Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: I Want to Go There, and There and There...

Welcome to this week's edition of Top Ten Tuesday which is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

The theme this week is Books that Give Off Summer Vibes (or winter if you live in the southern hemisphere) but it's only the second day of winter and I've had enough already of being cold. I am therefore adapting the topic a bit to books about places that I either have or want to visit.

The Pearl Sister by Lucinda Riley
- Broome and Central Australia are both areas that have long been on my list of places to visit and this book, the fourth book in the Seven Sisters series, visits both. We have a weekend away booked for September to Uluru so we are crossing everything in the hope that we will get to go still. As for Broome, it's a long way to go to get there, and it is expensive but we will get there!

The Lighthouse Girl by Dianne Wolfer - At the end of last year we visited Albany in Western Australia. We visited the National Anzac Museum (I posted about the museum here) and I couldn't help but think about the premise of this book while I was there. The title character was the daughter of the lighthouse keeper in Albany and was for many of our diggers headed to Gallipoli, the last link with Australia. I haven't read this yet, but just hearing about the girl has stayed in my head.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith - A couple of years ago we visited South Africa. Our initial plan was to spend a weekend in Cape Town, but at the time they were very close to running  out of water. We therefore had a plan B which was to drive up to Gaborone in Botswana, and I was going to do a tour related to the books. In the end, we ended up in Cape Town, which is an amazing place, but next time we go to South Africa we will be visiting Botswana.

Old New York series by Beverly Swerling - I read Beverly Swerling's Old New York series a number of years ago now and thoroughly enjoyed them. The books follow the early days of the city, right from the original Dutch settlement. We visited New York just under three years ago. There is so much history and culture. You can read about these books here.

Queen of Swords by Sara Donati - I very nearly mentioned Sara Donati for New York, but ended up deciding to use her book for New Orleans. We visited New Orleans last year where we caught up with about half the members of a group that evolved over the years from Sara Donati's web forums (remember them?). She also had given us some information around some of the research she  did so we were able to visit some of the same places.

The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons - I have long wanted to visit St Peterburg and this book is one of the reasons. I love the idea of visiting The Summer Garden and standing in the shadow of the statue of the bronze horseman, visiting The Hermitage and more.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon - I know that I am not alone in dreaming about visiting Scotland. I mean, even before the TV series there were travel companies who specialised in Outlander tours. I did go to Scotland years ago, but I would love to spend some time in the Highlands, in the islands and looking for Nessie.

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley - I could have chosen a few Susanna Kearsley books and places, but I ended up going with this book which is set in Cornwall. I would love to spend some time in this area at some point.

The Lost Pearl by Emily Madden - Hawaii has been on my to visit list for a long time too, especially Pearl Harbor. The most recent book that I read that reminded me that I wanted to go is this one.

Virgin River series by Robyn Carr - I love the idea of the mountains and the forests that are in Oregon and I would be more than happy to do a driving holiday through this area (but not in winter!).

The eagle eyed among you may be wondering about the fact that there is not  as single book about Paris or France. I mean, I am normally pretty obsessed with all things French. Never fear! I have an entire Top Ten list ready to go for the end of July - yes already!

Monday, June 01, 2020

This week...

I'm reading....

I mentioned last week that I was just starting Palace of Tears by Julian Leatherdale. It is a big book so I haven't finished it yet, but I am making good progress. This is a dual timeline novel - you know I am a sucker for those books! I did find myself contemplating how many male authors there are out there in historical fiction land writing dual timeline books? Do you know of any others?

I also started reading The Silk House by Australian author Katye Nunn which is another multiple timeline book. I really meant to read her last book but I never got around to it even though it sounded great. I already know that I will be going back to read her previous books even based on the small part of this book I have read.

I finished listening to The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan this week. When it came time to pick my next audiobook I had multiple options but the ones that I was thinking about choosing were all really long. I therefore decided to look at the books that I have had in my Audible library and realised that Normal People by Sally Rooney was there. It only goes for just over 7 hours, and it is also the starting point for this month's Six Degrees of Separation meme so I decided to go with that as my choice.

What did surprise me was that it has the same narrator who read (or should I say performed?) The Good Turn. These are very different style of books so that was a bit of a surprise and took a little while to get used to. The other thing that I was reminded of is that I find it much more confronting listening to sex scenes than I reading them. I can read very explicit books no problems, but I get a bit a bit flustered listening to them. Weird, I know.

