The American Agent by Jacqueline Winspear

39087664The latest Maisie Dobbs – The American Agent by Jacqueline Winspear is coming out on the 26th of March and I was lucky enough to get a review copy via Edelweiss. Thank you so much.

Naturally, I do not want to talk to much about the plot, this is book 15 in the series and naturally, things happen along the way, you would want to find out for yourself as you are reading them. Let’s just say this: The Blitz has started and London (and the rest of the country) experiences horrific bombing attacks each and every night. Everyone is tired but doing their bit despite the fear. At this time, a young woman is found murdered and Maisie is asked to investigate.

I have read this series for a long time, so I am always in the state of waiting for the next instalment, but I really like it that way. Every time it feels like I am meeting my old friends again. The books are easy to read, brilliant for escapism yet they deal with subjects like grief and loss, but are never without hope. In fact, I would say the main storylines of these books are resilience, failing and starting again. Certainly something I can identify with.

The Maisie Dobbs books are often looked down upon by more “serious” readers, and yes, they are not literary fiction, but so often the things women enjoy to do or read is being ridiculed, so we must just ignore that. Otherwise, we never get to do anything we truly enjoy. If you like historical mysteries, then you may just like this series. If you just want to sit down and read something that takes you away for a few hours, then these books may be for you. Whether you will enjoy the books or not will depend on whether or not, you gel with Maisie herself. I do. I find a lot of things in common with her, but also plenty that frustrates me about her. And that keeps me reading.

This latest instalment I read in one sitting as I did with all the other books. I am looking forward what the rest of WWII will bring to Maisie and her family and friends.

ebook, 384 pages

Expected publication: March 26th 2019 by Harper

Thoughts while walking


The gym is good for lifting weights and gaining muscle tone, but I do so prefer walking. I know that if I want to keep walking I have to strengthen my core and my back and that’s why I go to the gym, still, outside is just better.

I wonder again, how I ended up living for so long in a big city. First Munich and now Birmingham and at times, I get anxious that I will end up living in Birmingham until I die. It is a stupid thing to get anxious about but I do. People will say to me, then just move. As if it was so easy. Maybe it is easy, but I don’t find it easy and that’s the same thing.

I love watching the magpies gathering material for their nests. They are not bothered about anyone’s presence, they just get on with it. I wonder if that couple is repairing an existing nest or if they built it from scratch. Then I notice another couple in the next tree. Are they good neighbours? Magpies certainly seem to hang out in groups. You either see one (sorrow) or 4 (a girl).

This dog that walks with me and is not my dog is cute. An Irish setter, he runs ahead of me and then runs back to me. I pretend for a moment that he is mine, no owner in sight anyway. He does his business next to some daffodils and since I always have poo bags in my coat pocket, I pick it up. The owner comes suddenly in view and thanks me, but does not offer to take the poo bag. Oh well, the next bin is only round the next bend.

Dogless now, I look across the golf course and wonder how it looked when the Abbey was still there and this was just parkland. I wish it was just parkland. I have nothing against golfers per se, but is it really necessary for golf courses to be everywhere. I know the Park Trust where I live earn a big chunk of their income through green fees, but once again I wonder if there could not be another way. I think about this every time I walk past the golf course, which is normally three to four times a week. Asthma permitting.

I spot a parakeet. They are relatively new here. Immigrants and like so many of us immigrants people either find them interesting or concerning. Competing for food and nesting sites with birds and bats. However, others say that parakeets are easy prey for sparrowhawks and the like, so a great food source themselves. And we certainly now have birds of prey in the woods. And we don’t really know yet, what the long term impact of those parakeets will be.

The willow is starting to go green. Always the first one. I love that tree and in the child’s most maddest Harry Potter phase, she would shout: Here is the weeping willow. And then swiftly demand an ice cream because it is next to the park cafe.

I see that the rhododendron has been cut back. My husband loathes the rhododendron and I guess he has a point, apart from the time it blooms, it does not look that appealing in hedges and parklands. It is an invasive species and still classed as foreign despite the fact that it has been in the UK since the middle of the 18th century. It takes a long time to become British. I don’t like it because unlike other plants, it is toxic to animals and produces absolutely no food for any species. Even the pollen contains toxins. I am no botanist or anything like that, but facts like that find me and stay with me and then I randomly spurt them out, even just in my thoughts.  These facts are just as hard to get rid of as the rhododendron, tiny seeds and roots that can sprout new plants/thoughts anywhere. Such is my brain. Maybe that is why I don’t hate the plant as much as my husband does, I feel a certain kinship with it.

