Monday, February 28, 2011

Mothers are quite something and Book#10: Playing with the Grown-Ups

Mothers, I’ve decided, are quite something! Providers of unconditional love; food, water and education; they sacrifice sleep, fashion and their own sanity for their children – and then of course there are the levels of patience and tolerance they exhibit. I’m not a mum – but I have an incredible one, and a wonderful mother-in-law as well {Happy Birthday M-i-L}.

As I’m sure all mothers do, mine had tactics. Rewards in the form of chocolate should I get into the bath on time, shopping trips abroad come educational achievements, and an endless supply of ideas to ensure we burned off energy outside, while giving her a quiet reprieve indoors.

One of my most vivid memories of childhood was both Mum - and Dad’s - ability to transform stories into reality. We’d receive our own “Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch” as a picnic basket was attached to a rope and pulley and make our own cakes that a “Witch in the Cherry Tree” would wish to consume.

A love of reading was fostered, encouraged and nurtured in our household, particularly for 20 minutes after lunch – “Quiet Time” as mum called it. Whether we had friends over or not (actually, especially when we had friends over!), after filling up on fuel and before an afternoon of activity could begin, we’d each choose a book off the bookshelf and read “quietly” for 20minutes.

A stalwart of my childhood reading was Roald Dahl: The Twits, The BFG, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, Mathilda – oh the stories, the sagas, and the adventures we’d find in his pages.

So, the other week, as I was out browsing for books, I came across another book authored by Dahl. Only this time, the name was Sophie - the granddaughter of one of my most beloved children’s authors. (What’s more, as Wikipedia has just informed me, she was the inspiration for the character of Sophie in Roald Dahl’s story, “The BFG”).

Sophie Dahl’s book, Playing with the Grown-Ups, is a story of a mother and daughter, a childhood, a relationship, and a conflict between a daughter who wants to grow up and a mother who wants to stay young. I’m not sure that I would call it enjoyable, intriguing perhaps, but not captivating. It certainly won’t go on my favourites shelf, but it may well get pride of place, if nothing else but for its cover. Almost too pretty for words.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A perfect morning

I’ll let you in on a secret – each morning I wake at 7.30am. A civilised hour one could say. I’ve done the early morning starts and no doubt I’ll do some more, but for now 7.30am it is – and I don’t feel a bit guilty!

Awaiting me on my bedside table is a cleansing cup of hot water – the perfect way to start the day. It’s been placed there quietly by husband... he’s been up for a good half hour already and is well into his early morning routine of getting ready for the office. I use his 8am departure as reason to leave the house myself – in either walking or running shoes. A brisk 45minute run around the waterfront or a power walk around the Bay certainly gets the blood pumping.

But one morning this week was different. I awoke to husband leaning over me, quietly pulling the covers up underneath my chin. Sleep-clogged I couldn’t work out what was going on – yet I knew something was different. I felt dopey – and must have looked it too, much like a child does when you’re slowly waking them from a deep slumber, encouraging them to start a new day.

“Guess what’s outside,” he whispered to me. There could only be one answer to that... snow! And sure enough, a glimpse through the blinds showed a magical winter wonderland had settled.

There was going to be no use for running or walking shoes today – boots were in order. As we stepped outside, commuters before us had already paved a way down the pavement, but I didn’t want to follow in their footsteps. I wanted to walk where no-one had gone before... so I did. Right up to my ankles. In soft, oh so soft, powdery snow.

There’s always a stillness surrounding snow and this morning was no different. As snowflakes continued to fall upon us, we made our way slowly into town. Streetlamps wore snowcaps, boughs of branches bent towards us in greeting, and lying gently on top of budding blossoms was a fine layer of snow – a meeting of two seasons.

I left husband at the door to his office building and spent the next hour wandering the streets. By now there was more sign of life – more cars on the streets, buses, workers and students – the magic was starting to wear off, so I went in search of more. And found it in an extra hot chai tea latte and a bargain book table.

A bag of books later, I trudged home through the snow. I’m sure I broke all snow walking etiquette as I scuffed through the powder, knocking snow back onto the path shovels had but a moment before cleared. But the child in me – that snow so easily brings out – wanted to rebel.

And as I stepped back into the warmth of our apartment, tending to the more mundane of chores – hanging dripping jackets in the washroom, wiping snow covered bags, and dusting off my boots – I couldn’t help but to look outside at a magical winter wonderland, eyeing up the perfect spot to head back outside and make a snow angel.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

This one's a struggle

I returned to my local thriftstore yesterday in search of book #10. It wasn’t that long ago that I was in front of these bookshelves (illuminated by the lights that “weren’t for sale”!), looking for books numbers eight and nine. Having spent time browsing the shelves, I realised there weren’t too many new additions to the selection, so chances of picking up one of my reject books from a few days before were high.

