Sunday, 30 April 2017

A month in books - April 2017

April was a quieter month reading-wise because being back home in Torquay meant I had less time available for just lounging around with a book! Creating stock for my Etsy shop can be done whilst an audiobook plays though and I am excited for the new AudioSYNC season which began on Thursday. If this free audiobooks programme is new to you, I wrote a blog post about it.

Literary Flits hosted only one Guest Review in April, but it is of a superb novel. If you have an indie author, small press or global literature book review to share please do get in touch. It doesn't need to be exclusive content and you can check here to see if a book has already been reviewed. I look forward to hearing from you!

For myself, I read sixteen books in April including political essays, biographies, historical fiction and my favourite book ever! There's two Giveaways which are still open for entries so don't miss out on your chances to win .

Guest reviews

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

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Australian author Rob Shackleford gave us his impressions of The Handmaid's Tale, a timely choice in view of its new filmed version. Scroll down this post to discover Rob's own historical science fiction novel, Traveller Inceptio.

My reviews

With Ballet In My Soul by Eva Maze

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I enjoyed this newly-published and fascinating memoir of a woman impresario working primarily in Germany in the 1950s and 1960s. It's style feels like listening to an older relation chatting informally and I learned about social history as well as dance and theatre of the period.

The Curious Case of William Alexander Redwood by Mark Benjamin

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Mark Benjamin's new short story is chilling horror. Certainly not one to be read late at night!

Meeting With My Brother by Yi Mun-Yol

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An interesting Korean novella written from the point of view of an oldest son who travels from South to North Korea in search of his absent father. I struggled to really get into the characters although appreciated some of the cameo appearances and the brothers' ideological discussions.

Skeletal by Lee (Katherine) Hayton

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New Zealand author Katherine Hayton is rebranding her work as by Lee Hayton using her middle name mainly, apparently because it makes for more eyecatching book covers! I've read a few of her books now and think Skeletal is my favourite so far. A five star thriller.

The Shape Of Bones by Daniel Galera

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I loved the evocation of 1980s Porto Alegre in this Brazilian novel. It's premise of an older man looking back to his adolescence is, I think, becoming a literary genre in its own right! I wasn't so convinced by the adult character, but enjoyed the teenage storyline.

Yellow-billed Magpie by Nancy Schoellkopf

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This spiritual and inspirational women's fiction novel was my first for iRead Books Tours. I enjoyed the exploration of issues surrounding Samantha's decision to return to her home town following her marriage breakup and found the novel deeper emotionally than I had expected. There's an associated Giveaway open until the 6th of May (US and Canada only).

Assata Shakur: A 20th Century Escaped Slave by Barbara Casey

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My second Read Book Tour was for this biography of Black Liberation Army activist Assata Shakur who now lives in exile in Cuba. I previously knew nothing of the organisation, deemed terrorists in the 1970s, so learned more about this period of American history. There's an associated $25 Amazon gift card Giveaway open until the 6th of May.

Theogony and Works And Days by Hesiod

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I was surprised at how well I related to these epic 8th Century BCE poems, published in a new translation in April. The book includes well-written introductory essays for each poem as well as presenting the works themselves bilingually.

Red-tailed Hawk by Nancy Schoellkopf

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I wasn't so impressed by Schoellkopf's sequel to Yellow-billed Magpie. Essentially a road trip novel, I thought it felt overly rushed and didn't have the grounding or characterisation of its forerunner. If you want to find out for yourself, a Giveaway to win a copy is open until the 6th of May (US and Canada only).

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

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I re-listened to my excellent audiobook of Rebecca this month. It's rare I revisit a book, but I think this is my third time of reading Rebecca. I love du Maurier's scene setting, characters, and the pervading sense of menace. Absolutely my Book Of The Month and possibly my Favourite Book full stop!

Othello by William Shakespeare

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I celebrated Shakespeare Day on the 23rd with a BBC audio recording of Othello starring Lenny Henry. I've got Tracy Chevalier's New Boy, which is based around the Othello story, to read next month so wanted to reacquaint myself with the original great play.

