Sunday, December 29, 2019

The last post of 2019

This month has flown by and here we are peering expectantly into 2020.

At the end of November I mentioned I needed some time out to focus on other things. Well, one of those was a trip to the UK to visit my family, most of whom I haven't seen for far too long. It was a big birthday for one of my brothers, but prior to that I'd learned that one member of the family has some serious health problems, which made it especially important for me to see them.

We met up at one of England's lovely National Trust properties, Stowe House, which also happens to be Stowe School in Buckinghamshire. It's open to the public at weekends and has beautiful gardens which the birthday boy particularly wanted to see. I was staying with my sister and since she isn't a member of the NT, we decided to forego the garden tour. It was quite pricey and not something we really relished doing on such a cold day. However, we had a great lunch together in the café and it was wonderful to catch up with them all again. There were several nieces, plus a couple of grandchildren as well as a good show of in-laws. I only wish we could have spent longer together, and it made me aware that I need to go back more often. None of us is getting any younger; in fact, I am the youngest of the four of us.

The rest of my visit was taken up with spending special time with my sister, which I loved, and also visiting her daughters in Bristol and my long-time friend from South Africa, Moira, who works in Wells. Altogether perfect.

My sister and I talked each other's legs off – all of them, not just the hind ones, which meant that no donkeys were involved. I suspect she was quite relieved when I left. Peace at last...haha. Seriously, though, it was amazing to have so much time with her and I think we both caught up on lots of events in each other's lives that we didn't know about. Much of this was achieved while walking, so here are some photos of the beautiful parks we visited in the area.

Harrold Park, north west of Bedford

Harrold Park 
A lovely place to stop a while

There were several of these beautiful benches in Harrold Park

I've no idea what caused these holes, maybe a woodpecker?
This was the bark of a tree in Ampthill Park

The same tree in Ampthill Park. It has a strangely twisted

Magnificent panoramic views in Ampthill Park

Ampthill House, privately owned, I think

Back in the Netherlands, I had work to finish off, a family dinner with my daughters, stepsons and their partners and then of course, Christmas, which was quietly spent in Zeeland with more walking and heaps of reading. Just how I like it. As you know, waterways are a huge attraction, so here are some photos of a recent walk in Belgium along the Durme river.

The house of many colours. I was fascinated by it

The Durme on its way to the Schelde (Scheldt)

What we like: boats moored in Lokeren

And a very pretty traditional tjalk

On the liveaboard side of the moorings

That's just about summed up my absence and in that sense, the year too. Wishing all my blogging friends a very enjoyable New Year and a peaceful, harmonious and lovely 2020. Till next year allemaal.

Monday, December 23, 2019

My favourite memoirs of 2019 and other great reads

Hello dear blogging friends

I'm back here again with a post to end this year so that I can start afresh with my normal blogs again in the new year. When I was thinking about what to write, I thought about what I mostly do to escape the winter blues and that is to read. I don't know about all of you, but this year end has been difficult (as if all winters aren't, I know), but I think lots of us will have wanted to wish ourselves elsewhere for all sorts of reasons, whether they be personal, health, political or other. So I thought I would do a round up of some of the books I've most enjoyed this year. I'll start with memoirs, since I read scores of them, and then I'll add a few novels that I've found especially brilliant.

Since I'm also a bit lazy, I'm not going to add cover photos, but just links to my other blog. If you click on them, you can find my review of the book, what it looks like and a link to the Amazon purchase page, so here goes in no particular order:

1. The Rhine, by Ben Coates. This is an absolutely riveting travel, historical and personal account of the author's journey on foot, by bike and sometimes by boat from the mouth of the Rhine to its source. It's one of the best books I've ever read on this area. Beautifully written and highly recommended. My review is here

2. From Australia to Germany: An adventurous journey in a 4-wheel drive by Gus Pegel. In a completely different style from The Rhine, this is an equally riveting read. It's great fun, full of youthful exuberance and quite astonishing to think such a journey was possible only fifty years ago. My review is here

3. Fat Dogs and French Estates 4 by Beth Haslam. As the title suggests, this is number 4 in a truly delightful series about Beth's life in France with her husband, Jack, and their numerous animals, both domestic and wild. I absolutely love this whole series and look forward to each new one with great anticipation. Well worth the read for learning, laughing and loving everything this couple do. My review is here

4. Passionate Travellers by Dr Trish Nicholson. Not exactly a memoir, this is a collection of biographical stories about remarkable travellers throughout history, many of whom were women with specific missions to fulfil. The hardships they endured to achieve their dreams were astonishing and as I said in my review: "this is one of the most fascinating books I have ever read."

