2016 Reading Challenge · Books

2016 Reading Challenge – Book Three started and finished!!

OOPS!!! Well March kind of ran away with me here, between trying to finish a paper, the Easter 1916 commemorations and my daughter’s school holidays, the month seemed to just vanish. It only occurred to me on 31 March that I hadn’t read a book for the Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge in March. As there are 12 categories in the challenge, I was working on doing one of them each month. I hadn’t even selected a category for March, let alone a book to meet it. I was in our local library with my daughter on said 31 March when this hit me. I know it wouldn’t have mattered if I hadn’t done the challenge in March but I’d made up my mind to do it that way.

A quick hunt on via the iPhone showed me that one category was ‘A book you can read in a day’. Hmmm. It was the last day of March and I was in the library, surely I’d find something I could read and finish before midnight?? Well, dear reader I did. A book by Emma Hannigan caught my eye – the Summer Guest. The Summer Guest I had never read any of Emma Hannigan’s books before, but have followed her story through Irish media. You can read about her here I’ve seen her on various TV programmes and often said to myself that I really must read one of her books one day……

And I did read it all before midnight. I liked most of the characters involved and also liked how one of the main female leads (Lexi) was portrayed at times in a way that made me wonder if she was always as nice as she initially seemed. (She is by the way, but I thought the doubting elements and the question of how others perceive us was really well done). The story moves along quickly enough and there were no characters in it that I didn’t get a feeling about. I don’t enjoy a book where I couldn’t care one way or another about the characters. Hannigan touched on a few interesting themes and ideas that I thought could have been developed a bit more but that would have probably taken the story in a different direction. The ending is both happy and sad, and let’s face it, that’s life!

Overall, yes I enjoyed it, I’d read more of hers, particularly on those occasions when I have an uninterrupted hour to sit with a cuppa and something nice and read a book that’s enjoyable and thoughtful but not too heavy.

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2016 Reading Challenge · Books

2016 Reading Challenge book two – Finished!

My second book for the Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge was From Beirut to Jerusalem by Swee Chai Ang. From Beirut to Jerusalem This came under the category of ‘a book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, child or BFF’. My husband selected this one for me, having read it himself a number of years ago.

It is one of the hardest books I have ever read. Not intellectually, not in the style of writing (which is very accessible), but emotionally it was so so hard. I normally whizz through books and a book of this size (302 pages) written in plain, straightforward language I would usually expect to get through in a few days. This was so difficult to read that I could only manage a chapter at a time.

I knew a little – a very little – about the conflict in Israel/OPT and the wider Middle East. I had heard of the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982. I knew that Lebanon had for years, decades maybe, been pulled into and suffered from, conflicts affecting their neighbours. I did not know just how truly horrific it was. Probably still is. Dr Swee writes in a very unsparing way about the numbers of dead following the Sabra and Shatila massacres. She talks of – and indeed includes a picture of – piled up in alleyways. As an orthopaedic surgeon, she describes the horrendous injuries – and their long term implications – suffered by young and old alike.

I could go on but it is better to read it for yourself, to bear witness. One thing I learnt from the book is that as a result of her time in Lebanon, she helped to start up the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians which warmed my heart as a couple of years ago, a local event I helped to organise raised money for that charity amongst others.

This book is not an easy read. But I think that makes it all the more important. Reading about events of thirty years ago and then watching the news and seeing what is happening in Syria, in the wider Middle East, seeing how many refugees have been forced into an already overcrowded Lebanon, seeing the sheer chaos and agony that people are going through on the borders of a greedy bloated Europe, meant that this book resonated with me all the more. It is one of the few books I can truly say has had a profound impact on me.

Read it. And then read more. Watch the news. Inform yourself. Bear witness. It is the very least any of us can do.

2016 Reading Challenge · Books

2016 Reading challenge – book two

February has rolled around and its blowing a gale out there this morning. My second book as part of the Modern Mrs Darcy reading challenge is one chosen for me by my husband. He has selected Dr. Swee Chai Ang’s From Beirut to Jerusalem, the account of an orthopaedic surgeon who volunteered to help civilians in Beirut in the early 1980’s. From Beirut to Jerusalem He chose this because “it was the first book I read about Lebanon after serving there and it started me reading more and more about the Middle East.” I should explain that my husband did two tours of duty with UNIFIL while a member of the Irish Defence Forces and his time there made a lasting impression on him.