Hitler Is No Fool by Karl Billinger

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I saw this as a ForgottenBooks book of the day and am glad I grabbed the download. Written in 1939, Billinger concisely explores the ideas and philosophies espoused by Hitler in the years preceeding the Second World War. I was shocked to realise just how much is being re-enacted in the 2010s.

Engadine Aerie by Bluette Matthey

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This Swiss-based thriller does a good job of presenting the Engadine valley as a beautiful travel destination, but I thought the story itself was too rushed to be convincing.

Traveller Inceptio by Rob Shackleford
Self-published in February 2017.

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Every once in a while I discover an indie author gem and, with just a little tidying up, Traveller Inceptio is certainly worth a read. Wonderful historical science fiction that brings Saxon England vividly to life!

The Exiles by Iain Crichton Smith

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More poetry, from the 1980s this time. A superb collection examining the emotional immigration issue from the points of view of Scottish emigrants and the families they left behind.

1984 In The 21st Century edited by Lori Perkins

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A shameless leap onto the dystopian bandwagon, but an interesting anthology nonetheless as it brings together twenty-five essays by Americans from across the political spectrum. I would have preferred deeper essays, but this would be a good starting point for discussions.

That's it for this month and I know I have already got some great books planned for review in May. With the General Election looming, I plan to blog reviews of politically themed books including Emmeline Pankhurst's autobiography and Robert Tressell's important anti-capitalist call, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. Keep up daily on Literary Flits click back here at the end of May for another round up. Don't forget the Giveaways!

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Do you like my new haircut?!

New hair! 
After having pretty much ignored my hairstyle since we departed England in the autumn, it (unsurprisingly by now) really needed a good cut! I considered going back to e-Hair, but before I had gotten around to booking in I spotted a notice at the Roma Salon offering a free haircut so I popped in there to get more details.

I met Georgia who looked at my mop and didn't run away screaming so I booked in. Free appointments can be booked for Wednesday or Thursday afternoons and I did need to leave a £10 deposit which was returned at the end of my appointment. As a trainee, Georgia did apologise for being slower than the fully-trained hairdressers, but I always felt confident with how my haircut was progressing and I am delighted with the end result! Even Dave said he thinks this is the best style I have had in the fourteen years he has known me - praise indeed! I did ask how much I would have paid, had I paid, and the wash (with deliciously marzipan-scented Aveda shampoo), condition, cut, blow-dry and straighten would have been £21 off-peak or £32 salon rate. I liked the atmosphere at Roma and love my new style so I will definitely be returning to Georgia to maintain this look - considerably more often than every six months too!

If you choose to give Roma Salon a try, please mention my name (Stephanie Burton) when booking! The salon is on Torwood Street in Torquay.

Friday, 28 April 2017

A Weekend in Bristol - St Anne's Wood

Paul Gulati gateway 
We made a beautiful discovery in Bristol last weekend and, best of all, it was free! St Anne's Wood in Brislington is relatively new in natural history terms having grown up since the Second World War when the majority of this area was farmland. It languished for a while, but was subject to an ongoing regeneration effort in 2013 which is resulting in a serene natural space. Himalayan Balsam plants have been ripped out and coppicing undertaken, and regular cleanups now help keep litter to a minimum although we two two instances where, in a practice we commonly see in Spain, people must have deliberately walked a distance into the wood, past a number of bins, simply to dump an armful of their rubbish. Sometimes I really do despair! The trail, workshops and new paths and entrances were joint funded by Bristol City Council’s Local Sustainable Transport Fund, the Neighbourhood Partnership’s Wellbeing fund and the Heritage Lottery. Ideal for getting away from the city bustle for a while! The Wood follows Brislington Brook and there are maps and further information from 2013 and 2014 on the Brook Trail blog.

St Anne's Well 
I loved the whimsical entrance gates. These were created by local blacksmith Paul Gulati and are great fun. Fairly steep steps lead down from the pictured gateway to the brook. I was amazed how traffic noise seemed to just vanish as we descended! I would have been easy to imagine ourselves way back in history, especially as a small re-enactment group appeared between the trees dressed in Medieval garb! This area was once part of one of the most important pilgrimage routes in Britain with the now neglected St Anne's Well being a focal point for locals and travellers alike.

