Monday, here you are again, and here I am reading a couple of books that I think are pretty good!
I’ve been reading The Churchills by Mary S. Lovell for a few days now, as it’s a nice big chunky biography and takes a bit of memory to figure out who is who each time I pick it up. I really enjoyed Lovell’s biography of Bess of Hardwick, and so the fact that she’d written this family biography plus the subject matter interested me a lot. I’ve been to Blenheim Palace, I’m fascinated by Consuelo Vanderbilt, who married one of the dukes of Marlborough (the Spencer Churchill family) at her mother’s behest and against her own will, and I’m probably one of the few people living in the UK that knows very little about Winston Churchill aside from the big history-making stuff. So! The scene is set for a good read and I’ve rescued it from a bit of isolation on my shelf – it’s been sitting there for over a year.
This is not really the sort of non-fiction I’d consider serious history, but rather very gossipy and very much about who was sleeping with who and when. Most of the book centers around the part of the family immediately around Winston Churchill, with a brief description of the family and a few chapters about his parents. I’m pleased with it so far; I especially like, as I always do with history, when Lovell talks about the historiography of the family and compares her own thoughts with those who have come before.
I only started my second read today but I’m already almost a third of the way through (the joys of commuting to work). This is Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers. You may not know this, as I never posted about it, but I read Strong Poison a couple of months ago. This book, and the part of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries including Harriet Vane, came highly recommended by everyone who’d read it, and in fact Ana pressed it in my hand in London one day, so there was no chance of me saying no. While I didn’t fall in love with it, I was intrigued enough to stick the remaining three books on my wishlist. Then, yesterday, in something of a coincidence, Amy’s post reminded me that actually I quite wanted to read the rest of these books, and they dropped a couple of pounds on the Kindle. So I bought them and started reading on the train this morning.
To my surprise, I am loving this one, to the degree that I’m actually going to go cheat on The Churchills (my home book) so I can read it more. I love the banter between Harriet and Peter in particular; it’s incredibly delightful even in the middle of a murder / suicide mystery, and I really just want more time to read. I could have stayed on the train for much longer this evening. As I’m home, though, I’m going to go indulge myself while it lasts.
What are you reading this week?
Good afternoon Saloners! I’m glad to say that I think I’m finally on the mend today; after a flu / cold-like illness struck last Saturday while camping, followed by conjunctivitis in both eyes later on in the week, I am approaching normal and very happy about that. We’ve had a chilled out weekend and done very little, which has been great. Mostly, I’ve been reading, and we finished watching the first season of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
I’m not sure I ever wrote anything about the holiday that we intended to have last weekend. I’ve been working really hard the last few months to get in better shape. I’ve never been overweight, but since I’ve been married I have definitely gained a few pounds and my fitness level had rock-bottomed around the beginning of the year. After a completely exhausting walk at Robin Hood’s Bay earlier this year, I decided I’d had enough – I didn’t want to be so unhealthy, even if I still looked okay. So I’ve been working out really consistently and, as a little test, we planned to climb Ben Nevis in Scotland, the highest mountain in the UK, last weekend. It’s not terribly challenging; plenty of people who aren’t incredibly fit go up Ben Nevis all the time, but it would still be a nice accomplishment.
We also wanted to visit Gretna Green, that infamous place where all the characters in Regency romances go to elope, and take a ride on the Jacobite steam train, which goes on the same track as used for the Hogwarts Express and is purportedly the most beautiful train ride in the country.
We set off on Friday, and after a minor blip with our car which resulted in an hour’s delay and having to skip Gretna Green on Friday, we finally reached the Highlands.
The mountains are gorgeous and, to my surprise, still had snow on them! Given that these two days were the first all year I’d been able to spend without a jacket, it seemed really bizarre.
The campsite was also beautiful, nestled into a little green valley with lots of sunshine.