Its non fiction, history, politics, a combination which I probably read more frequently than anything else, but I have never read anything about Lebanon or the wider Middle East conflict. So let’s see what I think of this one. Happy reading!

2016 Reading Challenge · Books · Uncategorized

2016 Reading Challenge book one – Finished!

As you might have seen in a previous post I’m taking part in a reading challenge this year. To those of you who know me well, the challenge might have been not to read any books this year but let’s face it, that’s never going to happen! I heard about this challenge from a fellow blogger over at Pretty Purple Polka Dots and its been interesting seeing what others are reading.

There are 12 categories of books to read over the year, you can get all the details at Modern Mrs Darcy’s page. For my first book I selected Amy Tan’s Saving Fish From Drowning, which came under the category of ‘A book you own but have never read’. I bought it in a charity shop ages ago and then it sat on one of our bookshelves. On with the review…… well I wasn’t bowled over by it. Amy TanI had read two of Tan’s books previously, The Bonesetter’s Daughter and The Joy Luck Club and found them both excellent. Heartrending in places, dealing with issues that resonated in my own life and most importantly for me, had characters I was interested in. So I had fairly high hopes for Saving Fish From Drowning. They weren’t met, now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate the book and would go so far as to say I liked it but I’m not mad about it.

I found that after about a third of the book I was struggling to keep going. If I hadn’t been doing this reading challenge I doubt I would have made myself continue. I am glad I did because the middle section of the book (well up to the last three or four chapters really) was much better. I never warmed to any of the characters, but neither did I take against them. I couldn’t summon up huge interest in any of them and I do wonder if having so many characters in the main story of the book (about a group of American tourists who get lost in Burma/Myanmar) made it hard to fully develop any of them. Tan’s descriptions and writing are as strong as ever but the plot never grabbed me. Would I recommend it? It wouldn’t be the top of my list of recommendations but I wouldn’t advise against reading it either.

Book one of the 2016 reading challenge down, eleven more to go. This one is going in the charity shop bag, I wouldn’t be interested in reading it again and this way two charities will benefit a little bit from it! Plus its gone from the overfull bookshelves which is a good thing too. Book two – well one of the categories is ‘a book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF’. I’m going to get my husband to select one for me before Mon (1st Feb). Our tastes overlap somewhat but not completely and I have no idea what he is going to choose for me! That’s part of the fun of the challenge I guess – and so far its made me finish a book I would likely have discarded otherwise. Onwards!

2016 Reading Challenge · Books

2016 Reading Challenge book one

I love books, I love reading, I can happily spend hours in a library, so when I saw the Modern Mrs Darcy challenge I decided to give it a go. The idea is you read 12 books over the year, each from a different category. I’m starting with the category “a book you own but have never read” (of which there are MANY in our house) and have chosen Amy Tan’s Saving Fish From Drowning which I picked up in a charity shop at least a year ago. It could well be longer. I’ve read two of Tan’s books, The Joy Luck Club and The Bonesetter’s Daughter and enjoyed them both very much, so hopefully this will be as good. One of the other categories is “a book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child or BFF” so I’ve asked my husband to select one for me. No news on that front yet and I have no idea what he’ll choose. We both love to read but our tastes don’t entirely overlap. Anyway, I’ll start with this one Amy Tan and see how I get on. If nothing else I can take the book off the shelf (and make room for another hee hee!!)

Books · food · Linky

Love Your Cookbooks: Nigella Lawson’s Tarragon Chicken

This post was inspired by the lovely Elizabeth over at Life on Hushabye Farm whose blog I adore.  She has been running a cookbook linky (a linky to the uninitiated is where bloggers write posts on a theme and link them up), called Love Your Cookbooks.  Like Elizabeth I am a demon for buying cookbooks, well books in general really, but I’m not always great at then actually cooking anything from them.  So the idea was that anyone who wanted to take part would choose a recipe from one of their cookbooks, cook it and report back.  So here goes.

