Tag Archives: books

Read Harder Challenge 2016

I don’t do New Year Resolutions. I try to go with the thought that every day is a chance to begin afresh. Or even every minute, every second, every breath. And I am generally a bit hopeless at sticking with challenges. However, I do like to read books. I like to vary what sort of books I read but, like most people, find it easier to stick to the familiar sometimes – genres and authors I know I like. So, this year I am challenging myself to take part in the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. Here’s the list of the challenge tasks:


I’m already making a start on “Read a book out loud to someone else” – I am reading “The Princess Bride” aloud to Rafe who, even though he is a confident reader himself, and nearly 11 years old, still likes to be read aloud to. I’m not complaining 🙂

I am also already part way through “The Corpse Reader” by Antonio Garrido, which will satisfy the challenge to “Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900”. I must admit that I would never have selected this book had it not been recommended to me by two people – a bookworm friend and also my mum. I’m not very far through but it’s quite gripping so far!

Are you planning any reading challenges this year? Have you any recommendations for books to satisfy any of the other challenges mentioned? I am always on the lookout for good books!

Happy New Year!

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Apologies for my blogging absence. I’ve had a bit of a non-creative couple of weeks. There’s been stuff going on in my life -some good, some not so good – that has sidelined creative pursuits. It happens.

Some of the good things include:

Performing stunning feats of acrobatic daring in the woods:


An outing to the Big City Far Away:

mama on the millenium bridge

And drinking tea on a balcony:

mama drinks tea on balcony

I have also been reading. A lot. I have read three more books towards the Treasure Hunt Reading Challenge:

For the clue of a “mythical creature” I read Tracy Chevalier’s The Lady and the Unicorn. I didn’t enjoy this as much as the Girl with the Pearl Earring but did think it did a great job of evoking the era in which it was written, and there was fascinating insight into the making of a tapestry.

For the clue of “something scientific” I read “The Radioactive Boy Scout“. This is a very readable and compelling account of the true story of a wayward young boy scout and amateur scientist who tried to build a nuclear reactor in his shed. As you do.

And for the clue of “something made of wood” (books are made of paper; paper is made of wood) I read “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak. Words cannot explain how this book affected me. I finished the last few chapters whilst in a public waiting room. I could not stop the tears. If you can read this without crying, you have a heart made of stone. It is brutally beautiful or beautifully brutal, I’m not sure which. Read it. Just read it.

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A Month, a Hobby, and a Mythical Creature

I haven’t posted an update on the treasure hunt reading challenge for a while, but I have read a couple more books, crossing off two clues.


The first, for the clue of “a month” was a crime novel called “Elegy for April”, described as:

April Latimer has vanished. A junior doctor at a local hospital, she is something of a scandal in the conservative and highly patriarchal society of 1950s Dublin. Though her family is one of the most respected in the city, she is known for being independent-minded; her taste in men, for instance, is decidedly unconventional.

Now April has disappeared, and her friend Phoebe Griffin suspects the worst. Frantic, Phoebe seeks out Quirke, her brilliant but erratic father, and asks him for help. Sober again after intensive treatment for alcoholism, Quirke enlists his old sparring partner, Detective Inspector Hackett, in the search for the missing young woman. In their separate ways the two men follow April’s trail through some of the darker byways of the city to uncover crucial information on her whereabouts. And as Quirke becomes deeply involved in April’s murky story, he encounters complicated and ugly truths about family savagery, Catholic ruthlessness, and race hatred.

Both an absorbing crime novel and a brilliant portrait of the difficult and relentless love between a father and his daughter, this is Benjamin Black at his sparkling best.

I don’t read a lot of crime novels these days, as they scare me too much ;-). This one, however, I found so dull as not be worthy of any scared feelings. It is set in 1950s Dublin and my main impression was of lots of descriptions of rain, dingy bars and people smoking cigarettes. Not sure about this being the author at his “sparkling best”. Perhaps if I had read the previous two books in the series I might have felt more empathy for the characters, but as it was I struggled a bit. Ah well, that’s the “month” category ticked off. And I read something I probably wouldn’t otherwise have read, so a success in that respect.