After some time picking up and putting back other options (too old, too romantic, too western, too dusty, didn’t like the front cover, no synopsis on the back), I sure enough resorted to those I’d contemplated earlier in the week: one was about a women’s knitting club in New York City (doesn’t sound quite right to me – a cocktail club possibly, or a SATC fanclub, but a knitting club in one of the most cosmopolitan cities of the world?!); another was a futuristic tale of women’s roles in society (possibly a little too heavy for the beginning of the year at least!); so I finally settled on The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean. A New York Times bestseller the cover told me, a true story of beauty and obsession, and the inspiration for the movie Adaptation, starring Nicholas Cage and Meryl Streep. Not a bad recommendation if I was looking for one.

I’m now four chapters in, 50 pages later, and I’m in despair. I don’t like it! It’s boring, confusing, too many big words, technical and I can’t quite get my head around what is going on. I know the first few chapters set the story up, and usually I would persevere to page 100 at least, but something is holding me back on this one – and I’m wasting valuable reading time!

Why is it that a “runaway best seller”, obviously purchased by thousands of readers around the world, isn’t capturing my attention?  But a thought has occurred. It may be a runaway best seller, but how many of those buyers actually made it through the book to the last page? How many made it past chapter four and read page 51?

The Orchid Thief may be the first book of 2011 that I put down without finishing. That’s not to say I won’t return  - the competitor in me won’t be beaten – but I think I may need to go in search of another.

Any recommendations?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday favourite: Tuesdays with Morrie

Whether surprisingly or not, my younger brother and I have similar tastes:  we both have a sweet tooth, like travelling, hunting and watching Top Gear, listening to Tom Petty (although that’s where our musical similarities end) and we have been known to take to the road on two wheel bikes, training for various levels of endurance races.  There’s a difference of two years and about six inches between us, but despite the advantage he has over me in height, he will always remain my little brother.

When it comes to literary tastes – we don’t necessarily read the same books. I’ve yet to see him pick up a Jackie Collins or a Marian Keyes, and I in turn haven’t quite managed to make my way through Nelson Mandela’s extensive biography or Bill Bryson’s Down Under (although chances of me reading these before little bro reads Marian Keyes is probably much higher!). Yet, without fail, a birthday or Christmas present in the mail is in the shape of a book – and to be on the safe side, it’s usually a Lonely Planet Guidebook.

But for my 28th birthday – as I was jetsetting off to celebrate it in the 28th country I had visited (that was a challenge in itself!) – stowed away in my hand luggage was little bro’s birthday present to me: Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom.

“It’s pretty good,” was all he had said of this book, and yes I had heard much about it, but never knowingly understood what it was all about. I can only say that for once I was incredibly grateful for an uncivilised, early morning Easyjet flight from Gatwick where it was guaranteed that every other passenger would be fast asleep – because while reading Tuesdays with Morrie I was crying my eyes out. The tears couldn’t seem to fall fast enough down my cheeks as I turned page after page as we flew across the English Channel and over Europe, enroute to Copenhagen.

As such, Tuesdays with Morrie, in which Albom shares life’s lessons he has learned from his dying professor, is now firmly cemented on my most favourite of bookshelves and there it will stay until I have the strength and the supply of tissues I need to pick it up again.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Book #9: Recipe for Bees

I love a light read! And this one was absolutely perfect for a lazy afternoon. I avoided all housework, all email communication and my growing 'to-do' list to curl up with Recipe for Bees  – thoroughly indulgent and thoroughly enjoyable! 
A soft story – Recipe for Bees by Gail Anderson-Dargatz is nothing really to write home about, nor one that will imprint itself on the memory in years to come – but unlike my previous reading material, Recipe for Bees came along at just the right moment.

It’s the story of Augusta, told as her son-in-law is undergoing an operation for a brain tumour, yet what this side story has to do with the actual plot is anybody’s guess. It doesn’t provide any addition to the main theme, nor is there any connection to be made in a twist at the end, but its harmless none-the-less. The same could be said about the bees in the story. Why there’s this added element to the book, I’m not sure. There are very few mentions of it – other than the first opening paragraph – and as you delve into Augusta’s story, one forgets honeybees are even buzzing around.

