Friday, July 3, 2020

June Books: Mysteries

I am pretty sure that there is never a month in which my book list does not contain some mysteries (both short stories and novels), usually classic and/or cosy, but also some others. I started one last night that I'm enjoying so far. Here are the mysteries I read in June:
Offshore by Ann Cleeves
This is a collection of short stories all set on islands and featuring various detectives from the author’s various series. I am only familiar with the Vera series, which I love (new one coming out in a few months). There was a Vera story in here as well as a few Jimmy Perez stories, which are set on one also based in Shetland but with a different detective, and one that seemed to be by a different author but based on an earlier Cleeves series about George and Molly, an older couple who are really into bird watching. The Shetland series has concluded now, I think. I have been considering starting on that one from the beginning, and might do so soon. The author also has a new series, the first book of which was published a few months ago, at least on this side of the Atlantic.

Parting Breath by Catherine Aird (audiobook read by Robin Bailey)
This is one of Aird’s Sloan and Crosby series. This one is set in a college. A student is found dying one autumn evening. His final words are ‘26 minutes.’ What does this mean? Why did someone want to silence him? While on standby in case they’re needed during the sit-in being staged by some students at the college, Sloan and Crosby proceed to figure it all out.

Singing in the Shrouds by Ngaio Marsh
I couldn’t decide what to read next, so picked up my e-reader and jumped into book 20 of the author’s Roderick Alleyn series, in which he is on a cargo ship that takes a few passengers from England to South Africa. He pretends to be a relative of the shipping company big shot so he can investigate a series of stranglings and to prevent the next one. Due to one tiny clue, it is thought that the murderer is on that ship.

The Missing Diamond Murder by Diane James
I came across this in the e-book section of the library website and the blurb said it was a good choice for people who love British cozy mysteries, so I gave it a try. It was a good read. It’s part of a series (this isn’t the first book and I have not read any others) and contains a backstory in addition to whatever the mystery is. In this case, the mystery involved a family diamond that went missing after the death of the family patriarch, which was also suspicious. Did he manage to make his way to the cliff edge in his wheelchair and either deliberately or accidentally fall over, or was he pushed? Fran Black goes to investigate at the urging of her friend Tom Dod, both of whom are part of a literary society. This is where the backstory picks up—he urges her to go because they have become very close when solving previous mysteries. He is in a marriage that involves his dead brother’s former fiancee or something like that and she is in the middle of a divorce—her husband is living with his new partner and they are expecting a baby. But, in 1930s England, that would not be enough for Fran to be granted a divorce. If she was ‘carrying on’ with someone herself, she would not be ‘blameless’ and the divorce would not be granted. Someone has written a letter to the court insinuating that the relationship between Fran and Tom is ‘improper’ which jeopardises her divorce. He suggests she go to the country to investigate the case, where she can be isolated and away from suspicion. She goes and the story unfolds. I would read more of these books—the mystery itself was fine, but the cultural details were what made the book for me. I quite enjoyed that aspect of the novel.

Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie (Phoebe Reads a Mystery podcast)
A few months ago, I learned of this podcast. At the time, Phoebe was reading The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Christie’s first book, one chapter per day. I caught up just as she was finishing the book. She moved on to Hound of the Baskervilles, which I also listened to and enjoyed. Then she began The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins and there she lost me. I hated the book and after trying to hang on in the hopes it would get better or end, I gave up. I was glad I did, because it seemed to go on forever. I did not unsubscribe from the podcast, but just waited to see what book would be next. It was this one, so I happily started listening again. This is Christie’s third book and it features Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings. Poirot gets and urgent letter imploring him to go to France immediately to help a man named Paul Renauld, who fears his life is in danger. Poirot and Hastings rush off, but arrive to find that Paul Renauld has been killed. Poirot investigates in spite of hostility from the French police detective assigned to the case. It’s no surprise who gets the right answer in the end. Phoebe is currently reading Anna Katherine Green's novel, The Leavenworth Case, which was apparently an inspiration for Christie.

Murder Takes a Holiday by various authors, edited by Cecily Gaylord
This is a collection of 10 classic crime stories that is new to the library e-book collection. There are a few more current authors included, but most are from the Golden Age era. Like the Christmas collections I’ve read in the same series, this is a great read. All the stories involve some sort of holiday/travel.

It's still weird for me to see things about 'the holiday season' because to me that's December. But here it means summer, when people go on holiday (instead of vacation)--at least they did before the pandemic.

Stay safe, wash your hands, cover your face in public, and happy reading!

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Sheepy Watch: Sweet Dreams

The postman put something in the box this morning and when I brought it upstairs, Bill said it was for me. he said he saw it and decided I had to have it. He knows how I love sheep πŸ‘πŸ˜€
Note the black sheep on the bottom right of the band. Being a black sheep myself, I particularly like that!

On the watch face, the sheep are cavorting among the stars and the text around the dge says 'sweet dreams' in various languages.
I love it!

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

June Books: Classics

Another month begins, bringing with it a new stack of books to spend time with. Our library is still not open, even though they were able to reopen three weeks ago. In our county, they started a phased reopening last week, with a few branches. Another branch has opened this week. They're still not allowing requests and no books are being send from library to library, so it's all browse, borrow, return for the time being. We have no idea when our branch will open, but fortunately, between my e-reader, charity shop books and other acquisitions, library e-books and e-audiobooks, I am not going to run out of reading material anytime soon!

I've been getting into more classics lately and I have quite a collection of those on my e-reader, thanks to Project Gutenberg, a site that has e-books freely available for download. These are all out of copyright and in the public domain and they have various formats to choose from. Some of the classics are pretty long though, having originally been serialised in periodicals and I don't always want to read 700-800 pages or more on a screen, so we have picked up a few used books online lately, both from Book Depository and ebay.

Without further ado, here is the beginning of my June book list:

Odd Women by George Gissing
I learned of this book from a booktube video. It sounded good, so I went to Project Gutenberg, downloaded a copy and put it on my e-reader. I loved this book! After I finished, I went back and got more of Gissing’s work.

This book, published in 1893, revolves around various ‘odd women.’ The title can refer to the fact that the women are ‘odd’ in the sense that most of them do not fit into the roles society has created for them. The other (related) sense of ‘odd’ in the title has to do with the fact that there were more women than men and many women were unmarried, whether by choice or not. The book includes themes of marriage, respectability, the role of women, and early feminism. It’s set in England, and we first meet the Madden sisters. After their father dies, the sisters are left without much money and have to fend for themselves. Two of them end up in poverty, trying to find work as governesses and companions, renting a small room and eating sparingly. Their younger sister becomes a shop girl, but wants a different sort of life. She makes a decision that will have repercussions for a long time to come.

As youngsters, the sisters knew Rhoda, who they end up coming into contact with again as adults. Rhoda has no interest in marriage and works with Mary Barfoot to teach middle class women secretarial skills so they can support themselves. The story branches off from these people, but comes back to intertwine at various times.

Gissing does fall short when it comes to class issues, which seems a bit weird, considering that some of his other work deals with class in a very different way and in his personal life, he was not a fan of the class structure.

I highly recommend this book and I look forward to reading more of Gissing’s work.