Nigella's book on my kitchen table
Nigella’s book on my kitchen table

I chose Tarragon Chicken from Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen.  I love Nigella’s books and have been known to sit and read them like others would a novel.  But I can’t watch her on TV she drives me mad.  I’ve cooked quite a lot from Feast which is probably my favourite of hers, and also from How To Be A Domestic Goddess, but until yesterday hadn’t tried anything from Kitchen.  We eat chicken more than any other meat in this house, and this recipe seemed quick and easy.   And after a long few days with our little girl unwell, that was my primary consideration!

Tarragon chicken recipe

This was just for the two of us, although herself is on the mend her appetite is not back yet.  It was so easy!  There is very little prep, just chopping some scallions and tarragon (both from our garden says the smug gardener), cooking the chicken, making the sauce, which to be honest really made itself, I just poured stuff into the pan and let it bubble away.  I served it with basmati rice, mangetout and green beans.  The mangetout were quite stringy so I’ve thrown the rest of them in the compost but everything else was lovely.  The main difference between my attempt and Nigella’s is that she uses vermouth but I used wine.  Oh and I neglected to sear the chicken breasts so they looked a bit bland but trust me they tasted great!  The finished tarragon chicken

The sauce is made from scallions, tarragon, white wine, salt and double cream.  I thought it might be a little heavy but it wasn’t, just very flavoursome.  The aniseed type flavour of the tarragon matched so well with the wine.  This was a definite hit here and I will make it again.  But I will also continue to try out new recipes from the cookbook shelves!  Thanks Elizabeth for a great idea and bon appetit everyone!

 

Bits and Bobs · Books

A space of one’s own – soon to be a room

Like many other women I know, I have a place in our house where a lot of my work gets done. I’m not talking about housework or cooking, no rather the researching, reading, campaigning, blogging, organising, writing, tiny bit of crafting and big pinch of staring out of the window daydreaming that makes up my average working day.

My workplace – unsurprisingly – is my kitchen table. That will largely change at some point in the next few months when the office that my lovely husband is building for me is finished. He has done all of it by himself and is now at the point of roofing. I am getting rather excited by it now. But back to my kitchen table. Its nothing unusual or special, a maple (I think) table, 4ft by 2ft. Not terribly big but then neither is our kitchen.

This table is where we eat breakfast – which apart from weekends is a staggered affair, DH and DD have theirs at 6.45 and 7.20 respectively, and then I sit down to mine in perfect peace at 8.15 when they’ve gone. Its where DH and I generally sit with a cuppa when he gets in from work and chew over our day. Its where DD likes to play her toy piano – loudly. Its where we generally eat dinner, not always, And for me its where I spend a sizeable chunk of my weekdays.

I’m the first to admit I’m not the tidiest person in the world and while by and large I keep the house clean, it often resembles an explosion in a paper mill with wool, needles and pens thrown in for good measure. Most mornings my beloved husband has to move newspapers, books and notepads of mine before he can sit down with his breakfast. Is it any wonder he suggested I might like a dedicated office space?? Once everyone else has left for the day I generally give the kitchen a quick tidy up and going over and that includes ‘sorting’ out everything that has ‘somehow’ ended up on the table over the last 24 hours.

Our little girl has been off school the last couple of days with a bit of a dose so I’ve been largely confined to barracks and have spent a lot of that time curled up with her on a sofa. Today thankfully she seems to be on the mend and so I’m back at the table a bit. It occurred to me earlier that a glance at our kitchen table on any given day would give a good indication of what I’ve been up to or where my mind is. So here’s how it looks right now:
Kitchen table

What do we have? The laptop I’m writing this blog post on, the last two days newspapers, the ever present cuppa, my sewing box, my knitting bag, Roy Foster’s Vivid Faces, a notebook and my hairbrush. I think the presence of the latter is thanks to my daughter who likes to play with hairbrushes.  So, what do you deduce from that?  I finished knitting a wee hat earlier, I am a news junkie, some days I practically mainline tea, and I love history (and I’ve cooked up an interesting research project too but more about that another day).  Just an average day for me.  Other days there might be piles of posters to be distributed, or forms to be filled in but the basics would be much the same.

