Thursday 27 April 2017

Read in 2017 - 17: The Enchanted Castle

"The Enchanted Castle" was, if I remember correctly, the first book by Edith Nesbit I ever read. I was around 10 years old at the time, and my godmother gave me the German edition of the book.

It was love at first sight, becoming one of those firm favourites of my childhood I kept returning to now and again.
For the next Christmases or birthdays, I was given a few more Edith Nesbit books, all of which I loved, especially "The Magic City". But the first one I read will forever hold a special place in my heart, as do the first Narnia book I read, "Madita" by Astrid Lindgren, and a few others.

Some time ago, Moncia posted on her blog about Edith Nesbit's books, and this reminded me of my old love for her writing.
I went and downloaded all I could find by her in Amazon's kindle shop. Since then, I have read and reviewed a few books. You can easily find those reviews (one of them containing some biographical info about the author) by typing "Nesbit" in the search bar at the top left corner of my blog.

Thanks to my download spree, I have now finally read this all-time favourite of mine in its original language. As I own the German copy and compare the two versions now, I can say that the translation, published in 1957, is a very good one. But of course nothing beats the original, where Nesbit's very own humour and knack for storytelling come through unfiltered.

Now to the book itself:
Siblings Gerald, Jimmy and Kathleen are spending their summer holiday away from home and, somewhat at a loss, start exploring their surroundings.
Coming across a beautiful park and castle, they are not all that surprised to find a sleeping beauty in the middle of a maze.
Is there magic at play, or just a lonely little girl playing at being princess?

Everything that happens from that moment on is more adventurous than the children could have ever imagined. There are even some slightly dangerous moments, but you won't be surprised if I tell you that all ends well.
That is also true for the love story that is hinted at a few times and fully explained later on in the book, but with not so much detail as to be boring for children, who are meant to be the main readership.

The whole book is full of great ideas, well-rounded characters and witty conversation.
If you have not read it as a child, you have lost out on something. But there is still time - read it now.
It won't take long, I promise.

Saturday 22 April 2017

Easter and so on

Incredibly but true, Easter is already over. Mary, my Yorkshire mother-in-law, says it every time we speak on the phone around this time of year: As soon as Easter is gone, summer is nearly here. 

I agree that time does indeed pass very quickly, and I have so much to look forward to until summer will really be here: This weekend, for instance, with O.K. stopping until Sunday night, and me intending to cook green asparagus and potatoes; next weekend, which will be longer than usual, with the 1st of May being a Bank Holiday in Germany, and then the weekend after that, when we will be celebrating O.K.'s birthday on the Saturday, attend a confirmation on Sunday and head off to a week away on the Monday (that will be the second week of May).

There is currently only one thing I am not looking forward to, and that is a long morning at the doctor's for some thorough eye tests this coming Monday. I've been having a bit of trouble with my left eye lately, and it needs looking at. Of course it won't actually "hurt", but I absolutely hate it when anyone does anything close to or with my eyes and would much rather go five times to the dentist's than once to have my eyes examined. I know, it's silly of me, but there you go. Also, a lot of sitting around and waiting will be part of the "fun", and I won't even be able to read while I'm waiting, because of the stuff they put in my eyes for the examination. Ah well.

Anyway, here are some pictures to match the headline of today's post.

The lamb my Mum and I baked on Good Friday so that I could take it to O.K.'s family for Easter Sunday:

The tons of chocolate I got for Easter: (about half of it is gone already...)

A close-up of the pile of chocolate O.K. gave me (among other things) for Easter - a truly mouth-watering sight for any chocoholic: (I have not started on this one yet!)

The grey moleskin skirt I bought about 2 months ago, wore for the third or fourth time this week to work and just remembered not having shown here yet:

View from my office window on Wednesday this week - the huge snow flakes looked almost unreal, like something you'd see at the theatre or in a movie:

That's all from me for today. Have a good, relaxing weekend, no matter where you are and what the weather is like there!

Tuesday 18 April 2017

Read in 2017 - 16: Hushabye

Celina Grace: Hushabye
No. 1 in The Kate Redman Mysteries series

This book had only one fault: I would have wanted it to be longer.

