Sunday, 31 July 2016

A month in books - July 2016

I've read eighteen books in July, including two audio books. Authors came from twelve different countries which gave me a great range of cultures and ideas. I did have one Did Not Finish which was Orthokosta by Thanassis Valtinos, but I also read what I am sure will be one of my Top Ten books of 2016 - if not The book of the year, The First Wife by Paulina Chiziane. I don't think I can recommend this book highly enough!


The Cup That Made You Stagger by Katherine Hayton

Not for sale.

Read my full book review on Literary Flits

A download link for The Cup That Made You Stagger was included at the end of my KindleScout find The Three Deaths Of Magdalene Lynton. This short story complements the original novel, telling the back story of one of the supporting characters in greater detail.


The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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Read my full book review on Literary Flits

I first listened to my The Gambler Audible download a few years ago and enjoyed the book just as much again this time around. Granny has to be one of the best characters ever written and I love Dostoyevsky's portrayal of high society shenanigans in a casino resort.


Orthokosta by Thanassis Valtinos

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I thought I would learn a lot about Greece and its civil war in the years immediately following WW2 by reading this novel. Unfortunately I found it too much of a struggle to understand the relationships and connections between the many characters and so abandoned Orthokosta part way through.


Haven by Katherine Bogle

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I was pleased to be offered a review copy of Haven by its author and enjoyed reading this indie fantasy novel. Bogle raises some interesting philosophical questions while telling a good story - with a proper ending!


Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley 

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Can you believe that I have only just gotten around to reading this classic? As the book is such a feature of British culture, I thought I knew the story well, but it turns out that much of what I expected isn't actually Mary Shelley's creation at all and her novel is quite a philosophical work.


Happy Hour And Other Philadelphia Cruelties by Tony Knighton

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I had already received a short story, As Long As You Can, from this collection for signing up to Crime Wave Press' newsletter so I was pretty confident I would like the whole book. As it turns out, other stories here and the title novella are even better!



Mistress Of Rome by Kate Quinn 

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We borrowed this historical epic from Dave's daughter and it is a very readable story of privilege and poverty, power and greed. I was reminded of the TV series, Rome, as Mistress Of Rome portrays a similar view of this ancient society.


Yevgeny Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

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I was initially intimidated by the thought of attempting Pushkin's famous poem, but Onegin was surprisingly readable. It's a tragic tale, but with beautiful glimpses of Russian life and moments of humour too.


A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry

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A Long Long Way is set in Ireland and Belgium during The Great War and is frequently a disturbing read. It feels very real and I wish I could unsee some of the images that Barry described. Good writing, but rarely happy.


Songs Of Exile by Banoo Zan

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I really wanted to enjoy this volume of poems, composed by an Iranian woman who now lives in Canada. Unfortunately I just didn't understand enough of Zan's cultural and mythological references so couldn't appreciate much of her poetry.


The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

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Read my full book review on Literary Flits

I posted my The Omnivore's Dilemma review to coincide with my SmallSteps - Do I Really Want To Eat That? post over here on Stephanie Jane. This book has much in common with Farmageddon, but Pollan approaches the issues from a more personal angle.



The Other One by Nico Reznick

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Another triumph from the pen (keyboard?) of Nico Reznick who is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. This novella is a chilling tale of a girl living with the aftermath of her twin's abduction.



Outsider In Amsterdam by Janwillem van der Wetering

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This 1970s Dutch classic reminded me a little of the Sjowall and Wahloo Swedish crime novels in style. Its attitudes to race and gender make for uncomfortable reading at times, but I enjoyed the twists and turns of this murder mystery.


The Road To Soweto: Resistance And The Uprising Of 16 June 1976 by Julian Brown

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This scholarly tome provides an interesting survey of often overlooked mass political action in South Africa between the Sharpville Massacre and the Soweto Uprising, exploring links between students, workers and dissidents across the country.


Across The Silence by Caroline Gourlay

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This coffee table book combines haiku and art to beautiful effect. I was shown the work while visiting a friend's house recently and particularly loved the illustrations which are surprisingly atmospheric.


