Saturday, 31 December 2016

Reading challenges 2016 and 2017

New Year's Eve comes round again! A time to look back and to look forward. This post is a roundup of how I did on my various Reading Challenges last year and which ones I plan to take part in for 2017.

I'm delighted I surpassed my 180 books read within a year for the Goodreads Challenge in 2016 so have set myself the same target for 2017.

2016 Reading Challenge

2016 Reading Challenge
Stephanie has read 0 books toward her goal of 180 books.

I didn't fare so well in the Read Scotland Challenge 2016 though. My reading focus has changed as I try to find books from as many countries as I can for my WorldReads blog post series. I hoped to read 12 books connected with Scotland but only managed 5 and I think I won't sign up for this challenge again in 2017.
The Scotland connected books I read this year are:

In Loving Memory by Jenny Telfer Chaplin
Lonely Is The Valley by Gwen Kirkwood
The German Messenger by David Malcolm
Donny's Brain by Rona Munro
The MacKinnon's Bride by Tanya Anne Crosby

My other challenge for 2016 was the 2016 TBR Pile Reading Challenge hosted by Evie over at Bookish Lifestyle. Of the 20 books I planned to read, I actually managed 8 which I am pretty pleased with as many of them are bricks! I still haven't picked up A Prayer For Owen Meany, The Pilgrim's Progress or The Luminaries!
These are the 8 books I did clear from my TBR list:

Dracula by Bram Stoker,
Nine Kinds Of Naked by Tony Vigorito,
Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk,
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell,
While The World Watched by Carolyn Maull McKinstry,
March by Geraldine Brooks,
Courage Has No Color by Tanya Lee Stone,
Imperial Life In The Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran.

I am partway through the Goodreads Bookcrossing Decade Challenge year which runs from September and doing ok with this one. 9 decades read from and only 1900s, 1930s and 1940s to go.

My WorldReads blog post series will continue hopefully throughout 2017. Each month, on the 5th, I blog about five books I have read from a particular country, the intention being to encourage both myself and other readers to try books by authors from around the globe. I know 2017 will start with New Zealand authors on the 5th of January and I am planning to highlight Swedish authors in February. Where else I might 'visit' during the year will depend on what books I find, but I know I have already read four books each from Russia, Turkey, Germany and Israel so these countries will probably be featured too. I've made myself a new WorldReads logo to celebrate!

I've been looking at new challenges to try and think the 2017 Witches And Witchcraft Fantasy Challenge looks fun. Lots of witchy fiction is indie authored so this will fit in well with my Literary Flits project to promote indie and small press publications. WWFC is hosted by Melissa's Eclectic Bookshelf. I have signed up at Initiate level with my aim being to read 1-5 witchy themed books this year. Authors who would like me to review their witchy books, get in touch here!

I've set myself two further challenges for 2017. The first is to get more involved with other blogs by commenting on at least one post somewhere every day. I love reading other blogs, but am shy about commenting - which is daft when I consider my verbosity on my own blogs!

I've also joined the Proud Readers Of Great Stories group on Goodreads. Part of this group's activity will be reading set books at the same time so I guess I have finally joined a book club! One of January's chosen titles is Persuasion by Jane Austen which leads me to confess that I have never actually read a Jane Austen novel. (Yes, I know! Call myself a book worm?) I have, however, just downloaded a copy of Persuasion, have a vintage Mansfield Park bought for me by my sister and Dave's got Pride And Prejudice on his Kindle. So I am going to make 2017 the year of Jane Austen and try to read all six of her novels before next Christmas.

So that's 12 months and 5 (and a quarter) challenges.
Wish me luck!

Friday, 30 December 2016

A Month in Books - December 2016

I've read seventeen books this month including crime fiction, thought-provoking novels and a trio of Christmas-themed novellas.

I am also delighted that Literary Flits hosted its first two Guest Reviews. This is something I would like to do more of in the future and have already started reaching out to keen readers and authors I know. If you would be willing to contribute a book review or three to the project please do get in touch! Details of how to do so are Here. I am particularly interested in reviews of indie author, small press and global literature and I look forward to hearing from you!

Guest Reviews

The Land Without Color by Benjamin Ellefson, illustrated by Kevin Cannon

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See John Darryl Winston's review on Literary Flits

This children's book, intended for kids from 7-10 years old, is a magical fantasy adventurye set in a world where everything is grey.

Valencia Noir: The Beautiful, the Fantastic and the Grotesque of Valencia, Spain by Isis Sousa and Ove Neshaug

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See Harry Whitewolf's review on Literary Flits

This dark art book explores the lesser-known medieval towers, gothic temples, artistic wonderlands and city of the dead of Valencia, Spain. It is illustrated with 160 bw photographs.

