I think I use one which is about 6 inches in diameter). Now add a layer of fruit - I think stone fruit works best (stones removed), or perhaps berries - we are partial to plums and I know tonight's shortcake with apricots worked very nicely indeed.  Then put the rest of the dough on top - I usually pat it into thin pieces and patchwork it on the top - it looks like it won't be enough to cover, but it will.  Now, into a moderate oven (Gas 4/180C) for 40 minutes (or so).  And that's that.

Dinner, 30/8/15: Mexican Bake, Crudites

Book 89: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Well, there it is - the much touted other book by Harper Lee. I find it very hard to judge this book independently of To Kill a Mockingbird, as it's so entwined with it in many ways. I wasn't shocked and horrified as some people were, by revelations that many of Scout's family and friends had less-than-progressive attitudes about certain aspects of civil rights - after all, the book is set in the deep south; what should we expect? I wasn't even shocked by Scout's discovery that even Atticus isn't perfect - he's a man; what man (and in this instance, I mean "person") IS perfect? My main issue with this book, if I have one at all, is that there's such an assumption of underlying knowledge about history and literature that I found myself, from time to time, feeling like I had no idea what the characters were referring obliquely to. Yes, I could go look stuff up, but that's not the point.  And frankly, I'm a person who knows a lot of literary stuff and usually gets references, more or less [Dorothy L Sayers always makes me feel undereducated in this way...].  In all, I'd say this was an interesting, and yes, valuable, companion piece to To Kill a Mockingbird, especially if one is looking at the literature & history of the South. I have a hard time imagining it standing on it's own, which isn't to say it couldn't - perhaps on its own it's a reasonably solid coming-of-age novel, valuable for that as well as its insights into the South.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Dinner, 29/8/15: Paella style rice with chicken and black olives

Altered the recipe on this a little to use less chicken and add chorizo, which we all like. Very easy and yummy - not quite paella, but also, easier to make!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Dinner, 28/8/15: Sweet and Sour Chicken Thighs

We've had this before, though not in a while. I added celery and peppers to it, which bulk it out to a proper meal with vegetables, along with the carrots. Very tasty.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Durham Collages

I didn't actually take that many pictures in Durham, as the main things I thought were great to look at were the Cathedral and the Castle, neither of which allowed photos inside. But here are a few from the Botanic Gardens, Oriental Museum and Heritage Centre, as well as some external shots of the Cathedral and Castle, and a shot of the large Lego model they are building of the Cathedral, which was cool, but hard to photograph, as it's behind plastic walls. (Great idea - for £1 you can buy a brick and place it yourself on the current module they are building, which then gets added to the model. Unfortunately, we were there too late and the lego building station had closed. You can read about the project here and see some better photos, though...)

Of course, we did some eating out while we were there - tapas one night, mixed oriental the other, and pizza for a late lunch/early dinner the last day. And of course, there was cooked breakfast at the hotel. Yum!

Also noticed loads of really nice doors around Durham - only have photos of a few - these are all just on the streets, except the top left, which was in the Oriental Museum. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Book 88: Amy Snow by Tracy Rees

I took this to Durham with me because I thougt it would be an engrossing story, easy to read on trains, in hotel rooms, etc - and I was right. This was a well written, light, fairly compelling, very readable story (though I wouldn't call it a mystery, as it seemed fairly obvious what much of the secret was) about a young girl found abandoned as a baby in the snow and taking in, reluctantly, by the local Big House - though mainly it's the story of her subsequent friendship with Aurelia, the daughter of the house,  and her journey to find out about herself and her friend after Aurelia's death. Nothing earth shattering, but a good story.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Yes, more books in. I know.

The problem with going into bookshops with one's children is that they encourage you to buy books... One of these is even from the teen section, so I'm sure I can blame it all on the girls...

Book 87: Remember Me, Irene by Jan Burke

Another in the Irene Kelly series, which I read most if on the train today. Once again, good characters, good plotting, good writing...

Monday, August 24, 2015

Dinner, 24/8/15: Panzanella (Tuscan Bread Salad), Lamb Steaks

Panzanella is one of those things I've been meaning to try for a while, and finally got around to.  Verdict: we weren't impressed. The recipe I used was one that soaks the bread, and we just found this made the bread too soggy.  Subsequent research around the interwebs has suggested that there are ways around this, so we might try again with one which either just combines the bread with the juices and dressing in the salad, or just uses a bit of vinegar sprinkled on the bread, or which does pretty much anything else than soak the bread.  The lamb steaks were nice, though.

Books In

Miserable, horrible rainy day today - good day for browsing around charity shops with a teenage daughter... We found a few things - Olivia picked up a couple of shirts and a belt and I got a pair of grey jeans, a denim jacket and of course, a handful of books. All by authors I've read before except The Shock of the Fall, which just sounded good...

Blueberry a mug

I recently purchased the book Mug Cakes by Mima Sinclair as a gift for the girls - the idea is you make them in the microwave. They've been testing out a lot of the recipes (with success) and this morning, when I noticed a punnet of blueberries beginning to get a bit old in the fridge, I thought it would be the perfect chance to try for myself. Verdict: Awesome and Easy. I reckon this would be a great present for someone off to university...

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Book 86: The Silver Chair, C S Lewis (aloud)

Realised that although Alex and I finished this right at the start of August, I didn't blog it- which means it wasn't in my count. Silly me. This is the penultimate book in the Narnia series, and I don't think I'd read it before, though I've read most of the series (I haven't read the last one, either). Anyway, it was enjoyable, if slightly old-fashioned, which could be said of most of the Narnia books, of course...

Book 85: Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

The third (and last) in the series; it was very good. Some interesting new characters, and satisfying (more or less) resolutions to some of the issues hanging over the series, as well as some explanations of how certain things came to be in the first place. Hard to say much more without spoilers...