Yet, I love a good historical novel, which this had elements of. Augusta went back in time, recalling life as a girl, a young married woman, gossip in the town, affairs, relationships, and growing old with her husband. A sweet story but nothing mindblowing, memorable, or magical about it – just sweet enough to go with a cup of tea.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wednesday's walk in: Southbank, London

I’d be hard pressed to tell you what my favourite part of London is. After almost four years living in one of the greatest cities in the world, I fast came to calling it home. How could I not as I walked through Hampstead Heath, covered in snow in winter, reds & golds in the fall and daffodils in the springtime. Then there were the summer days, drinking rose atop Primrose Hill – in the exact same spot as Bridget Jones skips over in The Edge of Reason , into Colin Firth’s arms. Don’t get me started on the Christmas lights along Oxford and Regent Streets in December, or the colour and characters seen in Nottinghill Markets on Portobello Road.

But right up there with these favourite places is Southbank. The stretch along the Thames that is home to the London Eye, the Tate Modern, and buskers on a Saturday afternoon. It’s also home to a book market – tables and tables of old and new, tattered and pre-loved, dust covered and sparkling novels, literature, non-fiction and stories. It is a place you can mingle in for hours, tucked under Waterloo Bridge. You’d soon forget about all the tourists walking past, or the noise of the trains rattling overhead. In the heart of London, with all the noise and chaos that is part of its magic, you can find a little patch of serenity – and it’s right here in the bookmarket of Southbank.

What’s more, this is the same place you can find the Southbank German Christmas markets in December. Warming gluhwein, steaming dumplings, bratwurst, Christmas gingerbreads and quaint little log huts housing gifts, decorations and more.

(Oh and don't forget to check out my WWW Wednesday today!)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

One that caught my eye

It’s funny how you can stand in front of a bookshelf, looking at hundreds of books, and one just jumps out at you. That’s what happened to me with Recipe for Bees. I’d stepped into my second Thrift store in Canada and headed straight for the bookshelves in the right hand corner. They were easily found, under some spotlamps with the sign “These lamps are not for sale” Message received loud and clear – fortunately I wasn’t in the market for reading lamps.

Anyway, there on the bottom shelf at foot level, sat Recipe for Bees, hidden – but not – among the other paperbacks. It caught my eye as my father is a bee keeper and makes the best honey there is to have. I’ve grown up with it spread on my Vogel’s Bread toast in the morning, and for our wedding almost a year ago, every guest was given a jar of Pa G’s honey.

As I took the book off the shelf to read the back cover, something else caught my eye and it was enough to tell me this is the next book on my reading list. The author – Gail Anderson-Dargatz – lives on Vancouver Island... my new home! I’ve traded London for the streets of Victoria and to be honest, it’s taking a little while to get used to. Hopefully Recipe for Bees will enlighten me on what my new home has to offer. 

Right – time to turn the first page

Oh and check out my Teaser Tuesday for today!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Book #8: Tinkers

I am never again going to feel guilty about picking up a little book – if Tinkers is anything to go by, it’s the little ones that take the longest. Not a bad thing when one is enjoying it. Unfortunately, my head just wasn’t in the right space for this one. As I daydreamed about shopping lists, what I was going to cook for dinner and who I must remember to email, several pages had been turned and I hadn’t taken a word in.

Just as one can be in the right place at the wrong time, I guess the same can be said about the right book being read at the wrong time. But it’s happened to me before. I remember picking up a Philippa Gregory book, recommended by a friend of mine – and her mother – who both thoroughly enjoyed it. No matter how many times I picked it up and put it down, I couldn’t get into it. Almost ten years later and I couldn’t put it down, reading it from cover to cover in an afternoon!

In between my daydreams, I realised Tinkers was quite a lovely story – sad, but beautiful. As a man lies dying with friends and family around him, and the tick tock of clocks he’s repaired over the years, he hallucinates and experiences memories of his father’s childhood, centred around the dark world of epilepsy. It provided an interesting insight into this condition, and the “madness” so many families tried to keep hidden.

Tinkers will definitely go on my bookshelf, to be read again in years to come, and truly appreciated for what it’s worth. For now though, it's on husband's bedside table to see if he can make more sense of it!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Life’s all good

I always try to set one day aside each week for a treat – and that day is usually a Sunday! Treats include such things as sleeping in, breakfast in bed, a decadent bagel with jam and cream cheese, a visit to a museum or gallery I’ve been meaning to go to, manicures, walks, or simply catching up with friends.

Don’t get me wrong – such things can be done at any time during the week – and even better, they can be done spontaneously. A mid-week vino with a girlfriend, just because. What better reason do you need? A romantic movie, a new pair of shoes, a chocolate cupcake or tickets to the theatre – simply because it’s what you feel like.

But the weeks can get away on us, so if nothing spontaneous has occurred during the week, you can guarantee such decadence, self indulgence and treat giving will take place on that day of the week commonly known as rest day (who are we really kidding in the 21st century?)

