Sunday, December 24, 2017

My favourite fiction books of 2017

Wishing you all the best this festive season!
I'm not a book blogger but as a writer myself, I read a lot, especially when we're faring or travelling and I always like to do a round up of books I've particularly enjoyed at the end of the year. This post covers the fiction I've read but I'll do a separate post later on on my memoir review blog about the non-fiction. There are far more of those to sift through to find my favourites!

Anyway, many of the fictional books I've read this year have been really good reads, but I had to narrow it down to those I've found unputdownable (my criteria for star rating as well). I must say I don't tend to read many of the big names, other than John Le Carré and Deon Meyer, and I haven't read any of theirs this year at all (except J le C's memoir, which will be in my other post). So below are the books and authors that have really stood out for me in the past twelve months. You'll probably notice I am a big crime mystery and detective fiction fan!

Carol Hedges: Rack and Ruin; Wonders and Wickedness
I read both books this year and just loved them. Carol Hedges' ability to evoke Victorian London, mix it with social comment, a few grisly crimes and some wonderful lead and cameo characters is just superb. I love Stride and Cully, Lilith and all the other 'regulars' as well as the new stories and characters each book brings.

Terry Tyler: Tipping Point; Lindisfarne
I've read all Terry Tyler's books and for me, these two are just amazing, the magnum opus of her writing. I never read post apocalyptic books as a rule, but since these are so character driven, I found them utterly compelling. The first, Tipping Point, is about what happens to survivors when a deadly virus kills the majority of the British population; the second continues the story of those survivors when they attempt to form a new community on the island of Lindisfarne. Incredibly realistic and so well written!

L M Krier:  Only The Lonely; Wild Thing; Walk On By
DI Darling and his crew have become huge favourites of mine, and I romp through every single book. These three are 5, 6 and 7 of a series of nine books (so far). They all deal with topical issues and are, I think, very real portrayals of police procedures. I've become very fond of Ted and Trev, not to mention the others in the cast of characters!

Lynn M Dixon: Gardens of Green
Gardens of Green is the last of the Tyre and Phoenix series. Lynn Dixon's writing is strangely addictive. It's like meditation in words. Inspirational, calm and rhythmic, she focuses on details that should be tedious, but somehow aren't. I enjoyed this one the most of the whole series.

Christina James: Rooted in Dishonour
I've followed Christina James' DI Yates series from the first and this was a very absorbing read. I'm never sure if I really like Tim Yates, but that makes him very real. As always, an unputdownable read. This book focused on the very topical problem of sex slavery.

Deborah Crombie (sorry, quite a big name! I forgot): Garden of Lamentations
The Kincaid and James novels are my all time favourite crime fiction books. I have loved every one of them and this one was just as gripping as the previous books. Deborah Crombie's powers of describing modern London are as good as Carol Hedges' skill at its Victorian version.

Diana J Febry: The Skeletons of Birkbury and The Point of No Return
Again, two detective novels I've romped through; this time set in the west country, which I love because it was where I grew up. I thoroughly enjoyed them both, particularly Diana Febry's cast of country characters who strike me as being totally authentic.

Stephanie Parker McKean: Bridge to Texas; I'm the Grasshopper
These two of Stephanie Parker McKean's rollicking mysteries are set in Texas. Her sense of place is wonderful and all I want to do when I'm reading them is go there, explore the Texas hill country and meet all the colourful people who occupy her books. Great escapism and great story telling.

Lucinda E Clarke: Amie Cut for Life
This is the fourth in a series of action adventure books about an English girl caught up in undercover operations in Africa. Set partly in real southern African countries and partly in a couple of fictional countries, Amie's adventures are fast paced, edge of the seat stuff that are really enjoyable. What makes them even more special, however, is the author's knowledge of Africa: its terrain, wildlife and people. I love them because I can be there, in Africa, while I am reading.

Jan Ruth: Midnight Sky
I read this early in the year and remember I could barely put it down. Jan Ruth's family dramas are excellent and this one, involving an interior designer and a horse whisperer within the magical setting of north Wales, is totally gripping. Her love of animals is a very appealing feature of these novels.

Apologies for the lack of pictures, but with most authors having more than two books in this list, it would have been too much!

Okay, that's really me done on my blog for this year, so Happy Christmas reading allemaal!

