Tuesday 31 October 2023

Read in 2023 - 29: The Palace in the Garden

The Palace in the Garden

by Mrs. Molesworth

You know I have a thing for old children's books, and this was not my first read by the author known as Mrs. Molesworth (clicking on her name will take you to her wikipedia entry). You can find my other reviews of her books simply by typing "Molesworth" in the search box in the top left corner of this page.

As I said before when reviewing one of her books, sometimes her stories remind me of Edith Nesbit, one of my favourite authors. Like her, Mrs. Molesworth does not over-moralise her stories or treat children as little adults - she lets them be children, play and make up their own stories which enables them to cope with whatever it is in their real life situation that is beyond their control.

In this book (originally published in 1887), three orphaned children live a rather reclusive life with their grandfather. The most social interaction they have is among themselves, with their home schooling teacher and their nurse; their grandfather, although kind enough, is distant and rarely allows himself anything like humour.

But the siblings (aged 12, 10 and 7) don't know any different, and are content with roaming the library in their big house, where one day they find a book that belonged to their grandfather when he was a boy. Strangely, there is a firmly crossed out girl's name written in the front, right above their grandfather's - a name they do not recognise from what they know about their family.

Soon afterwards, the household transfers from the city to the old family country home where the children have never been before. It is love at first sight, and they have mostly free reign in house and garden with only two hours of lessons every day.

They find an overgrown wooden door in the garden wall - and would you believe it, the 7-year old finds the big old key to the door, too. They embark on an adventure that eventually leads to their family being happy again after decades of sadness and loneliness.

I won't say anymore about the story; it is a nice read and much of what transpires from various clues is easy to guess. Still, I did want to find out the full story and liked it well enough. There is no violence; and although it appears so at first to the children, no supernatural powers are involved.

My free ebook came without illustrations, but I found some on the internet which I am using here.

Monday 30 October 2023

Second October-Week

The week from 9 to 15 October was incredibly warm, the thermometer reaching 28 C/82 F on the Friday. It was said on the news that for Germany, this has been the warmest October on record. It was also sunny all week with only a sprinkle of rain on the Saturday and Sunday, which were both cooler.

I worked from home on Monday (9th of October) and afterwards went for a walk to Asperg and back via Eglosheim.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday saw me working at the office in Weilimdorf. 

I took advantage of not having any after-work appointments on Wednesday (Oct. 11) and walked home from Zuffenhausen (this usually takes me just under two hours). 

Almost back in Ludwigsburg, this was the sunset at 6:33 that day.
It felt like a final good-bye to the summer that did not want to go - I knew such walks after work across the sunlit fields were most likely not going to be possible much longer, with colder and wetter weather due to set in, and sunset much earlier. Simultaneously, I had a long mental conversation with my Dad during that walk, and tears could flow freely with nobody about.

Thursday, the 12th of October, was the first anniversary of my Dad's death. My sister, Mum's friend R and I met at Mum's place in the evening to commemorate him and having a meal that he would have enjoyed.

I was up early on Friday, the 13th of October, as I had to be in Stuttgart at 8:30 for an eye check. From there, I traveled to Weilimdorf for the fourth time that week - my employer was offering jabs for flu and Covid, and I had both. A quiet afternoon at home followed, with a bit of work, household things and then I packed my bag and left for the train station just after 6:00 pm.

My train to Offenburg arrived there with a delay of 9 minutes. We had a pleasant evening at O.K.'s with a traditional meal for that time of year: new wine and "onion cake", not a sweet cake but similar to an onion quiche.

On Saturday (Oct. 14), the weather improved after a relatively chilly and wet day (17C/62F) towards the evening. It was a rather sudden drop after the warm and sunny Friday (28 C/82F). Because of the rain, we only went for a short walk around the village in the afternoon and made a brief visit with O.K.'s Mum (his parents live just across the road from the cottage). The late afternoon/early evening light was beautiful.

O.K. drove the two of us the half hour or so to Oberkirch, were we were visiting a couple of friends. After starters at their beautiful home, we walked to the next village and had a good meal there at a traditional Blackforest restaurant. It was night by the time we walked back to Oberkirch, but the road was not in total darkness and easy to walk.

Sunday, the 15th of October, was the annual patron saint's fest at O.K.'s village. I have written about St. Gallus and that fest before; this year, we were lucky in that the few drops of rain stopped as quickly as they had come.

In the afternoon, O.K. and I walked to Diersburg for a glass of wine at the annual wine fest in the village hall. 

