Liverpool: A mini adventure

As I mentioned  million times recently, the 4th of May was my birthday and I decided that I wanted to go to Liverpool for the day. I had never been (much to the dismay of my neighbour who is from Liverpool and has been telling me for 14 years to go there… I do listen eventually) and since I wanted to do something, I thought why not.

We decided on the sensible course of action and took the train, better for the environment, better for sanity (the M6 around Birmingham is hell any day of the week) and with a family railcard also a lot cheaper (on this trip we saved 50%, neat).

The first thing that struck me coming out of Liverpool Lime Street was the epic scale of the buildings. Someone once told me that Liverpool is a London in the North of England and I can see now why. Pillars, columns, statues, little parks, grand street and small alleys and buildings from all stages of history. A sight to behold for sure (even though, you have to remember where the money came from to fund all of this, slavery and exploitation of an Empire).

We first went to the Walker Gallery and my husband would have gladly stayed all the day, inspiration for him was lurking around every corner. A nice little treat for me were found in the modernist room, I had no idea that a couple of paintings were to be found here that I had wanted to see in the “flesh” for some time.

Lunch was had at Casa Italia and it was the absolutely perfect pick: It hails back to the 70ies and has the vibe of German Italian restaurants, which made me incredibly happy.

A walk through the streets down to the docks and the Museum of Liverpool, Tate Gallery and RIBA Gallery completed the day. Much art, much food and the soul was filled again.

The plan is to do more of these mini adventures: Hope on a train, travel, explore and then come back home. It oddly felt like a proper break and was the best birthday present I could give myself.

46 things on my 46th birthday

First of all, this Saturday is my birthday. Another year around the sun and it has been a good one. Mostly. And that’s what counts. I am grateful for each and every year on this imperfect planet. Age is a privilege denied to many, so many people will never get to be 46. I say this every year, so get used to it.

I thought I share a list of 46 things. This is stream of thought and it was kinda strange, where my thoughts took me.