I walk mainly to wake up. The insomnia has been with me for over two weeks now. It shifted this week from the “being awake for hours at night” to the “wake up every half an hour and then go back to sleep” type. Not sure which type I hate more. Really does not matter because either way, I am tired, exhausted. It’s 7.45 and I have been walking for half an hour. It’s cold and humid this morning. I look for my inhaler, that moment of panic when I cannot immediately find it. There it is. I inhale and look across the big green area and watch dogs and owners. Dogs running. Owners standing. I decide to take another loop through a different area of the park. Not quite awake enough yet, to go home and work. I am not quite sure how I will manage to work at all today, my brain is so tired.

When the kid was a baby, a health visitor once said: sleep begets sleep. And I am trying to use her advice on myself, implementing that daily nap again. Hoping it will improve night time sleep. Yesterday, I had that nap at 10am. 30 minutes. I hope I can stick around until 1pm today. And that I will feel less guilty about taking a nap.

This loop takes me to the site where the old Abbey once was. I wish I could have seen it. I love a Gothic mansion and the Abbey was Gothic perfection.  Got torn down in the 50ies. It is a shame, but I guess, it was a bit like a plaster being ripped off. Better than watching the slow decline of so many amazing buildings in Birmingham and the Black Country.

It’s time to go home. Do some work. Drink more tea. And coffee. Happy Friday.


The Way Home – Mark Boyle

42515426 (1)Mark Boyle may be known to you as the Moneyless Man; after the financial crash in 2008, he decided to live for a year without exchanging anything for money. Not being paid, nor paying money for anything either. I vaguely followed his journey back then.

A couple of years ago, Mark Boyle decided he would give up technology and live a “simple life” on his smallholding in Ireland. Not just giving up his phone and social media, but all technology. No electricity, no landline phone. An interesting premise for any book and so I was keen to get an ARC via Netgalley, which I then very ironically read on my ereader…

Naturally, a book like this invites people to feel attacked, anyone who ever steps out of the norm and declares they want a different life has the potential to make people who don’t do the same feel as if judgement is passed on their life and that someone like Mark Boyle is looking down on them. Yet, I hope people go into this book not thinking that or reacting that way, because I fear they may miss a wonderful opportunity to be inspired. I found it both an enlightning reading experience as well as a good moment to look at myself and see where I could do more. No plans to move to a smallholding at present, but we can all do better and must all do better if we want to save the planet (and us, because let’s face it if we are gone, the planet is going to be just fine).

I think what immediately drew me in was how he approached it: No dogma, just exploration. The best things are started like this in my opinion. Too many rules set you up for failure or as Mark Boyle puts it:

On top of that, those years taught me that rules have  a tendency to set your life up as a game to win, a challenge to overcome, creating kind of black and white scenarios our society leans towards.

The book is written like a diary and yes, without a computer, putting pen to paper. Boyle reflects a lot on this slower writing process, but after some time he feels that this new pace improves his writing. I cannot judge this as I have not read any of his other books, but I can see how “thinking twice, writing once” makes a nice change from the write a rubbish first draft and then start writing the actual book preaching, we have come to accept and although I know this to be true for myself, I also know that a lot of writers have written in a more deliberate way.

The year was not plain sailing that’s for sure. He missed calling his parents and hearing their voice. Jobs that a machine could have done in minutes took hours or days. He went from being vegan to being a meat and fish eater again and that required quite some soul searching.

He started this journey with his partner Kirsty and how that ends, you will have to find out for yourself. Kirsty, or rather the lack of her in the narrative of his reflections, is the one thing that I would found missing in this book. As a woman, I found it interesting (and alarming) how easily the couple slipped into established gender roles: Mark out with this axe creating his environment, tending to his land, shaping his universe, while at home in the self-built hut, Kirsty tends to the hearth. He does comment on it once, briefly, but this was an aspect that I would have liked him to explore more. Did he really not see this more, did this really not bother him?  The thought that a return to a simpler life would render women consigned back into the kitchen, really gave me something to think about and Kirsty’s absence in the narrative for long stretches, made me worried that this ideal he was creating would ultimately lead to another silencing of women, women absent from the overall narrative: seen but not heard. There was so much I wanted to know about this journey from Kirsty, that part of me hopes that she will write her side of it at some point.

The lack of rules he set himself meant that he was making it up as he went along and I think that was the charm of the book. He is often conflicted in his choices. Often unhappy with the compromise he has to make. Yet, I think, this is what stopped this book from becoming too preachy. Yes, Boyle judges society, but he also does not claim he has got it all figured out.