Dinner, 23/8/15: Spiced Indian Sweet Potato Wraps

This was really tasty - we especially liked the contrasts between the sweetness of the potatoes, the spiciness of the spices, the sourness of the pickled onions and the creaminess of the yogurt.  Also easy, so it's definitely a repeater...

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Friday, August 21, 2015

Book 84: Ratking by Michael Dibdin

This is the first in the Aurelion Zen series of books, recommended to me by a friend when I was talking about books to read, set in Italy. I thought it was great - a little confusing keeping track of the characters from time to time, but on the whole. well-drawn, well-plotted and authentic feeling (to the point of wanting to throw the book across the room in frustration with the Italy political and legal system). Will definitely read more of this series. [Though a note on the TV adaptation, which I haven't seen - I like Rufus Sewell as much as the next person, but why choose him to portray someone who is explicitly described, early in the book, as being "a distinguished looking man of about fifty with a pale face whose most striking feature was a nose as sharply triangular as the jib of a sailing boat"?]

Dinner, 21/8/15: Cider, mustard and herb chicken (with mash and broccoli)

This was pretty good - a good way to use chicken, quickly, in mid-week. 

Going to the Zoo

Alex and I had a day up at the Zoo, with a stroll along the canal and a brief saunter through Camden Market at the end of it. Lots of great animals (we especially liked the new Lemur enclosure) and a few wild and wacky things in Camden (though we didn't stay long).

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Dinner, 20/8/15:South Indian Egg Curry

We liked this, more or less. I really liked the egg curry, and would probably make it again, though Geoff points out that it would be nice with something to contrast the texture like crispy fried onions or serve with poppadoms (or both). None of us were overly impressed with the rice and lentils; probably would just use regular rice instead (nothing wrong with it, just not very interesting). 

Books in

Found these in a charity shop while killing  a bit of time; both are authors I've read before (may even have read the Stabenow already, but it's been a long time). I like to keep some crime fiction on hand to slot in between other reads, so although these will be added to my reading list, I'm sure I'll get through them fairly quickly.

Book 83: Dear Irene by Jan Burke

Third in the Irene Kelly series of crime novels, which I am enjoying re-readings. It's been so long since I originally read them, that I don't really remember the details of them, just a sense of the overall plot arc, which is great - it's almost like having a new series to read. The plotting is good, and the characters are interesting. Looking forward to the rest of the series in the coming months. This one sees a murderer write to Irene (who is a newspaper reporter back in the old, pre-internet days - or rather, nascent internet days - it's quite funny seeing what technology was like in what I consider to be the still rather recent past) dropping obscure clues encased in references to Greek & Roman mythology about who he has killed/is going to kill. I didn't remember whodunnit, which was a bonus for me!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Kew Gardens

Uncle John and Aunt Angela (who live in Leicster) sometimes come down to London for a day to visit us - they have dogs, so it's slightly complicated and sometimes they leave the dogs with a friend, but this time they found a dog friendly hotel nearby so came down last night, stayed there, and then came to ours today. We left the dogs at our house in their crates while we went to lunch and a few hours at Kew, before they headed home - it was a lovely visit. First, we went to lunch at One Over the Ait, across Kew Bridge in Brentford - great food. Then we spent a couple of hours exploring around Kew. Geoff, the kids and I have been many times, and John had been a couple of times, but I'm not sure Angela had ever been, and as they are both keen gardeners, it was a nice treat!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Chessington World of Adventures

It's our local amusement park (well, one of two - there's also Thorpe Park, but Chessington is a bit smaller and more family oriented) - and some folks from Scouts organised an outing, which meant group rates, so Alex and I trundled off to ride some rides, look at some animals and watch a Sea Lion Show. A couple of the rides were out of service while we were there, so we all had vouchers to come again for free with our existing tickets, before the end of the season. Which makes the day even better value... Awesome.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Dinner, 16/8/15: Ribs, Corn, Carrots, Salad

(used this method on the ribs, though I did them in the oven, and I just used a whole 2 litre bottle of cheap cola...)

Book 82: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

This was great. I've read a couple of other titles by this author before, and the books were good, but some excellent writing in combination with a wonderful, original story took this book to new heights. It's hard to say too much about the story without giving away key information, but the blurb on the book actually sums it up quite well, so I'll paraphrase that... Rosemary had a sister when she was small, who vanished from her life in circumstances she'd prefer not to think about. In her early adulthood, she begins to see that in order to move forward with her life, she needs to go back and understand what happened when she was five and returned from a visit to her grandparents to find Fern gone. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Travels around the Isle of Wight

Today we decided to go to Osbourne House, home of Queen Victoria on the Isle of Wight, as it's just up the road from her house (literally about a mile). It was great, though no photos allowed inside - it was very, very Victorian inside though - crazy ornate. Strange contrast with the beautiful, calm, Italianate exterior. We had a little picnic on the beach at Osbourne House, watched a bit of Punch & Judy, then hopped a bus to Alum Bay/The Needles to have a look at the famous sands - amazing colours, right next to one another on the cliffs. Hard to photograph, really - much more striking in person. Here's a good photo taken from the water...

Friday, August 14, 2015

Cowes Week

Went down to visit an old friend from university who lives on the Isle of Wight. It was the very end of Cowes week (a bit of a slow week this year, due to the weather, which wasn't great). Luckily, it stopped raining, more or less, so we had a browse around West Cowes, and then watched the fireworks in the evening from her side - East Cowes - where there were fantastic views across the harbour.

Dinner, 14/8/15: Sticky Citrus Chicken with carrots & cashews (Sarah cooking)

I was away, so Sarah did dinner...