On Saturday we attempted the Ben Nevis climb, but I was already feeling unwell so we didn’t even get close to making it up and went back to the tent to read in the sunshine for the afternoon. The highlight of the day ended up being a lovely dinner, starting off with drinks to this view over Loch Leven:
And ending with this immense plate of locally grown mussels for me.
Unfortunately that was the end of Saturday night and we skipped the rest of the trip to go home early on Sunday – but it’s a holiday that we will need to repeat, as there was so much I wanted to do and simply didn’t get to. Hopefully we can take another long weekend away camping this year, and I’d much prefer not to get sick the next time.
I’m now going to attempt to do something crazy and write some book reviews. Wishing you all a lovely Sunday and a Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there!
We’re back from our interrupted camping holiday to Scotland, thanks to my body deciding that relaxation meant a fever was in order. Let me tell you, it’s really not nice to get a fever in the middle of what is probably the nicest weekend in two years in Britain and when you’ve been lucky enough to choose that weekend to go away! The only good thing about this is the fact that I’ve finished two books since we got home yesterday.
The first, Pompeii by Mary Beard, was a mix of history and popular archaeology, a really insightful look into how the Romans actually lived in Pompeii. Beard dissects a lot of established knowledge about the buried city, compares it to the current remains, and separates her findings into chapters that focus on one particular aspect of the city and the Roman world. She very quickly does away with the idea that Vesuvius’s eruptions caught the citizens as they were going about their ordinary lives, demonstrating that they were mostly fleeing or had fled already, and then goes into the details of what has been found and what it might mean.
My immediate reaction was of course a desire to go to Pompeii, which I’ve never seen. A lot of the book also underscores how much we’ve lost even seen the ruins were discovered; early excavators in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries didn’t know what they were doing, and once vivid paintings and messages have almost completely faded.
Anyway, a brilliant book, I’d completely recommend it for anyone at all interested in Pompeii or Rome.
Second, I finished The Heart of Valor by Tanya Huff just a few minutes before I sat down to write this post. This is the sequel to A Confederation of Valor, actually an omnibus of the first two books in the series which I sadly didn’t review, but which I loved. This is what I like to think of as character-focused military science fiction, and I think if you enjoy the Vorkosigan saga, you’ll enjoy these too. Torin Kerr, the main heroine of the series, isn’t quite as crazy as Miles, but she’s a very strong and smart heroine who knows exactly what she’s doing and the comparisons to Ellen Ripley of Alien fame are justified. What I mainly love about these is how quickly we get to know the characters and how they really feel as though each situation is life threatening; Huff gets what I think the military should be like exactly right. I could be completely wrong, and I would hope to never find out whether I am or not, but for me, these books work.
That leaves me with what I’m actually reading now, which is The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim. This is a library book that I picked up because it was pretty. Not a joke; this is the benefit of using the library again, because all it takes for me to choose a book is the fact that the cover stands out. Here it is:
Lovely, and different. It’s a classic about four English women who go to an Italian castle and that’s really all I know so far. I can’t wait to find out more.
What are you reading this week?
Well, I didn’t do very well with posting on my blog during this particular Read-a-thon, did I? I saw quite a few people posting on Tumblr and then linking their updates back to a main post, and I think I might just do that next time. I checked in on Twitter every so often and I’m looking forward to going around and seeing how everyone did a bit later on this afternoon.
My time zone in the UK makes the Read-a-thon’s hours a little bit awkward; it officially runs from 1 pm on Saturday to 1 pm on Sunday. There is simply no way that I can stay up all night and then until 1 pm, much less go to work on Monday, so I’ve never actually tried, but I like that I still get to spend Sunday morning reading away and generally getting one last book in before the event is over. It’s even easier now that my schedule seems to ensure I’m up around 7 or 7:30 on the weekend, so I had hours to read Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire and try to make some progress in The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark.
That makes now perfect to answer the questions around the End of Event meme:
1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
I suppose the hour in which I fell asleep, which was around my 11 pm. I have no stamina these days, especially not after waking up early and taking a driving theory test, so it’s something of a surprise that I didn’t fall asleep at 9!
