Dead to Me – Cath Staincliffe

Before television……

there was the novel.  However in this case television came first, with the series Scott and Bailey. Cath Staincliffe has written a prequel to the popular ITV1 crime drama series. An interesting idea but Staincliffe was the creator and scriptwriter of ITV’s Blue Murder, is familiar with Manchester so is in a perfect position to write a book without simply regurgitating something from the television to appease fans.

It is not a prerequisite that you have had to watch the programme as this being a prequel it is the beginning of the story for the three main characters DC’s Janet Scott and Rachel Bailey and DCI Gill Murray. I have only seen one or two episodes so their characters as they are in the programme are not really fully formed in my mind.  Finding out their backgrounds and what has shaped them into the police roles they are in now and what they will be in the future and how well their dynamic will be in solving the case that brings them together is what makes this book an excellent read.

A girl has been stabbed, there is a possibility of rape, drugs play a part somewhere and the victim’s mother wants justice; she is convinced it is the boyfriend. She wants blame to be apportioned so that she feels after leaving her daughter in care to be looked after the system has not failed her.

DCI Gill Murray is heading up the investigate team and she has her faithful DC Janet Scott with her, but there is a new girl on the block Rachel Bailey; gun-ho, arrogant and a bit of a risk to a well established team. Murray teams her up with Scott in the hope that Scott’s calmness, experience and ease with events takes some of the arrogance away. Bailey thinks she is being mothered and wants to prove she is worthy of her place without the help of a colleague. It is this arrogance that makes Bailey a strong character within the book, and I felt as irritated by her as her colleagues did.

Bailey has something to prove not because she is a woman, but because her background and past would have brought her on the other side of the law if she had not taken the path she had. She needs to fix everything to heal the wounds of the past.

Scott on the other hand, knows that some wounds of the past cannot be healed permanently and it is the experience in dealing with them that makes them stronger in the future. She has empathy for a mother who has lost her daughter and knows that trying to juggle a life is not an easy job when you are in the police force.

Murray as the ‘boss’ got their on her own merit, and would have got further had her family unit not been turned upside down. Career paths had to change and the past perhaps can never be far away.

If you have never read a crime novel before then start with this one, ignore the fact that it is based on a television programme. It covers police procedural well, and explains for all us non police readers some of the language and shorthand used. You can understand the process and the outcomes if everything does not go right, have they really got the right person?

If you loved the programme and very rarely read then read this novel as it will get you into the joy of reading.

Thank you to the publisher for sending me this review copy. 

The book is published in paperback on 12 April 2012 and there will be more novels to follow. I will be writing more about my thoughts on this book nearer the publication date. 


The Light Between Oceans – M.L.Stedman

This is a debut novel by M.L. Stedman and to be honest I thought I was reading an established author who was able to create and craft a story which captures your heart.

We are transported to Australia in fact to the bottom of the world where you can see nothing but the sea and the sky, we are on Janus Rock where the Janus lighthouse stands, between the two oceans. It is the last sight of Australia that Tom Sherbourne saw, as he left to fight in the Great War. Tom was one of the lucky ones to return, unscathed but the destruction he had seen had made him wary of the future. Moving into the nineteen twenties Tom is now lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock. An unpopular posting because of its hardship and a job which I think you must have a certain sort of mental attitude to do.

On clear summer days, Janus seems to stretch up right to its tiptoes: you’d swear it’s higher out of the water at some times than at others, not just because of the rising and ebbing of the tide. It can disappear altogether in rainstorms…

On his first visit to the lighthouse, he stops at the nearest port town, Port Partageuse where the ship will take him to complete isolation, just him, the land, the force of the sea and nature and the solitary light which helps guide all away from the rocks. Here in the town he meets another force of nature Isabel Graysmark who makes her mark just as the rocks do to the unfortunate ships that do not make it.

