Thursday 29 September 2016

Read in 2016 - 33: Jessica's Haunting

"Jessica's Haunting" by Tina A. Gaskins could have been a relatively good book, if it had been written by a skilled writer. As it was, though, this writer did not show much skill. I don't know how old Ms Gaskins is, but something in her style made me think that she is, like an astonishing number of people, of the opinion that "anyone can write a book" as long as they have a good idea for a story.

The story here is something of a ghost story, but not of the horror kind. Instead, the ghost in this case is the benevolent spirit of Jessica's boyfriend who died in an accident and keeps haunting her until he can be sure she has finally found true love and happiness.

The weird thing is that he is convinced she can find both only with his twin brother. A lot of people (last but not least, this reader) find the idea of getting together with the twin of a lost loved one a bit odd, if not to say slightly repulsive. No person can really ever replace another person, can they? And the author goes to great lengths to have her heroine explain that she is not at all seeking to replace her deceased boyfriend, but that the two men are very different.

It all is rather improbable and unlikely, also the extremely stubborn, stupid and aggressive way the two main characters often talk to each other and behave.

What kept me going, you may ask, and rightly so. Well, I did want to know whether the stuff I thought was going to happen would happen (it did, mostly) and how certain situations were going to develop.

But the unskilled writing (especially noticeable in the rather wooden dialogue which often went on unnecessarily for story and character development) really made me consider stopping a few times. I probably should have done so, but it's too late now. Just let me advise you NOT to download and read this book, even if you come across it as a free ebook (as I did).

Tuesday 27 September 2016

Read in 2016 - 32: The View from the Corner Shop

One of the best books I have read this year is one that was never intended to become a book: "The View from the Corner Shop" by Kathleen Hey is a collection of the real-life diary entries of a woman in her 30s, written in the years 1941 to 1946.

Kathleen Hey worked with her sister and brother-in-law at their grocery shop in Dewsbury (Yorkshire). She did not keep a journal for her own amusement, but wrote as one of hundreds of volunteers participating in the Mass Observation Project.

In case you are not familiar with the MO project (I wasn't, and had to look it up on wikipedia): It was a social research organisation founded in 1937 by an anthropologist, a poet and a filmmaker, aimed at recording everyday life in Britain by the means of diaries and questionnaires from around 500 untrained volunteers. (Actually, I find the entire project interesting enough for it to deserve its own blog post.)

Through Kathleen Hey's writing - supplemented with plenty of useful historic background information by the editors -, the reader gets to know her and her world rather well. Kathleen goes through life with eyes and ears wide open, and a mind that is capable of thinking beyond what is of her immediate concern. While she does not fail to see the humour in some of the goings-on in her family, at the shop or in town, she understands the seriousness of political decisions and their impact on a large scale.

As the years - and the war with all the restrictions it imposes on everyone's daily lives - go on, she seems to be losing some of her humour, and a dull, grey tiredness (not only in the physical sense) begins to dominate.
Even when the war ends (the diary spans another year after the war), she can not seem to get her former energy and enthusiasm back. I won't tell you too much here, because I'd really like for you to read this book for yourself; therefore, let me just say that I was deeply touched by the thoughts and feelings Kathleen expresses.

Apart from that, I learned a lot from this book. For instance, the rationing system (which, I understand, was still in use in the UK for several years after the war) is explained. 

What surprised me was how people behaved towards each other. Up until reading this book, I was of the opinion that most people in the UK see WWII and the years immediately after it as a time when the nation stood together as a whole, when the slogan "Keep Calm and Carry On" was not only on posters but also in people's hearts and minds, when everybody gladly sacrified their small comforts for the benefit of their fellow Britons and the war effort.

According to Kathleen Hey - who was really there and wrote things down as they happened, not rose-tinted by nostalgia -, this was definitely not the case, at least not in the dimensions I was always made to believe.
On the contrary, there was a lot of petty arguing and small-scale fighting going on between groups and individuals with conflicting interests. For instance, young married women were apparently "getting off lightly", no matter whether they had children or not. Oranges were a constant bone of contention - who was entitled to how many, and why? Evacuees from bombed cities were not at all welcome, and when people were forced to take ithem in, the evacuees (fellow Britons all of them, not foreigners!) were looked down upon as not being of the same class, not clean enough, and too demanding.
The young ladies who joined the workforce as part of the war effort (for instance to work in ammunition factories) were so well paid and had it so "easy" with nice quarters and good clothes given to them that others envied them.
Most people Kathleen spoke to at the shop or knew in town tried to get out of any form of compulsory tasks (such as fire guarding) if they could.

All this, as I said, came as a surprise to me. When I read "A God in Ruins" (for instance), it all sounded very different. I suppose human memory is what it is - not very accurate when looking back at the past. Kathleen's writing, however, is not looking back; it is a daily account of what was her present.

Do not be misled by the cover picture - this is not a "cosy corner shop" novel, but an account that is touching, thought-provoking and sobering at the same time. Five stars from me.

Monday 26 September 2016

More Trees, Clouds and Mountains

The day after our walk to Schoppernau (see previous post) was Sunday. Again, it looked like rain, but again, that did not stop us from going out. This time, our walk was more ambitious, as we did not have the time limit as on the day before when we were expected to be back at the hotel for our massages at a certain hour.

Therefore, we decided to venture further, and chose a place called Bergkristallhütte (literally "mountain crystal cabin") to walk/hike to.