The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster
I’d heard about this novella before, but was reminded of it by Bill, who read something about it. I could not find it on Project Gutenberg and couldn’t request it from the library, since it’s still closed, but with a bit of searching, I found a LibriVox audiobook on youtube and listened to that. It is really good. Even though it was written in 1908, it sounds like he could have been writing about today. It’s a dystopian world in which people are forced to live underground with every need taken care of by ‘The Machine.’ At an eariier time, people thought they could control the machines they created, but of course, things did not go as planned. So people live in isolation in subterranean compartments and socialise via their screens. The main characters are Vashti and her son, Kuno. One day, Kuno appears on Vashti’s screen and asks her to come visit him in person. Travel is rare and frowned upon, but she gets permission and travels via airship to see him. This is terrifying for her. She is even more disturbed by what he has to tell her and is happy to get back to her compartment. Her relief is short-lived, however. Excellent story.

A Dark Night’s Work by Elizabeth Gaskell
This novel was published in 1863. It was first published as a serial in a Charles Dickens periodical. The main character of the novel is Ellinor Wilkins, who lives with her father, Edward, and various people who work for the family. The story begins when Ellinor is a very young child and ends when she is in her 30s. Edward inherits the family law practice, but he is unsuited to this work. The family is fairly well off, but does not have high social standing because Edward works for people who do. Things go downhill as the years go by, with serious consequences for many of the people involved. Class and gender roles are themes of the book.

I loved this book. I had it on my e-reader, having downloaded it from Project Gutenberg some years ago. I was recently reminded of it when listening to a booktube video.

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
We recently ordered this book, along with a couple of other books by Dickens. I wanted to read this one first, so of course this one came last. The other two arrived together and this one a week later, even though they were all ordered from the same place at the same time. This one somehow travelled from the UK to France to Ireland, so it had a longer journey. As soon as it arrived, I dove in and loved it from the start. It's not perfect, but there is so much to enjoy in this book and so much that is relevant in our world today. The introduction to this edition was also excellent, although I read those at the end, so as not to have plot points divulged before I start the book. I haven't really read Dickens, except for A Christmas Carol, in decades, so it is fun to revisit his work.




I should note that I have tried to give a flavour of the plots, but without going into too much detail, because I don't like to give too much of the storyline away. There are Wikipedia entries for all of them if you'd like to get that detail, but like the introductions, I never read those until after I read the book either, because they give away the story.

I finished a book just before going to sleep last night, so I will have the fun of picking a new one today. So many books, so little time! I hope you're enjoying some good reading, too.


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Clever Funny Videos

I always enjoy the Founders Sing videos--here's their latest:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89fgNaZRKGc

And Randy Rainbow is another clever guy:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kOesPt7iBY


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Wildflower Wednesday

We walked the river trail today and there were some lovely wildflowers blooming.



this thistle was quite tall and the bee was happy
The patches of ferns were pretty, too. I love the curls as they grow towards opening.

I hope there are many beautiful sights in your neck of the woods, too!

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Happy Solstice!

At 22:43 tonight our time, summer solstice will arrive. Yay! From then on, ever so slowly, the seconds/minutes/hours of daylight will begin to dwindle a bit more each day. I am almost giddy thinking about it! I know there is plenty of yuck still to come as summer drags on, but I always feel just a little bit better knowing that at least I am heading towards my best time of year now.

Whether this day makes you happy because of the long hours of light or the upcoming journey towards the dark, I hope it's a good one where you are.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Finally! FO to FO

Just over a year ago, we visited Creeslough for a few days. As we always do, we walked around to various places, just to see what we would see. One day, we walked to Doe Castle. On the way, I spotted this on the side of the road and picked it up.
I knew this would be fun to use somehow, so I carried it to Doe Castle and back to our 'glamping villa.' Then I considered how I would carry it home on buses and in a full backpack. I didn't want to carry it lest the end stab myself or someone else and I didn't want it to punch through my pack, either. I ended up wrapping the bottom with a couple of cardboard cores from loo rolls and tying it with some yarn I had. Then I carefully placed this wrapped end in a yogurt jar and set this on the bottom of my backpack along the back before packing everything else. It worked well and I got it home with no damage to anyone or anything else. I poured boiling water over it a couple of times and wiped it down

Then I considered what to do with it. I knew it would be a plant poke, but went back and forth and round and round about what to put in the ring. Nothing settled, so I just stuck it out of the way. When we moved, I stuck it in a new out-of-the-way place until the other day, when I decided it was time to actually make this FO (found object) an FO (finished object). I opted for a small bit of crocheted lace with a pineapple design.

I'm happy with the end result and it looks nice in the window.
If I decide at some point that I want something else, I can remove the lace and add a different piece of work, but for now, I'm glad to have finally turned the FO into an FO!


Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Blooming Cactus


This is a very slow-growing cactus. We got two others at the same time and it's easy to see how much they've grown, but this one seemed to maybe get a bit taller and fatter, but it was hard to tell. The other day, I looked at it and thought there was something wrong with it because I saw those things sticking out of it. Then I looked closer and saw that it is blooming. πŸ˜ƒ

Monday, June 8, 2020

Using Leftovers: A Pin Loom Scarf

A few weeks ago, I posted about the pin loom that Bill surprised me with. I've spent many happy hours with this little tool since then, weaving away and listening to podcasts and audiobooks. I started with some smooth cotton scrap yarn. I made 6 squares and practised joining them, following along with instructions both in videos and in the printed directions that came with the loom. I wasn't too keen on any of the joins, to be honest, but I crocheted around the resulting rectangle and made a little hanging loop and had a hand towel for the kitchen. With all of the hand-washing going on these days it comes in handy and since it's useful, the joins seem flimsy and messy don't bother me that much.

Once I knew I wanted something different as a finish to the squares, I played around until I found what I liked. That is a crochet slip stitch and chain border around each square. This provides a clean frame for the squares and provides versatility as far as joining goes--I will be able to sew the squares together along the crocheted borders or they could be crocheted together. I could also build on the crocheted edge to create a more elaborate border as a frame for the square. The joins would also be sturdier, which is important if making a blanket, shawl, or other garment.

When using the pin loom, the yarn gets wrapped around the pins in a particular way (depending on the loom and configuration of the pins) and then the yarn is wound around the outside of the pins to measure how much will be needed for the weaving itself. Then the yarn is cut, threaded through the weaving needle and is used to weave through the warp. I simply wound the yarn around 5 extra times and when the weaving is done, I pick up a crochet hook and use the tail to slip stitch and chain around the square. When that's done, I have a tail long enough to be securely hidden or to use for sewing squares together, if that's what I want to do.

I've been making squares out of all sorts of yarns, including some novelty/textured yarns a friend sent me a few months ago. I have a large project in mind for those, so am simply making squares for now. I don't want to put any together until I see what I end up with and arrange them how I want them. I plan to crochet them together with one colour of smooth yarn, but the squares themselves will be a mix of different yarns, textures, and colours. Fun!

I had one leftover ball of silk/cashmere yarn that a different friend brought back for me a couple of years ago--she found it in a thrift store in the US when she was there. There were 4 balls of a blue-grey, one ball of cream, and one ball of light brown. I used the two single balls to make myself a neckwarmer and three of the blue-grey to make a scarf with pockets, so I had scraps of cream and brown, a few scraps of blue-grey and a full ball. I made as many squares as I could with the yarn and today, I put together the blue-grey ones into a short scarf. I decided that, instead of attaching the squares along the edges, I would layer them in a diamond shape. I rummaged around in my stash of beads and bits from deconstructed charity shop jewellery and picked out a few pieces to use as embellishments. I used the long end tail to sew the squares and to attach the embellishments.