From there, we followed the road to Zunsweier and spontaneously stopped at one of the village's restaurants for a meal - we were lucky to get a table for two without reservation. The food was very nice, but by the time we arrived back at O.K.'s cottage, we had done a lot of walking (plus good food and some wine) and had made the most of the beautiful golden October day - I was so tired I went to bed just before 9:00!

Not a bad idea, since we were going to get up at 5:15 the next morning.

Thursday 26 October 2023

Read in 2023 - 28: Agatha Raisin Devil's Delight

Agatha Raisin Devil's Delight

M.C. Beaton with R.W. Green

Long-time readers of my blog know that my Mu
m and I love the Agatha Raisin series and have read each and everyone of the books - or so we thought. Marion Chesney (the author's real name) died in 2019, which meant we did not expect any new instalments.

But when this summer my sister and I were browsing Ripon's book shops, I came across this book - no way was I leaving the shop without it! (Besides, it was part of a "3 for £6" deal.)

From my reviews of the other Agatha Raisin books on this blog, you may recall that I did not enjoy them all the same way. There were really good ones, but also some which I thought were somewhat bumpy, with the story not smoothly developed and the dialogue not as witty and lively as usual.

This one, though, was a great read. Some lines are laugh-out-loud material, and the story is clever. Characters are true to form, and as with all books in the series, the emphasis lies not on the gruesome detail of the crime(s) but on the people, their relationships with each other, and how the clues combine to solve the puzzle.

It says "M.C. Beaton with R.W. Green", but in my opinion, it would be nearer the truth to say "R.W. Green based on M.C. Beaton's characters". The book was copyrighted in 2022, three years after Marion Chesney's death. R.W. Green is a journalist and long-time friend of hers, and from the last sentence in his foreword, I assume that the idea for the "Devil's Delight" case is not based on an unfinished manuscript by the late author, but entirely his own.

There is also a chapter by Marion Chesney, an introduction on the series.

I won't say much about the actual story here; only that Devil's Delight is the name of an ice cream flavoured with chili, and that most of the case involves a nudist club - a first for Agatha! Of course, she has one or two romantic interests (it wouldn't be our Agatha otherwise), and on top of solving the original murder, she busts a drugs ring and clears two or three missing persons cases.

"Devil's Delight" was very much a reader's delight!

Wednesday 25 October 2023

First Week in October

You already know what I did on the Monday of the first October week from my next-to-last post. Here is the rest of that week:

Tuesday, the 3rd of October, was our national holiday (to commemorate the reunion of East and West Germany). I was still at O.K.'s and went with him to the trade fair in Offenburg, where the village band was to perform for two hours.

It was a muggy warm day with a sprinkle of rain, but nothing to worry about. After the band's concert, we had a quick stroll round some parts of the fair but then had to get back so that O.K. could change out of the uniform. A short drive took us to the village where O.K.'s sister and her husband live, and we celebrated the husband's birthday. A good afternoon and evening with family and friends, nice food and drink.

I left Offenburg on the morning of Wednesday (Oct. 4) and arrived home with a delay of about 20 minutes. It was sunny again, but cooler. My after-work walk was to Pattonville, where I had not been in quite a while.

Thursday, the 5th of October, was my office day for that week. It was considerably cooler at 7C/44F in the morning, making a warm coat and scarf necessary. After work, I met up with two people from my volunteer group. Instead of at our office, we met at a (very noisy) café/bistro in town, where we could order food.

Another sunny day which warmed up to 20C/68F after a cold morning of only 6C/42F was Friday (Oct. 6). I had an errand to run during lunch break, and after work went on my standard walk to Benningen, taking in a beautiful sunset.

View from my kitchen window at 7:15 that morning.

Autumn display in my mini hallway; the pumpkins were home-grown by O.K.'s Mum.

Evening sky on the fields between Freiberg and Benningen

The sky in the east looked beautiful that evening, too.

Sunset over Benningen

Waiting for the local train in Benningen

My autumn display at night
Because of an away-engagement of the village band on Saturday, the 7th of October, O.K. and I spent the weekend seperately. 

I spent the morning doing household things and then went to my Mum's to help her with a few tasks. Afterwards, I did my groceries shopping and had a little rest at home before going back to my Mum's for the evening. She made what I call the BEST lasagne for the two of us. A well-chilled rosé matched it perfectly.

Sunday was as sunny and warm as the Saturday had been. After a quiet morning at home, I was once again at my Mum's in the early afternoon to meet my sister there. The two of us went for a walk together, first to the cemetery and then on to the fields, which was very nice.

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Read in 2023 - 25, 27

To speed things up a bit (I still have a back log of several book reviews to type up and post), here is another post combining two reviews in one - this time, both of them works of non-fiction.