2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
My choices were all good until the last book – I always go for short books that I know I can read quickly. This time fantasy was all I managed to read.
3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
I’m not sure I spent enough time on the website or doing any of the challenges to notice – I liked how visible the hosts were on Twitter, though, when I did pop in to check.
5. How many books did you read?
Two full books and parts of two more.
6. What were the names of the books you read?
Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch, Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones, Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire, and The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark.
- 7. Which book did you enjoy most?
Probably Midnight Blue-Light Special although I also really liked the first two. No stand-out loves.
- 8. Which did you enjoy least?
I’m really struggling with The Sleepwalkers. It’s all about the origins of World War I and I’m finding it incredibly difficult to keep up with the parts about eastern Europe. I simply don’t know the region or any of the history which makes it slow going for me.
9. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
I hope to still be reading!
Now I’m off to write some reviews, hopefully, so that this blog doesn’t stay silent this week, and check out some posts.
Did you read or cheer this time around? How did you do?
The book industry is full of dismaying news lately. Lots of book bloggers thinking about abandoning ship, Amazon buying Goodreads (although since I mostly use LibraryThing, this isn’t a huge issue for me), uproar about the Hugo awards; it doesn’t seem like anything good has happened in the last few weeks.
So, instead, I will tell you about the first proper walk of the year. Last weekend we went to Robin Hood’s Bay on the Yorkshire coast, a lovely little seaside town, and walked down the old railway path and then along the shore.
The railway path
The coastline looking towards Robin Hood’s Bay
The coastline looking back from Robin Hood’s Bay
I didn’t actually do much reading despite having four days off with the bank holidays, but I’ve been making up for it since. Here’s the pile of what I am looking forward to in the rest of April:
Apologies that the picture is a little bit blurry, but I think you can see that the urban fantasy focus is still strong. I’m up to date on a few of my favorite series, so I’m both trying new ones and continuing with some that weren’t necessarily my favorite on the first read, and there are lots of small ones that I can take on the train with me.
I’m also going to try and power through all the books I’ve acquired over the time I’ve been using Amazon Vine. In the US, they’ve tightened the rules so that everything you’ve received must be reviewed before you can request anything else, and I imagine the UK can’t be far behind. The program is useful for actually selecting books that I don’t get offered for review but am anxious to read as soon as I possibly can (see The Crane Wife above), so I’d prefer to stick with them while I can.
How’s your April going?
I wish I could share some adventures with you this week, Saloners, but sadly the weather here is still firmly stuck in winter and we haven’t much felt like going anywhere. Well, that’s not true; I’d happily travel somewhere, but having started a new job, opportunities for longer holidays are few and far between for a couple of months. The spring cleaning fever has hit us without the spring, though; we spent Monday night on a trip to Ikea and now our house is full of boxes and things pulled out of their places to be reorganized. No bookshelves this time, although like most book lovers I am perpetually running out of space for the many books that seem to find their way into my home. Nope, this time we are reorganizing the bedroom, but in the middle of building a bunch of furniture, my husband overdid it and now we’ve got boxes lying around for a week or so while he recovers.
I did have something unusual happen to me this week, though; on the train on Thursday morning, I spotted an unoccupied seat and without thinking, sat down. Next to me was a Japanese man who proceeded to chat to me about the weather in York, the daffodils which sadly haven’t come up yet (remember last year?) and then asked if I liked roses. He proceeded to whip out a piece of colored paper and created this:
I was so impressed! The rose now lives on my desk at work, a nice little reminder that complete strangers can surprise you with their generosity and friendliness.
In bookish news, I finished two completely different books: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, which I loved up until the ending, and The Devil’s Heart by Cathy Maxwell, the last of the Chattan curse trilogy, which was okay. I’m now in the middle of Four Sisters, All Queens by Sherry Jones, which is dragging considerably in the second half of the middle after an engaging beginning. I hope it picks up by the end.
And now I’m off to go practice driving and recycle some of the boxes that are littering my house. I hope you all have lovely weeks and that spring arrives very soon!