It's hard to see in the pictures, but the bottom diamonds are the blue-grey and cream held together.
I have a couple of squares made with the light brown and cream, but I will use those for something else. This scarf is just the length I wanted--it sits around my neck and the ends do not hang down too much. I plan to wear it secured close to my neck with a small pin/brooch. It will be nice when we are back in my happy seasons of autumn and winter.

Meanwhile, the pile of 4-inch squares keeps growing and ideas for how to use them are bouncing around in my head. I'm having so much fun with my little handmade loom.

I hope this day finds you safe, well, and experiencing many moments of quiet joy!

Saturday, June 6, 2020

May Miscellany

This is the last of my May book list--the books that were neither mysteries nor poetry. Included are short stories, memoir, Buddhism, nature writing, art, and letters in audiobook, e-book, and book form.

Bliss and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield (audiobook read by Juliet Stevenson)
The title says it all. Juliet Stevenson was a good reader. I enjoyed this book quite a lot.

The Magnetic North: Travels in the Arctic by Sara Wheeler
This book has been on my shelf for a few years and I decided the time was right to read it. The author had spent time in Antarctica and written a book about the experience. She wasn’t very interested in the arctic, until a trip to the area piqued her interest. She embarked on this book project, spending a couple of months in a particular arctic area of each country that has territory above the Arctic Circle. She did not do the entire project in a continuous journey but in chunks, one place at a time. Sometimes one of her children went with her. While her discussion of each place highlights a particular theme relevant to the problems faced in the far north, each chapter provides cultural insights, science, descriptions of weather and landscape, and descriptions of how things are changing. The science is dated, because the book was published over a decade ago, but it was still interesting as background. The author does a good job in her cultural descriptions—much was familiar to me from my time in Alaska and learning about Native cultures and Inupiaq Eskimo language. Her love of what she is doing and the arctic is evident in her writing and the way in which she structures the book. It’s a good read, if not always a happy one.

Letters of Note: Art compiled by Shaun Usher (audiobook read by various people)
The compiler of these letters recognised that letter writing is a dying art form and set out to find and preserve letters of note on a website. He has recently complied theme-based audiobooks of these letters. Various actors and authors read the letters and before each one Usher provides the listener with background on the writer of the letter, the context in which it was written, and a bit about the culture of the time. This was fascinating. I loved it and highly recommend it. There are also audiobooks on the themes of mothers, cats, love, and war. There may be others as well, but these are the ones I saw at the library website.

Elizabeth Taylor: The Complete Short Stories
I was thrilled when Bill came home with this book a few years ago, having spotted it at a pop-up charity shop. I love short story collections, especially complete collections like this one. I gather that Taylor is not as well known as she once was, but is starting to be read more these days with some of her work being re-published. This is an excellent collection. It’s a chunky book at 600+ pages, but it can be dipped into over time. I started it before we moved and then ended up reading other things, partly so I could donate them before it was time to pack them up and haul them here. I think I read about 1/3 of it before I set it aside. Once I picked it up again, I sailed through it, because I really loved it. Most of the books we pick up at charity shops are read (or started and set aside if not liked)—and then passed on, but sometimes I find one I want to keep. This is one of the keepers. I highly recommend it.

Minor Feelings: A Reckoning on Race and the Asian Condition by Cathy Park Hong
This was a new e-book on the library website. This is teh description from the page:
‘The daughter of Korean immigrants, Cathy Park Hong grew up in America steeped in shame, suspicion, and melancholy. She would later understand that these "minor feelings" occur when American optimism contradicts your own reality. With sly humour and a poet's searching mind, Hong uses her own story as a portal into a deeper examination of racial consciousness. This intimate and devastating book traces her relationship to the English language, to shame and depression, to poetry and artmaking, and to family and female friendship. A radically honest work of art, Minor Feelings forms a portrait of one Asian American psyche - and of a writer's search to both uncover and speak the truth.’

This is an excellent book. I read it just before the current uprisings against racism began in the US and spread around the world. The book is extremely relevant to what is going on now.

Welcoming the Unwelcome: Wholehearted Living in a Brokenhearted World by Pema Chodron
Years ago, when I was in the middle of a very serious depression which interfered with my ability to function well, I checked out a set of CDs which was an audiobook by Pema Chodron. I don’t remember which book it was. I was familiar with the name and had read a bit of her work before. I was also aware of the general structure of Buddhism, but I was to find out that I had misunderstood both. As I listened to the audiobook while in bed, crying and unable to make myself get up, I felt myself tuning in to something for the first time in a while. She made so much sense. I found myself mentally nodding as I recognised my own life in what she was saying. Then I saw ways I could begin to heal from right there in my bed and with my tears still flowing. And I did begin to heal. When that audiobook was done, I checked out another and then another. I read other books. I explored Buddhist teachings. I found my place in secular Buddhism as I understood the foundational ideas and put them into practice and felt such peace of mind. When I saw this e-book listed as a new release, I reserved it. It wasn’t all that different than her previous work, but the personal anecdotes and examples she gives are new and often funny. She shows how these practical ideas can help us navigate through pain and difficulty and also deepen our experience of joy and peace. Crucially, she also talks about how this benefits the rest of the world. I recommend her work, whether it’s this book or another.
Here’s the blurb for this book:
'In her first new book of spiritual teachings in over seven years, Pema ChΓΆdrΓΆn offers a combination of wisdom, heartfelt reflections, and the signature mix of humor and insight that have made her a beloved figure to turn to during times of change. In an increasingly polarized world, Pema shows us how to strengthen our abilities to find common ground, even when we disagree, and influence our environment in positive ways. Sharing never-before told personal stories from her remarkable life, simple and powerful everyday practices, and directly relatable advice, Pema encourages us all to become triumphant bodhisattvas--compassionate beings--in times of hardship.

Welcoming the Unwelcome includes teachings on the true meaning of karma, recognizing the basic goodness in ourselves and the people we share our lives with--even the most challenging ones, transforming adversity into opportunities for growth, and freeing ourselves from the empty and illusory labels that separate us. Pema also provides step-by-step guides to a basic sitting meditation and a compassion meditation that anyone can use to bring light to the darkness we face, wherever and whatever it may be.'




Friday, June 5, 2020

Poems and Poets

There was a bunch of poetry in my May reading.

The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms edited by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland
I wanted to have a book about poetic forms. I considered borrowing one from the library, but wanted one I could keep and refer to whenever I wanted, so I clicked around, read about various books, found this one, and bought it. Sadly, a day afterwards, we heard that Eavan Boland died. She was a groundbreaking poet and I highly recommend her work.

The book is excellent and just what I wanted. Each chapter is devoted to one form and begins with the form at a glance in which the structure of the form is presented as a list of components. Then there is a history of the form and a discussion of its evolution. From there, the text moves to the form in a contemporary context. This is followed by many examples of poems written in the form from different time periods. Finally each chapter ends with a closer look at one of the example poems. For anyone interested in poetry and poems, this is a wonderful resource.