So, I’ve decided that Sunday’s is my day to blog about something other than books. It will come from the heart and will be about anything or everything... or both! There’ll be no theme other than the heading “Life’s all good!” Because with books, shoes, treats, and friendship – why wouldn’t it be?

However, to begin with... it’s got to be shoes...

“You sold your soul to the devil when you put on your first pair of Jimmy Choo's, I saw it.”
Emily says to Andy in Devil Wears Prada

The Devil Wears Prada is one of my favourite movies. From the shoes to the clothes to Meryl Streep’s lifting of an eyebrow, this movie is irresistible. But it bought to light a question...

Can you really call yourself a shoe girl if you don’t own a pair of Jimmy Choos? Because the thing is, I love shoes, and I do call myself a shoe girl, but I don’t own a pair of Jimmy Choos. Nor have I even tried a pair on! In fact, confession of all confessions, I wouldn’t even know a pair of Jimmy Choos if I tripped over them.
But that doesn’t mean to say I’m not a shoe girl. It’s just means I’ve saved the best till last. And, I’ve still got my soul. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Added to the collection

When I first announced my goal for this year was to read 111 books, a girlfriend of mine said “Give yourself a real challenge”. But when I explained to her that to achieve 111 books in a year required me to read one every three days, she realised that perhaps I did have a challenge on my hands.

I was then asked if audio books were included. “Only if I get desperate,” I replied.

“Is War and Peace on your list?” asked another friend. “Depends how far ahead of my schedule I get!”
These questions brought to light some logistics surrounding my “Year of Reading”. Was there a minimum number of pages per book? Did short stories count? What about children’s books? Poems – could they be included?

But I’ve shied away from such rules and have just decided there are no rules. I’ll read what I feel like reading. So far, my shortest book has been 150 pages; my longest 460 – I figure it will all balance out in the end. But I did still feel the tiniest bit guilty when I chose from the bookshelf Tinkers, by Paul Harding.  

A small, A5-sized paperback just 190 pages long. Yet I couldn’t put it back. For starters it bore the sticker “Winner of the Pulitzer Prize” – surely that’s worth a read. Then I noticed it was set in New England and the author himself lives near Boston – my favourite place in the USA. And as I read the synopsis...
“An old man lies dying. As time collapses into memory, he travels deep into his past where he is reunited with his father and relives the wonder and pain of his impoverished New England youth. At once heartbreaking and life affirming, Tinkers is an elegiac meditation on love, loss and the fierce beauty of nature.”
... I realised this was a book I had to have.

If it only takes me an afternoon to read, so be it. And what’s more, the kettle has just boiled, so I’m putting my feet up, cup of tea in hand, to read Tinkers

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday favourite: Q&A

I don't always remember where I buy books (possibly a downfall of buying so many!), but I certainly remember where I read them. At the beginning of 2009, husband and I left London for Cuba. At the same time, journo friend and hubby-to-be left New Zealand for the same destination. We were meeting halfway because journo friend wanted to visit Cuba before Castro carked it! (Well, why wouldn't you!)

Over the years, said journo friend had been the provider of many a good read (she still is) and this one was no exception. Q&A, by Vikas Swarup, had me mesmerised from the first page. Short, sweet chapters, so cleverly written, each a story in itself. Yet, despite each chapter standing alone, this book was definitely a whole - and one that I couldn't put down! As we drove past Cuban villages, lazed on beautiful beaches, walked through Cuban countryside - I had my nose inside this book.

I'd never heard of Q&A before - well at least I didn't think I had. And some of you may feel the same way... but here's the secret. The other name for Q&A is Slumdog Millionaire!

Seen the movie? Loved it? Well the book is 100 times better. Once again, I was left frustrated by the film. I appreciate that to turn a book into a film takes some creative licence, but I couldn't for the life of me understand why this story needed to be changed. It works perfectly as is - and has a MUCH better ending than the film!

An extra challenge

Having decided that one challenge (of reading 111 books in the year 2011) isn't enough, I've signed up for another one. This is just a mini one to get me started, but it's quite apt I think! The challenge is to read something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue - and given that this mini challenge comes at the same time as my first wedding anniversary, I simply couldn't resist!

It's hosted by Lazy Girl Reads:
This challenge goes from Jan. 1st 2011- Apr. 1st 2011

  • Rules: Choose 4 books according to the following guidelines:
  1. Something old
  2. Something new
  3. Something borrowed
  4. Something blue
  • You don't have to pick the books ahead of time! Be creative! While the other categories are self explanatory, 'Something blue' can mean a book with a blue cover, a book with the word 'blue' in the title, a book that takes place at sea...anything you want!