It is rather hard work: There is no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.

As for me and my reaction: Boyle has inspired me. Maybe not in the way he intended. We are not going to move to a smallholding in Ireland, no returning to the husband’s roots. We lack the skills. I lack the health. But we shall push forward with the changes we have made, the way we feel we can make a difference. And yes, there is so much more we can do and I think I needed that kick in the behind.

Here is a little video about the book.

The book is coming out 4th April 2019.

Kindle Edition, 304 pages
Expected publication: April 4th 2019 by Oneworld Publications

3 Things on Tuesday

While my translation software runs an update (which is always an anxious time, I loath software updates so often things don’t work the same way afterwards) I thought I share three things with you today.

A thing to think about:

I recently discovered Yazzi on Instagram (@standupforhumanity) by her commenting on the infamous This Morning conversation about Comic Relief and Phil Schofield putting both feet firmly in his mouth and not even realising. I watched this video by her from a poetry night several times now and shared it with many. It’s thoughtful, engaging and important. If you have 4 minutes, you should watch it.

A thing to make you smile:

A few years ago on my birthday, we went on a long hike. Map in hand, we came to a footpath and so we climbed the stile and entered what looked like a large meadow. Happily, we walked along and as we passed a hedgerow, there they were: COWS. They did not like our presence. At all. And they started to stampede. We ran and just about outran them and managed to get over the stile to safety. It left an impression with the child who has started to make memes, the cows are a theme  – a frequent one.


A thing to eat:

Nigella Lawson’s delicious Spinach and Parnsip soup will be a delight for my lunches for the rest of the week. Parsnip is still in season and spinach is just about coming into season (or buy frozen like I do). Yummy with some nice rolls.

Happy Tuesday


The thing about death

The bookclub that I attend at the library is not often reading non-fiction and so when Smoke Gets in your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty was chosen, I was both surprised and pleased. Surprised that the group was willing to read about what happens when we die and about how our bodies are disposed off and pleased because this book had made the rounds on booktube and I was keen to read it.

For years, I have repeated to my husband my wishes about what should happen when I die. No funeral. No wake. Cremation and then he and the kid shall take my ashes and spread them in Scotland somewhere in the hills.

I grew up in Germany and death is big business there. The selling of plots, gravestones and grave panels is  a profitable enterprise. When a cousin of mine was seeing an undertaker for a while, the family was equally repulsed but also quite impressed since after all, there was money there. The maintenance of graves, unless you do it yourself, can cost dearly, too, especially these days with relatives often living far away from the graves that need spring planting, summer planting, winter decoration, possibly a light lighting if you are Catholic at certain holidays throughout the year, then you best hire a local service to do that for you or give money to a local friend to sort this all out for you.

As a kid, my job was to water my grandfather’s grave when it needed it and considering where I grew up in Southern Germany, that meant going twice a day during the summer for most of that season. My grandmother would plant the grave with spring flowering plants, then with summer plants and then in autumn once the geraniums and petunias were finally gone, an elaborate winter decoration would be arranged. My job was to go and water. If I did not, someone in the village would know and report back to my grandmother that I was not taking my duty seriously.


Foto by Alina Blue / Flickr – Creative Commons License

The consequences of improper grave care are at best the whole village talking about you, some maybe even to your face. At worst, the graveyard management will send you a bill for sorting it out themselves. Judgement over grave care comes before the judgement of God and while you are still alive. So even my grandmother, who never cared much for my grandfather while he was still alive, cared a lot about his grave once he was dead. To pay for the gravestone, we lived on one pot soups for an entire year. When I was 11, I declared much to the shock and horror of my aunts and uncles present for Sunday afternoon coffee that I would never be buried but burnt and my ashes scattered. My uncle pointed out that this was illegal in Germany (still is as far as I know) and so I said: well, I move somewhere to die where it is legal, then. Hello England. (Although that is not the reason, I moved here, I hasten to add, I am not that morbid.)

So Caitlin Doughty’s book that I am finding hugely fascinating really brings up some issues that I have felt strongly about since I was a kid. The weird connection we have to the dead. And my weird relationship with it all. I cannot say that Doughty changed much of my outlook on my funeral plans other than, I should maybe explain my reasoning a bit more to my loved ones, so they can “buy in” to my wishes. After all, it will be them sorting it all out.