Sylvia Plath Poems Chosen by Carol Ann Duffy
I hadn’t really read Plath’s poems, except for possibly one or two in anthologies or poetry emails. I probably won’t be reading more. They were fine, but not really my cup of tea and I wouldn't seek them out. This collection showed up in the 'new releases' section of the library ebook page, so I borrowed it.

Mean Time by Carol Ann Duffy (audiobook read by the poet)
the poet’s 4th poetry collection. I enjoy listening to audiobooks like this, because when the poet reads her work, she reads it in the way she meant it to be read, which could be different than how I would read it on the page.

No More Masks!: An Anthology of Twentieth Century American Women Poets edited and with an introduction by Florence Howe
Bill spotted this is a pile of books on the floor of a charity shop last year. He pointed it out to me, I snapped it up and brought it home. It was one of those treasures that we come across occasionally. I’m thrilled to have it—it’s a keeper. As with any anthology, it contains some work I love, some work I don’t care for, and some that is in between, but overall, it’s a wonderful collection. It was first published in 1973 and this is a revised and expanded version, published in 1993, so it is something of a classic.

Happy reading!

Thursday, June 4, 2020

More Mysteries in May

Here are the rest of the mysteries I read/listened to last month:
Scales of Justice by Ngaio Marsh
One day I was feeling tired and generally icky from the usual spring/summer head congestion and pressure, so the two non-fiction books I had started, which require some attention and thought, were not going to work for me. I still felt like reading, though, and went to some comfort reading—a book by one of the Queens of Crime. This is book 18 in her Roderick Alleyn series and was perfect for the sort of day I was having. It was a typical English village sort of story—lots of secrets and simmering resentments bubble up to the surface when Alleyn comes to investigate the death of one of the gentry, whose body was found by the river next to the ‘Big ‘Un’ and old trout that was a prize catch.

Death of a Fool by Ngaio Marsh (also published as Off With His Head)
After I finished book 18, I moved right into book 19 of the Roderick Alleyn series, which also takes place in a village and involves folklore and ritual. Something goes quite wrong at the annual winter solstice ritual dance and Alleyn has to find out why someone took part of the ritual horribly literally and someone else did not make it to the end.

Passing Strange by Catherine Aird (audiobook read by Bruce Montague)
I’d finished an audiobook and had a few days before my next reserve could be downloaded, so I went to the library site and found this one available. There are a few of her books in the system that are duplicates, but read by different people. The first one I listened to was read by Robin Bailey and I really liked his delivery—he really brought out the humour in the books. So when I saw this one, I checked to see if he was the reader, as I always do. He was listed, so I borrowed it. When I started listening, I learned it was the other guy. I decided to listen anyway and see whether I liked him. He was fine, but not as good as Bailey. It’s possible that this book wasn’t as funny as the others, but I do think the reader’s delivery was a factor. This guy put a whole new spin on some things, like reading the head detective’s words in a Scottish accent. I’m fairly new to audiobooks and a bit picky about the readers, so this is the first time I have had a chance to listen to several works in a short period of time by the same author but read by different people.

This is one of the books in Aird’s Sloane and Crosby series. I’m not listening/reading them in any particular order, so not sure what number it is. It doesn’t seem to matter about the order as there doesn’t seem to be any evolution in the characters through time as there is in some series. So far, they’ve all worked as stand-alones.  In this one, things go terribly wrong at the annual village Horticultural Society show. First of all, there was no way that woman’s tomatoes should have gotten first prize and second of all, the district nurse is nowhere to be found—at least until they are taking down the tents. Does this have something to do with who will inherit the priory, is the newcomer really who she says she is, and was the nurse silenced because she would be able to answer those questions?

The next Catherine Aird e-audiobook I requested came in a few weeks early, but I have a short story collection to listen to first--or at least see if I like it. Or maybe I'll renew that one and listen to Aird first πŸ˜ƒI don't think there are many more of her e-audiobooks in the digital section, so I'll have to look her up in the library system once we can request physical books again. I do enjoy her books a lot.

Happy reading!


Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Mysteries in May

As we head deeper into June, things are looking positive regarding our possible move to Phase 2 of the re-opening plan on 8 June. This is the time when libraries can re-open. Yay! That's a Monday and our library is closed on Mondays, so it would be the 9th before I could go, but that's less than a week and my anticipation grows by the day. πŸ˜€ I have three books waiting patiently for me to pick them up. There will also be an easing of the requirement that we stay within 5 km of our homes with certain exceptions. This will really not make much of a difference to us, because we live far enough away from things that even with the new 20 km limit, there wouldn't be anywhere to go, other than an even smaller village up the road a bit. We could possibly hop on a bus and go there for a few hours one day.

In looking over my book list for May, I see lots of mysteries and poems, along with a smattering of other sorts of books. I'll start with some of the mysteries.

Inheritance Tracks by Catherine Aird
Having recently discovered this author via a Lit Hub/Crimereads email and recognising the name from the e-book/e-audiobook section of the library website, I tried one of her books and loved it. It was an audiobook because that’s what was available at the time of my search. This turned out to be  good thing, because the reader was perfect for this author’s work. There are several of her books in the system, all but this one in e-audiobook format. This is her latest book, published last year, and is  in e-book format. I wasn’t sure whether I would enjoy reading her work as much as I did listening to it, and if given a choice, I would choose an audiobook read by Robin Bailey, but this was almost as wonderful. I wasn’t sure how much the dry humour would work in print, simply because it often appears in the form of thoughts left unsaid by the main detective, Sloan, but it does work. I was also curious to see how much the characters had changed or progressed because the books span decades and the first one I listened to was an early book. But it seems that little has changed. The doofus sidekick that no one is keen to work with, Crosby, seems to be the same as do the rest of the characters. It’s possible that as I go back and listen to more early work, differences will become more apparent to me, but it doesn’t really matter. These are fun books and I’m so glad to have had this author come to my attention.

Here’s the description of the book from the library website:
‘But they – along with a missing man – are descendants of the late Algernon George Culver Mayton, the inventor of “Mayton’s Marvellous Mixture” and each entitled to a portion of the Mayton Fortune. But before they can split the money, the missing man must be found.
They begin their search, but then Detective Sloan receives a call that one of the legatees had died following an attack of food poisoning. Now detectives Sloan and Crosby must determine whether the deceased merely ingested a noxious substance by accident, or if the legatees are being picked off one-by-one. And when matters of money and family rivalry are involved, there is almost certainly foul play afoot.’

The Religious Body by Catherine Aird (audiobook read by Robin Bailey)
This is the first Aird book. It’s set in a convent. After her room is found empty and she does not appear for morning services or breakfast and search is begun and Sister Ann is found at the bottom of the cellar stairs. It soon becomes clear that she did not simply fall as first assumed. Who killed her and why? Sloan and Crosby have to find out.

Henrietta Who? By Catherine Aird (audiobook read by Robin Bailey)
This is an early book in the Sloan and Crosby series. As with the other books of hers, I laughed several times. I do so enjoy the humour in these books. Grace Jenkins, a widow, is found early one morning by the postman, making the rounds of the village on his bicycle. It is clearly a case of hit and run and quickly determined to be deliberate. Her daughter, Henrietta, at university, is notified and comes home. But when the postmortem is done, it is discovered that Grace Jenkins never had Any children. Who is Henrietta and why was Grace run over?

