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Sunday, 31 January 2016

January

Disclaimer:

I wrote most of today's post in advance, ready to post this evening. However, this morning, news came that Sir Terry Wogan lost his battle with cancer in the early hours of this morning aged 77.

Some years ago, I was lucky enough to meet some other TOGs online and joined a community of some wonderful and amazing people who are generous, kind, funny, clever, supportive and generally awesome, but all with only one thing in common, we all listened to Terry Wogan's radio shows on Radio 2.

I was able to listen, this morning, to the special show broadcast in remembrance of Sir Terry's long and illustrious broadcasting career, it should be on the iplayer, along with Richard Madeley's show, in what I still think of as Sir Terry's slot, which included a lot of listeners fond memories of Sir Terry and music that he enjoyed.

I can only imagine how his family feels today, but his loss is, for me, the end of an era.




Resolutions:

This year, most of my New Years Resolutions are in the form of challenges and include reading challenges, Cooking and baking challenges, photography challenges, stitching and sewing challenges, writing challenges and walking challenges.

My current plan is to blog about them, probably monthly, throughout 2016!

I couldn't find all of the challenges that I wanted to try online, some of them are set up, and recognised with support groups, some, are not. So, where there isn't one set up already, I'm using either a 52 week or twelve month base and making my own challenge up:

Sadly, although there used to be a set up place for the photography challenge, it fell out of use in the middle of 2015, and I didn't get sorted out in time to go from the start of the year, and haven't used my camera yet either - so all photos for January are from my phone, sorry!

However, we have the (theme free) 52 Weeks of Photos:

One double rainbow (image cropped so you can't see in the neighbours windows)


Two was a photograph of my celtic harp:

Three was of LittleBit playing on her trampoline in the cold, wet weather:

Four was a snowdrop at the zoo:
Fifth, was the group reading books for book club, which we borrowed from the library's reading group service:


Reading:

My reading challenges for 2016 (which can overlap) include:
  • The 52 Book Challenge (read one book each week)
  • The Alphabet Challenge (read a book starting with each letter of the alphabet)
  • Discworld Publication order read through (Self-explanatory, but will take longer than one year, which is fine.)
  • Non-fiction challenge (at least 10 non-fiction books this year)
I intend to write a brief review of every book that I read this year. So, to begin with, the 52 Book Challenge, book one of 2016 was;

Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate by MC Beaton.

Agatha (who has currently sworn off men) has been away, working in London, and has not met the new curate. When she does, she is overwhelmed by his beauty and charm, and accepts an invitation to dinner. Later that night, the curate is murdered in the vicarage and Alf Bloxby, the local vicar, is the prime suspect!

This wasn't one of my favourites in this series, but it was still a good read. I was mildly frustrated by Agatha's refusal to register as a PI, and by her reliance on her present neighbour, who to be honest is (to me at least) somewhat obnoxious!

However, it's a genteel murder mystery. Yes there is peril, but it's Agatha Raisin, so you know what you're getting from the moment you pick the book up. They're well written, they're easy to read and they're fun. I gave this one 3/5.


Then I finished The Death Collector by Neil White.

Sadly, when I picked this one up, I didn't realise that it was the second in a series, so I found semi-cryptic hints about the previous book a combination of not enough information and filled with spoilers, so I won't be going back to re-read it, sorry. (I like the way MC Beaton has a single page at the start of the Agatha Raisin books with a brief explanation of the series, without giving too many spoilers, and when she has to reference any previous stories, it's done by giving pertinent information to the current story, but no major spoilers, I digress).

The Book's primary protagonist, is Joe Parker, a defence solicitor, although the POV changes between Joe, his brother Sam, a police detective, the killer (without saying who it is, or giving any identifying information) and occasionally, a young boy called Carl Jex.

Joe is the duty solicitor called to the police station when Carl is arrested for being a peeping-Tom, he runs Carl home and agrees to meet him later in the day - but Carl never makes it home. Gradually, Joe is drawn into the case that Carl is investigating, which includes a possible serial killer, and potential miscarriage of justice.

If I'm honest, I found the initial pacing a bit slow, but it sped up towards the end, and the latter third of the book was much more engaging that the former.

I didn't work out whodunit (I didn't in the Agatha Raisin book either), and I did give it 3/5 stars.


Book Three was Valentine Grey by Sandi Toksvig

Born in India, and brought up by just her father, Valentine discovers that moving to Victorian London, to live with her Aunt and Uncle is very constraining. She finds some relief through her cousin, Reggie, and his lover, Frank.

Reggie is volunteered to join the volunteer force going to South Africa to fight in the Boer war, but before he leaves, Valentine takes his uniform, shears her hair off, and assumes Reggie's identity to go to war in his place.