Their courtship is a protracted affair, with no communication other than letters every three months and swift replies being written before the store boat leaves, otherwise time lapses on. The isolation of their love is very strong and Stedman brings this across so well. I knew no matter what that Isabel and Tom were meant to be together and that they could fight anything that was brought against them, from early on in the book that is the foundation of their relationship. To be able to give everything up, communication, family and luxury to isolation was a big ask, Isabel fitted in better than I thought and embraced life both past events which tragically took her brothers in the war but also in the present where she met Tom. Tom on the other hand was never comfortable in the past and the present was all there was, structure was needed to be a lighthouse keeper and keep Tom safe.

For both of them the future was not going as they hoped, and tragedy strikes them more than once, but despite everything Janus Rock, brings them light, hope and a future. Isabel and Tom are both oceans that are drawn together by a light and driven apart by one. As the truth becomes known, to everyone else. We are in on the secret as readers with Isabel and Tom. Is right to carry on even when it is wrong? Can the guilt of the past be healed by the actions of the future? Only by reading the book will you know and as you do, you question what you would do in that situation. This book raises so many questions, but this does not for me detract from the book it makes even more richer.

To areas of the book which I would like to mention are the passages dealing with the First World War, dealt with tenderly but still showing the brutality and futility of war in some cases. Remembering that the Australians did fight in the First World War. Many books concentrate solely on the British involvement and other nationalities and countries are invariable overlooked.

The other is the routine and role of a keeper of the light is covered quite fully, the author had done her research even to the scientific aspect of the light itself made easy for all non science readers like myself. I was fascinated about such a place, the isolation which is a word I have used frequently in this review is there for a reason. I think the isolation that Stedman uses in this book, is not one of loneliness but of a greater element, the elements all around us living, the sea the greatest of them all perhaps?

A début novel from an author that I feel has much more to give and look forward to reading what comes.

Thank you to the publisher for sending me this review copy. 

This is shaping up to be one of my favourite reads of 2012 and we are only in February! I think the subject matter is different, and not something I would to be honest have chosen had I not been sent this by the publishers. I was so entranced by this place, I had to Google it, but discovered it as a fictitious place, but I would love to know where it was meant to be located in Australia. I did lose the sense of location without a map to reference, distance from land and in some ways civilisation. It would have been a great addition to the book to enhance the descriptive prose.

I am not sure I would like to live in such a place for years at a time, but I think for me it would make a great holiday place, a real chance to escape and see the elements at one and nature fighting itself, from the rough to the calm knowing that there is a light to guide everyone home wherever that maybe. Obviously you would have taken lots of books to read, cakes to eat and tea to drink!

The Light Between Oceans is published on 26 April 


Family Traditions #1

Pinch and Punch, First of the month, white rabbits and stuff!

It occurred to me at the beginning of February that as a family we have some unique traditions which are just ours, that whilst they mean something to other people and there is an element of recognition in them, over time we have adapted it to suit ourselves.

What started as my mum saying to me on the first of every month as soon as we got up, as you could not say anything else before these words had been uttered as transferred into something else when I left home. Was the saying at the top of this post. We actually never pinched (or punched) each other, but it was always said no matter what.

So where does this bizarre little quirk of not just my family but also probably many families quaint custom come from?

Originating from old England times when people thought that witches existed. People thought that salt would make a witch weak, so the pinch part is pinching of the salt, and the punch part was to banish the witch. The witch would be weak from the salt so the punch was to banish her.

Added on to that is the superstitious saying “White Rabbits” at the end of Pinch and Punch…. bringing good luck for the month if spoken on the first day of said month. This is as good as saying the key phrase “No Returns” and after having spoken both Pinch and Punch and White Rabbits, you are invariably blessed with luck if you believe such things.

Now if “White Rabbits” is not spoken or instead “No Returns” then the receiver has to be quick:

“A flick and a kick for being so quick.” 

I know there are many theories about what is said and why, but I have picked the most common that can be found on the web and in reference books. Please enlighten me if you have another reason.

Back to my family tradition; embracing technology it has now become the first text of the day on said day and a competition to see who can be first. As we both get up very early, it is who can get to the mobile phone first. I am invariably up at 0515 and always wary of sending a text at that time, for fear of the phone going off in my parents bedroom and my dad being woken, rather grumpily. So I try and wait until a bit later, but this plan does not always work.