Murder Under the Sun by Agatha Christie (audiobook read by Hugh Fraser)
I came across this title some months ago among the new releases in e-audiobook section of the library website. I waited until it was more seasonal and reserved it. It’s a collection of mostly lesser-known short stories, set in various places, but all in the summer. The title is a bit off as most stries feature other less serious situations than murder. There are some Poirot stories, many featuring Mr Parker Pyne, one with Mr Quin, and a few without any of her recurring characters. I am usually not sure whether or not I will like the reader of an audiobook, but I knew I’d like this one. Hugh Fraser played Hastings in the TV adaptations with David Suchet as Poirot. This is a fun collection and well worth listening to if you’re a Christie fan.

I hope you're enjoying some good books, too!

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Poem in Solidarity

Self Destruction (in solidarity with people rising up against oppression and with a nod to Audre Lorde)

I sit
in the adopted country
I love.

 I watch
the ongoing self-destruction
of the country I have never loved
but was born into and understand so well.

I listen
to the anguish
of those who
have always known
they were never meant to survive.

I see
the incredulity and fear
of those who
thought their country
was something different
even though this
is what it has always been.

I am reminded
that all politics 
is identity politics
and only one identity
decides how things 
should be,
who belongs where,
who gets to take 
a knee
and who gets to breathe.

If your skin is light enough
(or even sickly orange)
you decide
which of your weapons 
to use
in any given moment
and for whatever reason
you choose
while pretending 
you’re a patriot.

What are you in the mood for today?
Your voice?
Your position?
Your propaganda?
Your politics?
Your knees?
Your guns?
All of the above?

Each day you speak
and oppress
and deny basic rights
to humans you despise
and fear.

And when people
keep on surviving
you look for excuses
to kneel on their necks
and make the metaphor real.

And when that doesn’t work
you turn to your weapons 
of war
and even 
weapons illegal
in war.

I consider
as I sit here
how everything depends
on which side of the gun
you’re standing.

2 June 2020

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Bad Hair Day Found in a Book

Here's something to bring a smile. Bill found this card in a book he got at a charity shop.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Zero!

We just got word that there have been ZERO COVID-19 deaths reported today in Ireland! Well done to everyone who has done what was needed! Hopefully, this will continue going forward.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Surprise!

Years ago, I had a vintage pin loom. I had fun learning how to use it and then experimenting until it broke. One or two of the pins came off and there was no way to get them back on securely enough to use the loom properly. So that was that. Through the years I'd sometimes think about the loom and wish I still had it. A few weeks ago, this came up in conversation because Bill read a blog post about someone using hers.

This morning I'd just sat down with my porridge when the postman knocked on the door. Bill jumped up and went downstairs. When he came back, he was carrying a box. He'd gotten me a pin loom! Not only that, he bought a handmade one from a small business. They make the looms and sell them through a few different small fibre art businesses. He got this loom from one of them I love it that he supported a maker and two small businesses.
It's 4 inches square. They have other sizes, but this is the size I would have picked for myself, so I'm thrilled about that, too. It came with instructions for warping and basic weaving, a scarf pattern, and a weaving needle.

I will have so much fun playing with this and trying various ideas, which started bouncing around in my mind as soon as I saw it. I don't know what I will try first, but probably something with a smooth, untextured yarn so I can easily see what I am doing. This will be perfect for scraps. I can't wait to get started. But first, laundry. I'll be good and get my chores done before I play!

This is such a happy surprise. What a great gift from a great guy--not that I'm biased or anything  😁

Monday, May 18, 2020

On the Right Foot

I've always got various stitching projects on the go--I like to have something to work on while I listen to audiobooks and podcasts and I like to listen to stuff while I work on stuff. Listening and making go together. Socks have been among the projects I've been working on since we went into lockdown and the other day, I finished the third pair I've made recently.


I like to use double-pointed needles and make them one at a time. I've tried two at a time on two circulars and didn't care for it. Magic loop looks extremely annoying. So I stick with what makes me happy. When I used to teach in a yarn shop, I used to show students how I do things, how stitches are formed, and how they look. Then I told them that as they get more comfortable, they will inevitably find different ways to do things that are more comfortable for them and they should go with that. The important thing is to be pleased with the results, not how we get there. It made me so sad to hear stories about how these women, all of whom were older than me, had been driven away from stitching because the older women who taught them would be pretty tyrannical about everything. They got yelled at and told that there is one way to do things and that way was whatever way grandma, auntie, or mom said. They were told to rip out their work and do it over and over and over until it was acceptable to the seasoned stitcher. How horrible! No wonder they left stitching alone as soon as they could. I think I would, too, if I had that sort of experience. I am completely self-taught and I have come to be really grateful for that. I was free to do what worked for me and just love the process and that's what I tried to impart to my students. When I saw their joy and pride in the things they made, I was thrilled.

We've entered phase 1 of the re-opening process today. Not much has changed overall and nothing has changed for us. A few more sorts of shops are open (garden centres and hardware stores) and golf courses can open, but these are not places we go to anyway. We're still supposed to stay within 5 km of home, except for what is on the list of essential journeys. Now we wait to see how things unfold. If things don't get worse, we will enter phase 2 in three weeks.

I hope you're safe and well.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Fifty Degrees Below Zero

After I wrote my 'I hate spring and summer' poem the other day, I was thinking of another I wrote about 16 years go when we lived in North Pole, Alaska. It's at the opposite end of the seasonal spectrum and was written before I experienced any sort of environmental allergies--those didn't begin until we left Alaska and went back to the Lower 48. Autumn and winter were still my favourite seasons, but I did not dislike summer as much as I do now. Summers were short and even the 24 hours of daylight didn't bother me. Still, I loved the winter days when we had about 3 hours of weak daylight and I loved the crisp, cold air. Winter lasted from late September or early October until April-ish when break-up started. Everyone prepared for winter and was used to very cold temperatures. Schoolchildren would go outside for recess unless it was colder than -20(F). We knew to expect some seriously cold weather (-40F) for a stretch in January. One year, our cold snap dipped down to -50 or so for a time. When it broke, it went quickly and in a matter of hours, it was -10 and then 0. Bill and I were outside at midnight shovelling snow in T-shirts. By the tail end of every winter, 0 felt quite warm. My decade in Alaska my be one reason why I have so little tolerance for heat now. I start to get grumpy when it's in the 50s and 60 is too hot for me. I sometimes miss the cold, but when I feel nostalgia for those days, I remember that living in that kind of cold requires a lot of thought, care, nd preparation, and that it can wear one down after a while.This is especially true when one is living without running water as we were and has to haul it. Turns out that 5-and 7-gallon jugs of water are heavy to carry and very, very cold in winter! We had a septic tank, so unlike many others there did not have to dash to an out house, which I was very grateful for! Of course, with the climate emergency, those cold days may soon be gone forever. Anyway, here's the poem I wrote one day when even I was tired of the cold! I'd forgotten what that felt like. πŸ˜‰

50 Degrees Below Zero

The brownish haze hangs heavy
like a veil in the sky,
a blanket of car exhaust and wood smoke
at fifty degrees below zero.

I take a deep breath
and feel shards of air
scraping my skin
and tumbling into my lungs.