So here are mine...
4. Four Wives, by Wendy Walker

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Book #7: Snow Falling on Cedars

When one reads book reviews, words such as “compelling”, “truly remarkable”, “heartstopping” and “flawless” can often be a dime a dozen. I have to admit, that despite my love of such reading material, I don’t follow any reviewers, nor do I seek out recommendations. Rather my books are chosen off the shelf for the colour of their spine, the look and feel of them, the author’s name or – dare I say it – the picture on the front cover. Rarely do I buy a new book – and those that I do, tend to be Lonely Planet Guidebooks!

I’d picked up “Snow Falling on Cedars” in a thrift store in Canada. My first thrift store that I had ever stepped into – Canada style that is. I’d walked past the sign that told me it was “Seniors 20% off day”, past the racks of winter coats, the shelves of 2nd hand shoes, and the cabinets laden with china, cake stands and dishracks. The bookshelves were at the back of this store and it was to be my first Canadian book purchase...ever!

For some reason “Snow Falling on Cedars” caught my attention. Perhaps it was the quality of the paperback, still shiny and new without dog-earred corners, or pages that smelt like the inside of your nana’s handbag. The description on the back located the story near Seattle, across the water from my new home on Vancouver Island. That alone, cemented it as my purchase of the day, and book number seven for the year.

That was last week – I’ve now reached the end of a “compelling”, “truly remarkable”, “heartstopping” and “flawlessly written” book. A book that contains a number of stories within its pages, intertwined and so cleverly written by author David Guterson. “Snow Falling on Cedars”, a murder-mystery, is set in the courtroom, in a cedar forest, and in the memories of its characters. It involves a local fisherman, a Japanese-American, and a harmonious community that harbours resentment as thick as the fog that surrounds the island during this week in 1954. It’s a story of love, honour, and prejudice; childhood dreams, family feuds, and war. Gently written, it carries the reader in its arms right through to the very last page.

Now how’s that for a review!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wednesday's walk in: Chapters, Victoria, BC

Moving to a new place can be daunting – particularly a place where you don’t know a soul! But at the same time it’s exciting – there are so many new things to explore. New foods to taste, new supermarkets to shop in, new shoes to purchase and of course, new bookshops to lose yourself in.

That’s exactly what happened when I stepped through the door of “Chapters” bookshop on Douglas St, here in Victoria, BC. I immediately knew this shop was going to be my downfall. An artfully arranged gift display – Valentine’s Day in theme of course at this time of year! – greeted me. Beautiful books, delicious looking chocolates, funky presents and what husband may call clutter, but I find irresistible – lots of little knickknacks that help to make a home.

Past the gift display were the sale shelves – hold me back now!!! More gifts for mums, babies, girlfriends, and myself! But I hear you asking – isn’t “Chapters” a bookstore? It surely is – filled with magazines, children’s books, guidebooks and maps. There are shelves of fiction, nonfiction, bestsellers and classics. And I had yet to venture upstairs – or down!!!

I then stumbled across the discounted books table – books for just $2, new, unread – oh this really is going to be the end of me. If not me, then certainly my wallet! Prying myself away from the sales tables I stepped on the escalator to be slowly taken up to the top floor – where I am greeted by a Starbucks coffee shop, complete with delicious oatmeal cookies, reading chairs and... wait for it... roaring fires! (OK, roaring gas fireplaces, but fireplaces all the same!)

Well, “Chapters” is certainly my positive for today, and it’s just put a whole new light on my move to Vancouver Island. I am, quite honestly, in heaven!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A year of change

Not only is 2011 my year of books, it’s also a year of change. After almost four glorious years in London, exploring its history, its charm, and yes its literature – not to mention the wonderful neighbouring cities, cultures and cuisine that can be found throughout Europe, husband and I have moved to Canada.

It wasn’t quite what we’d planned for 2011, but when opportunities present themselves, one must take them. We’ve since arrived and the city of Victoria, which guidebooks have claimed is “more English than England”, has become our new home.

Situated on Vancouver Island, to the West of Canada and halfway between Vancouver and Seattle (for the geographically-challenged – me included!), the capital of British Columbia boasts palatial government buildings, very European in grandeur, architecture and style and a harbour filled with houseboats, sea planes and shacks advertising “Prince of Whales” excursions. A small downtown area has enough shoe shops and outdoor clothing stores to satisfy our two distinct appetites – for the first little while at least, and Beacon Hill Park provides some much-needed downtown greenspace, running tracks and sea views.

We’re slightly out of our comfort zone – though that isn’t a bad thing; and it may require us to view the next few years here with an open mind – which can’t be bad either. A friend enlightened me on the city of Victoria, explaining it’s for the “newly wed and the nearly dead”.