Whoever loses, now sends the text Beat Me! This month I became even sneakier and thought whilst up (ready to head off swimming) I decided against text so early but opened up the iPad and sent a message that way to my mum’s iPad. Great – another way. Did I win, well only just as I sent the message, a couple of minutes later my phone went and the incoming text was in! Ha little did she know that when she went to switch on the iPad and check her messages I had got in there a whole 2 minutes early! Who beat who? I think we will call that a draw.

Now how early can I do it in March?


(un)like a Virgin – Lucy-Anne Holmes

I confess to picking this book up and thinking I was going to get your average chick-lit but I was mistaken, actually what I got was a book which gripped me, made me laugh, made me cry and made me think all in the space of day whilst I read it.

Grace Flowers has a plan, in fact she has a Five Year Plan, and it was all going swimmingly the final thing was to get the big promotion at work and she achieved everything. Psyching herself as to how she would deal with this new-found superiority, Grace is fallen as the big promotion goes to someone else. To add insult to this, her boyfriend dumps her, her mother seems to be spending money with no thought for the future and Grace is still grieving for her father. Her father is the constant in her life even though he is dead, he made dreams come true for her, and made her see life through words and music but more importantly song. All this comes back to her throughout the course of the book.  Grace realises that perhaps having such a structured plan is not the best way to succeed in life and perhaps following your heart and your voice are much better.

The character of Gracie, got me from the start she was to the point of manic, the sort of friend you could never keep up with, everything always happening to her and not you. I loved the little quips to herself, her friend Wendy (another great character), the ‘posh’ bloke who got the job she had planned to have even to her father, who could not answer back. What Lucy-Anne Holmes has done is bring so much warmth and pathos to the character that when the unexpected turns to joy for the future and then is cruelly taken away, I shed more than one tear.

I thought I knew what was going to happen, having read plenty of this type of fiction in the past. To Grace it was so obvious the path she was going to go down, to get to the happy ending that a reader gets from reading such books. How wrong I was. There was twists and turns along the way and just when I thought I had sussed it, the path changed yet again. It goes to show that you can never trust a well known formula.

A great book which goes above and beyond the cover which does not do it justice. This was sophisticated ‘chick-lit’. A must read.

I really surprised myself with this book, and spent a very nice Friday night and all day Saturday reading it. If this is the standard of novel that Lucy-Anne Holmes creates then I am off to read her previous two novels and look out for the fourth. 

It was interesting about the character of Grace having a plan. I have always thought that perhaps is what I lack. The plan was always to go to university and get a degree which I did. Then I kind of floundered around until I seem to have now settled into a job which is okay. Ask me another day and I would say a lot different both positive and negative. 

Should I plan anything else? Or perhaps I have learnt through illness that it is important to embrace life and enjoy the things you like doing. This is not a rehearsal this is it! 

Actually I do plan things, but on a much smaller scale as I find it gives me structure but also a sense of achievement when it is done. I recommend it to anyone. 

Books · Jottings

Jottings #1

I had noticed that I had been rather quiet on the blog lately, not because I have nothing to say because actually I do but I have not had the inclination to get writing. Upon reflection, I should have been writing as I realise how therapeutic it is or at least can be.

So I thought I would just do a jottings post and tap into the title of the blog which makes sense really. So here are my thoughts on various topics, books plus a few links along the way.

I seem to have slightly lost my reading mojo for two reasons

a. having too many books on the go!

b. knowing that I was not enjoying the book I was reading and how on earth was I going to review it. The book in question was Helen Dunmore’s Zennor in Darkness. Thank you to everyone who commented and it is interesting to see how we take on some sort of guilt about not liking a book that others rave about!

My mojo is probably back as I was lucky enough to be sent a wonderful debut novel by M.L. Stedman – The Light Between the Oceans. Thank you to Alison Barrow from Transworld. I have not reviewed it as of yet, because this is a book and a review which I want to take my time over, and there are lots of things I want to say about the book but I will publish the review around the time of publication on 26 April. In the meantime here is the ‘blurb’

This is a story of right and wrong, and how sometimes they look the same.