I am rather attached to my little workspace, even if I do have to clear it all off so we can have dinner.  But I’m REALLY looking forward to my new office where I can finally use the big desk (about 6ft by 3ft) that came out of a solicitor’s office in Liverpool many moons ago and has languished in our storage space for 12 years.  I can organise everything how I want it and I will know exactly what is in each pile and what I will do with.  I can finally get the two filing cabinets, two small desks, two printers and three bookshelves out of our daughter’s room and set up my work space to suit myself.  And you know the best bit of all?  I won’t have to clear it away at the end of the day!!!

Books

What I’ve been reading lately – April 2015

I love books as some of you will know, and I read a lot. There’s always at least two books of mine on the go in this house. A friend asked me recently if I’d read anything lately that I would recommend, so I suggested a few things I’d enjoyed and thought she might like. That got me thinking about how much I actually do read, I don’t know if there’s any kind of average of number of books read in a month but it made me sit and jot down what books I’d read most recently. And that naturally led to a blog post. Now this may or may not become a regular feature here but here’s the books I read in April and what I thought of them.

Women of the Irish RevolutionLiz Gillis Women of the Irish Revolution This is a photographic history of many of the women who  took part in various ways in the revolutionary period in Ireland, roughly from 1913-1923. Its a superb book, with so many photographs I have never seen before. Gillis explores each woman’s role and activities and also gives a synopsis of what they did afterwards, much of which I had no idea of. It is an easy to read, beautifully presented book which I would recommend as a good starting point for anyone interested in this period and most especially in women’s political and revolutionary activities.

Secret Diary of a Demented HousewifeNiamh Greene Secret Diary of a Demented Housewife I had never heard of Niamh Greene but saw this in a charity shop, fancied a light read and it was only a euro. Thankfully it was only a euro. I couldn’t finish it and it is very rare I can’t finish a book. Awful. I only managed 20 pages before I threw it in the bag for the charity shop. Poorly written, no likeable characters and after the 20 pages were up I realised I couldn’t care less what happened to the characters and that there was surely something else I could do with my time. I hate to be bitchy but that is my honest opinion of this book. Greene clearly has a market out there for her books, but I’m not part of it.

John Taylor In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death and Duran Duran Ok, cards on the table. I LOVED Duran Duran asIn the Pleasure Groove  a teenager, my bedroom walls were covered in pictures of them. I lost interest in them around 1988 and the pictures all came down. I didn’t keep up to speed with what they were doing unless they were mentioned in some magazine or paper I was reading. Kept most of the vinyl though. So I wasn’t aware that John Taylor had written his autobiography until I saw it in a charity shop (there’s a recurring theme here with my reading). It gave me a bit of a trip down memory lane, and also brought me up to date on what the band had been doing. (I wasn’t sure if they were still together or not…..they are) Its a light enough read in most parts, and I got through it quickly. The section where JT (well I have to call him that really, we all did back in the 80’s) details his alcohol and drug addiction and his struggle to overcome them are, for me, the best and most moving part of the book. I enjoyed this far more than I really expected to if I’m honest. If I’d been reading this as a Duran-mad teenager I wouldn’t have appreciated it at all. But as a woman in her 40’s, I found this interesting, enjoyable, and surprisingly moving in parts. Taylor’s honesty about his relationship with his parents and then with his own child and what he calls his blended family takes this out of the realm of the bog standard pop biog.

Easter WidowsSinead McCoole Easter Widows The latest book from Sinead McCoole explores the lives of the seven women whose husbands were executed in May 1916 in the immediate aftermath of the Easter Rising. McCoole has an impressive list of works on women in the revolutionary period in Ireland and this book added hugely to my knowledge of that period. I knew the life stories of Maud Gonne, of Kathleen Clarke, of Muriel MacDonagh, I knew something of the story of Grace Gifford Plunkett, but I knew very little of Lillie Connolly, of Aine Ceannt or Agnes Mallin. This book took years to research and write and while reading it I got a real sense of how engrossed McCoole must have been in these women’s lives. I did find it a little unbalanced at times – I got a much clearer sense of some of the women than of others – but that may be due to the sources that were available. One issue that would have improved my enjoyment of the book is that I found it hard at times to keep track of the various people owing to McCoole’s use of their given names without a surname. Many of the lesser characters share given names with the women or their children and that got confusing at times when no surname was used. However, I found this an excellent read, very well written, and would highly recommend it. Some of the stories are simply heartbreaking and it is clear that some of these women suffered for the rest of their lives, financially, emotionally, physically. A very moving book.