Second up was for the “hobby you have” category, for which I read Marie Duenas’ fine novel “The Seamstress”.


Spain, 1936 and the brink of civil war.

Aged twelve, Sira Quiroga was apprenticed to a Madrid dressmaker. As she masters the seamstress’s art, her life seems to be clearly mapped out – until she falls passionately in love and flees with her seductive lover.

But in Morocco she is betrayed and left penniless. As civil war engulfs Spain, Sira finds she cannot return and so turns to her one true skill – and sews beautiful clothes for the expat elite and their German friends.

With Europe rumbling towards war, Sira is lured back to Franco’s Nazis-friendly Spain. She is drawn into the shadowy world of espionage, rife with love, intrigue and betrayal.

And where the greatest danger lies. . .

This was much more gripping. There’s history, espionage, doomed romance, wonderful friendships and even beautiful descriptions of fabrics. Yep, a much more satisfying read and definitely recommended, if you can face picking up a book of 600 plus pages 😉

I have now started reading Tracy Chevalier’s “The Lady and the Unicorn” which should nicely fit the clue of “mythical creature”.

If you don’t have a “clue” what I’m talking about, read my first post about the challenge here.

And as always, if you have any recommendations for any of the categories I have left, then feel free to share them. These are the remaining treasures to hunt:

Something you’d find in space
Geological formation
A colour

A farmyard animal
A type of building
An illness
A country
A girl’s name
A boy’s name
A body of water
A mode of transportation
A kind of food
A kind of drink
A flower
A hobby you don’t have
Something made of metal
Something made of wood
Something made of plastic
A toy or game
A family relationship
A number
A shape
Something you don’t like
Something scientific
A question mark
A bird
A time of day

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Checking Off More Treasure Clues

I am chugging away at the Treasure Hunt Reading Challenge, and have checked off two more “clues”.

For the profession clue, I read Memoirs of a Geisha. It’s possible that I am the last person in the world to have read this! Here’s the blurb on the off-chance you haven’t read it:


In this literary tour de force, novelist Arthur Golden enters a remote and shimmeringly exotic world. For the protagonist of this peerlessly observant first novel is Sayuri, one of Japan’s most celebrated geisha, a woman who is both performer and courtesan, slave and goddess.

We follow Sayuri from her childhood in an impoverished fishing village, where in 1929, she is sold to a representative of a geisha house, who is drawn by the child’s unusual blue-grey eyes. From there she is taken to Gion, the pleasure district of Kyoto. She is nine years old. In the years that follow, as she works to pay back the price of her purchase, Sayuri will be schooled in music and dance, learn to apply the geisha’s elaborate makeup, wear elaborate kimono, and care for a coiffure so fragile that it requires a special pillow. She will also acquire a magnanimous tutor and a venomous rival. Surviving the intrigues of her trade and the upheavals of war, the resourceful Sayuri is a romantic heroine on the order of Jane Eyre and Scarlett O’Hara. And Memoirs of a Geisha is a triumphant work – suspenseful, and utterly persuasive.

Although I am not sure of the authenticity of a white American male writing in the first person as a geisha in the 1930s/40s, I did find myself quite immersed in Sayuri’s world, and ended up enjoying the novel more than I expected, although I did find the ending a little unsatisfactory.

The second clue I checked off was “something you would wear”, and for this I read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Here’s the blurb:


Berlin 1942

When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance.

But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

I read this book in two days (it’s been a while since I’ve done that!). Although the grim inevitability of the ending was hanging in the air right from the outset, I still found it difficult to put down, and still found myself deeply affected by the conclusion. I liked the sparse writing style, and thought it was perfectly paced. The horrors of the Holocaust were not spelled out in any explicit way but somehow that made it all the more arresting. My main criticism of the book would be that the character of Bruno seemed at times to be just a little too immature and naive, even for a 9 year old. I appreciate that this is a children’s book, but it does seem rather patronising to kids at times. So, a recommendation, with some reservations. I have heard that, in this case, the film may be better than the book but I haven’t seen the film (of this, or of Memoirs of a Geisha as it happens) so I can’t comment, though I would be interested in your thoughts if you have!