  1. I wish I could quit Facebook for good; communicating with my Any Book Bookclub is the only reason I am still on there.
  2. I am 10 times failed vegan. I shall keep trying. But I have been vegetarian for 18 years.
  3. I have always been an old soul.
  4. I prefer old things to new things.
  5. Cake is my weakness.
  6. So is bread.
  7. I love carbs.
  8. I love hot beverages, coffee, tea, hot chocolate.
  9. Raspberries with white chocolate, strawberries with dark chocolate.
  10. I love paintings where we look onto a scene through a door/window. Like this painting by Hopper.  41OCGNj2XHL._SX425_
  11. I want to live in Scotland (no surprise to anyone).
  12. I like lists (obviously).
  13. Apart from my wedding ring, I hardly ever wear jewellery.
  14. And I would have never thought that I would wear a wedding ring, either, but I do.
  15. I believe in the “Your wound is not your fault, but it is your responsibility” as in, you cannot go through life hurting other people just because you got hurt.
  16. When I see someone reading in a public place, I will do all sorts of contortions to figure out what it is. I will not walk up and chat unless they put the book down. Never interrupt anyone’s reading time, you don’t know how rare it is.
  17. I prefer mountains to the beach, although mountains and beach both work fine. Beach and flat lands not so much (Sorry Netherlands, you are grand for other reasons).
  18. If you talk about a thing and I know a fact about the thing (or an entire book about that thing), I will have to tell you. Please still like me afterwards. It’s like hiccups, I cannot help myself.
  19. I believe that you can change direction at any point in life, I am currently going through a directional change of sorts and it is painful, but I have done it before and I can do it again. I am not a rock.
  20. Salad without dressing is pointless.
  21. I always plan the next holiday
  22. In fact, I have an entire folder with holiday cottages and other accommodation that I find randomly on the internet.
  23. I have a whole philosophy based on how to find the right holiday accommodation for myself and the fam.
  24. I hate the term “strong woman”. This article shares some of my reasoning. It’s just such a stupid cliche!
  25. I cannot do a flat lay instagram post to save my life and I am ok with that.
  26. I am not a French tuck kinda person. More a “do you have that top also in extra long” woman.
  27. Any recipe stating “one clove of garlic” should not be trusted. Always add at least 5, it’s the way to happiness.
  28. I love roller neck tops but cannot wear them because as soon as I have one on, I feel like I cannot breathe. It makes me sad on a regular basis.
  29. I like spending time on instagram and posting photos and no, I don’t think that time is wasted. Online has brought me some of my most cherished friendships. I work from home, so instagram is my watercooler.
  30. Twitter, however, makes me often depressed and I strictly limit my time on there.
  31. We served Red Lentil Curry at our wedding and sang bad Karaoke in our flat. Best day ever.
  32. I was a wedding and portrait photographer for a few years. It killed all enjoyment of photography and made me realise that I am terrible at peopling.
  33. I was a good photographer though.
  34. Finding booktube was one of the best things ever.
  35. Some days cooking is the greatest stress relief ever. Other days, I would gladly chuck the pans in the bin. I am a person of multitudes.
  36. My love with Scotland began with this book, read while in primary school. 41Hp-E6ajeL._SX279_BO1,204,203,200_ A book about spies during the Cold War set in the high moors of Scotland. I loved everything about it. The English Title is “The Hill of the Red Fox”. I was in love with all things British as a kid. Scotland, England, Wales. Loved it all. I often pretended that I was secretly the child of a British General (I grew up in what was the American Sector, there was no British Army anywhere, but details, who cares about those) and that he would come and take me home to this castle in Scotland. Still waiting.
  37. I was obsessed with Hans Moser and Heinz Ruehmann as a young child. In fact, I loved all the old German comedies. My grandmother would often sing this one and so did I.
  38. If I had more space (as in space inside and outside the house), then I would have more books and more animals.
  39. I have a 100% success rate of surviving stuff.
  40. If I lived before the end of the witch hunts in Europe (which ended roughly in the 1750ies), they would have burned me. Not a cheery thought.
  41. A cheery thought is cake though. And I love all the cake. You bring cake, you make me happy. ( I know I mentioned cake before, but all good lists talk about cake at least twice)
  42. Another cheery thought is chocolate: Milka or Ritter Sport. I miss the crazy Ritter Sport flavours something rotten at times. I never had this Chocolate Brownie flavour, if you have contacts at Ritter Sport ask them to send me some trial packs 🙂 Ha, as if. 100g_BV_SchokoBrownie_D_NEU_800px-640x571
  43. I have lived in the UK for 17 years. Still get homesick from time to time. Like right now, I think it was the talk about chocolate.
  44. I don’t like champagne, I would always prefer a glass of whisky.
  45. When a list is titled “Must read for xxx”, I will never click on it. It shall remain a mystery.
  46. And so this is it. Happy Birthday to me.

 

Fled by Meg Keneally

43252694

It is a rare thing to read a historical fiction novel with a female main character that is truly a main character in her story (well, unless she is a Queen). And more often than not, when we have such a story, it comes entirely from an author’s imagination. I guess that is because so little is often known about women’s lives in the past, but I think it’s also a sign of publishing trends that there is simply not much published along these lines. A few each year, but more likely then not, women are portrayed in their relationship to the men in their lives, but I am glad to report, that Meg Keneally’s book could have never been called the Fisherman’s Daughter.

Jenny’s father was a fisherman and after his death, his daughters and wife are left to struggle on. The 18th century was brutal to women in general, but especially when left behind without “male” protection and income, society was simply designed for women to be dependent on men, so without that, Jenny’s life soon spirals into financial misery. Somehow she falls into becoming a robber on the highways, which inevitably ends her in court and then on a transportation ship.

Jenny has not been given many choices in life, but her will to survive and struggle for liberty is second to none. Even as a prisoner, Jenny rarely wavers in her sense of self and keeps a level of agency many female characters in novels lack: She is the engine that drives this story and this is what made it such a fantastic read. The book is harsh, unjust and brutal in places, but also just so full of hope.