I was super excited to hear that later in the year there is going to be a new Virgin River book from Robyn Carr. I loved the Virgin River series and have read them a couple of times, but her other books haven't done it as much for me. And I enjoyed the Virgin River series on Netflix as well. It's probably smart to built on the success of the series with a new book now.

I'm watching...

We didn't really watch anything new this week that I haven't mentioned in previous posts.

In life...

It's the first day of winter! Do you know what that means? Time to break out a new toothbrush. The first day of a new season is always my prompt to change toothbrushes. Am I the only one who does this?

With our restrictions slowly being relaxed, this weekend we decided to get out of the house. On Saturday we were and had lunch with a couple of friends. They are the people who we caught up with most during social isolation so it was really good to catch up with them face to face. I did have to laugh. We took two jigsaws to her and she unexpectedly gave me four books in return. That's how it's supposed to work isn't it?

It is a bit strange to be seeing people face to face again. We have been inside for so long that I found the idea of going out to socialise a bit daunting, and I could almost have talked myself out of going, but it was fine once I got there. The other thing was that was the first time I put earrings and makeup on in weeks!

We do love the panorama setting on our phone camera
On Sunday we decided to head down the coast about an hour or so ago and we invited one of my husband's work friend to meet us there. It wasn't too cold and the sun was out so it was nice to get down to the beach, get some fresh air. We also got to eat some delicious fish and chips. We had something called charcoal prawns. I have no idea how they cooked them but they were delicious.

Other than that, this is the weekend before we do our bathroom renovation so we've been spending a serious amount of money at the hardware store. Now we just have to hope that the choices of accent tiles and things like that all come together. There is a small issue in that a couple of the bigger items we need had to be ordered in so they might not be here in time for next weekend but we will do what we can.

Posts from the last week

Top Ten Tuesday: Opening Lines
Book Review: The Railway Girls by Maisie Thomas
Alphabet 2020: I is for Me! Me! Me!
Weeking Cooking: May Bakes
Reading Reflections: May 2020

I've linked this post to It's Monday, what are you reading? as hosted by Book Date

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Reading Reflections: May 2020

It's a sign of age that you get to the end of each month and can't help but think where did that month go. Of course, maybe it feels a bit like that even more than usual now.

Here's what I read this month. I am trying something new for this week and am going to write a one or two line blurb about each book.

Magic Study by Maria V Snyder 4.5/5 - Reread

This is the second book in the Chronicles of Ixia series, and was a reread for me. I don't reread very often but it was worth it! I did review this (kind of) back in 2007 when I read it the first time.

Postmistress by Alison Stuart 4.5/5 - Australian Author

I have owned books by this author for years and I finally read one! And I am going to be reading another very soon! (Review here)

The Wallflower Wager by Tessa Dare 4/5

Tessa Dare's books are always fun and this was no exception. Now I need to wait for the next book in the series to come out.

The Bookshop on the Shore by Jenny Colgan 4/5 Audiobook

I was listening to The Good Turn and decided to go for something a bit lighter. I do admire the way that that Jenny Colgan gives you a lighter story but still covers off on quite difficult subjects.

Fire Study by Maria V Snyder

Book number three in the Chronicles of Ixia series. The next book moves away from focusing on Yelena and Valek so it will be interesting to see how the next book compares to this original trilogy.

The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan
4.5/5 Australian Author

This series is so good, and in this book some of the subplots that have been part of the atmosphere come to a head and so it will be very interesting to see what happens next.

The Railway Girls by Maisie Thomas

My first blog tour in a very long time! (Review here)

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Weekend Cooking: May Bakes

It's the last Saturday of the month and that means it is time to share my baking for this month. I started doing this earlier this year because otherwise every Weekend Cooking post would be about something sweet, which might be a bit much.

The first thing I made this month was my first ever attempt at cinnamon scrolls. These were a no knead version. I actually posted the recipe for this bake a few weeks ago.

Next, these cupcakes were made using a recipe from Australian pastry chef Adriano Zumbo. He has been on a few baking shows in the US as well. I don't know about him as a TV chef but his cakes and pastries look amazing. So this was, in his words, a cupcake you can make with the kids. They are chocolate cupcakes with a chocolate ganache inset and a salted caramel buttercream frosting. So yes, make that with your kids!