To get there, we had to climb from a level height of 800 m (where our hotel was) to 1.250 m. The paths were well maintained and good enough for cars most of the time on the way up, but for the way down, we chose a different route where no cars were allowed (or possible), which was a little more difficult at times but also a lot more beautiful.

Leaving from the village where our hotel was:

Into the woods: 

Almost there:

An unexpected meeting - white Persian cats are not your usual mountain dwellers, are they!

When we reached Bergkristallhütte, we stopped for a plate of hot soup and a drink. Sitting in the VERY warm, dry wooden cabin was welcome, as by then it had just begun to rain and did not stop for a couple of hours. I have no pictures of the cabin itself as there were so many people about, but it was done in the traditional style of the area and very cosy.

On the way back down: (Yes, that's O.K. there in the red waterproof, and yes, I have his permission to use this picture.)

By now, it was afternoon and the rain was falling not hard, but steady. After a detour via Schoppernau and trip with the glass cabin lift to the top of one of the mountain right behind the village (where we could not see a thing due to the dense clouds) we decided to call it a day and went back to our hotel, where we spent the rest of the time until dinner at the spa. Most of the other guests had the same idea (hardly surprising), so it was a bit crowded, but still alright.

The next morning, Monday, we woke up to the rain coming down in sheets and very low, dark grey clouds. But we didn't mind too much, as we were scheduled to check out and leave after breakfast anyway.

After a long drive home with intense traffice, we concluded our mini break with excellent pizza at an Italian restaurant near my place. It was back to work for me the next morning, and another few days off for O.K.

Saturday 24 September 2016

Schoppernau: A Traditional Village

I've already told you about my mini break with O.K. in the beautiful area of Bregenz Forest (Austria) and showed you some pictures from our hotel a few posts back.
The Saturday morning (I arrived Friday afternoon after our Rappenlochschlucht-walk, too late to do any exploring at "our" village) after breakfast, we set off on a walk to Schoppernau, the village just up the road from Au, where we were based.

Schoppernau has some very nice houses in the traditional style of the area. We found all of them well cared for, neat and tidy, with flowers on many windows.

As you can see, the weather was... shall I say, threatening with rain (and therefore a proper mountain hike did not seem feasible), but we kept dry throughout the walk.
These two views are back towards Au, about half way to Schoppernau. In the first picture, the rocky mountain to the left is the Kanisfluh, mentioned already a few times on my blog:

 Schoppernau houses:

A mix of the very modern and the traditional:

 This nice cat kept us company for quite a while:

The little church - which was surprisingly big inside. Unfortunately, the pictures I took of the baroque wall and ceiling frescoes came out too blurred to show them here. Preparations for a wedding plus christening were under way:

Making our way back via a slightly different route, but still coming up (of course) towards the Kanisfluh, because it is so close to our hotel:

I am still convinced these painted rocks were meant to be the Barbapapa family (you may not be familiar with them unless you were a kid in Europe in the 1970s), although the proportions are not quite right:

Time to head back to the hotel - coffees and cake were waiting there for us, and then another massage!

Friday 23 September 2016

Read in 2016 - 31: Sweet Nothings

"Sweet Nothings" by Tracie Puckett started a little boring - it was clear from the first time the main female and male characters set eyes on each other that they were going to end up together.
But a kind of detective story emerged after a while, and so I stuck with it, and although my guess as to "whodunnit" was close to the truth, the solution came as a bit of a surprise.

The outline is quickly told: Young woman runs small-town bakery, handed down to her by her late mother, plus a successful party planning business. Young man appears on the scene, woman goes weak in the knees at first sight. Young man has hidden agenda but against his will falls in love with young woman. (And of course both of them are utterly gorgeous and flawless in their appearance, just like real people… erm…)
How will she react when she finds out his secret?
And who really set fire to the bakery in order to get their hands on the most desirable plot of land for miles around?

Admittedly, it is all somewhat improbable - for instance, why the best friends couples are actually best friends (and remain it) was a mystery to me. But the book was short, the writing style was OK (much better than "Stilettos and Scoundrels", the waste of time I reviewed here the other day!), and clearly some editing has been done before publication (not too many typos etc.).

My overall verdict? This was alright for an unchallenging train-ride read (and a free ebook), but I won't start looking for more books by Tracie Puckett and definitely do not recommend it as a "must read".

Thursday 22 September 2016

Trees, Rocks and Water

To join O.K. for the long weekend in Austria where he'd been staying already since Monday, I travelled to the nearest place with a railway station - Dornbirn, about 35 km from "our" village.

A few weekends ago, during a neighbourhood party we attended in O.K.'s village, we mentioned our holiday plans to the nice folk sharing our table. One of them told us of a great walk through two gorges near Dornbirn, and we heeded her advice last Friday, driving there instead of heading straight "home" to the hotel.

It really was a good recommendation, as we spent a few enjoyable hours there in the woods among trees, rocks and water. See for yourself:

Well-laid board walks lead through the gorge. It is called Rappenloch-Schlucht (literally "black horse hole gorge") and, according to wikipedia, one of the largest gorges in mid-Europe.
For many years, it was the main water supply for the villages at its end, and with the onset of industrialisation, the water was also used to generate power. There is still a small power plant there, as you'll see further down.

This pretty building is the power plant. Through the ground floor windows, one can have a look at the old (still working) machinery.

Kay, this one is for you:

It was a spectacular walk, and not too strenuous because of the well-made board walks and steps everywhere. Just right for me to stretch my legs after having sat on various trains for about 4 hours!
The weather was, as you can see, overcast but dry and not too chilly.
I imagine it will be great for walks there when the trees turn to their autumn colours.