The story is based on the life of Mary Bryant and the author outlines in the afterword the similarities and inspirations for the story and the reason why she decided to base a character on Mary rather than trying to tell Mary’s story. And I appreciated that a lot. I always prefer if a story is told in that way, as I find myself otherwise unpicking fact from fiction. But a word of warning: Try not read anything about Mary Bryant’s life as this will spoil some of the major plot points in the novel. And you would want to enjoy them without expecting them to happen.

Meg Keneally is an Australian author who has co-authored books with her father Tom Keneally, these books are highly rated and I shall get my hands on them soon. Fled is her solo debut.

Certainly a book, you should pack into your suitcase and take with you on your summer travels, or read it at home with a cup of tea and be grateful that you don’t live in the 18th century.

Published April 15th 2019 by Bonier Zaffre
Paperback, 400 pages

 

Underland by Robert Macfarlane

41817481

I was wary of Underland at the beginning, as I normally reach for Macfarlane’s books when I cannot go exploring myself. Sort of a stand in adventure while bound to my desk for work or asthma keeping my indoors in winter. How would it work reading about him exploring terrain that I have absolutely no interest in exploring myself? Would I love it or would I be detached and disinterested?

Right from the beginning, I was greeted by the high level of writing. It is a bit like meeting up with an old friend, you sit down and pick up where you left off, even when it has been years. The writing is sublime. And the introduction to the Underlands is gentle, sharing his fascination, his motives for writing, he slowly guides us into the book. I loved visiting underground spaces in this way without the need for myself to get uncomfortable, wet or in a dangerous situation. Armchair travelling at its best.

Not all journeys take you literally underground, some are just left you wondering what’s underfoot and I certainly took that with me on my walks last week on holiday in Scotland. Oddly, I thought most about his words after climbing the hill to an old Iron Age Hillfort, pondering what lay beneath me and what memories the stones held that I was standing on. I don’t think, I ever really gave that much thought to what is under my feet than that what lies before my eyes when out walking. And quite frankly that change in perspective was refreshing.

It also got me thinking about my own place in the world, what legacy I will leave behind. What impact I can have to safeguard, to protect and to pass on. And this is where the real strength of any good book comes from: The moment you put it down, it still occupies your thoughts, you carry its wisdom with you and phrases pop into your head when you are doing other things.

Certainly a book for me that I will revisit over and over again, preferably reading out passages to my husband, because the writing is just so wonderful. And we shall keep going out and find beauty and be still.

Underland by Robert Macfarlane
Hardcover, 280 pages
Expected publication: May 2nd 2019 by Hamish Hamilton

 

Thoughts on writing, reading, Brexit and other stuff (April 2nd)

What no one tells you about writing is how utterly frustrating it can be. Who am I kidding. How utterly frustrating it is. Today, I have mainly wanted to throw the laptop out of the window and I have not done so, otherwise, I would not sit down here and bore you with meaningless thoughts, but I wish I had. Instead I am here, grumpy, total written word count 50 words, total deleted word count 500. One does not need to be an accountant to realise that this is an awful balance sheet. I tried to read the “Writing Down the Books” last week and I found it so annoying that I stuffed it into the charity bag and took it away. Maybe I should have read it.

You see the thing is, that the characters in my book are really annoying me today. The woman insists on doing things that I believe she wouldn’t do. And then when I change it, she does not sound like the person she ought to be. Does that sound like a mad couple of sentences? I am not sure. I am also not sure if the male character is too butch. I don’t want him too butch, but then he threatens to get into a fight and there we are, I feel like I am writing male stereotype no. 1008, right out of the character stereotype manual. Hurumpf.