1926. Tom Sherbourne is a young lighthouse keeper on a remote island off Western Australia. The only inhabitants of Janus Rock, he and his wife Isabel live a quiet life, cocooned from the rest of the world.  One April morning a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a crying infant – and the path of the couple’s lives hits an unthinkable crossroads.  Only years later do they discover the devastating consequences of the decision they make that day – as the baby’s real story unfolds …

M L Stedman’s debut is a mesmerising novel of love and loss and unbearable choices.

Once I had finished this book I could not decide what next to read, it felt disloyal to start something new. So I have carried on reading a rather 2012 themed book which is Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith. It is quite interesting although I do not feel I have learnt anything outstandingly new about her. The Queen not the author. I feel it is rather geared to an American audience, but I will not let that put me off and it is written chronologically and I have just got up to the Silver Jubilee celebrations so about half way through.

However I do not think this book is a patch on Andrew Marr’s The Diamond Queen: Elizabeth II and her People which I have yet to read but thoroughly enjoying the BBC TV series for which this book accompanies. (It was also a Kindle Daily Deal – and worth the £1.59) I have learnt from this programme  – that the HMY Britannia (which should never have been decommissioned – but that is a another story) was actually meant to be a nuclear bunker for the Queen in the event of nuclear war. Fascinating and even more so because I work with an ex RN Petty Officer who served on the ship that guarded the Royal Yacht and even he did not know about it. Some secrets can be kept.  I look forward to reading this book. I also have The Final Curtsey by Margaret Rhodes, (The Queen’s first cousin) to read. 2012 could be the year for reading royally!

In all things celebration in 2012, I give you the link for you to read at your leisure. Why is 2012 a year to remember? Although we are only two months into this celebratory year, who would have thought that it was 70 years since the film Casablanca was made! And with the Olympics happening this year, 2012 will remain a year to remember in the future.

World Book Night is in its second year this year and I have been lucky enough to be chosen to give out 25 books – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. It is my favourite book and also my mum’s who first got me into the book and we both have watched the film version, the TV series and also a stage play. Fabulous. I am so excited about this and I hope to give some of the books away on this blog for anyone that has not read it or for those who have but just want to take part!

The old reading mojo might be a little wobbly, but the swimming one seems to be there. I have swam 4Km in the last week, mainly because I have not had any PT sessions. Some days are harder than others, especially when you have had only 5 hours sleep the night before and up at 0515. Power through and I got there, but I am glad of the weekend to have some time to relax (and sleep!)

Reading newspapers is not something I do on a frequent basis unless I am on holiday, I see it as a luxury especially in the days of instant news on 24 hour television and the internet. Saturday is the day I do buy a paper (Daily Express) mianly for the TV listings for the following week and because it is bliss to settle down and spend the time to read the paper. However I signed up to reading The Telegraph on the iPad because I had a subscription through work and was just going to try out and see what it was like. I am hooked. Secretly a bit like feeling guilty about not liking a book you are reading, I always feel I should be reading a newspaper which is a bit more highbrow and less tabloidy. All the news aside I have got into doing the quick crossword, and seeing the next day whether I was right or not is quite satisfying and I am surprising myself with what I know.

This post has turned into a bit of a reading, book related post which is fine as I am going to continue that theme with words. Whilst flicking through the Which magazine that arrived at work this week, I came across the article about Food Labelling, you can read the online article in full here. I read the one from the magazine, not that dissimilar. What interested me was the ‘creative writing’ that supermarkets and food manufacturers use on products.

A visit to the supermarket can bombard you with labels that use creative language…Words such as ‘real’, ‘homemade’ and ‘hearty’ draw people in because they allude to feelings of comfort. Although not legally defined…on the use of the term ‘homemade’ – it shouldn’t be used on factory-made foods, only on products prepared in a domestic kitchen.

Now here is a term that I think could catch on ‘Weasel Words’, wonderful alliteration. Defining ‘Weasel Words’

Heather Hartwell, associate professor in food service and applied nutrition at Bournemouth University told us [Which] “These words fall into the “affective” category. They allude to emotions tat can trigger happy memories such as grandma’s apple pie. Other words provide a sensory description – ‘crisp’, ‘succulent’ and ‘rich’ are used frequently on premium products to indicate luxury. In the industry these are known as ‘Weasel Words’.

