In a Dark, Dark Wood – review

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I seem to have a pile of psychological thrillers on my bedside table at the moment and this novel by Ruth Ware worked it way to the top – mainly, I think, because of a rush of weddings at the moment. So many new dresses!

Anyway – this appealed because it takes place at a hen party – and we’ve all been to them haven’t we? We’ve all been put in a group of people we don’t know awfully well, or even know at all. The only thing we all have in common is the bride.

Nora, the narrator, is at just such a hen party and she can’t even understand why she was even invited, as she lost contact with the bride years previously. The story is told in two time-lines – Nora’s perspective of the hen party and, Nora in hospital trying to remember the events that led to a death.

The novel does have some spine-tingling moments and it did keep my attention but I have read better. Friends sat that this is the new ‘Girl in a Train’. As I haven’t read that yet, I’ll reserve judgement. It is good, just not as good as I was hoping. Nora was just too gullible at times.

 

 

The Doll’s House – review

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This is the third book in the DI Helen Grace series and matches the pace of the previous two novels. It is pacy and grips you right to the last page, the short chapters make it an easy read. In this novel we learn more about Helen Grace and see the developing relationships between the fellow officers. But it is the story that is gripping.

Ruby wakes up to discover, to her horror, that she is imprisoned in a cellar but can’t recall what has happened the night before. The last thing she remembers is being in a nightclub and now she is at the mercy of her captor. At the same a time a body of another young woman is found, but her family never reported her missing because they have been getting regular texts from her

.D.I. Helen Grace knows that time is against her as she tries to discover a link between the victims and unlock the key to a predator.

This is good but, for me, it hasn’t delivered the heart-stopping moments that the first book did. Nevertheless, book 4 is already on my reading list.

Back to Bread

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A recent trip to York and a visit to a wonderful chocolate shop gave me the inspiration for a ‘new’ flavour bread. The Cocoa House in York is a place you must visit. The hot chocolates, the cakes and, in fact, every one of their dishes is a delight. The highlight was a slice of chocolate stout cake. Words can’t describe it. It was rich and sweet and gooey and bitter all in one. Amazing. All of which got me thinking about bread. I use beer regularly when I make bread, experimenting with different ales to find different flavours. I use chocolate drops when I make my strawberry and white chocolate bread. But stout and chocolate – that I had to try.

So, I bought a bottle of London Porter – rich and dark – to which I added some boiled water to provide me with the warm liquid for the dough. Then, I melted half a bar of Lindt 70% chocolate into the beer/water mix. That was the liquid to add to my flour and yeast.

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The result a chocolate-coloured loaf which had a wonderful bitterness offset by a hint of rich chocolate. I count that as a success and it will definitely be a bread that I will be making again. I have bought some Double Chocolate beer this week, so I see another experiment in the near future.

 

A God in Ruins – a review

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I am a fan of Kate Atkinson and was excited when this book was published as a companion to ‘Life After Life’. It isn’t a sequel, or a prequel – it is a book in it’s own right and it reacquaints us with the characters that we met in ‘Life After Life’.

This is Teddy’s story. We follow him from his youth, through his war to his old age, but, written as it is in Atkinson’s wonderful style,  we leap in and out of decades. We hear Teddy’s story from his own lips and from those around him which gives us different perspectives. It’s story-telling at its best, it’s life in all its shapes and sizes. I have to be very careful not to give spoilers. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry but you will not forget Teddy and his family and what they tell us. And – a second reading is just as rewarding, in fact, I think I fell in love with it even more.

The Lie Tree – a review

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Wow, have really slipped with my blog entries. I knew that I had fallen a little behind with my book reviews etc, but didn’t realise that I have not actually posted anything since March. Life catches up, I suppose, and one reason is that I am now back to full time work – in a move that is as far away from teaching as you can get. Time is now more limited and poor old Mike Malone has had to take a back seat as well. There is another book in the pipeline, but it is a long way from being completed. I’ll get there – I always do.

But back to my book review – one of many as I am 16 books behind.

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I chose this YA novel by Frances Hardinge for two reasons. One, it won the Costa Book Award and two, as an English teacher, I do enjoy dipping into YA fiction so that I can discuss/recommend reads to my pupils. Previous YA novel have featured dystopian themes so this creative tale, set in Victorian Gothic tradition was a refreshing change.

The storyline is dark and intelligent. Fourteen year old Faith wants to be a natural historian like her father, but the expectation of the 1860s for a young woman is very different. To quote from the book, ‘There was a hunger in her, and girls were not supposed to be hungry. They were supposed to nibble sparingly when at table, and their minds were supposed to be satisfied with a slim diet too. A few stale lessons from tired governesses, dull walks, unthinking pastimes. But it was not enough.’

Scandal forces her father to move the family to the island of Vane and Faith is determined to find out the truth. She is ‘helped’ by the Lie Tree which has the power to reveal hidden secrets but needs the telling of lies in order to reveal what it knows. The more people believe in the lie the more truth the tree reveals. But is the truth always good?