The descriptions of the cremations of people who were not that loved reminded me of the death of my father 8 years ago. When he died we had not spoken since my grandmother died, with her death, my obligation to speak to him or to pretend that we had any sort of functioning relationship died as well. In German law, I was responsible for paying for the funeral. Much to the shock and horror of some of my relatives I went for the cheapest option: cremation and anonymous grave (no grave care, you see). They thought me heartless and thoughtless despite them knowing my father and knowing at least some of the things I suffered because of him. Minor offence: his refusal to work and thus growing up in benefit poverty. I could have forgiven that. Medium offence: His constant stealing of money from me starting when I was a kid. He plundered my savings account more than once, went to collect my earnings from the grocer who I distributed flyers for etc. He ordered stuff from mail order in my name and I then had to pay for it. And the thing no one knew apart from probably my grandmother although we never spoke of it, was that he sexually abused me until I was 14. So here I was having to make the choice of being a fool and keeping up pretence and paying for a plot with a gravestone or doing the bare minimum I was legally obliged to do and having an entire village shaking their head in disbelief at my uncaring ways. I chose the latter and still the entire pleasure cost me over €4,000. Reading Doughty’s book, I wonder if the funeral director thought me uncaring when he pressed the cremation button and interred my father’s ashes in an unmarked plot. I cannot say that I care too much about that or what the villagers think.

I think there has to be more conversation about death and how we deal with dead bodies, after all, we are all going to die at some point. And although I still got about 100 pages to read, I already highly recommend this book. It is written from an American point of view but I think even us Europeans (soon I have to say: Europeans and Britains) have similar attitudes.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes PBK mech.indd

Paperback, 272 pages
Published September 28th 2015 by W. W. Norton Company

My best books of February 2019

So, here we are on the 1st of March. The husband awoke this morning with a FFS how is it March already. We are getting old as this phrase is uttered pretty much every month and has become as ubiquitous as complaints about the weather.

So March. Which means that February is over and that we can look back at that shortest of months. Normally February sees pancake day which this year is in March, which made me and the kid feel cheated, so we had waffles a few times. As a German, it’s my obligation to own a waffle maker (naturally for round waffles, because square waffles are for square people) and I am not sure if that disappointment over the pancake situation has had an influence on my reading or not, but overall, I would say that February mainly stood out for the lack of real “Wow” books. Some decent books for sure, but really not that much that blew me over.

The month started with me feeling the blues quite a bit (much better now thanks for asking) and so I reached for Anne Lamott’s  “Almost Everything – Notes on Hope”. I adore her books and I find that despite the fact I no longer consider myself a Christian, I don’t mind that she uses God and her faith to ponder some of the human problems we all face. For me, she truly achieves the aim she has in her writing. The making it just a tiny bit better.


Hardcover, 208 pages
Published October 16th 2018 by Riverhead Books

Then I picked up Mary Beard’s “Women and Power” which had been lingering on my shelf since it came out and I enjoyed it very much. Nothing new as such, but a nice confirmation, nodding along sort of read and sometimes that’s quite nice. A book that tells you “darling, the things you are thinking about, others are thinking them, too. You are not alone.” Nice.
Hardcover, 116 pages
Published November 2nd 2017 by Profile Books

I read Affinity by Sarah Waters way back when it came out in 2000ish or around that time. It was fresh and new and all exciting then and although it has never been my favourite Waters, I still liked it very much. I love all her books, I am a total fan girl. I re-read this on audio as it is the bookclub pick and we are meeting next week. I think this will be an interesting discussion and I am very much looking forward to it.
Paperback, Reprint edition, 352 pages
Published January 8th 2002 by Riverhead Books (first published 1999)

My mission this year is to read more books in German and so far it’s going well and low and behold there will be two German books in this round up. Der nasse Fisch by Volker Kutscher, known in English as “Babylon Berlin” set in 1929 in Berlin (surprisingly) centers around the shady side of Berlin, the decline of the Weimarer Republik and all sorts of shenagigans. Now, the characters are a bit flat and the plot at times a bit “oh dear”, yet the setting of this book in Berlin of that time just won me over. So I thought I mention this here.
German edition:

Hardcover, 494 pages
Published 2007 by Kiepenheuer & Witsch
English edition:
Kindle Edition, 544 pages
Published May 19th 2016 by Sandstone Press (first published 2007)