The First Wife: A Tale of Polygamy by Paulina Chiziane

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When I learned The First Wife is the first novel by a Mozambican woman to be published I knew I had to read it and this is definitely my book of the month, possibly of the year! Absolutely brilliant!


In The Heart Of Cairo by Mahi Wasfy

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I was tempted back to Smashwords by their July Summer/Winter sale and was pleased to find this Egyptian novel. Admittedly, it's not the best writing, but I was interested in its discussion of culture clashes within the country. If you would like to read this yourself, I am offering an ebook copy in my Giveaway this week.


Riker's Calling by Rico Lamoureux

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Read my full book review on Literary Flits

Rico Lamoureux contacted me asking if I would like a review copy of his new thriller novella, Riker's Calling. It's an exciting read and if you pre-order before the 4th August you'll get a 25% discount!


So that's all my books for this month. A pretty good haul I think! I'm not sure if I will get as many read in August as we have lots of 'new home' stuff to organise, but I hope so as my To Be Read list is getting longer by the day!

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Settling in to our new Torquay home

View from our window 
Having got the keys to our new flat on Wednesday, we've spent the time since bringing car loads of our possessions over from our Bailey caravan, deciding whereabouts everything should now go and enjoying wandering delightedly from room to room. It does feel strange to suddenly have so much space after almost two years in a caravan! I was a bit sad to see Bailey put into storage today, not forever fortunately, but for the few months during which we establish our new home on the English Riviera in Torquay. The most amazing thing here is the stunning view from our lounge and bedroom windows. I'm going to waste hours gazing out across the town and harbour!

Daisy Cakes cafe 
On Wednesday we did have to wait an hour or so for the previous owner to finish up and leave so took the opportunity to discover what will now be our nearest cafe and it's a great little independent. I love the decor! Daisy Cakes is named for the youngest daughter of owners Kate and Johnnie. Kate bakes delicious cakes for the cafe - we know, we tried them - and also creates spectacular cupcakes and special occasion confections for weddings etc. There's a limited savoury menu at Daisy Cakes and their highlights are the weekly Pie Nights on Fridays and Saturdays which we definitely want to try soon. After just nine weeks, the Pie Nights are apparently already so successful that booking is essential so we will have to get organised.

Our few remaining items of furniture are still in storage in Sussex, along with loads of other small items that we can't completely remember so I am hoping we don't duplicate purchases before we can retrieve everything. I will show off our new dining set in this Monday's furniture-themed SmallSteps post, but in the meantime I have finally been able to unveil my birthday present from Dave and Gilly at Luthier's Supplies. It's a solid wood piggy chopping board which looks fab in our new kitchen. Thank you guys!

And we've had our first visitor already! Zoe from Property Ladder popped in for a cup of tea yesterday and brought us this beautiful rose. It is meant for outside, but while our lounge is so bare, I want to keep it indoors and enjoy the glorious colour! Property Ladder were the estate agents handling our flat purchase and Zoe did such a good job that we are very happy to recommend this company to anyone looking to buy or sell their home in Torbay and South Devon. Just please do mention that 'Dave Greene recommended you' when you get in touch. We might get a reward!

Thursday, 28 July 2016

#ThrowbackThursday - where we were on this date in Julys past

Gallery North art
in July 2012 
I really enjoy looking back over my past four years of blogging and remembering where I was and what I got to do or see. Sometimes the years seem to stretch back forever, other times they could have passed in the blink of an eye! Mum used to say 'don't wish your life away because you're a long time old'. I know what she meant, but I am finding that time is speeding up as I'm getting older. It passes faster each year!

This July is particularly special as Dave and I celebrated our 13th anniversary on the 13th. Yay us!

Here's a selection of other July memories:

I visited Gallery North's Open Part II on the 28th July in 2012 and wrote this post the day after. Gallery North is a quaint little art venue in Hailsham and their Open displayed a varied selection of artistic disciplines including painting, photography, ceramics and mixed media work.