Too cold outside even for the frost
which creeps into the house,
spreading around doorknobs
and growing up windows.

The cold seems to stretch to forever
as I begin to wonder
if it will ever be warm enough
for me to see clearly again.

January 19, 2004

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Song of the Season

The first lines of this poem popped into my head yesterday and hung around in there until I worked out the rest of it.

Song of the Season

Spring-summer and I,
we just don’t get along
as the nights get short
and the days get long.

The sun comes out 
and I overheat
while wishing the rain
would come down in sheets.

The flowers, they bloom
and then clog my head
while my lungs start 
to feel like they’re filled up with lead.

The grass starts to grow
and my throat starts to burn,
then my plummeting mood
becomes cause for concern.

I miss seeing bare branches 
against a grey sky,
my depression returns
and sometimes I cry.

When solstice arrives 
and folks welcome the light
the great joy for me’s in
the lengthening night.

So spring-summer and I
are surely not friends
and I get less depressed
as we get near the end.

When the days grow short 
and the nights grow long
I’m back in the seasons
to which I belong.

Give me the dark,
the rain, and the cold--
Autumn and winter
don’t ever get old.

You know what they say--
that all things must pass,
but to me spring and summer
are pains in the ass!

13-14 May 2020



Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Sunlight and Shadow

sunlight on the water and piles of seaweed at low tide
sunlight on these gorgeous wee flowers in the wildflower garden

brilliant colour in the wildflower garden
two trees,two greens
standing at the end of the pier--very low tide
May this day bring many moments of peace and contentment in spite of all the uncertainty and suffering being experienced by so many.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Blue and Yellow and Green

dungloe lake

pond by the trail

gorse

dungloe river
May you find many tranquil moments of joy throughout this day.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Salad Base: Slaw with Balsamic Vinaigrette

I don't care for traditional coleslaw with the mayonnaise dressing. I use mayo occasionally, but when I do, I use as little as possible, because I'm not in love with it and too much turns my stomach. So when I make slaw, it's with vinaigrette. I make balsamic vinaigrette most of the time, but sometimes I use lemon or lime juice instead of the balsamic vinegar. The lime vinaigrette is particularly good in a corn and bean salad. I am not a white vinegar fan, either, so I only use that as a last resort, but it could be made that way.

The slaw itself is basic. It can be eaten as is, but I almost always use it as a base and add other things to it. It keeps well in the fridge, so it's convenient and it doesn't take long to add stuff to it and have a yummy meal or side dish.

I like to use sweetheart cabbage (it has a conical shape) when I can get it, but regular green or purple cabbage is good too. To make the slaw, I simply chop the cabbage and put it in a bowl. I take my peeler and peel a carrot or two, depending on size and then chop the ribbons before adding them to the bowl. I dice a red or yellow bell pepper and add that. Today I used dried herbs--oregano, basil, and parsley, but I've used fresh in the past as well. A sprinkling of granulated garlic is nice.

To make the vinaigrette, I put some balsamic vinegar in a small bowl or jar. The amount depends on how much slaw I've made. Then I add double the amount of olive oil, more or less. So if I used 1 tablespoon of vinegar (or lemon or lime juice), I would use 2 tablespoons of olive oil. If I used 2 tablespoons of vinegar, I'd use 3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Then I add a dollop of Dijon mustard and whisk it up.

I pour the dressing over the veggies and herbs, mix everything until the veggies are coated with the dressing, dump it in a container and put it in the fridge. It will keep for days in there and when I want salad, I start with that. A good bit of the chopping is already done. The dressing is already on there. so it save me making it every time I want a salad and then washing up the oily bowl and utensils.

I most often use it as a salad, but it's also good as a topping on a burger, chicken fillet, piece of fish in a pitta bread, wrap, or taco.

There are so many things that can be added to the slaw base. Sometimes I add other leafy things, like rocket (arugula), spinach,  cress, baby chard, or lettuce. Hard-boiled egg, cheese, drained canned or cooked dried beans, tuna, leftover chicken or wild salmon, smoked mackerel or other fish, turkey or chicken sausage, leftover veggies, snipped scallion or chives, tomatoes, are all good. I don't eat pork or beef, but if I did and had leftovers, those would be good, too. Whatever salad stuff you like can be added to this base, which is one reason why I like it. It's versatile, quick to make, and convenient, but most important of all is that it's healthy and yummy. There are times I crave this slaw. I'll be having some with my supper tonight and then I'll have my lunch sorted for a few days.
I hope your week has started off well.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Classics, Haiku, and a Poetry Collection

It's a bright sunny Sunday today right in the middle of a bank holiday weekend. Yet again, it's so quiet outside. Under normal circumstances (remember when that was a thing?), the neighbourhood would be bustling with people out and about--the sun, which does not agree at all with me, is worshipped by most, and one sunbeam can be the cause of great joy and a need to go outside and eat ice cream. While I am always happy to eat ice cream, being out in the sun isn't something I enjoy, so I was happy enough to spend the afternoon inside, reading and listening to the rest of an audiobook I started last night while tatting and drinking tea. The audiobook was a classic short story collection. I've been consuming more classics lately, including some in April. I also read some poetry--one collection was a hilarious collection of haiku-ish poems.

Olive by Dinah Craik
Some of the book tubers I listen to are really into classics. I’ve learned about several authors I’d never heard of before, including Dinah Craik. When one of them talks about a classic book or author that seems worth trying, I click over to Project Gutenberg. Most of the time, I find what I am looking for there, download the books and drag them to my e-reader. I have added a whole bunch of new classics to the device recently and once I read Olive and loved it, I went back and downloaded more by this author. Olive can be found here.

This book, first published in 1850, begins with the birth of Olive and ends when she is in her mid-late 20s. Olive is born with a shoulder issue that makes her look different to other girls/women. Thus, she is not subject to the same expectations that other girls and women are—it is assumed by everyone, Olive included, that she will never get married or have children. This frees her to create a life that is not as constrained as would otherwise be the case. While there are parts of the book that I could have done without, overall I thought it was a really interesting treatment of class, the role of women, what it means to not fit in, and religion. Most importantly, it was just a good story. I liked Olive and was cheering for her throughout the book. There was a cast of quirky characters, which I always enjoy. There was a lot of village life, which I also love. I’m glad I learned about this book and gave it a try. I’m looking forward to reading more new-to-me classics in the near future!

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (podcast: Phoebe Reads a Mystery)
I read about this podcast in an email, found it, subscribed, and began at the beginning. Phoebe, she who reads mysteries, has other podcasts that I had not heard of, and decided to add another. She was reading this book and thought that others might enjoy hearing a chapter a day, thus a podcast was born. Each episode is one chapter, so they vary in length.

This is Christie’s first published book and is also the debut of Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings. Hastings needs some quiet time after the horrors he has seen fighting in WWI. He bumps into an old friend, John Cavendish, who invites him to stay at the family home (called Styles) in the country. Hastings used to spend time there so knows it would be just the thing for him and he gladly accepts the invitation. One day, he bumps into an old acquaintance, Hercule Poirot, who is a Belgian refugee, who is, along with some others, sponsored by John’s stepmother. When the stepmother is poisoned, Hastings asks John if he can call in Poirot to help solve the case.

Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (podcast: Phoebe Reads a Mystery)
By the time I discovered this podcast, Phoebe was just finishing The Mysterious Affair at Styles. When she was done with that book, she began with this one. Again, each episode is one chapter. I listened to the Christie, then started on this one until I was caught up, then listened to the last few chapters as they were posted. This is a fun podcast and I’m glad I found out that it exists. She's currently reading The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins.

Painfully British Haikus by Dale Shaw
I should say right off that this book does not contain many haiku that are ‘pure’ examples of the form. They fit the syllable count of 5-7-5, but that’s as far as it goes. They could be seen as haiku-ish. I’m not a purist, so that’s fine with me. I like haiku a lot for a few reasons. What I like most of all is the ability to create a feeling or communicate an idea using very few words. Having spent years in academia and doing just the opposite—using many words to communicate not a whole lot—I enjoy this. I have dabbled in haiku-ish writing myself and will continue to do so.

This book was right up my street—haiku-ish poems that brought me right to the scene and made me laugh out loud many times. The author is a comedian and it showed—he captured the absurdity of everyday situations in a few words. This is a really fun book.

The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku by William J. Higginson with Penny Harter
Bill bought this book a few years ago. He says it’s out of print, so when he found a copy at a good price, he snapped it up. He bought it with the intention f reading it, and I said I’d be interested in it too, but I don’t think he has read it yet and it took me a few years to get to it. No matter. This is one I’ll be keeping and probably referring to again. It was first published in 1985, so parts of it are dated—the author talks about haiku poets having pamphlets printed so they can share their work, for example. Even that stuff was interesting to me, though, because it was a sort of window into a past culture.  There was also a short section on teaching haiku, both to children and adults, which I skipped. Despite these two issues, I found this book to be fascinating and extremely informative. The author provides the reader with a history of haiku in Japan, including how it came to be a form, how it evolved within Japan, how poets took their own paths within the form and more. He then expands this to the rest of the world and explains how poets in many different countries made it their own. He breaks down the parts of haiku, what makes a poem a haiku, and how various poets approached the form. There is a section devoted to other forms related to haiku and one that contains his thoughts on the uses of haiku. In the back of the book there is a reference section and a glossary.

As I was reading, I was reminded that I am not a purist (in this and almost everything else). I tend to use ‘-ish’ a lot. So while I enjoy reading haiku, when I write it, I don’t worry very much about ticking all the boxes—I call it haiku-ish. This particularly came to mind near the end of the book when I was reading about the subtle differences (which seemed non-existent to me, to be honest) between the examples of haiku and senryu that he provided.

One thing I liked about the book was his argument about how sticking too closely to the original form can lead to bad haiku. The 5-7-5 structure works in Japanese, which is a different kind of language than English (or the other languages he gives translated examples of) and has a different writing system, which makes a huge difference in how to write haiku. Even Japanese poets have disregarded this structure, as have many who write in other languages.  Yet it’s the first thing we learn about haiku as children.

And now that I have written quite a long piece about a very short form, I will close by saying that I am very glad that Bill found this book!

Selected Poems by Gabriel Rosenstock translated from Irish by Paddy Bushe
A collection of poems that have Aztec society, Irish culture, and Zen Buddhism as inspiration—sometimes all in one poem!

I hope it's a pleasant day in your part of the world. Happy reading!




Saturday, May 2, 2020

History, Mystery, Myth and Everything Not Remembered

We learned last night that our current restrictions will last until 18 May, but that starting Tuesday, people will be able to venture up to 5 kilometres from their homes for exercise. If things continue to improve, we will be at the starting point of the 5-step road map to ease out of the restrictions, which was unveiled last night. We've been told that if the situation worsens, these dates will be pushed back. If things go better than expected, some things could be moved forward. The re-opening of public libraries would be in phase 2, which is tentatively planned for 8 June. I am looking forward to visiting the library once again. Thankfully, I have plenty to read even with the library closed. Here are a few more books that I read in April.
Endurance: Heroic Journeys in Ireland by Dermot Somers
I found this book in a charity shop shortly after we moved. When I got it home, I didn’t bother trying to fit it in on one of the shelves, but left it in a small pile of newly acquired books and figured I’d read it sooner rather than later. I wasn’t sure whether I would want to keep it, but knew that if I wanted to, I could find a place for it. If not, I wouldn’t have to. It turned out to be the latter. It was interesting enough for me to continue reading, but not so great that I want to keep it. I doubt I would ever want to refer to it again and if I was interested in any particular journey written about in the book, I could look it up elsewhere. The author writes about various journeys undertaken by people, mostly in groups of various sizes, although there are a couple of individuals making journeys as well. The people he writes about are both historical and mythological.
I’m not quite sure what it was that made me feel  a lack of engagement with this book. I think some of it had to do with the author’s writing style, which I didn’t seem to connect with. At times, it seemed like he was trying to be funny or sarcastic and it just fell flat for me. Also, the layout of the book was annoying at times. Somers would be describing a particular journey and mention some aspect of it. Then there would be a box on the page which went into a bit more detail about that particular topic. These boxes interrupted the narrative. They did sometimes provide interesting information, but I always find that sort of thing annoying. I’d rather see these things at the end of a chapter or incorporated into the narrative, not scattered through the rest of the text. As it was formatted this way, though, I either skipped them altogether or read to the end of a section or chapter and then went back to read the ones that interested me.

Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember: The Stroke That Changed My Life by Christine Hyung-Oak Lee (audiobook read by Emily Woo Zeller)
When I started listening to this audiobook, I quickly knew that the reader’s overly dramatic style was going to annoy me. I wondered whether to go on, but decided to give it a little more time. The reader was indeed frequently annoying and took away from my experience of the book, but the book was worth it. Had the library been open, I probably would have looked for the physical book and returned the e-audiobook. I think I would have liked reading this one more than listening. But when I told Bill about the book, he looked it up and found that it’s not in the system, so it’s just as well that I listened to it. It’s a great book and worth the annoyance brought by the reader.

In the last hours of 2006, the author had a bad headache. Her husband suggested they go out for a drive. She agreed, thinking the cold air would do her good. Before long, she was literally seeing the world sideways, with the sky to her left. It was not for another two or three days that she went to the emergency room and learned she’d had a stroke. She was 33 years old. At first, she could not remember things that had happened more than 15 minutes previously. She had a notebook and her doctors told her to write everything down so that could serve as her short term memory. She did. This memoir begins with the stroke and takes the reader through her recovery, but also addresses the ways in which the author had to come to terms with other traumas in her life and how they had affected her life before the stroke. She came to see how she had shoved down her own needs and often behaved in ways that were not really hers, but were behaviours others wanted from her. She came to see the stroke as an opportunity to use her 'new brain' to think differently about herself and the world around herThe book was published 10 years after her stroke, so much had changed by the time she began writing and she had some distance from which to view the events she recounts in the book.