February’s pick for the Read Around the World Bookclub was Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, a novel set in Uganda. The story starts in the 18th century. The fascinating thing about reading around the world is that you get exposed to cultures and ideas that are not part of your own cultural map. I have been a reader all my life but my cultural map is very much based on European writing and also US fiction. I lack historical knowledge of Africa beyond the things of colonialsm we did in school, I certainly lack an understanding of culture, mythology, storytelling traditions, tribes etc. etc. So there will be much in this book that just went plain over my head. I see reading books like this as a chance to develop over time a new cultural map, so with time, I will gain greater understanding of Africa and its cultures, its history, its countries. The emphasis here is on time, reading one book by an African writer or even two will not do this. I am very much willing to be on this journey, so this book is a stepping stone and a good one at that.
Paperback, 442 pages
Published June 18th 2014 by Kwani Trust (first published 2014)
I am not sure if I would have found Sherry Thomas if it wasn’t for Booktube, but I am glad I did, I enjoyed the second book in the series just as much as the first one. Sherry Thomas is a Chinese-American writer mostly known for her romance novels, this is more a mystery with a dash of romance. But man do I enjoy escaping into the world of Charlotte Holmes and the “what if Holmes was a woman” scenario. This past week has been super busy with work and then to just kick back and open a book that just transports you away: Magic.
Kindle Edition, 336 pages
Published September 5th 2017 by Penguin Group (USA) LLC

Die schärfsten Gerichte der tatarischen Küche by Alina Bronsky was another German book I enjoyed but that also repulsed me. Rosa is a woman who is – put kindly – overpowering and we hear her point of view of all the things that happen in her life through her eyes and witness her psychological abuse of her husband, her daughter, her grandaughter through her eyes. Harsh, but a great read. My husband always says, evil people don’t consider themselves evil, they think they are doing the right thing and that is essentially the story here.

13644383 (1)


German edition: Paperback, 317 pages Published 2010 by Kiepenheuer & Witsch

English edition: The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine

Paperback, 262 pages
Published April 26th 2011 by Europa Editions (first published 2010)
That’s it from me. What were your favourite reads in February?

Some things I still miss about Germany

What with Brexit and all that stuff, I have felt very much bereft of home over the past 2 1/2 years. I came to the UK and made my home here, but I cannot honestly say that the UK feels like home at the moment. Yes, my husband and kid are here. Yes, I have a house. Yes, I am still quite privileged. But home is a feeling that you cannot just so easily conjure, it is something that you feel, something that is linked to feeling save, feeling wanted, a place where you feel that you can contribute and that your contribution is valued and alas, I have not been feeling any of this for quite some time.

In recent months, I have heard from various people that I could go “home”, meaning I could return to Germany (which conjures that feeling of not being welcome mentioned above). It is hurtful to hear this even if it is meant well. Hurtful because for one: I thought I made my home here, but if other people think my home is elsewhere, then how can I feel at home here. And also: I am not so sure, how at home I would now feel in Germany or how at home my husband and daughter would feel.

Germany will always be my “Heimat”, my home country, where I am from, the country of my roots. But the place I think of now when I think of Germany is very much a place of nostalgia, after all, I have not lived there for more than 15 years. Still, there are so many things I still miss about Germany. Too many to list them in just one blog post, but I thought I list a few.

  1. Drink crates

I love sparkling water, but here I hardly every buy it because of the single use plastic bottles. I miss the deposit scheme in Germany, where you buy a crate of drinks and then return it again when empty and get a new crate of drinks. It may be an odd thing to miss, but I just do. When I was little, you even could have the crates delivered. And taken down into the cellar. And then it was usually my job to get the drinks from the cellar, because no one else wanted to go down and get them.



Us stocking up on drinks the moment we arrive in Germany

2. Swimming pools

We have pools here in England, sure, but German pools are just nicer, cleaner and more family friendly. Last summer, we spent most days at the local outdoor pool, it has a restaurant, you can hire deckchairs, it is clean and green. We also went to an indoor pool with slides and a spa area, we spent nearly 4 hours there and it cost us half of what a cinema trip for the three of us costs in the UK.

At the local outdoor pool. 

3. The weather

I am from South Germany and it rains there too and we have days where the skies are grey and it’s miserable. Yet, the summers seem to be overall warmer and the winters see some snow each year still. Also, it is less humid overall, which means that my asthma is always better back home.

Sitting outside loads until the late hours of the day – something that happens not that often in England

4. Non-shopping Sundays

I hope this never changes. At times it feels to me all English people ever want to do is go shopping. I love that Sundays are quiet days, family days. And don’t you dare mow your lawn. I never thought, I would miss that, but alas I do.

5. The cities and towns and villages

I miss that it is mostly clean. I miss the bakeries. The small supermarkets. The ice cream parlours. I miss Freiburg. And the mountains. I miss the forests and the fries. I miss a good, German beer and the fact that you can speak your mind. I miss the difference between Du and Sie and that the distinction is between friend and acquaintance. I miss so much and now I am super homesick.