The Walter Scott shortlist has been announced. Feeling so-so about the shortlist, but that is nothing new, plus I only read 3 of the 6 books so far. I was so certain Dark Water would be on there, but alas, no. Still Ondaatje is on there and it is my personal favourite, but alas I think Western Wind will win it. Books with interesting structure seem to always win Walter Scott. Went to the library as my hold for another of the now shortlisted books came in “The Long Take”, it has pictures, interesting. It is also very thin. I am probably the only person on booktube who has the compulsion to not trust a book that has less than 340 pages. I know naturally many novels that do brilliant things in very little space (hello Elizabeth Taylor) but sadly I know more novels where I felt that they could have fleshed things out a bit. The argument “… but at least it was short” never really worked for me. If you read 10 novels of 150 pages and they are all disappointing that’s a lot of disappointment. I rather read 3 500 page novels and they are all brilliant. But I guess, us readers are a demanding lot, always wanting brilliant books when everyone knows that books are not diamonds, there is no universal value that can be measured and traded against. Beauty is after all something that is totally in the eye of the beholder.

Part of the morning was spent hunting for a white blouse for the child’s spring concert tonight, so she can conform with the black and white dress code. She was nice enough to inform me last night at 7 pm that she has outgrown the previous blouse (and about another bin bag full of clothes). She is 12 and nearly as tall as me. So blouse hunting I went. I have lots to do, translation work, trying to write (and failing), there is never ending stream of laundry, but here I was at 9.30 hunting down a white blouse the child would wear. Mission accomplished, hope someone sends me that mother of the month medal in the post. I still have the pleasure to come tomorrow afternoon of going clothes shopping with her. This is sending shivers down my spine. Did I say pleasure, no, want I meant is horror. Clothes shopping is torture at the best of times, clothes shopping with a 12 year old who has a clear sense of what she will wear and what not but will not articulate it but just quietly reject proffered items with “too itchy”, “too clingy”, “too <<insert any word here that makes no sense>>” and you are destined for an argument with aforementioned tweenager. I shall try my utmost tomorrow to not go into argument mode. I shall think of cake. Wish me luck.

Oh, I have not mentioned Brexit in a while. So yes, we still don’t know what’s going on. At this point, I don’t feel I can say anything anymore other than shake my head. I feel like Yoda. “Heading for doom, we do. Stone like hurtling, we do.” He never said this, but he would have, had he lived in Brexit Britain.

On a cheerier note, I am about to finish a rather brilliant German crime novel and it has been translated into English, you lucky ducks. Set in 1947 Hamburg, coldest winter in memory and amongst the bombed out city a serial killer is on the loose. The English Title is the Murderer in Ruins by Cay Rademacher and the translation has been done by Peter Millar and is published by Arcadia Books. I think, I may immediately pick up book 2 (there is currently 3) and read on, Rademacher depicts what a bombed Hamburg must have been like so well. A bonus if you know Hamburg and are able pick out the place names, but if you don’t it does not matter, the place will become alive in your head anyway. A brilliant Schmöker.

31075934

If you like C.J. Sansom’s Shardlake (28th March 2019)

It has been nice to see so many people picking up the Shardlake series recently on booktube and instagram. I remember when I first read Dissolution many years ago, I was so smitten with it, I immediately started looking for books that were similar. And this has continued to this day. So I thought I share today some of the books that I think may appeal if you like C.J. Sansom’s Shardlake series, set in Henry VIII’s England.

S.J. Parris’ Giordano Bruno Series

6611809

The first book in the series is called “Heresy” and sets the tone nicely for the overarching theme of the book: Religious tensions leading to political intrigue. We are in Elizabeth I’s England and the religious situation for those of Catholic (or other faith’s) is difficult in England and all over Europe religious tensions are growing. Giordano Bruno was a real person and he really came to England and Parris weaves a wonderful fictional world around him. A former monk, he was on the run from the Inquisition in Italy and sought refuge in England. Officially, he is in England to take part in a debate about Copernicus’ findings, but then some grizzly murders happen and he starts to investigate.

There are currently 5 books out and book 6 is scheduled for publication later in the year.

Publisher: HarperCollins

 


PF Chisholm’s Sir Robert Carey Series

We stay in Elizabethan England for this series, but venture north. Sir Robert Carey is another real historical figure and with a modicum of creative license Chisholm brings him alive wonderfully in this series. I was instantly smitten with this daring, intelligent man – even though he is also a bit stupid. His father was the first cousin of Elizabeth, some rumours say half brother, Tudor family politics are nothing if not complicated. In 1596 towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign, Carey is appointed as Warden of the Middle Marches which is essentially the border region with Scotland. An area of great unrest at that time, skirmishes between Scots and English on a daily basis, chief amongst them cattle theft. In the books, Carey arrives into a badly managed fort with people on his forces that have rather different allegiances and priorities than serving their Queen.