I haven’t decided what to read for my next clue, so you will just have to watch this space!

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Two More Treasures

As you may remember, this year I have embarked on a Treasure Hunt Reading Challenge from the blog Doing it the Open Way. There is a list of “clues” and the idea is to read a book with a title that fits each clue. I posted about the first two books I read for the challenge here (Girl with a Pearl Earring for the gemstone clue; and The Tiger’s Wife for the zoo animal clue). I have now read two more books towards the challenge. First up, for the clue “weather” I read

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon


Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julián Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets–an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.

For me, there are two categories of great novels. The first type are the ones where you race through because you can’t wait to find out what happens next; the second you want to read slowly because you want to savour every line, every sentence, every word. The Shadow of the Wind was the second sort. This is a beautifully written (translated) novel. There is humour and poetry and sadness. It has some of the most exquisitely drawn characters in any book I have ever read. And the story itself is intriguing and entertaining. It has mystery; it has love; it has gothic horror; it has dark humour. This is just a fabulous, fabulous book and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The second book is for the clue “a feeling”, for which I read

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

sadness goodreads

The wondrous Aimee Bender conjures the lush and moving story of a girl whose magical gift is really a devastating curse.

On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother—her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother—tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.

The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden—her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.

I am not sure how I felt about this book.  I found it easy to read and zipped through it in no time.  I thought it was very original but also very, very strange!  Maybe because it mixed the mundane with the magical so seamlessly, I don’t know.  At times it was sad; at times it was funny; at other times it was just peculiar.  I do think it’s worth a read and I would be intrigued to know what you think of it if you do.  I’m still shaking my head when I think of it 😉

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Reading Treasures

I have made a start on the Treasure Hunt Reading Challenge (see original post here). I have read a couple of books towards it so far.

First up, for the category of “a precious stone” I read The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier.

girl pearl earring

Although I didn’t think this would be my sort of book, I really enjoyed it. I loved the descriptions of the painting process, and have always had something of a fascination with maids (maybe since knowing that my own great grandmother went into service at the age of 14). There was an edgy feel to the book, in as much as there was a certain dreadful inevitability about Griet’s fate, and I felt Chevalier paced this beautifully.

The second book I have read so far for the challenge was for the category of “a zoo animal”. I read The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht.

tigers wife

You know when you read a book and you feel like you ought to like it, but just don’t – that’s how I felt about this one. While I could appreciate the language, the imagery, the integrated fables, I just didn’t feel any kind of emotional connection with the characters. The book left me a bit cold if I’m honest.

I am now starting on my third book for the challenge, for the category “colour”, and it’s My Name is Red by Orham Pamuk. I have high hopes for this one, but have only just started it, so it’s too early too call 😉

my name is red

For more ideas on books with colours in the title, check out Daire’s post here.

Thanks to my husband, I now have a few more books lined up for the challenge. He came home last week and mentioned that a colleague had cleared out their bookshelves and brought in a box full of books they no longer wanted. Naturally, I sent him off with my list, and he came back with these gems:

three more books

For the category “profession” was Memoirs of a Geisha.
For the category “a kind of food” or “number” was Five Quarters of the Orange.
And, my favourite interpretation of all, for the category “something you don’t like” was Voices After Midnight! I am definitely no owl 🙂

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Charity Shop Treasure Hunt

This morning I had a couple of hours in town to myself. I took the opportunity to trawl the charity shops for books for my treasure hunt reading challenge. I was pretty pleased to find a few:

treasure hunt books

So, I’ve got
The Girl with the Pearl Earring (clue: a precious stone)
Love in the Time of Cholera (clue: an illness)
The Fifth Mountain (clue: a geological formation)

Nice 🙂

For the most part, the fiction I read is from the library. However, because I like to read in the bath, it’s good to have a few owned paperbacks on hand too! Looking forward to reading these.

I also picked up a pretty flowery sheet, which I am going to use to make the muslin for my next garment:

flowery sheet

The pattern I am planning to use is New Look 6095, a simple shift dress.