For a much shorter 'pilgrimage', you can spot each of the nine plaques set up within the Wood. They each give brief information about historical sites such as the well, or about flora and fauna that can be seen nearby. If you are visiting with children, take paper and pencils with you because these plaques are apparently also intended to be used for the ancient practice of brass rubbing. I remember doing that on a school trip many years ago!

Brislington Brook 

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

A weekend in Bristol - Blackbeard to Banksy Walking Tour

Pixel Pancho street art, Bristol 
We were back in Bristol this weekend just gone visiting with Dave's family. Bristol is still my favourite of the UK cities I have visited because I love its creative vibe and enthusiasm for independent businesses. There's a strong motivation towards sustainable living too which could well get a real boost on May 5th. If you live in Bristol, South Gloucestershire or Bath and North East Somerset, vote for The Green Party's Darren Hall to be your Metro Mayor! Far from an insignificant or decorative role, the Metro Mayor will command a £1billion budget over the next 30 years and will shape the West of England’s landscape by deciding where new homes, amenities and transport routes will be built.

El Mac street art, Bristol 
Dave's daughter, Gemma, always finds us something great to do when we visit her city and this trip was certainly no exception as she booked us onto a fascinating walking tour. The Blackbeard To Banksy tour incorporates history and street art, two of our favourite topics, so its two hour duration absolutely flew by. It is led by local artist Duncan McKellar who both knows his subject well and imparts this knowledge in an engaging and entertaining style. He took us through Saxon alleyways and to pubs famed for their pirate or literary connections. We also saw the largest, the tiniest and the most famous street art in Bristol. The first two photos on this post are of huge works created for the See No Evil street art festival on and around Nelson Street. The second two are of phenomenally detailed images painted by Ben Wilson onto pavement chewing gum blobs. Really!! We also admired the iconic Banksy on Frogmore Street, Well Hung Lover. Excellent value at just £7 per person, I would highly recommend the Blackbeard To Banksy walking tour to both tourists and Bristol natives!

Chewing gum art by
Ben Wilson, Bristol 
Coincidentally, part-way around the tour, Duncan recommended a Lebanese restaurant, Mezze Palace, as a great place to dine. We had eaten there on the Friday evening and I am more than happy to second his opinion. It doesn't look much from the outside, but I loved the stone wall decor inside and the low curved ceiling. The food is good too with generous portions we struggled to do justice to! If you're down by the harbourside and getting peckish, I'd suggest a visit to The Pi Shop too. It's an upmarket pizzeria. We shared two pizzas between four for our lunch after the walking tour. The one with Wye Valley asparagus and sheep's cheese was absolutely delicious!

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Are you ready for the new AudioSYNC season?

This summer will be my fourth season of free audiobook downloads via the AudioSYNC program and I am eagerly looking forward to its start on Thursday!

If you haven't heard of AudioSYNC before, it is an American organisation that promotes audiobooks to young adult listeners. You don't need to be a young adult to sign up though - thank goodness as I stopped qualifying for that quite some time ago! Two books are offered weekly for sixteen weeks from April to August and titles include a good and varied selection of contemporary fiction, classic fiction, history, biography, plays and, sometimes, poetry. The only snag for me at least is that, for copyright reasons, not every title can be downloaded here in the UK, but usually at least half can. Over the years I have discovered great books that might otherwise have passed me by including Words In The Dust by Trent Reedy, The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. You can see all my AudioSYNC book reviews on Literary Flits to give you a better idea of the sort of works that are offered.

This year's programme begins on Thursday, the 27th April, with the pairing of The Picture Of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde and The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich. The next few weeks' pairs are shown on the poster below. You will need Overdrive software in order to open the audio files. This is also free and available to download via AudioSYNC.


Monday, 24 April 2017

Upcoming gigs and theatre trips

In a complete change of plan, we are now not going to see Ocotillo in Glastonbury on Wednesday although the gig is still happening so if you find yourself nearby, step into the Hawthorns in the evening! Having driven to Bristol and back this weekend, we just couldn't face another four hours in the car! Instead we will be staying very local and strolling to T.O.A.D.S. production of Death In High Heels at The Little Theatre on St Mark's Road in Torquay. We were last there for the excellent comedy One Man Two Guvnors last summer. Now we will see a thriller set in 1930s London. Behind the glamour and gossip of a small Regent Street couture fashion house, secrets and lies are rife, and when a murder happens this fuels more gossip and lies! The play begins tonight, the 24th April and runs all week. Tickets are available online or via the theatre Box Office and we're going on Thursday!