Who knew that doing your weekly shop could be such a literary experience. And apparently we are all being conned by the difference between ‘flavour’ and ‘flavoured’.  Manufacturers are banking on us not realising the difference, so to inform you all as i feel this sort of information should be shared:

Flavour – can mean something from artificial flavouring.

Flavoured – has to contain the natural ingredient.

Rest assured that I am going to eat my “Homemade Butternut Squash Soup flavoured with garlic. It has been made in a domestic kitchen – Tick!. It has got the natural ingredient garlic in it – Tick! And there is not a food manufacturer with a labelling problem within sight – Tick!


Zennor in Darkness – Helen Dunmore

This story is set in 1917, the war is ravaging across the water in France but in a part of Cornwall, the effects of it are far-reaching. Many young men have not come back, their bodies buried where they lay. Some are lucky, like John William who have survived and been commissioned to be an officer, return back but with darkness in their souls from what they have seen.

There are others Lawrence and Frieda. Lawrence cannot go to war due to ill health but their marriage causes upset amongst the locals; she left her husband and gave up her children to be with the man she loves, but worse than that she is German and related to Baron Richthofen. Suddenly where you come from is very important in Zennor.

Cornwall cannot hide them any longer as rumours are rife that by purely hanging out the washing she is using this as a signal to passing  German U-Boats. But there are some locals who do not seem to treat them as an interest to be avoided, a couple with a differing view of the world and the insular life of Cornwall. One of those is Clare Coyne who is a young girl, looking after her widowed father, struggling to make ends meet with no money and a lack of food as well as trying to live her own life.  When her cousin John William returns prior to taking up his commission life changes forever and the effects of war are felt most keenly by all around.

I really struggled with this book, something which actually surprised me as this is a typical book I would like. I cannot deny that the writing is excellent, and it is a book which needs to be savoured as the passages are highly descriptive of the area of Cornwall, as is the flora and fauna. Dunmore has also handled the experiences and descriptions of war well and I felt moved by what was written and for that the book has its place. But for me it was the characters which let the book down. I felt there was too many popping up in the book and seemed unnecessary, for example Clare’s friend Peggy, what was the point of her? It meant that I could not really focus on  the story at all as it jumped from one person to the other and the narrative jarred.

There is the use of real life people; Lawrence is actually the controversial writer D.H. Lawrence was an interesting tool but one that did not really come off for me. Their presence could have warranted a novel all of its own.

I was disappointed with this read, but I am sure and I know others have enjoyed the book mine is just one opinion.

I was really interested in the fact that D.H. Lawrence featured in this novel and I did not know much about him other than he wrote Sons and Lovers and the then Sixties controversial trial Lady Chatterley’s Lover. However this book piqued an interest in the background of him and Frieda and went off to read more. From the little bit I picked up on Wikipedia – well you have to start somewhere I suppose I was quite fascinated. I have never read any of his novels and perhaps I might have to venture this way at some point in my reading journey. 

I have read some lovely reviews of this book, I would like to hope that mine is middle of the road and perhaps I was not focused on this book than I needed to be? It just did not grab me and draw me in enough. That said it would not stop me reading any other books by Helen Dunmore. 

Why when a book grabs many others and not us do we feel guilty of even writing a review in case we offend. This was one of the reasons that it seems this blog had suddenly gone quiet for a while!


The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

A killer is loose he has claimed three victims from one family but one escapes. He lives to fight another day. But there is something unique about this escapee.

He is a baby.

He does not know his name.

He finds shelter in a graveyard.

The ghosts who live in the graveyard, claim him and name him as No’bod’y.

Bod becomes one of them whilst still alive. He has a guardian, Silas and parents Mr and Mrs Owens, teachers throughout the cemetery who educate him on all scholarly and ghostly matters.

But the man who killed his REAL family still needs to complete his mission and that is to kill the one who got away. Can Bod survive to live another day or will the ghostly world in which he inhabits finally shut him out forever?