Monday, December 18, 2017

A round up of the year's highlights

 I'm very pleased to report that this week the skies have cleared, the rain has stopped at last and I am approaching Christmas with a bit more good cheer than I've had in the last weeks. However, given that I might not get another post in before the 31st, I thought I'd take this opportunity to do a quick round up of the year's highlights – mostly in pictorial form so you won't have to read my endless rambles (I can hear the sigh of relief already).

First up is an image from our new year's walk at the coast in the first few days of January. We went to Cadzand on the Zeeuws Vlaanderen coast, a rather touristy spot in summer, but we enjoyed it immensely as a winter beach walk and they've done wonderful things with a new harbour and sea front there.

Then later in January, I went to Spain to catch me some sunshine. The photo above was taken from the place where I was staying with friends near Teulada in the area of Valencia.

This photo was taken in Teulada itself at the annual blessing of the animals, a really delightful festival where all creatures great and small can be blessed by the local parish priest. Here's my blog post of my trip.

At the end of February, we had a visit from some English friends which made us 'do' some of the tourist spots in Rotterdam. Above is a photo I took from inside the rather special Markthal. It was a miserable day, but the interior of this building is bright enough to cheer anyone up.

Then in March, we managed our first spuddle of the season. I don't know why I like this photo of Koos and me looking snooty, but it makes me laugh and marks that rather special occasion quite well – I think.

This photo of the lovely old barge was one I took in Deventer in April. Sadly, the company I worked for no longer has a contract with the university, so my termly jaunts to the east are no longer required. I'll miss it as Deventer is a very special and quintessentially Dutch town.

In May, I was lucky enough to have another marvellous trip to Faro in Portugal with a good friend of mine. We had a wonderful few days in this beautiful old city and caught some much needed sunshine.

Then of course our summer adventures began in June with our two month trip on the Hennie Ha. The photo above was taken quite early on at Arques, the canal that leads to Dunkirk, and where we went through the deepest lock we experienced. I was so glad it had floating bollards.

This photo was of a lovely summer's evening on the Scarpe Supérieure. The water was so clear we could see the bottom of the river. Just beautiful

And here we are on the gorgeous Canal de St Quentin. I was walking along the towpath trying to film Koos steering. It was quite a job as the path was quite overgrown and I missed some of the best moments when I was arguing with the brambles.

On the way back on the Canal de Roubaix, one of my favourite stretches of canal anywhere, but especially in northern France.

And lastly, meandering through Ghent. Just here, we were waiting for the bridge ahead to be lifted. All my blog posts on these travels are in my archives for June, July and August this year, so if you'd like to read about them, just look in the sidebar beneath my favourite blogger list.

It seems I didn't do much in September, possibly due to the fact I was wrestling with a severely frozen shoulder, which was at its worst then. It's still with me, but is slowly getting better, I'm glad to say. Another few months and I might be back to normal (says she very hopefully; that's if I'm ever normal!). And then of course, teaching came to interrupt my adventures. Anyhow, in October, it was time for a barge inspection. There was some work to be done, but luckily not too much, and I had some brilliant help from Tim (below) and another harbour resident, Ruud.

I love this photo of Tim leaving the harbour on his own barge for its maiden (with him) voyage. Tim has years of experience in sailing, but this was the first time he'd had his own barge fit for faring. Doesn't he look happy?

As for November, it was officially now too cold for faring, so I did a blog post about some other activities we'd enjoyed in our terra firma existence. I particularly enjoyed visiting an exhibition in Ghent where we met with the artists whose work was being displayed. Of course Koos enjoys being an exhibit himself :)

And so we come to December. We've had real winter weather already with snow, ice, storms, hail; you name it. I am now looking forward to some brighter days with the weather reverting to normal global warming – sorry, Dutch winter, levels and of course to the warmth of spending time with family over the festive season.

If I don't post again between now and the New Year, I hope you've enjoyed this round up of my year. Have a wonderful break allemaal and I'll catch up with you all on your own blogs in the meantime.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Let it Snow, let it Snow, then let it Go!!

I have a feeling that most of my blogger pals know how I feel about snow by now. I don’t like it. You’re all aware of that, I think.

This is not a newly made decision. It has nothing to do with all those years I spent in South Africa. Well, maybe it does, because the reason I was happy to go there in the first place was so I could escape the snow in the winter of 1981. Does anyone remember how bad it was? And the winter of 78/79? Awful they were, with deep snow and villages cut off, notably ours in the west country.

frosted glass

But no, the real source of my discontent with all things white and wet goes back much much further than that. It was the dreaded winter of 1962/1963.