But I’ve vowed to come up with five positives each day and when it all gets a bit too much, at least I can escape into my world of books.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Book #6: On Beauty

I’d heard so much about this book, and seen it on a number of friends’ bookshelves, but had never got around to reading it myself. I’m not sure why I hadn’t picked it up before now – after all, it ticks all the boxes: attractive cover, shortlisted and winner of prestigious prizes, set in a favourite part of the world (New England), and a description that leads one to believe the story is filled with love, feuding families, personal emotions, political issues and high ideals. Almost sounds like a modern day Romeo & Juliet – in a language one can easily read and understand!

Finally On Beauty, by Zadie Smith, was top of the pile on my bedside table – it helped that all the other books underneath it I’d already read, so choices were slim. As I worked my way through the pages, reading about a son’s love of a girl he can’t have, a father and husband’s cheating ways, a provocative female student flirting with her professor, and a friendship between women that broke family boundaries, I can’t say I was all that captured. I persevered, I daydreamed, I put it down, picked it up, and continued to read yet another couple of pages – but for all its accolades “wonderfully funny” (Observer)  – I never laughed out loud; “exceptional grace and wit” (Sunday Telegraph) – I was ever so slightly bored; “the year’s most enjoyable literary novel” (Daily Telegraph) –I’ve enjoyed reading OK magazine more!

Yet despite it all – I really want to read Zadie Smith’s other novel, White Teeth. Now how does that work I wonder?!

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Friday Favourite: The Bronze Horseman

I’m not short of love – I have a wonderful husband who remembers anniversaries (even when I don’t – woops!), buys me jewellery just for doing his washing (told you he was wonderful), cooks me dinner, brings me breakfast in bed and supports me 100% in everything I do. The story of his proposal to me makes other women weep, and he even goes so far as to eat all the chocolate in the house when I’m on yet another diet!

Yet despite being showered by love and wrapped in a wonderful loving environment by family and friends – I love a romantic novel... and this is my favourite! The Bronze Horseman, by Paullina Simons has been around for a while – so too has its sequels (The Bridge to Holy Cross also known as Tatiana & Alexander, & The Summer Garden) but despite other romantic novels that have come and gone – and a few raunchy Jackie Collins’ & Jilly Cooper’s thrown into the mix – The Bronze Horseman still gets pride of place on my bookshelf of favourites, and is recommended to anyone and everyone!

Set in Leningrad in 1941, Tatiana immediately stands out as a character. Quiet, beautiful yet full of strength. It’s only a matter of time before she meets her knight in shining armour – and he himself is irresistible. Their story and life together has everything you want in a romantic saga – love, loss, despair, emotional partings, romantic reunions and a family of their own. You’re guaranteed a happy ending of course, but it takes some time to get there and along the way you wonder if it will eventuate.

For me, The Bronze Horseman is the ultimate in romantic novels and perfect for curling up with this Valentine’s Day – as you eat chocolate and your hubby cooks you dinner!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Book #5: One Red Paperclip

(and January's Wild Cherry (Red) cover love challenge book)

Whenever I visit someone’s house I inevitably end up at their bookshelf, scouring the shelves to see what their bookshelf says about them. Do we have similar reading tastes? Is there anything I can borrow? Ideas for my next book purchase? And how many of their books have I already read!

When we visited friends in south London, sure enough, I was found standing next to their fireplace, perusing their bookshelf – and that’s when I noticed One Red Paperclip. It immediately caught my interest, so I filed it away as a book to add to my own bookshelf.

But, one week later I received an email from said friend, saying he’d like to buy us One Red Paperclip  and did we already have it on our bookshelf – meant to be or what?!
And that’s how One Red Paperclip ended up as book number five for my 2011 reading challenge. The story of Kyle MacDonald himself, who began by trading one red paperclip and worked his way up to eventually being able to trade a house – trading on the way a snowmobile, a date with Alice Cooper, a camping stove, and a fish pen – among other such items.

A quirky story, a great idea, but unfortunately a rather boring read. I’d recommend cheating this one and going to his blog instead:

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wednesday's walk in: Belsize Park

As much as I love a bookshop with bestsellers all laid out on the table, the latest biographies displayed in the window and the feel of crisp new covers as you pick up a book to read the description on the back cover, the bookshop I frequented the most in London was a little Marie Curie charity shop in Belsize Park.