#25: Die Schwabenkinder

by Christine Brugger and others

One of the remarkable things about our hotel in Bizau was that there were shelves of books in the dining room, the halls you walked through on the way to your room, the lounge and so on. They were in no particular order and ranged from anything like the tiniest poetry collection to popular novels, local recipes and coffee table books about modern architecture.

One morning I spotted this book on the shelf next to where we were having breakfast. Only the day before we had been talking about the subject during the goatherds' walk.

For centuries, the children of poor families in the rough mountain areas of Austria, Switzerland and parts of what today is Italy (Southern Tyrol) were sent away from home from early spring to late autumn to work for farmers in the more affluent Swabia (Schwaben). Some of the children were only six years old (sometimes even younger), the oldest were about fourteen.

They worked for very little money, but the survival of their families depended even on what little they would bring home. The work was not only physically hard, they were also often in near total social isolation, not seeing any other children for weeks or months on end, as they were out with the cows or goats all the time. School was not even considered.

Some were lucky and ended up in families that were kind to them, fed them well and gave them proper clothes; others suffered terrible abuse.

Homesickness was common to all of them, but they still returned year after year until they were old enough to take up "proper" jobs for adults and were not under the rule of their families anymore (and would have been too expensive anyway for the farmers who had exploited them during their childhood and youth).

Of very few Schwabenkinder ("Swabian children", named so because they migrated to Swabia regularly) it is known that they found new homes in their work place, married and had families of their own.

There are numerous books and films about them, both documentaries and novels based on real-life reports. This one approaches the subject on various levels and made for very good, although sometimes really hard, and instructive reading.

The entire subject was very much on my mind for weeks, and I supplemented my reading with some internet research.

You can find out more about the Schwabenkinder on wikipedia.

# 27: Madly, Deeply - The Alan Rickman Diaries

Edited by Alan Taylor

This was a surprise gift from my sister, and a great one at that!

As a Harry Potter fan, I have always liked Alan Rickman in the role of Professor Severus Snape but was hardly aware of him in other films, although I knew there was so much more to him than "just" Snape, and acting was just one aspect of his work.

Of course you all know that his most distinctive feature was his voice; not only his voice as such, but his entire way of speaking. 

The diaries posthumously published are his real diaries, edited by a journalist and writer, with a foreword by Emma Thompson, a close friend of Alan Rickman's.

Although he started to keep diary about 20 years earlier, the first entry in this book is from June 13, 1993. The last one is from December 12, 2015. He died a few weeks later, on 14 January 2016, at the age of 69.

His diary covers not only his everyday appointments, meetings, his work as an actor and director. There is also a LOT of travelling, and he talks of his friends as well as politics quite a lot, too.

Some pages show what his diaries really looked like, with beautiful handwriting and even more beautiful illustrations. A multi-talented and multi-faceted personality emerges from the pages, but I must admit I did not always understand everything - some of his entries are "coded" (he admits to that himself in one of the entries where he wonders whether he'll still be able to understand his own code when looking through old entries years after he wrote them), and there are tons of footnotes by the editor, explaining who is meant when Rickman only provides initials or nicknames, etc.

There is an appendix about the earlier diaries, a brief chronology of his life's most crucial events (very useful), and a rather touching last part by his wife Rima Horton, describing her husband's last weeks.

I can highly recommend this book, no matter whether you know and/or like the Harry Potter movies or not (they do not feature all that prominently, really). Thank you, sister, for another great addition to my personal library!

Monday 23 October 2023

Black Forest Hike

Monday, the 2nd of October, was a day off for me and O.K. (see the last paragraph of my next-to-last post). As had been forecast, it was a beautiful day of wall to wall sunshine and azure blue skies. What better to do on a day like this than go for a hike?

We often walk into the woods just behind the village, but this time, we followed the suggestion in one of our booklets and drove 20 minutes or so to the village of Oberentersbach. From a parking lot at the edge of the woods, we started on a circular walk which was equally beautiful and exhausting (to me) - at least about a third of it, with a rather long and sometimes steep uphill stretch.

The main attraction of the walk was a rocky outcrop called Katzenstein ("cats rock"). I don't know what the association with cats is; the rocks are not shaped like a cat or anything like that, but it was a good place to sit on a bench and eat our sandwiches and enjoy the view.

Stopping for breath on the long uphill stretch

view from Katzenstein

The "main" rock looked so inviting - it seemed to doze in the autumn sunshine like a big animal (a cat?), and I imagined it to be warm and relatively smooth to the touch. Of course I had to climb it, but to my surprise, it was cooler than expected (not cold or uncomfortable) and as rough as a cat's tongue. Still, it made for one of those precious moments in life when everything comes together and you want to stop time for a while.