Kate Redman, a young detective, starts her new assignment with the police force in the fictional town of Abbeyford, situated in the UK's West Country. She is a very self-disciplined woman who really wants to do well in her job, but she isn't over-ambitious in the way some people would do anything for their career - she is still human.

Like many interesting characters, there is much more to her than meets the eye, and something looming in her past that makes her unhappy and sad at times. But she is not one of those "broken" detectives who have become so en vogue in crime fiction in recent years; she is essentially a good, believable person the reader can relate to and care about.

In her first case, the 3-month-old baby of a wealthy couple is kidnapped and his nanny murdered. The couple, a business man and a minor celebrity, react very differently to the kidnapping and murder. Both of them know enough dodgy people and have made some enemies in the past for Kate and her colleagues to have several leads to follow, but which is the right one?
Then, another person close to the couple is killed, and as the pressure mounts with each passing day, Kate finds it increasingly difficult to keep her level head.

The story is well-plotted and well-written. The style is contemporary with the occasional swear word, but this is not overdone and fits the situation. It is not the kind of mystery where you can guess what happened from the very start. I found another book in the series for free and downloaded it immediately, and am seriously considering to download the entire series - it is not very expensive, and definitely worth the money.
You can find out more about the books and their author here.

Friday 14 April 2017

Fred Lives On

(Note: In this post, I have linked to many posts on another blog, and to one on my own. When you click on a highlighted word (it should appear in blue on your screen), you follow that link. Of course it is not necessary to read everything in those linked posts, but I think it is a good idea to at least look at the pictures.)

For some years now, I have been a regular reader of Yorkshire Pudding's blog. Like many of his readers, I particularly enjoy his great photos of beautiful Yorkshire (and elsewhere) countryside. But there is lots more to his blog, and I find his posts nearly always entertaining or thought-provoking (or both).

As early as 2009 (when I didn't know his blog yet), YP mentioned seeing foxes in his neighbourhood. Some remarkable encounters with foxes took place in 2012, but it was not until 2015 before Fred started to appear on the blog.

In the spring of 2015, he became a regular visitor to the garden at Pudding Towers. He even wrote a guest post on YP's blog, for the benefit of any other foxes who might happen to read it.
Later the same year, it was Fred's picture that won YP a first place in a photo competition. He (Fred, not YP) was already in a bad state, limping and balding.
And then, one day, Fred was gone.

But when YP took up painting, one of the first works he showed us on his blog was Fred's portrait based on one of his photos.

It was upon my request that he produced several more paintings of Fred, and I had the honour to choose one which was then sent to me just in time for my birthday.
When all my friends and family were gathered at the party, I introduced Fred to them.

I had already bought a matching frame earlier that same week, and a few days later, I gave him his rightful place of honour:

Even as I am typing this, I only have to turn my head to the right to look at the painting. And whenever I walk from one room to the other or leave or enter my flat, it is one of the first things I see. The door to the left is the entrance door to my flat. To the right is the kitchen, and I was standing in the doorway to the bedroom when I took this photo.
Once again, thank you, YP!

Fred definitely lives on.

Thursday 13 April 2017

Read in 2017 - 15: Bist Du mein Kind?

"Bist Du mein Kind?" means "Are you my child?". It is the question a woman can not help but ask in her mind when she meets the French exchange student her eldest son brings home from school one day - ten years after her middle son was kidnapped during a family holiday in France.

This is, in part, a gripping story - or rather, it could have been, if the author were a better writer. As it happens, Gilda Laske's writing style is not much different from what I'd expect reading in an essay written by a 16-year-old who has read loads of novels and watched many "romantic" films.

When the Reiter family goes on holiday with their three sons - six, four and under a year old -, they have of course no idea that their lives will change forever, and they will return as an incomplete family, with only two little boys.
The four-year-old is kidnapped, and at first it seems that the French detective and his people will get a quick result. However, the mother insists on being involved in the rescue, and messes up completely.

Eventually, the family have to go back home, where they do their best to provide some kind of normality and stability to their remaining children. What is completely left aside, though, is their relationship as husband and wife.