A couple of my friends thought that these looked liked the poo emoji which wasn't very nice but they did taste absolutely delicious! I would try to make the buttercream differently because I used a premade caramel. Maybe the buttercream would look a bit better with a homemade salted caramel. Or maybe I just needed to add some sprinkes. I did buy some amazing sprinkles this month but they hadn't arrived when I made this!

There are lots of companies around the world that have been doing something special for their consumers as a result of COVID-19. One of our big brand biscuit companies (as in cookies) announced they were going to be releasing some of the recipes for their biscuits. They released three, but now they have moved to releasing recipes made using their products. The three biscuits that they released the recipes for are Scotch Finger biscuits, Iced Vovos and Monte Carlo. I do intend to try the other recipes at some point, but I did make the Monte Carlo biscuits this month and they were so good.

Working on the basis that most Weekend Cooking participants won't actually know what a Monte Carlo looks or tastes like, they are a biscuit with coconut in and a creamy filling with jam. Here is what a mass produced Monte Carlo looks like

and here is what mine looked like. Much more rustic of course but they were so good! I am definitely planning to make them again at some point, and I possibly will share the recipe soon as well.

The day that I made those biscuits we had a Zoom afternoon tea so I also made scones using this recipe that I shared a few years ago now.

It just so happened the week after that afternoon tea it was my husband's birthday and also the first week that we were allowed to have families over to visit so we had an actual afternoon tea and I made more scones! I must confess that we bought the lemon meringue pie. I was going to make it but I ran out of time.

The other thing that I did make for the afternoon tea was a Tangy Ricotta Muffin which was one of the baking club recipes this month. These were so good as well. My nephews loved them!

I do have plans to cook a couple of things over the weekend, but they will go in next month's post.

What have you been making this month?

Please note: You may have to refresh the page to see your link on Mr Linky.

    Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Alphabet 2020: I is for Me! Me! Me!

You may be thinking that I have finally lost it because me begins with I does not make any sense. The isolation has finally got to her! Well, kind of but then, also, not really.

What I thought I would talk about today is what I have learned over the last few months. Even just that sentence should tell you why I is for me!

As we were coming home from the supermarket today, my husband said to me that we have basically been inside for all of autumn this year, which is a bit crazy really. Other than occasional trips to the supermarket, we, like so many others, have been at home.

When it first became apparent that we were going to go into social isolation, I must admit I was dreading it. I am someone who has a tendency to overbook my weekends with outings, get togethers, movies, dinners etc so the idea of being forced to stay at home was quite daunting. And the idea of working from home - no thank you.

So here's what I have learnt about me.

I really like working from home. There are positives and negatives of course. For example, I enjoy being able to get out of bed a bit (or a lot) later and having no commute even though it means that I have less time to read or play my stupid Facebook games. I enjoy being able to be home so that we can eat dinner at a reasonable time, instead of it sometimes being 7.30 or later by the time we get home and get dinner cooked. I enjoy being able to watch some of the early evening quiz shows including the obligatory shouting the answers at the TV.

One aspect that I really like about working from home is working with my husband. I like hearing him talking and laughing with his colleagues, how he leads his team and just generally hearing his voice. I like that we get to interact during the day, and we have lunch together fairly regularly. He went into his actual office a couple of weeks ago and I found that day where I was home by myself really hard. I am not looking forward to when we start going back to the office and we go back to just a few text messages a day.

I did get in trouble a couple of days ago though when I was cleaning up the dirty dishes from his desk ,because I was going to the kitchen anyway, and I took his chosen mug for the day. I heard him say to his colleague that his cleaning lady was a bit aggressive and had taken his mug. The next day when I came into the room there was a sticky note on his mug saying "mug for the day" so that I would know not to take it.

I do find interacting with others quite tiring, especially as a manager of a team of people where I am trying to keep checking in with on a regular basis.  I am always trying to gauge how they are doing. Is someone  a bit quiet, does that mean they are having issues, has their communication been a bit abrupt etc. And video calls, webinars etc are so draining.