Sunflowers in Eastbourne in July 2013 
Saturday 27th July 2013 was apparently 'a perfect day' - walking, sunflowers, poetry, art, lunch out with Dave, book shopping and then music in the evening with a fab Tom Russell gig at the Palmeira in Hove. Russell is an amazing songwriter whose lyrics are about very different subjects to the norm. Several songs have a strong Mexican-Spanish vibe to them and the album we had then recently downloaded has great brass instrumentation although, of course, the brass section hadn't flown over to play at the Palmeira. According to his website, Tom Russell is touring the UK again in January 2017. There aren't any venues confirmed yet though. I'm not even sure which country I will be in then either!

Pears ripening
in July 2014 
July 2014 was a frustrating time as selling our Polegate house was becoming a far more dragged out process than either of us had anticipated. I commented at the time that it was about as much fun as watching pears ripen, the joke being that the pears on our tree never actually did ripen so I always ended up poaching them in red wine to make them edible. To pass the time, I had begun ebaying and freegling pretty much everything we owned. Now we have a new flat, we have the problem of transporting the remaining stored stuff from Sussex to Devon. Fortunately there's almost enough in the caravan to tide us over - once we've trawled Torbay furniture shops for a bed!

July 2015 in Penrith 
Our UK caravan tour last summer had brought us to cloudy Penrith by the end of July 2015 and I thoroughly enjoyed visiting this vibrant town. It is a fab place to ShopLocal - which fits in perfectly with my current SmallSteps blog post series - and I liked the interesting historical architecture too. We got to see an RSC production broadcast to the Alhambra cinema and I was impressed by Penrith's sense of its identity. Plaques and marked walks guide visitors around the town showing its heritage and we enjoyed simply strolling the streets and alleys, drinking in the ambience, before we were tempted to start shopping in earnest.

Great memories, but that's it for my July ThrowbackThursday. Join me again next month to discover whether previous Augusts actually felt like summer!

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

We're back in Devon trying out Sedgewell Farm campsite and buying beds

View from our caravan door 
We're due to pick up the keys to our new Torquay flat on Wednesday and so are back in Devon again, making the most of our few remaining nomadic days by zooming around furniture shops and seeking caravan storage. Don't get the wrong idea though. This isn't the end of our touring adventures! We just want to have a static base for a while so our caravanning life will be an exciting contrast again.

In our attempts to try out as many campsites near to our new home as possible - we want to be able to make recommendations to potential camping visitors! - we have chosen the Camping And Caravanning Club site at Sedgewell Farm this time around. Previously we have stayed at Widend, Dornafield and Lemonford. Sedgewell Farm is near the village of Olchard and very conveniently located just off the A380, although, as we discovered, the turnoff is easy to miss. It is considerably smaller than the other three, officially just having fifteen pitches, and is
Bailey at Sedgewell Farm 
nicely laid out with five level caravan pitches along a terrace with a good view out over a wooded valley. Space for tent pitches is on a second terrace below. The prices quoted on the website are a bit out of date and we are paying £20 a night (it is highest season) for the pitch with our own electric hookup and water tap. Waste and waste water are a short distance away. There is also a nice timber building with toilets, good showers and a washing machine. Some kind soul has installed tempting snack vending machines too!

Despite being the first week of the school holidays and the lower part of the field being packed with families in tents it is pretty peaceful here. There is some traffic noise from the A380, but it isn't intrusive and there is often enough quiet to hear the birdsong. The campsite is pitch dark at night too because the proximity of a bat colony apparently means even low level lighting cannot be kept on at night.

Sedgewell Farm is about fifteen minutes by car from the edge of Torquay and also handy for Newton Abbot which was good for us today as we wanted to revisit the British Heart Foundation furniture shop on Queen Street. They have a wide range of good condition furniture and electrical items on display, but the only item I really liked this visit was this vintage green sofa which is actually for sale through the BHF eBay shop. We then drove on to Paignton where we very very tempted by a sofa and chair suite which arrived at The Bargain Box at the same time we did. We saw it being offloaded! However, we haven't yet measured the flat's doors so couldn't be sure it would fit through. Hopefully ino one else will buy it before we can return! The badly spelled, but well stocked Half Price Bedz shop was the only one to actually take any of our money today and they've done rather well! We've found a new bed and mattress for ourselves, plus those all important beds and mattresses for the guest room, and the first of two deliveries is due on Friday. Hopeful visitors may now form an orderly queue!