My Reviews

The Food Of Love by Amanda Prowse

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Published on the 1st December, this new novel explores the emotional subject of teenage anorexia as seen through the eyes of a family that struggles dangerously to cope with this illness in their midst.

The Midwife by Katja Kettu

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Set in 1940s Finland, this incredible Finnish novel follows an outcast midwife as she suddenly finds both herself and her skills in demand when a Nazi prison camp is opened near her home. I loved Kettu's vivid and insightful writing and gave The Midwife five stars.

Heart Of Granite by James Barclay

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I won Heart Of Granite in a Goodreads giveaway and wasn't sure how I would get on with military science fiction. However, once I got past people actually living inside giant reptiles (ewww!), I enjoyed the exciting adventure.

The Automaton's Wife by Vered Ehsani

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The second of Ehsani's Kenya-set steampunk series, this novella is part murder mystery and part hilarious wedding preparation. I love Beatrice Knight!

Mr Thorne And The Witch by Diana Green

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The second of Ehsani's Kenya-set steampunk series, this
The first of my book tour reads this month, Green's novella is a light fantasy romance with a wintry peudo-Victorian vibe that made it a suitably seasonal read.

Missing by Karin Alvtegen

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I liked the initial premise of this Swedish thriller which follows a homeless women accused of a murder. The book later swerves into far more predictable, but unrealistic fare, but is still an entertaining read.

The Angels Die by Yasmina Khadra 

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1930s Algeria is the setting for this thought-provoking novel in which Khadra explores how much of a person's life belongs to their employer through the eyes of a street kid who becomes a championship boxer.

Good People by Nir Baram 

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I found this book scarily topical considering the Brexit and Trump victories of 2016. Set in WW2 Berlin and Leningrad, two ordinary people's attempts to blend in and not rock the status quo of their countries end up costing many lives. Good People is a fascinating 'what would you do' novel.

Mistletoe At Moonglow by Deborah Garner

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The first of my trio of Christmas novellas is this charming story of disparate guests being brought together by great cooking and the magic of the season in a small-town Montana hotel. There's a batch of cookie recipes at the back too!

Saigon Dark by Elka Ray 

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The first of a new quartet of thrillers and mysteries from Crime Wave Press, Saigon Dark is a satisfying psychological thriller set in Vietnam.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga  

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This quirky novel of an Indian entrepreneur making his way up in the world has great humour despite its darker side. Murdering one's employer isn't always the best way to the top!

Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

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I've finally read my first Wallander novel and this is the first book in the series too. I was surprised by how topical some of themes still are - twenty-five years after publication - but overall I wasn't as impressed as I thought I would be. Good but not great.

The Road To Purification: Hustlers, Hassles And Hash by Harry Whitewolf

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I enjoyed the poetic writing in this pre-Arab Spring backpacker memoir of a month in Egypt. Sometimes on the tourist trails and sometimes well off the beaten track, Harry uncovers a lesser seen side to Egyptian life.

Christmas Is Murder by Carolyn Arnold

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My second Christmas novella is a fun, if not completely believable, cosy mystery with a great seasonal feel. I even found myself sympathising with grumpy old Rudolf! Carolyn Arnold is giving away copies of this book until the end of December. Details are on my review post!

Silver Bells At Moonglow by Deborah Garner

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This second in Garner's Moonglow series is set exactly one year later than Mistletoe At Moonglow. We return to the hotel for more sumptuous Christmas preparations and good cheer - and more cookie recipes.

Nineveh by Henrietta Rose-Innes

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I enjoyed this South African novel of a young woman running her own business while trying to overcome past demons. Rose-Innes uses her story to explore attitudes and ideas about the concept of home, of who and what should be allowed to live where.

The Courtship Of Jo March by Trix Wilkins

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In this romantic variation of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, Trix Wilkins rewrites elements of the March girls' story to provide a more Austen-esque conclusion. I thought it very well done and Wilkins evokes Alcott's original novel excellently. This book also has a giveaway running. You could win a signed copy and last entries are the 15th January.

That's all my books for December and I am now looking forward to January's selection. There will be at least two Guest Reviews on Literary Flits, WorldReads from New Zealand on this blog, and I plan to read books from Jamaica and Norway as well as my first ever Jane Austen novel!

Thursday, 29 December 2016

#ThrowbackThursday - where we were on this day in Decembers past

Winter Walk by Lesley Collinson 
I've been less strict than usual about choosing ThrowbackThursday posts from the very nearest date in years past. Otherwise this post could have just been book review roundups and I thought we would all prefer more variety than that!