Their struggle to keep things together, the slowly disintegrating family and how they attempt to fix it by moving to a new place is all described in a credible manner. But a lot of the couple's actions and how they deal with each other and the people who try to help them strikes me as unlikely, or at least I can not relate to them. 

Also, what I really do not like in a book is when an event is described in much detail, and
then the character involved goes and tells another character at great length exactly what we have already read for pages and pages. Why do some authors not simply say "...and she told him everything", or something along those lines? It saves a lot of unnecessary repetition, believe me!

Anyway, I did stick with the book to the end, because I did want to  know how it was all going to work out. The story had too many lengths and too many improbabilities for my liking, but then again, life is often improbable, and people do not always behave logically, do they?
I am certainly not going to look for more books by Gilda Laske and am glad I did not spend any money on this free ebook.

(After I finished writing this review, I looked at what other readers had to say about the book. Seems like I am not the only one to feel that way.)

Wednesday 12 April 2017

Read in 2017 - 14: Swimming Lessons

"Swimming Lessons" is Claire Fuller's second book, and also the second one I have read by her.

Similar to "Our Endless Numbered Days", it deals with a person's disappearing and the breaking up of a family. (You can click here for that review.) But that is where the similarities end; "Swimming Lessons" is completely a story in its own right.

A wife and mother goes missing and is believed dead by most people. 12 years later, her aging husband believes he sees her in the street, rushes out to run after her and takes a fall. He ends up in hospital, and when he returns home, his two adult daughters come to stay with and look after him.

But of course there is much more to it than what this super-short summary lets on.

Why did Ingrid leave, and did she indeed commit suicide in the Sea? Was Gil imagining things when he saw her, or is she still alive?

How are the daughters - so very different from each other - coping with the situation?

The book is told from the perspectives of Ingrid and Flora, the younger daughter, in alternating chapters.

Ingrid's chapters are the letters she wrote to her husband in the days before her disappearance, never sending them to him but placing each letter in a different book dotted around the house.

Flora's part of the story is set in the present and involves the other characters - her father, sister and boyfriend as well as other people, not in the shape of letters.

I liked this approach but did not like Flora much.

I enjoyed Claire Fuller's good writing and the flawless editing, but disliked Gil, the father and husband, and could not relate to Ingrid, the mother and wife, and her actions.

There is one more similarity between this book and the first one, possibly only for me:

Just like with "Our Endless Numbered Days", I am not entirely sure what to make of the ending of "Swimming Lessons".

I can highly recommend this book, although it did not leave the same deep impression with me as the first one.

Claire Fuller is definitely an author I want to read more of.

Monday 10 April 2017

Spring at its Best

The past two weekends were particularly beautiful here with spring being at its best. I spent both weekends at O.K.'s and have already showed you pictures from our hike on Sunday a week ago, and more.

Here are pictures from this past weekend, taken by O.K., and a mixed bag of photos I transfered from my mobile phone to the computer; some of them still from a week ago.

A particularly pretty corner in a pretty café where we sat outside to have ice creams on Saturday the weekend before last:

My new running shoes - a birthday present! I didn't like the colours at first, but these were the best for my feet and my way of running: 

Where we were on Sunday afternoon:

Spring at its best, as I said: Apple blossoms, bees, dandelion, violets and that beautiful green you only get in the woods in spring. These were taken on Sunday around lunch time.

Neil, if you are reading this: I have not forgotten my promise to post a picture of Fred at his new home! The photo is still on my camera and will soon follow.

Thursday 6 April 2017

Sunday Afternoon Hike

After the Sunday afternoon walk of two Sundays ago, last Sunday O.K. and I went for a hike in the Black Forest, which isn't really black this time of year, as you'll see. (All pictures taken by O.K.)

The route itself wasn't all that long, so it could still be called a walk, but we were up and down rather steep hills and slopes a few times. And we don't really slow down for these, so it is as nearly as much exercise as when we go running :-)

Don't worry, though - we do stop and enjoy our surroundings. It was particularly beautiful last Sunday, when we hardly saw anyone else and the only sound in the woods was birdsong and the babble of little beck along the path.