This fantasy book is predominantly aimed at children aged 9 – 12 and I think perhaps less advanced readers would struggle with it, vocabulary wise but would certainly enjoy the pace of the story. There are parts of the book where the plot was certainly lost on me and it had very resonant elements of the Harry Potter series, which could be a double edged sword. Youngsters might find it good to progress to such a fantasy book as this whilst others might find it is a disappoint without much reasoned explanation for why Bod’s family are killed.

The latter being what I found as I thought at one point I had missed a huge chunk of the book out as to why Bod needed to be killed. However I think perhaps with adult eyes we look for more reasoned explanations whilst as children we would simply go with the flow.

Each chapter is a story within itself and they are all page turners and it was an enjoyable read with the right amount of fantasy, reality and enough creepiness without feeling too scared to read on. A book for all to enjoy.

I bought this book because it was on offer as a Kindle Daily Deal for 99p. When I bought it I did not realise it was a children’s book and it was only with further investigation did I find out. That is the sign of a good story, some books are so obvious as children’s books that as an adult you make preconceived ideas about them. Here I did not. 

I was also drawn to the ‘graveyard’ elements of the book. All that history there and past that was taken after lives had been lived and some where they had not lived at all. They all going on living in the graveyard. It dealt I thought rather touchingly (for children) with those who are buried away from the graveyard, witches, suicides those where no stone marks the spot of their burial.

I can hear my family history running through my head, as I have spent a few hours wondering round graveyards trying to find those places where relatives of the distant past have been buried and for what I only have names and data on, nothing actual, no photographs; nothing. 

I would be interested in anyone else who has read this book, but also what children think about it? The reviews on Amazon that I can glean all come from adults. 


The Surprise Party – Sue Welfare

Rose and Fleur are sisters – opposites apart. Literally in terms of location as Fleur is on the other side of the world in Australia having achieved, money and status but no man. Fleur is across for her sisters surprise Ruby Wedding Anniversary Party and is doing her best to distract Rose, but she is being everything which is not in her character.

Rose stayed at home when her sister made her life choice, she married Jack and had two children, and is about to celebrate her Ruby Wedding Anniversary, but seems somewhat reluctant do so? Her and Jack do not want a fuss but their children, two sisters Suzie and Liz have other ideas.

Liz is precious, she has everything she wants, a glittering national tv career, people pampering her without her having to life a finger and men at her beck and call. Everyone knows her and she wants everyone to fawn over her. But not her sister.

Suzie, is everything Liz is not, down to earth, comfortable in her own skin, her clothes, her marriage, her two children; two sisters and her home. Her little hobby is turning into something more and locally Suzie is known for her gardening prowess and organisational skills. That is why this party is going to be perfect and everyone is helping even her daughters, Hannah and Megan.

Hannah has other ideas, and thinks such a party is boring, but when her ‘new’ friend Sadie pitches up with a couple of boys, things start to look up and the drink starts to go down. Hannah escapes one family party and ends up on a rather different journey to a party where family does not exist.

Megan is oh so wise for someone oh so young. She can see everything and whilst she knows what her sister is up to, she does not tell tales but subtly is able to bring everyone together and helps Hannah see that family is quite important.

That was the point of the party – family. When Rose and Jack turn up to be surprised it is their daughters who get the biggest surprise when they find out the reason behind their parents always avoiding celebratory anniversary parties. The whole night is turned on its head; lies, secrets and skeletons tumble onto the dance floor as the truth is learnt.

This was my first novel I have read by Sue Welfare and I have to say I really enjoyed it. It was light reading, but actually the twists and turns were unique and when you felt that the bombshell had been dropped, another one came along. It was never going to end. 

Set actually within the day running up to the party and the party itself as it goes on into the night, was a clever vehicle for telling a story. It could have gone really wrong and felt either very rushed or dragged out for effect. In fact neither, you are so caught up at watching the events at the party unfold that time goes past and you realise this is not as light and fluffy as you may have initially thought when picking up the book. 

Sue Welfare is a pseudonym for Kate Lawson and she also writes under the name Gemma Fox.

Do share with me if you have read any of her other books, as I would be interested to hear about them. 