New Look 6095

I am also planning to have another go at McCalls M5050. Hopefully this spotty green fabric will be perfect, and nothing like a milkmaid 🙂

dotty green fabric

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Hunting Treasure

Regular readers will know that I looooove books.

Like many people, I suspect, I do tend to read books that I know are “me” – that are by authors I know, or are similar to other books I have read. So, when I saw this challenge by Daire of Doing it the Open Way, I thought this might be just the thing to get me reading a wider variety of things, and taking a risk on books I might not otherwise have tried. Here’s how Daire describes the challenge:

Basically I’m going to give you a list of topics, and you have to read a book with each of those things in the title. (I’ll be doing it too). There is no time limit for this challenge, and there will be no prize, it is simply a whimsical way to get through those stacks of books you’ve ‘always’ intended on reading.

Below is the list of scavenger clues. I’ve already started thinking about books I might read for each of the clues, and these are in italics. If you have any great books to recommend that would fit into any of the categories, then give me a shout 🙂

Something you’d find in space
Geological formation
A colour
My Name is Red (Orhan Pamuk)
A farmyard animal
A zoo animal The Tiger’s Wife (Tea Obreht)
A type of building
A profession
An illness
A month November (Flaubert)
A country
A girl’s name Naomi (Jun’ichirō Tanizaki)
A boy’s name
A body of water Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys)
A mode of transportation
A kind of food Quite a Year for Plums (Bailey White)
A kind of drink The Color of Tea (Hannah Tunnicliffe)
A feeling
A flower Black Orchid (Neil Gaiman)
A hobby you have
A hobby you don’t have
Something made of metal
Something made of wood
Something made of plastic
A toy or game
A family relationship
A number
A mythical creature
A shape
Something you’d wear
Something you don’t like
Something scientific
A question mark
A precious stone
A bird
A time of day#

What fun!!

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Learning Skills to Love What I Wear

You may remember that I signed up for the Love What You Wear Project a few weeks’ back. I made a commitment not to buy any new clothes from 1st November 2012 to 30th November 2013. In my last post, I talked about learning to sew my own clothes as a response to life on this new planet we have made. About time I got round to something then!

I was pleased to pick up a couple of old dressmaking books in a charity shop:

dressmaking books

Both have lots of useful info, but the Batsford book is a particular gem. There are charts detailing which needles and threads to use with which fabrics:

pfaff fabrics

Info on basics like facings and setting in sleeves:

setting in sleeves

And some very twee illustrations:


Next step is to actually make something!

After the disaster of cutting out a too-small-size pattern for Waif’s pyjamas, I decided that, rather than cut out the actual pattern for my skirt, I would trace off the size I need. This has the added bonus of reducing the number of confusing lines; plus I am less likely to put my thumb through the tracing paper as it is much thicker than pattern paper. My mum gave me a tip, which was to tape the pattern onto the window to trace it, which I did:

pattern tracing  (1)

I have now cut out my pattern pieces, and washed my fabric, so hopefully this weekend I will be able to get to work on cutting out the fabric and actually sewing something!

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Binding & Bargains

Quilts: I like thinking about them; I like looking at them; I like designing them; I like piecing them; I like quilting and embellishing them. I do NOT like binding them! Luckily, my rather awesome and talented mum DOES like binding quilts so it would be rude not to give them to her to bind 😉

Here’s the “What a World” panel which I have quilted and embroidered, and my mum has beautifully bound:

what a world

I had thought this would make a wall hanging, but it drapes so beautifully and is snuggly, that I think we will use it as an extra quilt for keeping knees warm when we are sitting on the sofa. And maybe our geography skills will improve at the same time!

I wrote a week or two ago about signing up for the Love What You Wear Project – a commitment to not buying any new clothes for a year – and in the meantime, I have been looking at lots of dressmaking books and patterns, trying to summon up the courage to start work on a garment for myself. Today, when perusing the charity shops, I found this fabric for sale for £4. It’s 60″ wide, and there’s almost 3 metres of it – bargain! I think it will be just the thing for making an A-line skirt for the summer:

bargain fabric

I also picked up this amazing Anatomy Coloring Book for 50p:

anatomy coloring book

A valuable addition to our homeschool library!

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