Sunny Torquay! You can't see our flat from here 

Monday, 25 July 2016

SmallSteps week 4 and finding BuyBritish toiletries

Week 4 of SmallSteps is going to feature BuyBritish bath and body products, but first I will recap my week's efforts.

If you're new to this theme, I am blogging a series of Monday posts about ideas I think might help our disUnited Kingdom communities to get through the post-Brexit turmoil ahead. You can read the first post here. SmallSteps lifestyle changes, if embraced by enough of us, could help to keep our towns and communities afloat through the uncertain months ahead.

I've decided to keep a track of my attempts to practice what I preach! My initial three SmallSteps were:

1) to CheckTheLabel and BuyBritish whenever possible
2) to ShopLocal and spend at least £5 each week in independent local shops
3) to eat healthily and walk or cycle short distances
and last week I added
4) Not to use self-service checkouts or Pay At Pump.

So how did I do this week?

My ShopLocal spend was just a £1.30 loaf of multiseed bread from Truffles Bakery in Hailsham, although I realised that I didn't include our £30ish spend at last week's festivals in my roundup. Can I allocate it to this week?! We began to ShopLocal for events in our Devon to-be-home as well and now have tickets booked for NTlive broadcast of The Deep Blue Sea at Torquay's Central Cinema and for the Lauren Housley gig at Kingskerswell Church. I've heard rumours of a Richard Shindell gig at the Pig And Pallet in Topsham too, but tickets aren't on sale yet.
The apple and courgettes for my BBQ salad were BuyBritish as was the Borderfields rapeseed oil for the dressing. I also bought Borders and McVitie's biscuits - both brands baked in the UK - and British strawberries and free range chicken.

photo from Ora 
The Ora kitchen roll I mentioned last week is great and I can't see myself ever wanting to return to regular rolls. The cone tower is surprisingly elegant and fits on a low caravan shelf. I think it will be even more convenient on the kitchen worktop once we are in our new flat (Wednesday, eeek!). The sheets are circular and just as absorbent as other brands we have used in the past. I was concerned that two rolls' worth of paper taking up the space of a single roll would turn out to mean cheap, thin paper, but this is most definitely not the case. A good buy!

I walked for at least half an hour on five days, mostly to Hailsham for a spot of shopping and, once to post a Literary Flits giveaway prize. (Have you entered this week's giveaway?)


Now let's talk pampering!

My favourite bath and body products for years have been Lush solid shampoos and conditioner bars which are absolutely ideal for my travelling lifestyle because there's no chance of loosening caps and accidental spills. I can take a whole bar on aeroplanes too without needing to attempt decanting into silly mini bottles or paying way over the odds for travel-sized products. Once we're based in Torquay though I'd need to traipse to Exeter to visit a Lush store, so if I'll be resorting to mail order, I thought I might as well check out other BuyBritish alternatives.

Faith In Nature 
In a spooky coincidence, just as I was starting to write this post another company I like emailed about their latest promotion. Faith In Nature are offering their summery Tropical Range at half price for a limited time and the last day is TODAY so do all rush at once! And if you've found this post later than the 25th July, sorry you missed out, but I think their products are easily worth full price anyway. Faith In Nature don't make solid bar shampoos, but who could resist layering the chocolate shampoo scent with that of the coconut conditioner and, if you wash your hair a lot or set up a co-op with a few friends, splashing out on the 5 litre bottles (yes, really!) makes good economic sense.

While researching what will become my Torquay ShopLocal businesses, I was delighted to discover that I can actually purchase natural soaps and shampoos made within walking distance of my new home. Green Wyse is run by medical herbalist Dawn just three miles away and I am looking forward to sampling the various scents of vegetable soap/shampoo that she creates. I might give the toothpaste a try too. I also want to visit The Soap Stall in Torquay's Indoor Market which apparently is at The Market Forum. I've 'borrowed' the photo below from The Soap Stall's Facebook page - doesn't that display look fabulous?!

The Soap Stall, Torquay Indoor Market 
Please do feel welcome to link to your favourite / your own BuyBritish and ShopLocal businesses in the Comments. Make sure to say in which town they are so other nearby folks will know to look out for them!