The story is split between Valentine and Reggie's points of view, with Valentine being very much the main character.

Some of it makes for pretty grim reading, but the parts that are, depict active warzones, prisoner of war camps and the way homosexual men were treated in Victorian London. I have definitely read more gruesome descriptions of all three!

The plot twists and turns in unexpected ways throughout, and it was exceedingly easy to read. I gave this one 4/5.


Fourth, was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows. This was the Book Club choice for January.

Opening in January 1946, the book is made up of the correspondence of an author, Juliette Ashton, whose is rather famous under her pseudonym, Izzy Bickerstaff.

After she is contacted by a man who has found one of her old books, she begins a correspondence with an entire literary society, leading her to leave London and visit the formerly occupied channel island and the members of the literary society.

I am a little bit sad that one of the books that the narrator mentions, The Beginner's Cook Book for Girl Guides, doesn't actually exist, I'll survive though.

A combination of hilariously funny, tear jerkingly sad, and thought provoking, this was another book that was astonishingly easy to read, and un-put-down-able. I gave this one 5/5.



Cooking and Baking:

Apart from being a member of the local branch of the Clandestine Cake Club, I am taking part in the 52 Weeks of Cooking on Reddit (they also have a 52 weeks of baking subreddit, but I decided against that for this year) and I have another foodie calendar this year, so, as in previous years, I may try to make the monthly recipe each month! This year's calendar is the Great British Bake Off!

No Cake Club in January, so I baked my version of Subway's Rainbow cookies with LittleBit at home instead! We added extra peanuts (because we can) and really enjoyed them!




For the 52 Weeks of Cooking, Week One was Soup - I made Leek and Potato Soup:

I used a recipe from the BBC Food website, which was simple and easy to follow and made enough for a bowl of soup straight after I'd made it, and a further four generous portions, which I froze in soup bags.









Week two was Sous Vide, which I'd never attempted before. I didn't do this actually in week two, but I managed poached eggs for brunch in week 4 using a sous vide method, which I would never have thought of if someone else hadn't posted theirs first!


Week three was Greek, so I made Kleftiko;
I'll be honest, the photograph of this one doesn't look particularly appetising, however, it was very tasty, and it's something we'll definitely make again! The recipe from this one was from a friend, so sadly, it's not mine to share. But there are many recipes for lamb kleftiko available online.


Week four was Brunch, for which I'm partial to Eggs Royale, for this one, I baked the oven bottom muffins myself, again from a BBC Food recipe, I poached the eggs sous vide, as per these online instructions (although I used medium eggs, so knocked a few minutes off), and made Hollandaise sauce from another BBC Food recipe, the smoked salmon, I bought - sorry!



I didn't manage to get a photo of it all together, because by the time it was ready to eat I was famished and forgot until I'd wolfed the lot. Sorry.

Week five was Chilli, and whilst other people were very adventurous with theirs, it's one of our staple meals and I didn't manage to make it in week five, but I'll almost certainly make it in the next week or two, so I'll include in next month instead.


The recipes on my calendar (yes there's two this month, one for the annual overview, and one for January) were Lemon Curd Swiss Roll and Quick Cup Cakes. Sadly, I haven't made them this month, so I'll owe you updates on those with February's blog post. 

All other challenges will be started in February, with a view to catching up on January, because I'm behind so far this year... But, I will catch up.


Finally for January, I've only been to the cinema once, when we went to see Dirty Grandpa, which we really enjoyed. Robert De Niro plays the newly widowed Grandfather, who requests his Grandson, Jason, drive him to his Florida holiday home, just a week before Jason's wedding to Meredith, who is the pushy kind (if the character was a man, he'd be considered abusive). Alas, Grandpa has been a faithful husband, to an ill wife, for a long time, and he has decided that he wants to have some fun in Daytona Beach on the way, and tries to make uptight corporate lawyer Jason, relax and revert to his fun loving former self. There are some utterly cringe inducing moments, but we laughed a lot while we were watching. 

This is already quite a big post, but I suspect that the rest of the year's posts will be longer. Sorry about that.














2 comments:

  1. Hi Sam! Enjoyed your blog and really enjoy your book reviews. How do you manage so many challenges, work, plus keeping up with LittleBit???

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    1. Aww,thanks Nancy! The reading, I do after LittleBit's in bed, and in my lunch break! The cooking and baking, I try to include LittleBit in, partially to teach her, and partially because she enjoys it, everything else, well, you just keep trying. I like the 52 week / 12 month challenges because you only have to do each thing either once a week, or once a month, and you have leeway to catch up if you need to!!

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