Rebecca Loebe 
Saturday night will find us at Starcross near Exeter to see Austin, Texas, musician Rebecca Loebe alongside young singer-songwriter Luke Jackson who is from Canterbury in Kent. We saw Luke play once before, back in 2012 supporting Paul Brady at Lewes Town Hall (of all places!). Rebecca's music is pretty new to us although we know Austin friends of hers well so we are looking forward to discovering her songs. The Devon gig is at St Paul's Church in Starcross from 7.30pm on Saturday the 29th of April. Tickets are available for £11 online or will be £12 on the door.

You already know from last month's roundup that we're going to see the Hot House Four at Wellies Wine Bar in Torquay on the 4th of May and Charlie Dore at Kingskerswell Parish Church on the 20th of May (more details of these two here). I was also excited to see a Rachel Ries gig briefly advertised for the Crown And Sceptre in Torquay, however sadly due to illness all gigs at this venue are cancelled for the foreseeable future. Rachel Ries, performing as Her Crooked Heart, does have another Devon gig though so we will be venturing to Kingsbridge on the 27th of May to see her. The venue is essentially a house concert and will be held at a barn called The Hatch. Contact for more details and to reserve your seat!

So that's our live entertainment for April and May so far. Let me know if you're coming to any of these too and in the meantime, have a scroll through these South West gig listings from WeGotTickets and see if anything else catches your eye!


Saturday, 22 April 2017

#TreatYourself - special offers that caught my eye

Art Of Metal is a new-to-me company that I discovered recently while browsing for unusual handmade art. As their name suggests, all their products are made of metal and I particularly liked their abstract designs and the combinations of metal colours within single pieces. Very eyecatching! Until July 31st Art Of Metal have a coupon code giving a generous 30% discount on all products in their Wall Art section. Simply use the phrase metal wall art when completing checkout.

Did you know that hummingbirds are usually between 3-5 inches long and can beat their wings up to 50 times a second? These amazing little creatures have inspired the Weird Fish print designer this season and hummingbirds feature strongly throughout the new Spring range for women appearing on dresses, tunics, skirts, scarves and accessories. There's an earlybird (geddit!) discount on Spring styles so set the trend for less by using checkout code HAGY732 to get yourself a 15% price reduction. I'm not sure how long this code will remain valid for.

The Body Shop are having another of their big discount promotions, this time offering 40% off most of their products (although some specialty lines and items such as gift certificates are not included). The code you need to use at checkout is 19806, but don't dash over there just yet. The promotion begins at 9am on the 25th of April and runs through until just after the Bank Holiday, 9am on the 2nd of May.

There's a treat in store for fans of actors Damian Lewis and Sophie Okonedo - as long as you can get to London before the 24th of June that is! The pair are starring in Edward Albee's The Goat or Who Is Sylvia at The Haymarket and London Theatre Direct are currently offering tickets for sale with no booking fees.
Martin is at the pinnacle of life: he has a loving wife and son, a hugely successful career as an architect, and the commission of a lifetime, but when he embarks upon an improbable and impossible love affair from which there is no return, he must face the dizzying, explosive consequences. Former Royal Court Artistic Director Ian Rickson directs this provocative and fiercely funny Albee classic and is joined by an Olivier and Tony Award-winning creative team in Rae Smith (Set and Costume Design), Neil Austin (Lighting Design) and Gregory Clarke (Sound Design), with original music by ground-breaking musician PJ Harvey.

And finally you'll need to be quick to take advantage of a current Twinings offer. Yesterday was National Tea Day and the Queen's 91st birthday so they are celebrating with 3 for the price of 2 on all Teas for Everyday. The coupon code to use at checkout is TEADAY but it expires on the 24th of April so don't hang about!

All links in this post are affiliate links. Should you click through and make a purchase I would receive a small commission at no extra cost to yourself. That would be nice!