This week felt like it crawled by. I started my new job a couple of weeks ago, and while I think it’s going to be miles better than my old job for a variety of reasons, the newness of it wipes me out. The actual type of work isn’t new, but learning a new process and meeting new people and getting used to everything is flat out exhausting. Not to mention the fact that I now have a real commute, which I never had before. In my first job, I could walk to work, and in my last job, a friend nearby who worked at the same company took me in. Now, I walk to the train station, take the train, and walk to work, which means I actually leave home almost an hour earlier than I used to. I do realize that this simply means I was absurdly lucky for three years and it’ll be fine once I’m used to it, but two weeks isn’t long enough to get used to it.
There is one huge perk to this travelling, though, and it’s the fact that I’m reading far more. I’ve finished 8 books so far this month, double what I’d read in January or February so far, which feels fantastic. My TBR number is going down! I have more reviews to write in order to catch up, but it’s really nice to have 50 minutes every day that are set aside just to read.
The other perk? I now work in the middle of a city, which means I have access to more or less anything I like at lunchtime. This does lead to impulse purchases, like these adorable shoes:
I’ve also recently discovered that there is an American candy shop both in my new work city and where I live, which means there will be lots more of this in my life:
That makes me happy, too. I love root beer and it’s been really hard to find in the UK, at least the American style root beer that I like, but no longer.
So, this week might have been long, and I might be a little overwhelmed by the new job, but it’s not all bad by any means!
I think the weather obeyed my last week’s post at least a little bit, because we did have a few sunny days this week. Unfortunately, I’ve now proceeded to get a milder version of my husband’s flu, right in time to start my new job tomorrow. It’s going to be an excellent week, I tell you – so I’ve decided to go on a week-long break just to make sure I’m recovering. If I’m well and energetic enough to come back before next week, I will do so.
In the meantime, though, let’s see what I read in February.
- And the Miss Ran Away with the Rake, Elizabeth Boyle
- The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright, Tessa Dare
- Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Lois McMaster Bujold
- The Water Witch, Juliet Dark
- The Map of Lost Memories, Kim Fay
- Blood’s Pride, Evie Manieri
- Nightshifted, Cassie Alexander
- State of Wonder, Ann Patchett
- Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond
- The Curious History of Love, Jean-Claude Kaufmann
That’s 10 books read; not too bad for the shortest month of the year! I’m aiming for 150 books this year, and according to Goodreads I’m only one book behind schedule.
That reminds me – I am not sure I said here, but after 6 years of loyal LibraryThing-only usage I’ve actually started using Goodreads, too, for 2013. The main reason is, honestly, because they have an iPhone app, and I like the way I can update how far I am in a book at any given time and reliably track how long something takes me to read. I can do it in LibraryThing too, but Goodreads is easier.
Also, as a last note, there is one book on that list above which I’m definitely not going to review, and that book is The Curious History of Love. I am not really sure what to say about it because I found it a really bizarre book that was very incoherent and, as a result, I’m not sure any review I could give it would be coherent. Mainly, I’d recommend not reading it at all.
Favorite of the Month
I haven’t managed to review this book yet, but I loved it. I’ve actually loved all that I’ve read of Ann Patchett so far, and I’m looking forward to reviewing this one. Quite a few of the other books I read this month were really good, too, but this one was a gem.
How was your reading month?
I don’t know about you, but this last part of winter is the absolute hardest. I’m completely ready for it to be spring, for the weather to warm up, and for cheery events to happen. Daffodil plants are poking through the soil all around York, but there aren’t any flowers yet. The past couple of weeks have felt like a real slog to me, made worse by the fact that mid-last week my husband came down with the flu. I thought I was ready for a quiet weekend at home, but it turns out I really wasn’t, and certainly not one where he isn’t up to much but resting.
In addition, I’m starting a new job a week from tomorrow, and this is my last week at my old work. I’ve been on my notice period since the beginning of January and I’m sure that the perceived change ahead is part of what’s driving my restlessness. I know something different is around the corner and I’ve never been a particularly patient person, which isn’t serving me well right now. I’m both looking forward to it and anxious about it.