I wonder how many of my friends here remember that one? I know Heron Mel does because he mentioned it in his blog too, but how many others of you do? I remember it vividly. It made a huge impression on my seven year old self. I believe it was the longest of the extremely cold winters of the twentieth century and I think every day of it is imprinted in my psyche. Don’t laugh. It’s true! I have a vivid recollection of trudging through heaped up piles of dirty frozen snow as we picked our way to the shops and to school. I remember my father desperately scraping the car windscreen which promptly froze again before he’d even finished. I remember crying all the way home from school because my feet were so cold (everyone together now...awww). I hated it. I hated it so much I have done everything I can to avoid the cold ever since. I’ve even written a book set in that winter (my Skipper’s Child) and some readers have told me they can really feel the cold coming off the pages...haha. Experience, you see! 

The funny thing is I project my hatred of it on everyone else too because I’m always worrying about friends and family being cold. My daughter teases me but, you see, I can’t imagine anything worse than feeling cold, so I don’t want anyone else to be either.

Well, you might ask what’s brought all this on? Why now? It’s this week’s snow of course. It’s not even Christmas yet! I’d got used to global warming. I was even enjoying it and now look what it’s done to me! This morning I had to travel to Rotterdam and it took me twice as long as usual. Why? Because of the snow! Why anyone should like the stuff, I don’t know. It’s not even pretty when  sky and snow merge into each other and there’s no other colour to be seen but white with a few spots of black where the trees poke their branches through it. It reminds me of those black and white war films. You know the ones. They  always seem to be set in Poland in winter where everyone is frozen and miserable. So, as far as I’m concerned, it’s made its point and it can go now. 

Okay, I’ve got that out of my system, so I’ll shut up  and smile again. But before I go, I’ll just post a couple of photos of when it started yesterday. Even snowy photos are better than no photos.

Dare I ask if you like it? Have a good week allemaal and keep warm!

Monday, December 04, 2017

Downsides and Upsides: Marking the end of another year

Our usual New Year's walk at the beach on 1 January
In case you're wondering, no. These photos are not from the last few days, although it's been cold enough and the garden at the little house has been covered in frost both yesterday and today. But it's also been misty too, which is hard to deal with as everything becomes a whiter shade of grey. Horrible.

These photos are from last December/January and I hooked them out because I'm making my usual family calendars. I do it every year as it's one way of showing my brothers and sister what we've been up to during the year. My family are all in the UK and I don't get to see them very often (and that's not on purpose – honest!). It's a year since I saw my sister and more since I saw my brothers, which is a shame as I'd love to spend more time with them (see?).

The garden at the end of December

As a result, I make it my thing to put together a calendar of month by month photos for them and I really enjoy doing it because it takes me back over the year and helps me remember what it's like to be warm now it's so beastly cold.

I will admit that 2017 has had its ups and downs but the summer was wonderful and I've only just got myself to accept that it's over. As with most people of my age, things are starting to creak a bit and I've been enduring a frozen shoulder since July (why 'frozen' I don't know, because it feels hot rather than cold), which was one of the down sides, but on the up side, we had two marvellous months 'faring' on the Hennie Ha from June to August.

Since there are far too many photos of our trip to put in the calendar, I've also made a book of photos, but even that doesn't cover them, so I'm going to be putting an album of them all on the Internet based photography site, Flickr, soon. It's lovely just to browse through them and see that we really had some wonderful weather. We both looked very healthy when we arrived back at the end of August, unlike the palid creatures we are now!

I'm not sure if this was frost or snow at the University where
I work, but whatever it was, it was a lovely day too!
Another down for me is that in the last year both my daughters have moved out of Rotterdam, so I don't meet up with them often. But one of them has started teaching at the university where I work too, and that at least gives us a chance for a brief get together once a week most of the time. I've also just heard the other daughter will be teaching there again soon too, so there's my upside again.

The Dutch doing what they love...skating on natural ice
Of course we also had the downer in May that our slipway and yard in the harbour were going to close, but as I mentioned earlier, that's had a stay of execution too and we'll be keeping it for at least 18 months – something to celebrate when we have our harbour Christmas drink this coming week!

All these clouds have silver linings, don't they? We don't do much in the way of Christmas festivities at home, but we do like to have a family meal around the day and I put my little tree up with all its home-made decorations. And then there are the lights in the harbour to look forward to. It's lighting up week this week which is a lovely moment and one I always cherish. On balance then? There've definitely been more upsides than downsides in 2017 and that's how I like to keep it!

What will you all be doing for the festive season, allemaal?