Do you know this plant? In German, it is called Sauerklee ("sour clover"); wikipedia tells me its botanical name is Oxalis acetosella. We used to eat this when we were children and playing or walking in the woods, and you know I had to give it a try here! More than anything, I was surprised to see it out so early in the year, as I always associated it with early summer, not the beginning of April.

A group of deer were greeting us when we came out of the woods on the other side. They are bred and raised there for the purpose of selling their meat, and I wonder whether their wild cousins ever come to their enclosure to "talk" to them through the fence.

A meal at a small rustic restaurant where we'd been once before gave us enough sustenance to walk back to the car, this time on a different path.

A swing seat in the middle of the woods - with nobody around but us! What a lovely surprise!

The light kept changing and it really was like that when we were on our way back to the car. Doesn't it look like an advert for "Holidays in the Black Forest"?

A spontaneous suggestion of O.K.'s was to get up to the top of a hill called Brandenkopf, 942 m high, and climb the tower there for its views. It was much cooler up there, but we didn't stay long - I had to take the train home later that same evening.

The viewing tower was built in 1929 and adds another 32 m to the height of the hill. It replaces several wooden structures that were there before the current tower but were deemed unsafe after some years. This one is really sturdy, and has sliding windows in the room at the top. You can open them to take better photos without reflection of the pane, or simply to feel the wind that seems to be blowing here always (which is, of course, why there are two wind mills up here to generate electricity). (The English wikipedia article about Brandenkopf and the tower is here.)

Another wonderful weekend, and I am already looking forward to the next one!

Wednesday 5 April 2017

Read in 2017 - 13: The Incredible Honeymoon

Edith Nesbit, the author of this sweet little book, has been a firm favourite of mine since I was about 11 or 12.
My godmother had been clearing out her children's book shelves and gave me "The Enchanted Castle", a book I have read and re-read several times (in its German translation) and am most likely going to read again later this year, this time in English.

Until some years ago, I only knew Nesbit's children's books, and the first adult novel I read by her wasn't at all what I had hoped for. I was disappointed, as you can read in this review from 2013. Last week, I gave her adult books another try, and "The Incredible Honeymoon" was delightful from start to finish.

There are 10 years between the publication dates of "The Incomplete Amorist" (1906) and "Honeymoon" (1916) - maybe she was still developing her style for adults, or there are other reasons for the one being so much better than the other.

Young man meets young woman - the old formula works well here. The circumstances are as unusual as are the characters, and when the two of them agree on a mock marriage in order to get the woman away from a situation she does not want to bear any longer, they embark on their "incredible honeymoon", travelling (mainly) the south of England.
A stranger soon seems to be of some danger to them, but is he really? And is the call to help her sick aunt the beginning of the end of their wonderful adventure? How will the mock marriage really play out?

You can probably guess at how most of what I have mentioned here plays out, but the story does not lose any of its charm. I liked the characters, I liked the places and travelling described, and I liked Edith Nesbit's trademark style, witty but never vulgar.

If you are interested to learn a bit more about the author, who lived from 1858 to 1924, you can read the last paragraph here.

Tuesday 4 April 2017

Sunday Afternoon Walk

I promise this will be one of the last times you'll hear anything about my birthday until next year!!
The Sunday after my birthday party, O.K. and I went for a run. I had arranged for us to go to my gym for the necessary shower afterwards, as I was still without heating and hot water. Back home, freshly showered and really hungry, we had lunch, and later went out again - this time, not for a run, but for a walk. The weather was just too good for staying indoors!

(The boiler was off for 1 1/2 weeks. I had my last half-hot shower on the 16th of March, and only on the 27th the new boiler was finally installed so that I had my first hot shower in my own four walls again on the morning of the 28th. We haven't seen the bill yet...)

All of the following pictures were taken by O.K.

You can see how featureless the fields near my home town generally are. But they are wide open spaces and popular with dog walkers, cyclists, runners and walkers.
I'd not been all the way to the nursery in a long time but found little changed since my last visit. I find the rows and rows of similar plants fascinating, somehow.