Saturday, January 28, 2012

Book 5: E is for Eat

Eat Well Spend LessEat Well Spend Less by Sarah Flower

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don't have much to say about this one. I got serious about eating more healthily last year and thought this book might give my improved diet an extra boost and some new recipes. It was OK, but didn't tell me anything I didn't already know. There were a few useful and reasonably economical recipes I will probably try.

ETA: Coincidentally the topic for week 5 of 52 Books in 52 Weeks is Literary Cookbooks. I love the idea of The Jane Austen Cookbook. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Book 4: D is for Darkly

A Darkly Hidden Truth (The Monastery Murders)A Darkly Hidden Truth by Fletcher Donna

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The series title "Monastery Murders" and the promise of dashes of medieval history and iconography intrigued me, although I am not generally a murder mystery enthusiast - I enjoy them occasionally, but it is not a genre I read often. The bargain price in Amazon's post-Christmas Kindle sale made me decide this book was worth a try. It turned out to be an easy and reasonably entertaining read, but I'm afraid I found the heroine Felicity rather irritating and the plot required me to suspend disbelief too far and too frequently. I was also bugged by both major and minor inaccuracies - a female ordinand in an Anglo-Catholic Anglican seminary? Sounds odd given that opposition to women priests is a defining characteristic of most Anglo-Catholics. American Felicity lectured by a policeman fo failing to carry her passport and visa while in the UK? Um, no, there is no requirement for anyone in the UK to carry any sort of ID. This is the second book in a series and not knowing what came before made it harder both to get into the book and to identify with the characters (how did the previously non-religious Felicity end up at theological college, I wonder?). There were aapects I enjoyed - the ways she brought in the anchoress Julian of Norwich and eccentric medieval pilgrim Margery Kempe, for example - but I didn't enjoy the book enough to want to go back and read the first one.

Next time I want a monastery murder with a medieval flavour I think I'll stick to Ellis Peters' Cadfael books.

For more reviews visit 52 books in 52 weeks.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Iron Lady

Tevye and I decided that this year we would try to go to the cinema once a month - really, we should take more advantage of our on-hand babysitters! Our first trip was to see The Iron Lady, with Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher. We had seen mixed reviews. Some (most?) writers felt that the movie dwelt far too much on Maggie's old age and waning faculties; others praised it and felt it was well done.

We both came away with the same opinion, which was that it wasn't the movie we would have liked to see. We were in the "too much old age" camp and felt the movie put too much emphasis on an aspect of her life that ultimately isn't that significant in terms of the whole. While it did tell the story of her life and political career it did so in short flashbacks that never did more than skim the surface of a complex and interesting story. We both wanted more about her life and politics and less of the fictional (or loosely factual) "human interest". Our feeling was that the movie avoided any political subtlety and focused on Maggie the person in order to appeal to the American market. From the British perspective it completely glossed over the strong feelings, both for and against, that the Margaret Thatcher years still evoke.

Having said that, we were glad we saw The Iron Lady. While we would have liked it to take a different angle, Meryl Streep's acting was superb and carried the movie beyond what we felt were its weaknesses. Jim Broadbent as Dennis Thatcher was also excellent.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

My Life in Facebook Updates

Haven't posted one of these for a while (apologies to those of you who have already read these on Facebook):

Why is my life like a series of scenes from Outnumbered? The latest one involved the car, toast, crumbs and the frustrations of a 5 year old who can't grasp the concept of lending money.


Oops! Slight fail. Took Rose to school for the second time since September. Have maintained my 100% record of getting her there late ... Me: "Are you ever late when Daddy takes you?" Her (shocked): "No! Never!!!"


Just found a Christmas tree bauble in the back garden. Why????


Just started watching a period drama about a midwife in the East End of London, then realised it was set in the year that Tevye was born, also in the East End. Suddenly "period drama" doesn't seem quite the right description!


Why do all three of my daughters have to hold conversations with me simultaneously on entirely unrelated subjects. This morning one wanted to know if I had any spare plastic folders, another was trying to work out what clothes she wanted to take to a sleepover, and the third was explaining the difference between digraphs and split digraphs (that was the five year old - she takes her phonics lessons very seriously). *Head explodes*


And in sequence, the tale of Rose the rabbit-lion-rabbit:

Rose came home from ballet yesterday bursting with excitement about being a toy rabbit in her dance show. She has written down instructions to remind her what she has to do and pinned them up ready to practice before school ... "All the time. Bend down and jump." Not that tricky to remember for a rabbit!

Oh dear. Dance show disappointment. After a week of excitement about being a rabbit, Rose is now a lion. She is decidedly not impressed! Apparently lions do not get to jump.

Update on the Rose dance show casting saga. Sympathetic ballet teacher has reinstated her as a rabbit. Not only that, but she got to try on her costume last night and she is a PINK rabbit. A very happy pink rabbit.