Belsize Park is situated in one of the best parts of London (ok, I may be slightly biased, but here’s why). It is just up the hill from Camden – got to love those markets, the Goths, and Bar 55 (two for one cocktail happy hours!) – and just down the hill from Hampstead (one of the literary hotspots of London – and has been for centuries!). Yet the best part of this location is that, my little bookshop as it came to be known, seemed to received all the cast offs from the Hampstead elite – those with enough money to churn through books and send them to the charity shop before best selling hardcovers had even made it into paperbacks!

This meant I had the choice of Zadie Smith, Alexander McCall Smith, Charles Dickens, Marian Keyes, John Le Carre and Harry Potter on the shelves – all for just £1! Yes – my little bookshop sold paperbacks for just £1, and when they had a sale on (which was frequently), I’d be able to nab a bargain – three books for £1!

A visit to my little bookshop fast became my Sunday morning ritual. Husband would head out to Belsize Village to stock up on freshly baked Belsize Bagels. These would then be consumed with homemade blackberry jam (the blackberries themselves picked from Hampstead by husband’s hands) and topped with cream cheese. Delicious, delectable and thoroughly indulgent.

So what better way to finish off the morning than a trip to the bookshop! I certainly burned off a few calories carrying my purchases home!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Book #4: Cleo

A little bit about me – I’m not really an animal person. We’ve always had a cat growing up as children, and we even gave Mum & Dad a cat for their 25th wedding anniversary, but cats, dogs, parrots, hamsters, rats, guinea pigs, budgies or finches – take ‘em or leave ‘em as far as I’m concerned.

Husband would go one step further and say “Animals are for eating”. Now that may not necessarily go down well in all camps, but then he did grow up on a farm in NZ – enough said?

Books about animals? Well, I prefer books about people – we have enough characters among the human race to write about without adding in furry, four-legged characters, but then I’m always open for something new. And something new arrived in my Christmas stocking, late last year. It was called Cleo – a 291 page international bestseller by newspaper columnist, Helen Brown.

On the front cover, Cleo is described by ‘Good Housekeeping’ as “Possibly the next Marley & Me” Given that I am probably the only person (bar husband) who didn’t go through a box of tissues while watching this film, was Cleo - a story about how a small black cat helped heal a family – really going to be a book for me?

Well, it was. Set in the wonderful city of Wellington, Cleo was real. I could imagine the wind howling against the windows, the steep streets walked along, a little black cat waiting patiently in the bedroom window waiting for her owners to return – and all the while, healing a family that had been ripped apart by death, grief, blame and loss.

There was no doubt about it, Cleo had character, and she was certainly the central character in this delightful yet tragic, charming yet sad book, dedicated to those who say they aren’t cat people but know deep down they are.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Book #3: Trust Me

Shopping at second-hand bookshops, is very different to walking into a bookshop – it’s much more exciting, because you simply don’t know what will be there waiting for you. It means you can’t really have a book in mind that you wish to walk out the door with, because chances are, it’s not going to be on the shelf. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though – it just means you’ll walk out with something you’d never even considered (and it could be even better than what you’d hoped for to begin with).

But nothing beats stepping into a second-hand bookshop to see on the shelf, a book that you’ll been longing to find, or a book by one of your favourite authors – that you’re just about to get for a bargain price. That’s how Trust Me, by Lesley Pearse, ended up on my bookshelf.

I can’t quite remember how I first came across Lesley Pearse’s books, but I certainly remember the first one I read. It was called “Never Look Back” (check out the Friday favourites!). Each of Pearse’s books is an easy read – they’re a perfect holiday book, a perfect plane book, or a perfect book to curl up with on a wintery afternoon. They each have the perfect blend of characters, an historical element that beats any a history lesson, and a somewhat predictable ending that you’re never quite sure how you’re going to reach.

Trust Me is the story of two sisters, their childhoods spent in orphanages in both England and Australia. It’s a story of two girls sharing so much, yet having nothing in common; two girls from the same family yet two girls who are so different in their approach to life, and the challenges their lives pose. From the streets of Sydney to the dry dusty Australian Outback, this was one I couldn’t put down.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Book #2: The Legacy

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of trash! As a writer, sub-editor and proof-reader, I spend my days reading, writing, and re-writing. Some copy reads smoothly, it’s well written, informative, and enjoyable – other copy is rubbish. It needs working, reworking and started again from scratch. It lacks soul, it has no voice, and is simply a convoluted mix-up of the English language. Yet that’s not trash!

Trash takes you away to another world. It’s light hearted, free, and requires a limited amount of thinking – and that’s exactly what you need every once (or twice) in a while. The Legacy was exactly that for me. A light read recommended by a friend. “It won’t take you long” she said. And Richard and Judy agreed. It was part of their summer bookclub must reads. But all were wrong.
My second book of the year set me back a week. This lighthearted read weighed me down each evening as I hopped under the covers, trying to get through yet another chapter.