Audrey Niffenegger The Time Traveler’s Wife I saw a wee bit of the film of this on TV about a year ago and thought Time Traveler's Wife the premise was curious. I still haven’t seen the film (but will see it tonight when its on RTE!) but on finding the book thought it was worth a look. And yes, this was another of my charity shop pick ups. I’m not going to outline the plot here, I’m sure there are others out there like me who eventually get around to reading the “latest best seller” a few years after it was published. Its a mix of science fiction and love story and for me it worked on both levels. Henry can travel back and forward through time – at least through his own life – and meets Clare at various stages of her life. They fall in love and marry. If you want to know if its a happy ever after you’ll have to read it for yourself, and DO, its a great book and I loved it. But I wouldn’t read it again (and I have many novels I return to over and again) because I know how it finishes, so the sense of wondering how the story will go wouldn’t be there for me. I’m wondering now if the film can be as good, I’m often disappointed by film adaptations, but we’ll see.

Divas Don't KnitFinally, I read Gil McNeil Divas Don’t Knit Well I’m not a diva (ok maybe I have diva-ish tendencies at times) but I do knit, not briliantly, but I do and I enjoy it. So this was another attempt at a light read. This time it worked, I enjoyed this a lot. Sometimes you (or me anyway) just want a book that’s not challenging, that has a story, that offers a bit of entertainment for an hour or two. Divas Don’t Knit did that for me. Its the story of Jo Mackenzie who after the death of her husband (who had just told her he was leaving her for another woman), moves to a different town with her two small sons, and takes over her grandmother’s wool shop. She sets up a knitting group and gets involved with various local and national characters, some likeable others less so but utterly believable all the same. The plot moved along quickly – maybe a little implausible at times – but it never dragged and it was easy to switch off for a while and just enjoy it. Worth looking at if you need a light easy read of a wet afternoon.

So there you go, that’s what I read in April. Six books. I’d probably usually read more in a month but it was Easter holidays for the part of the month so reading time was much curtailed! If you’ve any suggestions or recommendations of books for me to try, please do send them on, I’m always up for a reading challenge! If you’ve read any of these I’d be interested to hear what you thought of them. Happy Reading!!

Books · Parenting · Special Needs

Be careful what you wish for! My book loving daughter

Anyone who knows me even a bit knows how much I love books and reading. Friends have been known to post things like this on my Facebook page: books

Anyone who has been to our house has seen the evidence of that for themselves as shown by the bookshelves in our room, our daughter’s room and our living room. Exhibit A m’lud:

books, reading, bookshelves
You can never have too many books
In my defence, not ALL of these are mine. Just most of them.

My husband suggested buying me a Kindle or similar for my birthday a few years ago but I wasn’t keen. He was surprised, having thought (quite logically) that I would love to be able to have loads of books literally at my fingertips anytime I wanted. But I like the physicality of a book. I love to turn the pages (and I will admit I am terrible for dog-earing books) and curl up with a book on my lap. Somehow an electronic device just doesn’t feel the same. Yes I have definite Luddite tendencies too. I’ve always loved books and was able to read independently from a young age. It does occasionally cross my mind that maybe I use books as a way of blocking out the rest of the world – but then again maybe that’s just so I can have more time for reading!!