The Complete Steel by Catherine Aird (audiobook read by Robin Bailey)
One recent evening, I was reading my daily Lit Hub/Crime Reads email when I saw a link to a piece on the author, Catherine Aird. I had not read any of her books, but her name was familiar to me from the e-book/e-audiobook section of the library website, where I had scrolled by her work numerous times. Curious, I read the essay and clicked right over to the website to see what they had. This description of her in the write-up made me think she might be an author for me:
'Her Chronicles of Calleshire, twenty-four books published between 1966 and 2019 (yes! At the age of 89!) is a series of wry, pungent novels combining the police procedural with the intricate puzzle mysteries of the Golden Age. As such, they are traditional in every sense of the word, but filled with adroit plotting, playful wit, and literate charm—and unafraid to address such modern topics as money laundering, drug dealers, identity theft, sexual harassment, and DNA technology.'

There is one e-book on the site, which I reserved. The rest are audiobooks. This one was available, so I checked it out, downloaded it, and began listening. What the description above did not say, in spite of the 'playful with' comment, which I don't think describes it, is that she is really funny—at least in this book. And it’s a sort of dry humour that I really like. I laughed quite a bit as I listened to this book. The reader, always an iffy thing, was perfect for that dry humour. One thing I’m curious about is whether it will be as funny reading one of her books as it was to listen. It could be that not all the books are as funny, but it seems like they would be, given that much of it consisted of thoughts by the main detective. Usually when I read series, I try to do it in order, but I won’t be doing that with these. The library is still closed, so I can’t find out whether they have any of her print books and if so, how many, so I can’t request them in order. I will just take the ones I can get in audiobook and listen to them in whatever order I can borrow them. I'm not even sure whether reading them in order would make a difference. Eventually I might try to get the books in print that are not available as audiobooks. Meanwhile, the e-book came in early, so I downloaded that and I’ll see how that is. 

This book is set in a stately home, where the earl and countess have had to start allowing the public in for paid tours so they can get some money. One Sunday, some of the visitors are part of a coach tour from a council estate, including a mother and her 13-year-old twins, Maureen and Michael. As they proceed through the rooms, Michael goes missing. When they eventually get to the dungeon, they find him, messing around with the weapons and suits of armour. Then he plays around with the face plate on one and the day takes a turn for the worse. How did that body get inside the suit of armour, who is it, who put it there, and why?

I am delighted to have discovered another new-to-me mystery writer that I enjoy. Before the shutdown, I was starting on Louise Penny's series featuring Inspector Gamache and had read the first two. The third is waiting for me at the library. One fine day, I will be able to settle in with that book and a cup of tea. In the meantime, I'll be happy about all the books I have available to me, even in lock down, and I'll keep on reading! πŸ˜ƒ Stay safe!

Friday, May 1, 2020

Histories and Mysteries

Hard to believe it's May already! It's been a strange year from the start for us, since we spent January moving, February settling in and doing what we needed to do as a result of the move, March saw our daughter visit and things began closing the day after she left, with lockdown commencing by the end of the month and continuing until now. I did hear the Minister for Health yesterday saying that our actions have saved the lives of 3500 people. I have no idea how they come up with that number, but even if that number is one, we can be reminded of why we are doing this self-isolating. I heard someone refer to it as 'compassionate containment' the other day. What a beautiful way to put it. So for all of you engaging in compassionate containment and saving lives, thank you.

In the lockdown, my usual reading habits continue as always. In this first post about the books I read in April, I will focus on histories and mysteries.
A Place for Everything: The Curious History of Alphabetical Order by Judith Flanders
When I came across this title in the ‘new releases’ collection in the e-book section of the library website, I had to borrow it. I was curious. Alphabetical order is just something we take for granted now and don’t even really notice, so finding an entire book on the history of the idea was unexpected. This was a fascinating book. We may simply accept this way of organising things as obvious, but it was not always so and before humans could get to the point where it was an accepted  thing, a lot of other things had to happen first.

First of all, there has to be writing. In the case of alphabetical order, there has to be writing with an alphabet, rather than some other form of writing like syllabaries or ideographs. Once you have an alphabet, you have to have something to write on and that material has to be portable and cheap enough to allow for widespread use. Certain kinds of societies are required as well—nomadic people, for example, are not going to carry around a bunch of written material. In order to make writing a bunch of stuff down and keeping it useful, you need a society with institutions—religion, business, government, libraries.

In addition to the writing itself, once paper and printing lead to more written material being available, tools and furniture with which to organise all of these books and documents is required, so that evolves with the organisational systems.

I would not have thought to look for a book such as this, but I’m glad I came across it!

Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China by Jung Chang (audiobook read by Joanna David
I cam across this book in the list of new books in the e-audiobook section of the library website. Here is the description:
They were the most famous sisters in China. As the country battled through a hundred years of wars, revolutions and seismic transformations, the three Soong sisters from Shanghai were at the centre of power, and each of them left an indelible mark on history.

Red Sister, Ching-ling, married the ‘Father of China’, Sun Yat-sen, and rose to be Mao’s vice-chair.

Little Sister, May-ling, became Madame Chiang Kai-shek, first lady of pre-Communist Nationalist China and a major political figure in her own right.

Big Sister, Ei-ling, became Chiang’s unofficial main adviser – and made herself one of China’s richest women.

All three sisters enjoyed tremendous privilege and glory, but also endured constant mortal danger. They showed great courage and experienced passionate love, as well as despair and heartbreak. They remained close emotionally, even when they embraced opposing political camps and Ching-ling dedicated herself to destroying her two sisters’ worlds.

Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister is a gripping story of love, war, intrigue, bravery, glamour and betrayal in which Jung Chang reveals the lives of three extraordinary women who helped shape twentieth-century China.

I borrowed it because I've read a couple of the author's previous books, including on about Empress Dowager Cixi, who was also a part of this history. This book was just as excellent as the other two I've read by her. It was fascinating. She is an author that I will keep an eye out for in future.

When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson
Like the one other Atkinson book I've read, this one was a little strange, with lots of characters and plot twists. One subplot was introduced around page 300, if I remember correctly, and it came out of left field. Still, I enjoyed it.

Great Crime Stories by various authors
I picked up this book 5 years ago in a charity shop and figured it was time I actually read it. It was originally published in 1936 and has also been published under the title Great Detective Stories. Both names are a bit inaccurate as there is a mix here of detective fiction and supernatural/ghost stories. No stories have been added since the original publication date, so they’re all classics, some by well-known authors and some by those who are not as well known. It’s a great book. While I pass on most of the books I pick up in charity shops, sometimes I find books I want to keep. This is a keeper.

The Taiga Syndrome by Cristina Rivera Garza translated from Spanish by Suzanne Jill Levine and Aviva Kana
I came cross this magical-realist fable/novella in the e-book section of the library website and borrowed it. I’m not sure why exactly—maybe it was the detective story aspect of it. I think I probably also did not get a sense from the description that it was a work of magical realism, which I don’t care for—this was no exception. It was short enough for me to keep going to see if there would be some wrapping up of the story, but had it been much longer, I suspect I would not have continued. The author is apparently considered one of the best contemporary Mexican writers, so it’s not her writing, just my own personal taste. I don’t think I’ll be reading anything else by her, but if you like magical realism, fairy tales, and stuff like that, this might be something you’d enjoy.

The narrator is a detective—never named—who is hired by a guy to find his second wife. She has left him and run off to the forest with some guy. The detective goes off to the forest to track them down, hiring a translator who travels with her. They meet weird people who recount stories of strange happenings. There’s a wolf throughout, of course. Fairy tales are referred to often throughout.

I hope there are some good books on your reading pile, too. πŸ˜ƒ