A simple story: grandmother dies leaving family home to her granddaughters, sisters who have a secret – both from each other and family members around them. One sister wants to keep it a secret, the other wants to know... and so the story begins.
Half the book is set in the present day – sister number two researching the family history. The other half of the book is set in the 1900s and follows the story of the girls’ great grandmother – the family member with the secret.

I’ve leave you to discover it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Friday Favourite: The Tea Rose

This book should come with a health warning – you will not be able to get out of bed, nor will you be able to converse with others around you. Reading this book will make you very unsociable, unaware of happenings around you, and you will lose a week of your life – but it’s worth it. Every minute of it!

The Tea Rose is, without a doubt, my absolute favourite book. I first read it years ago while house sitting for my now mother-in-law. She’d jetsetted off to the Mediterranean on a six week cruise – a birthday present from her son, now my husband – dishing out presents like that I wasn’t going to let him get away! Her house was on a farm under the shadows of Mt Pirongia, a beautiful mountain in the heart of the Waikato region of New Zealand. But as beautiful as it was, I quickly found out that country living is not for me. I lasted all of about 26 hours of those six weeks on the farm, before leaving the house sitting duties to husband and returning to my childhood home – in the city!

Yet, I would escape back to the countryside on weekends, and it was one of those days that I spent immersed in The Tea Rose. A captivating historical novel with its beginnings in a Jack the Ripper era of London. A cast of well-developed characters that each has a story of its own, and a perfect mix of danger, intrigue, romance and sorrow. I disappeared for days into the pages of The Tea Rose and several years later, when I’d moved to the magical city of London, I discovered the sequel, The Winter Rose. There went another week of my life!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Book#1: Caroline - A Mystery

I hadn’t planned on it being the first of my 111 books, it had no significance in any way, no recommendations to go with it, no associated history, but it’s a book I’ll never forget – as the first of my 111 books in the year 2011.

Caroline: A Mystery sat in a box of books at my former workplace. Added to the pile by the books editor – it obviously hadn’t made the list and was in need of a good home. Its simple, artistic cover caught my eye and although the back didn’t give much away, I understood the story was about a man, who fell in love with a donkey. I’d added it to my bag of collectibles, taken it home, and placed it onto the pile of books, slowly gathering dust. I’d get around to reading it one day.
That day came around sooner rather than later – in fact, it was the 1st of January 2011, when I curled up on the couch and began to read.

Caroline is a donkey who captures the heart of a man on holiday with his family. A man of routine, as the child narrator explains. He goes to work each day and returns each evening at the same time. The preparation for the annual family vacation is meticulous, yet chaotic, planned but last minute. And after a relaxing family holiday, the man returns to his routine. Only this year, he returns with a donkey. A donkey who takes her place in the back yard, then in the workplace, and finally in the hearts of her owner’s family. He learns to plays chess, and befriends the neighbours. Sound a bit far-fetched? Possibly, but it’s a sweet story of companionship and heartache, a story of two souls, a patient wife, and an understanding boss. But most of all, it’s a story about Caroline – and a story, that remains a mystery to me!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My bookshelf

Before I let you in on the books I’ve chosen to read to start my year of books, I thought I should tell you a bit about my bookshelf. You see, it’s arranged in a certain way. Not alphabetically, nor by author; it’s not colour-coded, nor is it dictated by height, width or thickness.

Instead it’s arranged just as the shelves are in my most favourite of bookshops – Daunt Books. Daunt Books can be found in Belsize Park, South End Green and in Marylebone High Street in London. With its quaint, shop front, and softly spoken, book-loving employees, Daunt Book sells itself not as a travel bookshop, but a bookshop for travellers.

Walk into Daunt Books and you can be transported to another world. Or if you are indeed heading abroad, you can find all that you’re looking for – and more – on your chosen country’s shelf. For Daunt Books arranges its bookshelves by country. If you’re planning a week in Italy, not only can you purchase Guidebooks to this fabulous country of pizza, pasta and olive oil, not to mention vino rosso, but you can find books written by Italian authors, books set in Italian cities and countryside, stories of soul searching in Tuscany, childhoods in Florence, or murder mysteries in Rome.

To complement my love of travel, with my love of literature, and to house my collection of some 680 books (and counting), my shelves aspire to be like those of Daunt’s. Arranged by country – from France, to Spain, Morocco to Egypt, Cuba, Denmark and Poland. There are picture books of Scotland, history books of England, guide books of Europe and phrasebooks to get me by. Tucked into pages are travel articles, magazine articles, maps, photos and bookmarks. This is my bookshelf that makes up my literary world. One I’m going to delve into and explore this year.