Finally I have made a blog badge from my SmallSteps logo image. If you would like to join in this Monday (or any day) blog theme, feel welcome to display the badge and let me know about your post so we can link up.




Instructions: Select all code above, copy it and paste it inside your blog post as HTML

Sunday, 24 July 2016

I've found a new blog tool: LinkWithin

I was pottering around other blogs this morning, as I like to do, and noticed a great widget on Dishfunctional Designs. I enjoy Laura's creativity and, if you're interested, she makes fabulous recycled jewellery including stunning unique pieces from china fragments. Anyway, Laura has a nifty widget on her blog which uses some kind of algorithm to dredge up and link to old blog posts that are in some way related to the topics of current posts.

The widget is called LinkWithin and it is free to install and use. It's dead easy too, at least for the Blogger platform. I haven't tried it on Wordpress or anywhere else. I simply told the LinkWithin site my email address, blog URL and chose Blogger from the platform dropdown and it pretty much took care of the installation itself. The widget is displayed at the bottom of each post and I think it looks pretty good! It's even reminding me of historic posts that I had forgotten I had written! On the downside, LinkWithin doesn't seem to show up in mobile view so if you can't see what I am talking about and you're reading this on a phone or tablet, you will need to switch over to desktop view. Scroll down and hit that 'view web version' button.

Are you back? Whad'ya think?

As a thanks to Laura for installing LinkWithin on Dishfunctional Designs so I could find it, here's a couple of examples of her gorgeous jewellery. Do click through and check out her shop!

 

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Our last chance to stop Hinkley nuclear plant?

I received an email from Greenpeace yesterday following my signing of a petition against the proposed Hinkley nuclear power plant which is planned for the Somerset coast. To be honest, I am not sure that a government such as ours, one of whose first actions under their new PM was to scrap the Department for Energy and Climate Change, is going to make the Hinkley decision based on environmental reasons, but even the economics of this project aren't looking good from the UK's point of view. The plant will cost billions with no actual guarantee of real savings to British consumers when it is finally complete. The government has signed up to pay EDF a set price for electricity from Hinkley and they are stuck with paying that much even though the wholesale price is now lower. The difference will be made up with a subsidy. That means all taxpayers will end up subsidising EDF regardless of whose energy we actually use. I'm with Ecotricity - why can't I choose to have my proportion of the subsidy go to a wind or solar farm instead?! Plus, we will all pay the monetary and environmental costs of decades worth of nuclear waste. How is this a good deal for Britain?

Greenpeace said:

"Breaking news: UK newspapers are reporting that a decision on Hinkley nuclear plant will be made next week [1].

Hinkley is set to become the most expensive object on earth [2]. If it goes ahead, billions of pounds will be channelled into a nuclear plant which is shaping up to be a national embarrassment, when the money could otherwise be invested in safer, cheaper renewable energy.

Chancellor Hammond is already under huge pressure over Hinkley. Security analysts have warned against the project [3]. Energy experts have said building the nuclear plant will be the ‘worst ever’ deal [4]. And more than 100,000 of us have signed a huge petition calling for Hinkley to be scrapped.

If we can get our MPs to speak out at this crucial moment too, it could be enough to can Hinkley once and for all. Please urgently write to your MP and urge them to ask the new Chancellor to drop Hinkley nuclear plant.

Hinkley nuclear plant is already sent to cost billions. And following the Brexit vote, the cost looks set to soar even higher. Do we really want to splash out so much on Hinkley - a nuclear plant that's a decade away from producing electricity - when renewables can be rolled out much more quickly?

With clean, renewable power we also don’t face the costly and difficult question about what to do with radioactive waste. Experts estimate we could be dealing with nuclear waste from Hinkley for up to 200 years.

Please email your MP and tell them Hinkley is not wanted and not needed.

Thanks for taking part.

Esther,
Greenpeace UK

NOTES
1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/07/21/edf-prepares-for-final-decision-on-hinkley-next-week/
2. http://metro.co.uk/2016/05/09/most-expensive-object-on-earth-is-being-built-in-britain-5869385/
3. http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/uk-nuclear-power-deal-china-threatens-national-security-sinister-logic-bombs-1524978
4. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/business/industries/utilities/article4708007.ece "