And for those who asked on FB - I will try to provide video, but the show isn't until the end of March / beginning of April so expect a long wait!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Book 3: C is for Cake and Crag

The Tale of Oat Cake CragThe Tale of Oat Cake Crag by Susan Wittig Albert

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been chugging gently through this series for a few years now - I see I read the first one back in February 2006 (reviewed here) and the rest at intervals since, getting through both the last two on train journeys up to Scotland. They are light, gentle reads that don't need too much concentration when there is lots of switching trains and hanging around in station cafes in between. The Tale of Oat Cake Crag is the seventh in the series and is essentially more of the same. Real biographical facts about Beatrix Potter's life mixed in with local colour, mostly likeable imaginary characters and anthropomorphic animals. The series has now reached the stage where Beatrix's marriage to solicitor Will Heelis is approaching but is still opposed by her parents. This book also brings in a real life hydroplane being tested on Lake Windermere and a rather less realistic visiting dragon. Occasionally the narrator's voice is irritating, but overall I like the style and the characters enough to be looking forward to the next (last?) book in the series when it becomes available on Kindle at a reasonable price. If you like Beatrix Potter's books and are interested in Beatrix herself in particular and the Lake District in general then this series is fun to read. If you hate anthropomorphic animals or anything a bit twee, avoid!

How appropriate! I just realised my header photo is one I took up in the Lake District a couple of years ago

Next up A Darkly Hidden Truth by Donna Fletcher, described as "a gripping modern mystery enriched by liturgy, iconography, and medieval history". I'm intrigued to see whether it lives up to the description.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Day Zero Project: Catching Up

I started the Day Zero Project back in October 2010 and after six months of enthusiasm mostly forgot about it. In a fit of New Year-ish-ness I decided to see what else I had checked off since I last posted about the project last April and what I would particularly like to do this year.

So, successes over the last few months:

  • 11. Fit comfortably into a pair of size 14 jeans. Yay! I am now the proud owner of three pairs of size 14 jeans which I had to buy as every single pair of jeans (and other trousers) I owned had got to large. Pride forces me to add that a UK size 14 is a US size 12!
  • 18. Buy a zoo membership and use it at least 4 times a year. Teyve and I took Rose to zoo at the beginning of the month, which I am sure is at least the fourth time we used our zoo passes, and possibly the fifth.
  • 30. Swim in the sea - Spain in August.
  • 31. Make a sand castle - ditto. 
  • 36. Knit myself a sweater - it wasn't the greatest sweater ever, but I finished on in October.
  • 54. Watch the entire series of Upstairs, Downstairs. I think we got to the end of Series 5 in July.
Hmm. Not that many, but it makes a total of 33 out of my original 101 ideas so far. I have also made progress on a number of others. I never imagined there was any chance of doing them all, but it is a fun way of recording ideas for things I would like to do and to at least occasionally encourage me out of my comfort zone.

This year I would like to achieve some of my fitness, reading and decluttering goals. Tevye and I are planning to try to go to the cinema once a month this year, I'm aiming to knit twelve pairs of socks (you can never knit too many socks, and I only made it to seven last year) and I am truly optimistic that I can reach my goal of losing 20 pounds, as I think I have already lost about 12 to 15. You can see my whole list here

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Thirty Five

I haven't been doing Jen's 7 Quick Takes for a while but always enjoy reading hers (and others). This week she celebrates her thirty fifth birthday and asks ... "if you are older than 35, tell me about what you were doing at this age. How do you feel about that time of your life? Anything you'd do differently?"

I remember 35 as a particularly happy time. Helen (oh dear! I can't get used to this! I may yet simply revert to using their real names) was seven months old and I was still technically on a maternity break from working on my doctorate on medieval knights. In fact by that stage I was back to doing quite a bit of research but was not under any pressure to get a particular amount done, making it an enjoyable and leisurely process. I was able to work from home most of the time as a lot of the source material for the period I was working on is in print. The London Library's mail order service was a godsend at this time.  Tevye had spent nearly a year at home after taking redundancy from his previous job so took on a large share of the baby care. I think at this point he had just started doing some freelance work writing exam questions for a couple of days each week. I may have been teaching in London one evening a week, but I can't remember for sure.

I don't think I am looking back through rose-tinted glasses, but I honestly can't think of anything I would do differently. We were very fortunate to have a wonderful work-life balance where we both got to spend lots of time with Helen but also to do other mentally stimulating things. Rather to my surprise I had discovered I loved having a baby - with no small relatives or close friends with babies I had no experience of them before having my own, and had rather expected that I would find the baby stage boring. In fact, I adored it. Thirty five was good!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Book 2: B is for Beasts and Belfrys

Beasts in my BelfryBeasts in my Belfry by Gerald Durrell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I went through a phase of reading Gerald Durrell's books many years (decades!) ago. I picked this one to re-read for local interest as it describes Durrell's time as a trainee keeper at nearby Whipsnade Zoo where we have annual passes. It isn't the best of his books - not in the league of My Family and Other Animals - but was an easy, light read with his usual humorous touch. I enjoyed it more for being able to picture both the locations and the animals. Although the zoo has obviously changed since Durrell was there in the late 1940s, it still has many of the same types of animal, with at least some in the same locations.  I imagine some of the animals we see today must be the direct descendants of those Durrell worked with as the zoo has breeding herds. I read the Kindle edition, which has a few minor issues I presume are down to character recognition problems ("rn" turned into "m", odd punctuation and so on). These happened just enough to be a minor irritation, but not enough to outweigh the convenience of instant download and reading on the Kindle.