Crafts · Cross Stitch · Witterings

Swimming and Sewing

From the title you could be forgiven that I have gone mad, and that these two activities do not really go together. But there is a way to combine the two.

I am a swimmer, nothing too adventurous and may I say not to the wonderful standard that the lovely Verity swims who I admire. I do it to help with weight loss and keeping fit. It mixes the week up with the other stuff I do like, PT, Body Pump to name a few. It is also something I share with my dad, who taught me and has done some brave lifesaving acts in the past as well as swim on a regular basis pier to pier at Southsea. We both actively support the local volunteer lifesaving team as well.

Normally I average twice a week and was doing so before Christmas for a long while, it is always 40 lengths which is 1Km (25m length swimming pool), on the odd occasion I have pushed 50 lengths but that is a real push. I was going after work which is not an issue because I finish at a reasonable time, sometimes later but the pool got busier with children after 5pm and there are already swimming lessons going on in two of the lanes, which limits space slightly. Time I was getting in from swimming, I was not having time to cook, well I could but I would have been eating at 8 and when you go to bed at 9 that does not leave a lot of time for digestion. I then had no time to do anything for me in the evenings so I reevaluated what I was doing.

So I thought I would give going before work a go rather than after. I am a lark not an owl so getting up in the morning is relatively easily but it requires preparation the night before otherwise it can all go wrong and you start the day playing catch up. I challenged myself this in December and thought getting up when it is still dark, getting to the pool for when it opens at 0630 and being at work by 0730 and it not getting light until gone 0830 was probably the worst time to start this. But I achieved it and I am pleased and continued this into January. Now when I come out to go to work the sun is starting to rise and I am greeted to a lovely pinky blue sky.

So I know I can get up early and do it I needed a new angle on this so challenging myself to swim an extra day than the normal twice I set myself was the order of the day. I did not go mad and just picked a particular week and said this is the week to swim 3 times – and I did. So in January I swam 11km (Last year I swam 98km in 12 months) and so far in February I have swam 3km.

So what is the point of the stitching – well as you may have realised, going swimming in the morning means you have wet costume and towels hanging round all day before you can go home and do something about it. Getting cold in the car and smelly! I am fortunate to work in a place with some lovely accommodation managers, cleaners and valets who kindly (once I had gained permission from my boss) to let me use the dryer to dry them off. Bless the lovely ladies they go one step further and actually wash them and dry them and even fold my swimming costume so precisely. They even call me ‘their little tadpole’ now! I wanted to get them something to say thank you but rather than the normal biscuits or chocolates I thought I would make something for their office and so the result is above and below

I thought the picture rather apt, the blue watery material good and the ric-ric edging matches the colour of the costume and hat! And the cake well that is why I am swimming so much – I have eaten too much cake in the past!

They loved it and why because I had thought about it, and they are more than happy to help this little tadpole out!


January Roundup

Who would have thought January 2012 would go so quick?  Is it wrong that when I went back to work I was counting the days until my next  break and whether I could fit in a day off between the 3rd January and the start of Easter?

You could say that other than work I have spent most of January reading (and eating things I should not but let me gloss over that, this is meant to be about books). An impressive number in 10 actually it is more 9 plus a short story.

So where to start, where else but crime; some new, some old and some comforting. New in terms of Tess Gerritsen and The Surgeon. I have seen plenty about this author in the last few months of 2011 and her Rizzoli and Isles series of books and so I thought I would give the first one a go.  I think  I have avoided these in the past, thinking that gruesome, graphic crime was not really my thing and the setting in America can sometimes grate me, how wrong I was. Great,  compelling read and now on the look out for book two and the others to catch up with I am told they get better and better.

Old crime has to be Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes and the short story A Scandal in Bohemia. My first Sherlock story and inspired by the fact that the wonderful BBC series adapted this story for their opening second series on New Year’s Day. I wanted to see how true to the story it was, my thoughts can be found at this post.

Cosy Crime can only come in the form this month of M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist, (not pictured above  – because I forgot!) where Agatha takes her angst abroad only for murder to find her. Also reading this allowed me to part complete one of the challenges I have set myself for the year. More about that later.