Thursday, 20 April 2017

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

After a whole year of Throwback Thursday posts (already!), I have brought this monthly blog feature forward a week so I won't be repeating myself. Throwback Thursday will now be the second-to-last Thursday of the month. This month's post just manages to cover five years of blogging because my first memory goes right back to April 2012.

I first attended Eastbourne's Underground Theatre Sunday Film Club on the 22nd of April 2012. For one Sunday afternoon a month the theatre becomes a cinema showing, usually, a vintage film followed by tea and cake in the cafe. It's all very civilised! On that afternoon we saw The Clouded Yellow, a 1950 thriller starring Trevor Howard and Jean Simmons. I don't actually remember much about the film now, but my commented review says I thought it a 'fairly thrilling thriller' and I know I enjoyed the event as a whole because I went on to attend lots more of the films while we lived nearby.

On the 20th of April 2013 I was in Sutton in the middle of a wonderful week of theatre trips and other cultural events that included a one man show about Oliver Reed, intense drama The Wife, The Mistress, The Chair and a screening of the Cloud Atlas film. The Sutton show was Sutton Theatre Company's production of Return To The Forbidden Planet which I remember was very funny and had an amazing futuristic set. If you live anywhere near Sutton, STC's newest show, the musical Curtains, is on from the 11th to the 14th of May and Tickets Are Available Here!

April 2014 was the first Easter since my Mum had died in the previous May and I was still finding it difficult without her, especially at a family-centred time like that. I delved into childhood memories and spent the day baking the Farmhouse Fruit Cake that had been my 'signature recipe' when I was growing up. The secret to a good moist fruit cake is to use cold black tea instead of milk for the liquid!

It was all change by April 2015. We had sold our Polegate home and were starting the UK leg of our 20 month caravan tour. Our Caravan Club CL campsite, Wideham Farm, was on the edge of Thetford Forest and within very easy walking distance of a fascinating replica Anglo-Saxon village at West Stow. The site includes several reconstructed houses and buildings incorporating experimental archaeology to test out theories. There is also a good visitor's centre with lots of interesting artefacts from the local area. Most pieces are genuine and include lots of flint axes, arrowheads and the like, plus pottery, glass and jewellery. A few things are replicas such as gold bangles, silver dishes and 'the Sutton Hoo helmet'.

And this time last year we were still in our caravan, pitched up just outside Torquay to begin exploring Torbay and the flat hunt which resulted in our present lovely home. I was much less impressed with Widend campsite, but it fulfilled the requirements of peace and a convenient location! We had just been wooed by a visit to Totnes, still my favourite town around here I think, where we bought the Wild DVD I currently have for sale on eBay. It's a good film for walkers! Click the photo to buy!

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Kiva loans to Tibet and Lesotho

Lala in China 
I've been so busy since we got back from Spain that, for the first time in ages, Kiva Repayments Day completely slipped my mind! Usually I eagerly anticipate it for several days beforehand, but it wasn't until the first 'You have money in your account' email arrived that I realised the 17th of the month had rushed around again already! Despite being unprepared, I did get lucky with my loans for April. I have lent to two new-to-me countries, China and Lesotho, which brings my total for countries lent to up to 70.

Chinese loans are quite rare and loans to Chinese women practically fabled, so I was delighted to spot A Loan To Lala before it was filled. Lala makes traditional warm Tibetan clothing for children. She wanted funds to expand her workshop by employing five more staff.

In Lesotho, innovative business African Clean Energy provide alternative cookstoves to low-income communities. Traditional cookstoves generate severe health and environmental damage like respiratory diseases and black carbon (a severe contributor to climate change). ACE cookstoves are smokeless and ensure near complete combustion of fuel, eliminating black carbon. I lent to the Molungoa Group to buy their cookstoves.

I still have a few more repayments due by the end of this month so hope I will get to make a third loan before May. Would you like to join me on Kiva too?