I’ve never had much interest in clothes/fashion/make up etc and the idea of spending a day shopping as a pastime fills me with dread. Unless of course its bookshops. I genuinely find it hard to pass a bookshop, especially one I’ve never been in before. I have library cards for Meath, Westmeath, Cavan, Fingal and Dublin City libraries. And at present I have books from most of these on my desk….

books, library, libraries
The current stash of library books

So as both of us are book lovers and read voraciously as children, we fully intended that any child of ours would be encouraged to love books and reading too. As regular visitors here will know, our gorgeous little daughter has intellectual disabilities and cannot read yet. But she adores books and being read to and will ‘read’ to herself in her own little way. Naturally we are delighted by this, apart from the sheer enjoyment she gets from it, this also helps with her speech and language development as well as her fine and gross motor skills. Oh yes, any activity can be counted as part of the home therapy programme 😉

When we moved into this house, I quickly identified two favourite spots for reading. I will read anywhere, but there are two favourite spots I have. One is on the landing at the top of the stairs right under the window. This gives me lots of natural light and also easy access to the books upstairs. The other is on the sofa under our living room window. After our daughter was born my reading time inevitably dropped dramatically for a good while but thankfully as she settled into a regular nap routine, I was able to get back into it. As she got bigger and eventually began to sit up on her own and then progress to moving around a little bit, my reading again became more confined to a few snatched minutes here and there. It was at this stage my husband became accustomed to finding four or five books left open at various places around the house, this was so I could carry on reading wherever she wanted to explore. And no I was not being a bad mum by reading while she was exploring, its just that there are only so many times you can feign fascination with opening and closing the same drawer and besides she seemed to get more fun out of doing it herself.

About 18 months ago, our wee girl decided for herself that if she wanted to ‘read’ one of her books or have one read to her, then there was only one place that should happen. On the sofa under the window, i.e. one of my favourite reading spots. This has now progressed to the point where the first words she says every day when she gets home from school are ‘book’ followed by ‘sofa’. I fear I may have created a monster. So now I cannot sit and read on that sofa while she is in the room unless she is engrossed in something else. As she is now able to get to her books unaided, select one and then climb onto said sofa, I have increasingly found I am being asked to vacate sofa so she can have it. This either comes in the form of a gentle shove (which is a great game) or occasionally the ‘request’ “Get off”. Charming. At least when I go searching for a book, I put the others back on the shelf, not like a certain little person! children's books, books, reading

And then the other day I caught her. Sitting cross legged (v cute) on the landing under the window ‘reading’ the book that was on my bedside locker. I may have to accept this is a battle I will lose.

Books

Book review: This Is How It Ends by Kathleen McMahon

Ok before anyone comments, I KNOW this book was published in 2012 but I have a very long list of books I want to read and sometimes it takes me a while to get to them all. So many books, so little time……

Anyway, this book (and the deal its author got) was big news here in Ireland. That of itself made me take a bit of notice, and I added it to the aforementioned list. Then promptly forgot all about it. A couple of weeks before Christmas 2014 I was delivering things to a local charity shop who had a big sign in their window, 6 books for €2. Well I couldn’t pass that up……. I was quite restrained and only came out with 12 books, one of which was This Is How It Ends.

On glancing over my haul when I got them home that morning, this book didn’t exactly leap out at me. The cover and the blurb struck me as aiming at the so-called chick lit market. What’s a good term for that? Popular female oriented fiction?? I stuck it on the shelf and figured I’d get to it eventually. The other night I was looking for something light to read in bed and this caught my eye.

Now while I read a lot, I don’t waste my time on books that don’t grab me. If I don’t care about what happens to at least one character or am engrossed by the plot after a few chapters, then it goes into the bag for the charity shop. The first few chapters of This Is How It Ends didn’t have a page turning plot but I was very taken with Addie and Bruno whose love story this is (its actually one story of many) so I continued quite happily, thinking I was going to get a nice love story and a happy ending, but probably not one that was too taxing.

I was wrong. I am not going to spoil the story for anyone else who hasn’t read it yet, but there is so much more to this book than a sweet love story. Secrets, family history, belonging, family dynamics, death and memory, the relationship you can have with a pet, all of these are parts of this book. After a few nights of reading a few chapters I was impatient to see how it all turned out. So this afternoon, I grabbed it while my daughter was playing and furiously read the final quarter of the book.

Its so moving, beautifully written, the characters are believable and the pace is judged just right. I found myself holding my breath at points, hoping that things would turn out right for all the characters (even Hugh). And then the utterly unexpected direction of the plot floored me. I was in tears for the last couple of chapters and it takes a lot for a book to move me so strongly. I won’t say any more about the plot, but if you want a book that will move you, this is well worth your time.