Leaving the Katzenstein on its other side, the steep climb down needed some careful navigation, but it was not too difficult.

Out of the woods, the view was wide and very green - not at all October-like.
There was a small pavilion to have a rest and enjoy the view, but we walked on to follow the signpost to a chapel.
The chapel - sorry, I forgot its name:

Another hour or so of easy walking brought us back to the car. We changed from our hiking boots into our trainers and had a better look at the pond next to the parking lot. It was a tranquil place - but certainly is not always so, as there is a good-sized children's playground on one side. On a beautiful day like this, you'd have expected it to be popular with families, but there was nobody on the playground.

On our way home, we stopped in the small town of Zell am Harmersbach for an ice cream and a stroll in the picturesque town centre.

Back at O.K.'s cottage, we freshened up a little and changed out of our hiking clothes into jeans and jumpers and took a bus into Offenburg (the city is only a few bus stops from the village), where we had arranged to meet with a group of friends for the wine fest. It was a fun evening with a few glasses of wine and freshly baked Flammkuchen to go with it, but we were quite ready to take the bus back to the village just after 10 pm.

Good job that the next day was a holiday, and we did not have to get up early!

Friday 20 October 2023

Read in 2023 - 24, 26

I have a back log of five book reviews not yet posted, as I wanted to work through the much bigger back log of posts from September first. But today, I am making a start with two reviews in one post.
The numbers - 24 and 26 - are correct, as I have decided to give # 25 its own post.

# 24 Lola is Missing
(# 1 in the Detective Rachel Prince series; alternative title: The Lying Kind)
by Alison James

From a quiet suburb, a little girl goes missing – snatched at night from her own bedroom while her mother was watching TV downstairs.

The police investigate, the distraught mother appeals to the kidnappers on TV, and a “Help Find Lola” page is set up on social media by a friend.

However, no trace of Lola is  found, and after half a year or so has passed, it seems like the investigation has reached a dead end.


Enter detective Rachel Prince, sent to pick up where the regular units have left off – it might be a case of international trafficking, which appears to be confirmed when another little girl is kidnapped while playing at a park not far from Lola’s neighbourhood.


As most of us know, the culprits of such crimes are often close to the victim, and with Lola’s parents recently divorced and her Dad having returned her later than agreed once or twice after a day out, he is the most obvious suspect.

And yet, something about Lola’s mother and the way certain “evidence” is presented makes Rachel’s instincts kick in.


How the investigation leads from one dead end to the next, how various suspects behave indeed suspiciously but are cleared eventually, and what actually happened to Lola makes for a rather gripping read.

I shared the detective’s suspicion and was not overly surprised by the solution of the case, but there were enough twists and turns to keep me reading on.


As for the detective, her partner and all the other characters in the story, I must say I did not develop an attachment to any of them; they just weren’t very nice or in any way endearing people – none of them.

Still, like I said, a good read (and a free ebook at that – part of a series starring Rachel Prince).


Of the author, I had never heard before. There is a mini bio about her on goodreads.

# 26: A Healthy Way To Die

by Michael Kenyon

This book reminded me of “Jerry’s”: Quirky characters, bizarre happenings, funny dialogue and descriptions.

But unlike Jerry’s, this one was a proper murder mystery.


At a luxury spa somewhere in the English countryside, a man dies in the middle of an aerobics class. Heart failure, of course – everyone is quick to assume natural causes, but soon, suspicions arise that someone had a hand in the sudden death.


Young, ambitious, clever and superbly stylish PC Twitty is sent to “show presence”, but nobody really expects him to solve something that may or may not be a crime.

Twitty goes about his investigation in a bumbling manner and apparently crosses someone who should not have been crossed, for he ends up pushed into the jacuzzi, not drowned but his pride severely injured.


With his motivation to get behind the strange goings-on at the SuperSpa, he refuses to leave the scene, but instead intensifies his investigation, rubbing nearly everyone the wrong way.

But then he finds an unexpected ally, and after initially making for more confusion than before, one by one the pieces of the puzzle start falling into place.

A twist towards the end is followed by another final twist; all very satisfying.


I loved most of the dialogue; the whole style of the book has something of a screwball comedy from the 1940s, only that it was first published in 1986.

A relatively short, funny read if you want to read something that is not your average murder mystery.


To my surprise, I found out that it is Book 4 of 9 in a series called “The Inspector Peckover Mysteries”. Peckover does feature, but not as prominently as Twitty and several other characters.


As for the author, I had never come across him before (I think). He was born in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, and his Wikipedia entry is here.

(Mine was a free ebook from the Kindle shop, but I liked this picture of the physical book from 1986 better.)