31815384 (1)

There are 9 books in the series, the most recent one only published last year.

Published by Head of Zeus and Poisoned Pen Press.


Ellis Peter’s Cadfael

Before there was Shardlake, there was Cadfael. I discovered the Cadfael series as a teenager back in the 80ies and I was a loyal devotee from the first book. The series was hugely popular in Germany, Germans do love historical fiction set in the Middle Ages and you will find the historical fiction section full of titles like this. What I loved the most about Peter’s books was the sense of place. She evokes Shrewsbury of the 12th century so vividly, it is just such a joy to read. We follow Cadfael a Benedictine monk, a conversus who only joined the order in his 40ies and was a warrior in the crusades before. As someone who always has been interested in herbs and their properties, I loved the little side notes on Cadfael’s herbal preparations for healing. Peters sets Cadfael’s chronicles in the year’s of the Anarchy, 1137 to 1145, a turbulent time and in particular what is now Shropshire saw itself frequently torn between the factions. Needless to say that murders happen in each of the novels, but Peters skilfully weaves the wider historical aspects and conflicts into the story. A joy to read.

321545

There are 20 books in the series and some short stories.

Publisher, various imprints, now Macmillan


SG MacLean’s Alexander Seaton series

We are leaving the Middle Ages behind and move to 17th century Scotland. Alexander Seaton is set to become a minister of the Kirk, but due to a revelation of an event in his past, the Session rejects his application. Set in Banff in the 1620ies, Maclean masterfully brings Scotland alive, no dashing Highlanders sweeping time travellers of their feet, but a young scholar plagued with guilt desperately trying to redeem himself and to get a grip of his guilt. When one of his last remaining friends is accused of murder, Alexander tries to prove his innocence. I have rarely read a book that both gave me such insight into events of a historical period I had little idea of, but at the same time also really made me understand how people thought at the time. I read all the books in this series in short succession and then moved on to her next series (which you will find below).

17205757

There are 4 books in this series and the series is complete.

Published by Quercus


SG Maclean’s Seeker series

Yes, I mention the same author twice, because I truly love her books and in my personal opinion her books are far too underrated and deserve a wider audience.

Damian Seeker is an officer in Cromwell’s army. The series starts in 1654 during Cromwell’s Protectorate (which ends in 1660 with the Restoration of the Monarchy) and a murder happens in one of London’s new coffee houses. Seeker investigates as it may be linked to a wider conspiracy to bring back the King.  Intrigue, betrayal and murder. I love how we get to know Seeker slowly, he is a mystery that needs to be solved as well, some excellent female characters in this series too, in particular a female villain, we love to hate.

30295526

There are currently 3 books in the series and book 4 (The Bear Pit) is coming out in July 2019

Published by Quercus


Ruth Downie’s Medicus series

I am currently listening to this series after having read them a few years ago. Highly addictive material. Ruso, a doctor with the Roman Legions, arrives in today’s Chester virtually broke, just having lost his father and divorcing his wife. He was not particularly keen to end up in this outpost of the Roman Empire, but needs must. Within days of his arrival, he finds a female corpse that no one wants to deal with and then he saves a slave girl and that adds to his troubles. His boss, Deva is also constantly on his case and, yes, he continues to be broke. I absolutely love this series and how Downie imagines Roman Britain.

4278.jpg

Currently 8 books in the series, the most recent one published last year.

Published by Bloomsbury


There are more books I could talk about, but I think I keep it at this length for now. Any books you want to add? Any series, I should be aware off? Any great new first book in series coming out? Please let me know in the comments.

 

Random Thoughts 27th March

Brexit has been occupying much of my thinking processes in the past few weeks. I signed the petition, even contemplated going to the march in London but then remembered that crowds like that may trigger a panic attack and thought I best stay home.