Next up for 52 books in 52 weeks ... The Tale of Oat Cake Crag by Susan Wittig Albert (C is for Crag. And Cake)

Monday, January 09, 2012


I want to get back to posting here more regularly, so expect some random off-the-top-of-my-head rambling. I'm not sure what it says about me that the first topic that tripped into my mind was toilets. I blame Bill Bryson, who commented in his bathroom chapter on the communal nature of such things in past centuries ... which reminded me that my childhood home had a two-seater! That put us in good company as, according to Bryson, so did Thomas Jefferson. Admittedly our two-seater was in a shed at the bottom of the garden and no longer functional. By the time we lived there it was used for storing garden tools rather than its intended purpose, but I imagine though that even in the 1960s there were probably few still surviving - if there were ever many around in the first place. Strangely, I can still picture it quite clearly ... a small brick-built building with a wooden door, with a wooden box-like structure running across the full width at the back with two suitably sized holes in the top. There was no plumbing, so I presume it was an earth closet. Why a two-seater I have no idea. It was a farm, so maybe a combination of family and workers meant it was in high demand. Unfortunately we lived there long before digital photography, and nobody ever thought to waste photographic film and record it for posterity.

I'll try to come up with a more delicate topic next time! Back to my Kindle now. I finished the Bill Bryson book and am about to start book 2 - Beasts in my Belfry by Gerald Durrell.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Book 1: A is for At Home

At HomeAt Home by Bill Bryson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I rather stupidly chose a "chunker" of over 600 pages for the first of my 52 Books in 52 Weeks. I have only managed to get through two-thirds of the book so far, though I'm quite pleased to have got that far given that I also had to submit final assignments for last term's archive course module by Friday (including an essay I didn't start writing until Monday!) . I am going to post a review not despite not having finished the book as I don't want to get behind and I am determined to get to the end this weekend.

At Home is more of Bill Bryson doing what Bill Bryson does. Mostly I enjoy his easy-reading style, but this is not my favourite of his books. It is a history of domestic life which he hangs on a room by room tour of his home. In fact, the connections with the rooms are often pretty tenuous and he flits from topic to topic with an almost frantic speed, skimming over the surface of each. Often I found that just as he had aroused my interest in something he skipped on to something else. Still, I learned a little about a whole raft of subjects I knew nothing about before - why it does not work to build a house with iron or concrete, Capability Brown's landscape design, bedbugs, candlelight and the spice trade are a few that come to mind. Overall, though I quite enjoyed the book I also found it a bit too diverse and overlong.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

52 Books in 52 Weeks

To encourage myself to read more this year and get plenty of use out of my Kindle I am copying Faith and taking part in the 52 Books in 52 Weeks reading challenge. The rules are:
  • The challenge will run from January 1, 2012 through December 31, 2012
  • Our book weeks begin on Sunday.
  • Participants may join at any time.
  • All books are acceptable except children books.
  • All forms of books are acceptable including e-books, audio books, etc.
  • Re-reads are acceptable as long as they are read after January 1, 2012.
  • Books may overlap other challenges.
  • Create an entry post linking to this blog.
  • Sign up with Mr. Linky in the "I'm participating post" below this post.
  • You don't have a blog to participate. Post your weekly book in the comments section of each weekly post.
  • Mr. Linky will be added to the bottom of the weekly post for you to link to reviews of your most current reads.
To add a little spice I am going to add in the A to Z mini challenge:
Challenge yourself to read books alphabetically by Title and/or by Author.  Have fun searching out those difficult letters. For titles, the letter doesn't have to be the starting word. It can be any word in the title, but to make it more challenging try to find one that starts with the letter. This year I am making a bit more challenging by discounting any book that started with THE. For authors, it can be their first name or last name. Have fun with it and be creative.
A to Z by Title - Commit to 26 Books
A to Z by Author - Commit to 26 Books
A to Z by Title and Author - Commit to 52 Books
I don't want to be over ambitious so I am going to go for the 26 books by title option, with the word anywhere in the title.  I looked through the books I have already downloaded to my Kindle or have on my wishlist and can already cover most of the alphabet. This extra challenge will help me with the potentially paralysing choice of deciding which book to read next by narrowing it right down for me.

First up ... A is for At Home by Bill Bryson.

New Names for a New Year

I have been thinking for a while that Angel and Star are both outgrowing their blog names. I want to stick to pseudonyms for the sake of the girls' privacy, so I have decided I am going to switch to using their real-life middle names. The New Year seems like a good time for a change, so meet:

Helen (Angel)

Marie (Star)

And Rose (Cherub)

Tevye and myself will stay Tevye and the Bookworm. Whether or not I will remember I have changed the girls' names is an open question!