Cosiness continued with Jack Sheffield and Educating Jack which was kindly sent to me by Lynsey Dalladay from Transworld Publishers. Already at book 6 and I am glad to hear there will be some more, life is moving quite fast for Jack and the school where he is headmaster. Whilst all the events  in 1982/83 gets become even more baffling to the characters. These are great social history books and even more enjoyable (I think) when you can remember the events the first time around. Looking back with adult eyes makes you wonder. This was also the first time I had a critical comment on my Amazon review as well; by giving too much of the plot away. I thought I had not and only hinted at the content of the story and gave as much away as the blurb on the back? An interesting point which has certainly made me think.

Looking with adult eyes at a book I can say I have probably avoided for most of my life is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. We did not read many classics at school and although this book and many others featured on the shelves at home as well audio books, my knowledge of this story came from the television. I felt I wanted to rectify some of that, as it does not just apply to Jane Eyre but many other books. I started this back last year, and it is a book which I got into and read and read and then found I started to struggle with some passages and therefore sought diversion with other books, only to keep returning to this. I am pleased I have read this book and I can see that I will certainly be reading it again because I feel I may have missed so much that I will pick up a new perspective next time round.

Trying to keep in theme is difficult for some of the other books I have read in January. History could be said to be found in Below Stairs by Margaret Powell, but it was quite a boring book which did not enlighten me about anything to do with servants and I fell victim to a republish to cash in on Downton Abbey. This is the only book that I would say came under History.

At a stretch (and a very long one) you could say that Deborah Lawrenson’s The Lantern had a historical element. What it actually has besides being a cracking good read, is the story of a house (I am a fan of such books) where two different time periods are covered by the occupants of the house. Finding out about who was before them and whether the future will actually heal the past.  Reflecting back on the many books I read, I am always steered to such books as these, two stories running seemingly independently of each other, set in different times but crossing over and coming together at some point throughout the book. I am sure it is my love for history that inspires me to read so much of these and also I think a secret burning desire to write such a novel myself. If only….

Even though it sometimes could be said that I stick to genres and books that I know and love the best, I am not afraid of trying something new and see if it takes. With a debut author, so a new author and a new book for everyone I struck lucky with Rachel Joyce and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. This book is so beautiful, and for that I just do not mean the cover and the wonderful map but the writing and the story. It is a must read for 2012 and it has already featured on the Waterstone’s 11 (I cannot remove the apostrophe at the moment, give me time) for this year and is published in March.

With one to read, I must say that French Lessons by Ellen Sussman is one to avoid.  A book that could have been so much more really disappointed me and I felt cheated in some ways. However the structure of the book, featuring one day was very clever and this was repeated for me when I read Sue Welfare and The Surprise Party (review to follow soon). This sort of method could actually put some people off, how possibly are they going to fit a story with a decent plot and good characters if all the action happens in one day. Well in Sue Welfare’s case surprisingly effectively which resulted in me being hooked on the book. In Ellen Sussman’s case not so well.

Finally mention must go to my challenges. I pondered long and hard about whether I should sign up for the many challenges which are around the blogosphere to do with books, but I felt I was never going to be able to give my full potential to them and end up getting in a panic for not completing them. So I set myself some and they can be found at the top of the page so you can see my progress.

I was doing ok with the book buying but I forgot all about buying books on my kindle, somehow I told myself that would not count! So not a great start. But I have completed Jane Eyre and read one of the Agatha Raisin books so I am well on my way at a nice steady pace and I know that I will be adding new challenges throughout the year and have already done so with the newest challenge up there  – to read another Jospehine Tey Novel, my apologies but I cannot remember who was blogging about her and it spurred me into adding this as a challenge. Thank you anyway.

A small reference must go to my kindle, because a number of these books 4 this month have been read on this device. There is no pattern to how much I read as in ‘real’ books or on the kindle, it’s as my reading mood takes me I find. That said I end January reading a book – Neil Gaiman and The Graveyard Book – on my kindle as it was a bargain daily deal a few weeks back.

Everybody ready then, let’s get on with February.