5. South to Barcelona by Vernon Lacey: Another beautifully written travelogue, this one reminded me of Laurie Lee's wonderful As I walked Out One Midsummer Morning in its evocative style and  picturesque images of the people he met. I savoured every word and would recommend it to all lovers of travel memoirs. My review is here

6. Along The Enchanted Way by William Blacker. This account of the author's years in rural Romania in the nineties and early years of this millennium was another riveting book written with lyrical beauty. I like learning about different places and cultures and this book ticked all my boxes. Wonderful stuff. Here's my review

7. I Wish I Could Say I was Sorry by Susie Kelly. I read this from start to finish in a day. Apart from being a deeply personal account of the author's years from childhood to adulthood in Kenya, it offered a wonderful picture of Kenya, a country Susie Kelly loved with a deep and abiding passion. Very well written, very honest and sometimes jaw dropping, it is totally compelling. Here's my review

8. A Kilo of String by Rob Johnson. This book made me laugh till I cried. That might not be the best recommendation for a memoir because everyone's sense of humour is different, but I have to include it because of the sheer enjoyment I had in reading it. In essence it's about the author's life in Greece and his observations on Greek culture and customs. Read my review and see for yourself.

9. The Volcano, Montserrat and Me by Lally Brown. This one stood out as a remarkable testament to the courage and endurance of both the islanders of Montserrat and the author herself. I've read all three of her books, but this one made the deepest impression. It's history as she lived it and it is really incredible. I had no idea what it was like to live in the shadow of a volcano until I read it. My review is here

10. Mobility Matters by Amy Bovaird. As I've said, I like to learn from the memoirs I read and from Amy's heartwarming but detailed and moving account of learning how to use her blind person's cane, I gained just a glimpse of what it means to be blind. Amy Bovaird is an inspiration and I loved this book as my review hopefully shows.

I could add a dozen more to this list, but I really need to stop here. However, I'll just mention a few other terrific memoirs I've read, all of which I've reviewed on my other blog, so I'll give the titles as links:

Random by Adrian Sturrock (a collection of 'random' stories, also incredibly funny)
Boating with Buster by Alison Alderton (a gorgeous book about boating travels with the author's beagle)
The Furthest Points by Andy Hewitt (a fabulous ride around Spain on a Harley Davidson)
Summer of 77: Beaches, Bars and Boogie Nights in Ibiza by Robert Fear (a sunshiny and fun look back to the 70s)

As for novels, this is probably easier as I haven't reviewed them on my blog, so only those that remain in my memory can be included and again, they're in no particular order.

A. Lucinda E Clarke's Savage Safari: number 5 in her Amie series and the best so far. I romped through it. Such a great read, especially because Lucinda has such a fantastic way of evoking the Africa that I love. Here's my Goodreads review

B. Christina James's Gentleman Jack: to my mind the best in the series after the first one. A truly excellent crime thriller and police procedural. My Goodreads review is here

C. Lisette Brody's Hotel Obscure: a collection of themed short stories set in a run down and anonymous hotel in an unnamed city. To me, these are just brilliant and I loved them. Another Goodreads review for you.

D. Terry Tyler's Hope: a real wow of a read. I found it totally unputdownable and so real, it almost made me think it could happen. Excellent, gripping and with Terry Tyler's hallmark of a great character driven plot. This should be on everyone's TBR list. The review is here

E. Stephanie Parker McKean's Fog Buster series, all of them. I loved this madcap series of what is now known as cosy mysteries. This one involves a group of senior citizens who team up to become private investigators. Great fun and very colourful. Here's my review of one I read this year.

F. L M Krier's DI Darling series, again all of them. I am completely addicted to crime fiction and this series is one of my absolute favourites. Here's a review of the one I've read most recently, and to my mind one of the best.

G. Peter Davey's Nicole: I just love anything Peter Davey writes. To me, he's a master of craft and all his books leave me feeling I wish I'd written that. His style, his understated stories, his exploration of how people think and feel, all these rhyme with how I'd like to write fiction, but don't. This one is a novella and a very moving story that I only got when I reached the end, but then that's always the way with Peter's writing. Here's my review of Nicole.

H. Carol Hedges' Intrigue and Infamy. Once again, this is the latest of a series I absolutely love. All of them are set in Victorian London with all the atmosphere and colour of Dickens but the satire and humour of Jane Austin thrown. All this is wrapped up in Carol's own voice which brings in social comment relevant to today. Intrigue and Infamy is a must read for what's happening right now. See my review.

I. Diana J Febry's DI Hatherall police procedural series is another that I 'buy without question.' Always good value with strong and consistent characters, The Paper Boy is a very enjoyable addition to the collection. I read this in a day, and you can see my review here. Diana has also started writing a new series, the first of which is Trouble at Clenchers Mill. I enjoyed that very much as well.

There are probably more and I apologise to those excellent authors I can't bring to mind right now, but I hope this gives you some ideas of good reading material for the holidays if you are short of some suggestions.

Wishing you all a wonderful festive season, some great reading and a sparkling new year. I'll be back soon and with my usual posts on life in my watery world.