I am slowly making my way through the Walter Scott Prize Longlist and so far the results are:

Little  by Edward Carey (Gallic Books) – yet to read

A Long Way From Home  by Peter Carey (Faber) – yet to read

After The Party  by Cressida Connolly (Viking) – read, thought it was ok – ***/5

Washington Black  by Esi Edugyan (Serpent’s Tail) – read, don’t get the hype **/5

The Western Wind  by Samantha Harvey (Jonathan Cape) – read, not my thing, but get why people love it **/5

Dark Water  by Elizabeth Lowry (riverrun) – read, atmospheric, if you love Moby Dick, you are going to love this, atmospheric, clever. Torn between *** or ****/5 but probably more like ****

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free  by Andrew Miller (Sceptre) – not read yet

Warlight  by Michael Ondaatje (Jonathan Cape) – read, am a fan woman, ****/5

The Wanderers  by Tim Pears (Bloomsbury) – will only read if shortlisted

The Long Take  by Robin Robertson  (Picador) – not yet read

All The Lives We Never Lived  by Anuradha Roy (Maclehose Press) – not yet read

Tombland  by C J Sansom (Mantle) – Uber fan and read when it came out and *****/5

I am taking a few books break now from the shortlist. Currently reading a mix of fiction and non-fiction:

Der Trümmermörder by Cay Rademacher (Murder in the Ruins) is a book that so many people recommended to me in the past few months, I just have to give it a go.

Slowly making my way through a poetry collection: Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo which I am really loving so far.

Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg’s classic on writing practice is also on the side and I read a chapter when I sit down with a cuppa.

Then The Stopping Places by Damien Le Bas, longlisted for the Jhalak Prize is also on the go, I have never read a book before on Traveller/Romani culture and so far I am finding it a fascinating read.

And then finally, a new release The Conviction of Cora Burns by Carolyn Kirby, set in Birmingham in the 19th century (I live in Birmingham) and so far, I am really quite enjoying it, I have a feeling this will turn very dark, so we shall see. Kinda fun though to hear a character referring to places you know (“no, Smethwick way”). I am a bit of a sucker for local colour.

I also went to the library today because clearly, I don’t have enough books out already (22 books at present), no, I needed to add more books (now 24 books out) and got Manda Scott’s Into the Fire and because I am an eternal optimist, I also got the second book in the series A Treachery of Spies. See Brexit has not totally destroyed my optimism, in some areas it still works. Victoria from Eve’s Alexandria and I shall start buddy reading Into the Fire this weekend and I cannot wait, I am really in the mood for some page turner type goodness and I loved Manda Scott’s Boudica novels a lot (read all of them quick succession, was proper obsessed).

The sun keeps shining at the moment which is good as I don’t think anyone could cope with what’s going on if it was raining on top of it all.  The neighbours across from us had a lunchtime barbecue. On a weekday. I like their spirit.

As I was driving down Soho Road in Handsworth today, I was struck once again by the sheer number of wedding shops there and how wonderfully colourful Asian wedding gowns are in comparison to white ones. I also kind of love that a wedding shop is right next to a shop selling fruit and veg. Keeping it real, even if you are buying wedding gear, you are still hungry. I keep meaning to stop at the Romanian bakery in Handsworth and buy some of their stuff to try it out, I adore shops like this. Someone on Facebook said that Polish shops are the reason, we have Brexit. And lots of people agreed. I like Polish shops although the one I love might close as the owners are thinking about going back to Poland. Another empty shop on the High Street. Maybe a betting shop will open.

I know I sound bitter, but it’s surreal to live through this Brexit stuff and it keeps going. And then there was the Guardian Article about the findings that European’s rights in the UK will be impacted. We have been saying this all along, but naturally no one listens. I basically no longer really talk to anyone, because the joke “we will just hide you in the cellar” has stopped being funny in 2017, which was incidentally when it started, meaning the joke was never funny. Just not funny. Also: I know nobody with a cellar.

Apparently dinner is ready. So farewell, thanks for reading, if you did.