Back in 2012 I saw a beautiful art exhibition at the Chapter 12 Wine Bar in Hailsham, Sussex. I had thought I would miss seeing Lesley Collinson's work there due to commitments elsewhere, but her paintings were already displayed in the venue when I visited for a gig. The image above, Winter Walk, was my favourite.

The pretty Serro da Bica campsite near Ourique 
In 2013 we were caravanning at the pretty Serro da Bica campsite near Ourique in Portugal and my 27th December blog post was a description of the fabulous meal our Dutch hosts had cooked us all for Christmas Day. Three courses and ridiculous quantities of food for each! We learned a new Dutch word - 'outbouken' - which means to sit back and let your stomach hang out after having eaten too much.

Teepee tiles at El Quinto 
2014 Christmas was spent at Torrevieja in Spain and on Boxing Day we drove to Mojacar in search of good walking country. Mojacar is perfect for hiking as it has a good range of routes and terrains. We had stayed out the other side of the town the year before and this time pitched up on the El Quinto campsite closer to the pueblo than the seaside resort. The campsite and the walking were both great so we ended up staying there for three weeks.

Still Autumn in December 
Last year we Christmassed (is that a word?) in France, at a tranquil campsite in St Jean Pla de Corts which is only about a 10-15 minute drive from where we spent this Christmas! My blog post on the 27th December describes a superb walk we took on Christmas Day in the hills and along a narrow canal above Ceret. We even got to see a waterfall, albeit from a distance as I didn't fancy scrambling over too many rocks to get there.

It feels quite weird to see that we were in different countries for each of the past four Christmases. Perhaps we should have gone somewhere random this year instead of repeating France!

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Our 18.5 mile Christmas Day bicycle ride

Street art near Theza 
In the true tradition of Christmas we got a bit carried away on the Day itself, but instead of overindulging in food or drink we set out for a little bike ride and ended up doing an 18.5 mile epic! It was great fun to be out in the sunshine on mostly pretty quiet roads, circling a lake, and spotting examples of fabulous street art en route. Dave gmapped our whole route when we got back so if you'd like to see exactly where we cycled to and around, click This Link Here!

The painted electricity box above was, I think, just off a main road near Theza. I love its depiction of a clog wearing man hanging on to his hat as the wind tries to blow him away!

Snow capped mountains from Lac de la Raho 
Shortly after Theza, we arrived in Villeneuve de la Raho where we had driven last week for a stroll around the large municipal lake they have there. We paused nearby to check where we were on Dave's map and decided to detour for another circuit of the lake, this time on our bicycles. It was wonderful to be able to look across the water to the snow capped mountains in the distance. They did seem to have more snow this year than at roughly the same time last year so we checked against our Ceret photos today and this is indeed the case. The lake wasn't quite as busy as our previous weekday walk, but there were still a good number of joggers, cyclists and families making the most of the leisure facility. One group had even set up a large table for a meal.

Insect Hotel at Lac de la Raho 
We didn't quite complete a full loop before leaving the lake as we wanted to exit Villeneuve de la Raho from the other side of town. However we did get far enough round that I could photograph this large Insect Hotel. There were people in the way last time. The Hotel is over a metre high and stacked with different shaped and filled 'rooms' to encourage a wide variety of insect life to while away winter there. We did peer in, but couldn't actually see any nesting guests!

The roads got even quieter as we cycled away from the lake, everybody presumably having made it to their Christmas lunches by this point. I was starting to slightly regret have suggested the detour as it dawned on me just how far away we still were from our campsite! I was soon glad to be going through Bages though as we saw the fabulous train (pictured below) bursting through a house's first floor wall! It looks even more three-dimensional in real life than in my photograph and was an incredible sight. I have no idea why this particular mural is here and forgot to look for the artist's name. Please do Comment if you know!

Train street art in Bages 
There were some interesting old buildings in Bages too so we might return at some point for more of an explore. On Christmas Day though we fairly zoomed through both Bages and Montescot. Elne was the quietest we have yet seen it - one pedestrian out in the whole town apparently - and we triggered another speed checker. 17kph this time, but it wasn't uphill like the last one was. Our cycle ride took about nearly three hours altogether with various photo and map checking stops along the way.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

My Top Ten Books of 2016

It's that time of year when we all start reminiscing and I have my fingers crossed that, globally, 2017 will be a distinct improvement on 2016! Bookishly though, it's been a good reading year for me. I've found new favourite authors and read some incredible books from across the world. In this post I look back at my best books of the past twelve months.
By the time 2016 ends, I will have read about 190 books and 24 of those warranted five star ratings so it wasn't easy to narrow my Best Of choice down to just ten! (The titles and cover images are linked to my blogged reviews. Click through to learn more about each book and maybe even buy yourself a copy.)

Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick
Read in February 2016

Anhedonia by Nico Reznick
Read in March 2016

History of the Rain by Niall Williams
Read by May 2016

The Stationmaster by Jiro Asada
Read in June 2016

Read in June 2016

The First Wife by Paulina Chiziane
Read in July 2016

There Were Many Horses by Luiz Ruffato
Read in August 2016

The Memory Of Love by Aminatta Forna
Read in September 2016

Omnia by Laura Gallego
Read in September 2016

Occupied by Joss Sheldon
Listened to in October 2016

As it turned out though, I have a few more honourable mentions that so nearly made it to top ten status, but not quite. They are still every bit as much worthy of your attention though!

One Of Us: Anders Breivik by Asne Seierstad
The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa
The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler
About The Night by Anat Talshir
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
anemogram. by Rebecca Gransden
My Friends Are All Strange by Margaret Lesh
The Midwife by Katja Kettu

So that's my favourite books of 2016!
Have you also read any of these? If so I would love to know what you thought of them! And what were your favourite reads this year?

Monday, 26 December 2016

Walking from Paulilles to Banyuls

Spooky driftwood head at Place de la Pelle,
near Paulilles 
We visited Alfred Nobel's former dynamite factory, Paulilles, back in January and walked northish along a little of the coastal path passing it. I remember the walk being quite an exertion so was pleasantly surprised on Friday that following the path to the south is actually much easier going. We drove from Latour bas Elne to Paulilles where there is a large free car park, grabbed our hiking poles and set out for the nearby seaside town of Banyuls. It was only about 4.5km and took us just over an hour to get to the town outskirts.

From the car park we followed the pedestrian route through a short tunnel to Paulilles entrance, turning right onto the Chemin du Fourat where the path splits into three. The chemin is a wide track with occasional traffic and we got a great view of a huge factory chimney - although it came out looking tiny on my phone camera!

Sentier littoral signpost 
The coastal path is well signed with yellow painted stripes and detailed signposts at frequent intervals. It is pretty solid underfoot and not too steep up or down (apart from one short section) so we felt we had a good walk. I have no idea what the spooky driftwood head at Place de la Pelle was all about and I haven't been able to find it online. It is a bizarre sight out on its own on a small headland! We both loved the gorgeous views across bays and out to sea, and after twenty minutes or so we found ourselves looking back down at the earlier factory tower, now dwarfed by its landscape. Luck with the weather meant gorgeous blue skies and blue-green sea!

Vogue by Claude Gomez 
Heading down into Banyuls we were both disappointed to be walking through streets past large appartment blocks - not very picturesque. It turned out we just needed to keep our heads down until we got to the centre where it is much more picturesque! If you follow in our footsteps though, keep your head up enough to see Vogue at the top of the concrete arched road. The sculpture was created by Claude Gomez in 1991-92 and I think it depicts boats and beams although I may be completely mistaken! Banyuls also has a sculpture trail of works by 'local boy' Aristide Maillol. We saw two which were early 20th century female nudes. There is a museum dedicated to Maillol just outside town which we might go back to.

Banyuls harbour front has a cute row of artisan shops and studios underneath the promenade. It is dominated by two large buildings, the first of which we passed was an odd pink structure that apparently houses oceanographic researchers and students. It's meant to look like a coral reef and the award-winning(!) design is by Atelier Fernandez and Serres. There's more information and photos on this architecture website, Inhabitat. The other large building is the far more stately Universite Pierre et Marie Curie. The oceanographic department is located here. As to be expected, Banyuls is a tad pricey and the front has many restaurants, several which were open. We chose a blue decorated Restaurant De La Plage and Dave treated us to a posh lunch for Christmas. He had entrecote steak and I had 'loup' which we established was fish, but weren't sure what sort until the waiter suggested 'dorade' as similar. We knew that is bream and, when it arrived, discovered loup is sea bass. It was very good!

Attempting our return walk after a good lunch was more demanding than anticipated although we completed the return leg in about the same time so weren't slowed unduly by all the food. Passing the Hotel de Ville, I saw this tile mural created by Eric Freixinos in August 1999. It depicts the GR10 walking route from Banyuls to Hendaye - some 900kms which is walked in, on average, 55 days. Perhaps that endeavour is best left until next year?!

GR10 by Eric Freixinos 

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Merry Christmas everyone!!

I loved this upcycled snowman in the foyer of our local Casino supermarket in Latour bas Elne. It's made from rinsed out plastic drinking cups. What a fabulous idea!

Dave is undertaking a mammoth edit of all last year's photographs on his laptop. Hopefully he will put another video together so we can look back on our travels, but that is quite a task! In the meantime, he found this one taken from a Ceret walk last winter which looks out across to where we have pitched up this winter!