Before isolation and before meeting the aforementioned husband, if I had a weekend where I didn't go out and do something or meet someone by the time Sunday night came I would be feeling quite down. I have learned that I can stay at home and enjoy myself, that I don't actually have all the things scheduled for every weekend. I am finding that we are filling our time with different TV shows from series to theatre to music, blogging, reading, cooking together and for each other and more. Now, I get to Sunday afternoon and realise that there is still so much more that I wanted to do that weekend which is exactly the same as before really, even without leaving the house.

Having said that, I am looking forward to when we can go and do things. Simple things like going for brunch with friends or going to the movies or to an art gallery! What I do need to remember is that we don't need to overschedule!

I have enjoyed coming back to blogging and I think that this period has helped solidify that. Those extra hours at home have given me time to spend visiting other blogs and in preparing my own posts. I currently have a lot of posts in draft at various degrees of completion, some of which may not ever see daylight, but I know that they are there.

I have learned that it is okay to be okay, but it is also okay to have days where we are not as okay.

Now, I'm pretty sure if I went through and counted the number of times I used the word I in this post that is all about me it would make sense that I is for me!

I think it was 49 all up in case you were wondering!

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Blog Tour : The Railway Girls by Maisie Thomas

Welcome to today's stop on the blog tour for The Railway Girls. It just so happens that today is release day as well! So....happy release day to Maisie Thomas!

While WWII is a very popular setting for historical fiction at the moment there is a lot of variety within that setting and a lot of room for stories to be explored. One of the aspects that I enjoy is reading about women who had to take on unaccustomed roles just because of the war.  Some examples of books I have previously read which focus on this include The Ambulance Girls series by Deborah Burrows and Land Girls by Victoria Purman.  When I was offered this book for review, the title grabbed me straight away for exactly this reason.

The story begins with our characters coming together after successfully passing the aptitude tests to become railway girls. They come from all different walks of life, and all have their own reasons why they want to do their part for the war effort. Mabel wants to be out of her well to do home, to be independent and to hopefully be able to forget the traumatic events which are still taking their toll on her. Joan always feels like she can't do much right in the eyes of her domineering grandmother, especially not compared to her beautiful older sister and Dot is a salt of the earth type who wants to do her best to do her part, especially seeing as her beloved sons are fighting for the country. And if that gets her out of the house away from her miserable husband, well so much the better.

The book follows the characters as they each come together at Victoria Station in Manchester to begin their new roles. They, along with several other characters, promise to be there for each other no matter what, and they'll need that support base as they navigate the difficult new world that they have come into. Many of the men that they will now be working with don't believe that the women will be able to do the job, especially the hard, physical jobs like being a porter or making sure that the ballast beneath the rails stays in place by digging it and replacing it where necessary. It isn't easy to become friends just like that though. Each woman is very different, and there are plenty of secrets between them. Can you truly be friends if you are not willing to open yourself up?

One of the aspects that I enjoyed in this book was the exploration of social change. War is a catalyst for change in so many ways. Suddenly women whose sole role has been in the home for so long are now working in men's world, sometimes including having to deal with overt sexism, and yet, in many cases their home duties have not reduced at all. The way that women dress is changing rapidly. Joan's grandmother, for example, was adamant that Joan and her sister could under no circumstances raise their dress hems lest they be labeled as floozies and yet, we also start to see the advent of trousers. And socially we had the well to do young ladies mixing with the working class girls and becoming friends - something that would never have happened in normal life. And that's before we even think about war time romances, which seem to have an added urgency to them, or the impact of grief and loss within a community.

I did want to specifically mention one incident in the story because it is something I have never read before. One of most well known events in WWII is the evacuation of the soldiers from Dunkirk. I have read or watched plenty of accounts of those events, whether it be from the perspective of a soldier racing to get to the beach in time to be evacuated, or someone manning one of the small boats involved in the rescue. What I have never seen portrayed is the flow on effect that happened through the rest of the country. This book is set in Manchester which is a long way from the south coast of England, and yet the rescued soldiers were disbursed across the country using the railway and in these pages we got to see some of the ways that would have happened even that far away from the action.

I found it interesting that the author chose to use some Northern England style dialogue for one of the characters. I think it was used to try to show the class divide between some of the characters. It did also remind me of when I lived in Northern England for a few years.

As you can see, I have quite a lot to say about this book, so it is probably lucky that it is the first in a series, with the next book due out in September. There are plenty of other railway girls that we met in this book that we will have the opportunity to get to know more about as the series continues. I am looking forward to reading more!