The story moves at a good pace, the characters are well formed and this is a story that adults will enjoy.

 

 

Peter Pan in Scarlet – a review

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Having read the classic as a child and as a parent, I wasn’t sure how the sequel would compare. However, I had read Geraldine McCaughrean’s novel ‘The Middle of Nowhere’ when I was reading all of the books shortlisted for the Carnegie medal last year, so I knew that JM Barrie’s legacy was in good hands.

I wasn’t disappointed.  Although Wendy and her brothers are now adults in post war Britain, dreams are telling them that all is not well in Neverland. So they go back – I won’t reveal how they manage this feat  – but there is a theme through the book that we become the clothes we wear. In Neverland, they join up with Peter Pan again and set off in search of Hook’s treasure on Neverpeak mountain.

The book captures the magic of the original – pirates, fairies, and Lost Boys, but there is also a darker side – the characters have to face their fears, they have to remember the children they were and recall the grief of loss. We are also introduced to new characters, one quite sinister and one enchantingly bossy.

If you loved Peter Pan, you will enjoy this.

 

Nearly two years and counting

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It’s now nearly two years since I changed my life. I know – sounds drastic doesn’t it? Well, it was. My son is 25. For 25 years, I carried the weight that I gained during my pregnancy plus some. Being ‘large’ became normal and I adjusted my lifestyle accordingly. At work, as a teacher, I wore long length jackets that skimmed my hips and hid my stomach. On holidays and outings, I avoided anything that would cause me to become out of breath, anything which required me to squeeze my bulk into tight spaces. Was I happy? I was cheerful. I was jolly. I always had a smile on my face. My mantra was be happy in your skin. As for food – I enjoyed it! No diets for me, I ate everything. Pasta, risottos, cakes, desserts, ice creams. A typical weekend involved a ride out for a coffee and a slice of cake. I was fat and thirty. I was fat and forty and even though I didn’t really want to, I became fat and fifty. Then everything changed!

 

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The catalyst was my son’s decision to spend a couple of years in Canada and no, I didn’t pine away. I knew that we would go out and visit him and I remembered with sadness previous holiday flights when I had been squashed into an airline seat, when my stomach was so large that there was not enough room for the tray to drop down. To suffer a nine hour flight in that condition – well, it couldn’t happen, it wouldn’t happen.

I didn’t go on a conventional diet, I certainly didn’t rush out to buy  replacement meals. I have seen too many friends lose weight on these replacement diets only to put the weight back on as soon as they reverted to normal eating. No, I changed my eating habits. Although I stuck to 1500 calories a day, I kept my meals normal except for one huge change. No potatoes, no pasta, no rice. Being aware that my one weakness was chocolate, I would buy 200g bars which I would break into squares which went into a plastic tub which I kept in the fridge. I allowed myself 2 squares a day – enough to satisfy my craving, enough to stop me going mad because I was depriving myself. My passion is bread; if you have read my previous posts, you will know that I like experimenting when I make bread, and so I allowed myself a sandwich at lunchtimes. As my husband is a vegetarian, at home we always eat quorn which is low fat compared to meat so that helped as well.

A typical daily menu:

Breakfast – a bowl of porridge

Lunch – a sandwich made with my homemade bread

Dinner – a quorn dish with at least three servings of vegetables followed by a yoghurt

Evening – 2 squares of chocolate.

I never felt that I was depriving myself of anything. When we went out, I would choose meals carefully. Places like Pizza Express and Prezzo have ‘lighter’ menus. Restaurants are quite happy to exchange chips for salad. Desserts I didn’t miss because the benefits were amazing.

After a few weeks, for the first time in years I was able to go into Marks and Spencer and try on something off the shelf. It might have been the largest size in the shop – a size 22, but when my usual size was a size 28 – well, that was progress. Seeing my shape change and shrink was fantastic. I developed a love of shopping. There were some real fashion disasters because, as I dropped down the sizes, I wanted to try on every thing. And the bonus – that was getting on the plane to Canada as a size 18,  9 months into my ‘journey’ and seeing my son’s face at the change in his mum.

It took a year to get to my goal – a loss of 80lbs/36kg. That was in July 2014. Since then I have dropped another 15lbs/6.8kg. I don’t calorie count any more because I have become accustomed to my new way of eating. It isn’t a hardship and I will not revert to my old habits. I don’t miss potatoes, pasta or rice. I occasionally treat myself to a dessert when we go out. On holidays, I enjoy myself – in Vienna I had cake!!! As for chocolate – after allowing myself 2 squares a day, I gradually found that I didn’t need it. I go for days/weeks without even wanting any and when I do – one small bar is all I need and then it might be weeks before I fancy any again. The benefits are brilliant. I can walk for miles without getting out of breath, my energy levels have increased. I feel younger. I should have done this years ago

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After