I’m also starting to spend time planning our trips for this year. Ever since I went to Barcelona last October, I’ve decided that I want to see much more of Spain. I went with work, so I’ve decided to take my husband there since I liked it so much, and then to go much further south to Granada, one of the strongholds of Islam in Spain in the Middle Ages. I haven’t decided if we will be travelling anywhere else yet – the trip would be some months away – but I’m already looking forward to it, and planning travels keeps my mind off the fact that I’m stuck at home at present. I have no idea when we’ll go or if we’ll actually choose somewhere else this year, but I’m determined to go, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s that so I might as well start the planning.
Even reading hasn’t quite been pulling me out of my funk. I finished Blood’s Pride by Evie Manieri, which was great, but first I spent over a week reading The Map of Lost Memories by Kim Fay. It was a book that was okay, but never really called to me, and since then I’ve been looking for something more absorbing.
All of these are quite small gripes and I know that I have a lot to be grateful for – a new job in a poor economy, the possibility of travel, even just the shelves of unread books waiting to carry me away – but I know I’ll be happier when the sun comes out. In the meantime, I’m off to go choose something to read next.
Good morning, Saloners! I appear to have decided this week that structure is the answer to all of my woes, and that if only I can organize things in my life a little bit better, I’ll be more able to achieve some of the goals that have been lingering in my life.
I started with blogging and reading, and you’ve actually already seen evidence of this. I am rigidly scheduling how I’m working on this blog to prevent myself getting overwhelmed by feeling like I’m not posting enough. Reviews on Tuesdays and Thursdays and a Sunday Salon post on Sunday (heh, surprise) are what I’ve decided is enough to keep my blog active but not so much that I’m overwhelmed or don’t have time to write the posts. That also gives me plenty of time to post anything else I would like, should I have a desire to do so, like pictures or quotes or anything at all. It also seems to have translated into some extra time spent commenting, which I’ve been trying to get myself to do for aaaages.
In reading terms, I set out my goals earlier this month, and I’m sticking to them so far, at least in that I’ve read two older books already and I’m on the first non-fiction one now. I made a Google Calendar with the days that I have promised reviews so that I don’t forget, and I’m even reading the first review book I’ve scheduled in that way now.
With some of the other goals I’d like to achieve in my life, I’m still trying to be organized. I’m setting aside an hour each weekend to work on my Russian, I’m writing 500 words of fiction a day (and I’m actually doing well with this, incredibly, but it isn’t many words), and I’ve signed up for a bunch of free online classes staggered out over the year via Coursera because I miss learning, I miss history in particular, and I can’t yet afford or know if I’m going to devote the right amount of time to a paid class. I’m also in the process of learning to drive, as I think I mentioned before, with 2 hours a week of that. I’m hoping to pass by the end of March.
It’s all a little eerie and I’m wondering how long it’s going to last until I burn out, but I don’t feel too restricted, yet. The part I’m most encouraged about is the writing. I often feel I’m producing absolutely terrible stuff, but I’m trying to remind myself that even if I am, at least I’m writing something and practice is what I need more than anything else. I think I’ll manage as long as I still feel I have enough free time to do whatever else I feel like on a regular basis – gaming or reading a different book or spending some of the weekend going walking.
In reading news, I’m about halfway through Guns, Germs, and Steel, which I mentioned starting last week. I’m finding some of it more of a slog than I expected; there were about 100 pages on farming and how that impacts the rise of civilization with various tables and charts and it was a little bit more than my post-work brain could handle. Fortunately, I’ve made it to germs now, so I’m hoping I can give it a little more brainpower this week and finish it by the end of the month on Thursday. I’m also reading Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell, which is proving to be good historical fiction so far, and after that I’ll start one of my last two books for Long-Awaited Reads month, probably Carter Beats the Devil.
How is January turning out for all of you?