Rating 4/5

Thanks to the publisher for sending me the review copy of this book.

Goodreads synopsis:
The first novel in the utterly brilliant Railway Girls series. Perfect for fans of Nancy Revell and Ellie Dean.
In February, 1922, at the western-most entrance to Victoria Station in Manchester, a massive plaque was unveiled. Beneath a vast tiled map showing the lines of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway network, a series of seven bronze panels recorded the names of the men of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway who gave their lives for King and Country in the Great War – a total of 1,460 names.
In March, 1940, a group of women of varying ages and backgrounds, stand in front of the memorial, ready to do their bit in this new World War...
Mabel is determined to make a fresh start as a railway girl where no one will know the terrible thing she did and she can put her guilt behind her... Or is she just running away?
Meanwhile Joan will never be as good as her sister, or so her Gran keeps telling her. A new job as a station clerk could be just the thing she needs to forget her troubles at home.
And Dot is further into her forties than she cares to admit. Her beloved sons are away fighting and her husband – well, the less said about him the better. Ratty old sod. She is anxious to become a railway girl just like her dear mam – anything to feel she is supporting the sons she prays for every night.
The three women start off as strangers, but soon form an unbreakable bond that will get them through the toughest of times...

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: Opening Lines

Welcome to this week's edition of Top Ten Tuesday which is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

That's right! A Top Ten Tuesday two weeks in a row! The theme this week is Opening Lines. Now, I am not the person who remembers opening lines, no matter how cool they are, with the exception of famous lines. In fact, there is only one that I can think of that isn't one of the obvious ones like Tolstoy or Jane Austen.

Given that I can't come up with many off the top of my head, I am going to bring you the opening lines of the books that I am reading at the moment, and then some of my favourite books off of my shelves.

Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn - This is the opening line that I can roughly paraphrase and it is a doozy as an opening to a historical mystery series. It is also an introduction to Nicholas Brisbane.....what a man.

To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor.

The Railway Girls by Maisie Thomas - This is one of the books that I am reading at the moment. I will have a review of it up on Thursday.

I don't care what war work I do or where I do it - as long as it isn't here.

Palace of Tears by Julian Leatherdale - This is the other book that I am reading at the moment. And by reading I mean have read the first page, but I will be reading more.

The promise of fire was in the air that morning.

The Lost Love Song by Minnie Darke - One of my favourite book this year, so far.  And I really like this as an opening line for this book.

The love song began it's life, not with a fanfare or a crash of cymbals, but instead with a knock  at a door.

Fire Study by Maria V Snyder - This was the last book I finished. It is the third book in the Chronicles of Ixia series which I started many years ago. I read the first two books and then recently reread them, but this was the first time I read this book. I will be reading the next book soon.

"That's pathetic, Yelena," Dax complained. " An all powerful Soulfinder who isn't all powerful. Where's the fun in that?"

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley (also published as Sophia's Secret)- Oh how I love this book. One of very few books that I have reread, and that I would seriously consider rereading again.

It wasn't chance. There wasn't any part of it that happened just by chance.

Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati - The opening line to another long time favourite series. Last year I read the first book in the follow up series to this one and it was again excellent.

Elizabeth Middleton, twenty-nine years old and unmarried, overly educated and excessively rational, knowing right from wrong and fancy from fact, woke in a nest of marten and fox pelts to the sightof an eagle circling overhead, and saw at once that it could not be far to Paradise.

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth  - Another book that I love hard. I actually mentioned this one in last weeks post too so clearly it is on my mind at the moment

I had always been a great talker and teller of tales.

The Summer Garden by Paullina Simons - I don't love this book as much as the first two in this trilogy, but I do however love the way that this opening line both sets the scene for the book to come but also reflects one of the major scenes in the first book. So clever

Once upon a time, in Stonington, Maine, before sunset, at the end of a hot war and the beginning of a cold one, a young  woman dressed in white, outwardly calm but with trembling hands, sat on a bench by the harbor, eating ice cream.

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams - I have given you lines from books I am reading, that are favourites, and the best book I have read this year, so I thought I would finish with the opening line from a  a book I want to read

Before the lost word, there was another. It arrived in the Scriptorium in a second-hand envelope, the old address crossed out and Dr Murray, Sunnyside, Oxford, written in its place.

So, do any of those opening lines call to you?


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