Molungoa Group in Lesotho 

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Crocheted motifs sold on Etsy

Crafter's Embellishments
Gift Pack - SOLD! 
This time last week I was celebrating my first handmade goods sale since I reopened my Etsy shop. Now I am happy to let you know that I had a fantastic sale this week too - 78 little crocheted motifs and they went to a repeat buyer. Don't get me wrong, new customers are great too! but there's something especially rewarding about knowing someone likes my work so much they want more of it! I sold ten sparkly red hearts, eight moss green leaves (now sold out), ten tiny orange stars and a Crafter's Embellishments Gift Pack. The Packs are great as a treat for yourself or to actually give to a craft-minded friend. For £10 I choose an assortment of fifty crocheted motifs from my stock, making sure there are no more than five of any particular one so the recipient gets at least ten different styles to spark their creativity. The motifs can be sewn or glued so would be suitable for older children as well as adults. If you can't choose between all the embellishments in my shop, buy yourself a Gift Pack!

This week I restocked the 1.25 inch crocheted flowers so all four colours are again available. I also relisted a trio of beanie-style hats and four wristlet water bottle bags that are perfect accessories for fitness walks. I created new cardmaking embellishments from vintage book pages too. You can now buy handcut circles in two sizes: 9cm diameter ones suitable for backgrounds which are £1 for 20, and 4.3cm diameter ones suitable for layering which are £1 for 25. You can buy 'by the book' or I think a mix of differently yellowed papers looks good together.

4.3cm vintage paper circles 
Now I am crocheting more hearts from various cottons. If you squint at the Gift Pack example photo above (or click through to enlarge it!) you'll see white, black and tiny red hearts amongst the flowers. I plan to get at least twenty of each listed within the next few days. Keep an eye on my Facebook page to be notified when!

Monday, 17 April 2017

Early bluebells in Torquay

Bluebells at Meadfoot Green 
Did you have a good Easter? We treated ourselves to slices of homemade Simnel cake from a stall at Torquay Indoor Market and managed to resist the allure of chocolate eggs. I might look to see how much the unsold ones have been reduced by when I pop to the Co-Op later though! I learned that Torquay's branch of Thornton's is closing down in a couple of weeks so there might be good bargains there too. There's a 60% off sale at Thornton's online!

I have enjoyed rediscovering my way around Torquay over the past couple of weeks. Those of you who know my appalling sense of direction will understand how much of an achievement it will be for me to actually learn the whole town! Just before the Bank Holiday weekend Dave and I walked down to Meadfoot Beach where there were actually people - mostly children admittedly - swimming in the sea. In April! Madness!

Looking over towards Thatcher's Rock 

We paused to look out to sea and wondered at what appears to be wall remnants on Thatcher's Rock. Does anyone know if it was ever inhabited or is this just how the rock has eroded? And why is it called Thatcher's Rock? Travelling always brings up more questions than answers, even when I travel at home.

Cutting inland from the far end of Meadfoot Beach, we turned into Meadfoot Green parts of which are anything but green at the moment. Apparently the water board have been digging trenches. The ground is now refilled, but awaiting grass seed. We crossed one of the wooden plank bridges into the woodland and I was delighted to find bluebell carpets. I always think of them as a May flower because I generally see them around my birthday, but here in the English Riviera at least, they are already putting on quite a show. Coincidentally, in my brilliant Rebecca audiobook that I am currently listening to, the second Mrs de Winter had been discussing Maxim's opinion of bluebells the day before we saw ours! Even more profuse here are a white variant that I think are probably Spanish bluebells, not the rare albino British ones. They are eyecatching too, but in a different way and didn't have the same ethereal quality as the blue ones.

White bluebells 

Friday, 14 April 2017

Read the book or watch the film?

I've done a spot of eBay listing this week, mostly DVDs, and it got me thinking about the number of books that get adapted to film or televised versions. I wondered whether people who love the movie ever go on to read its book and, vice-versa, if someone loves a particular book, are they more or less likely to see its film version. What do you think?

Personally I choose to avoid films of books I adored because I tend to be disappointed by their adaptations. If I do see and read, I prefer the film first because I know there will be lots more detail in the book and sometimes a completely different ending! This does mean I don't get to imagine characters and locations though because I envisage what I have seen - even when, with films such as Still Alice for example, the main character's appearance bears no relation to the written description. I also tend to use BBC television adaptations as an excuse not to get stuck into some classics, especially the ones with small print and hundreds of pages!

These are the literary adaptations I'm selling on eBay right now: (Click on each photo to visit its sale page!)