Tuesday, December 29, 2015

BestReads2015: some of my most enjoyable reads this year

John Wiswell from The Bathroom Monologues is hosting a blog hop about our favourite reads of 2015. These are not necessarily books published in 2015, just books we read for the first time this year and which made a lasting impression on us.

It would probably be easier to decide on the worst reads, but here is my short list of those which stood out when I went through my year's list: there's a crime/thriller, a sci-fi, a fantasy, a non-fiction, and two 'other fiction'.

I have read no other books by this Irish writer (he's the author of The Boy in Striped Pyjamas), but I read a review of this which caught my interest. It is a brilliant telling of the time when some of the terrible facts about the priesthood in Ireland were becoming known. I found it unbearably sad and totally credible. The central character does not harm anyone, but he turns a blind eye to others who do. This quote from The Times Literary Supplement sums it up:
"A compelling study of an aging priest... an excoriating portrait of Irish Catholicism and its precipitous fall from grace."


I read quite a few fantasy books, but this one stood out in 2015. It is so different, so strange and interesting - the most original story I have read for a long time. The setting is London, a parallel, dystopian London. Memory, and writing, are forbidden, and people are rendered dependent and docile. They are controlled by an enormous musical instrument called the Carrillon, which produces a permanent kind of ringing in the ears which every evening wipes out the events of the day. Simon, the protagonist, may have inherited from his dead mother the ability to grasp tendrils of memory ...
The author is a published poet, and a trained violinist. This is her first novel.

A beautiful story. According to Wikipedia (spoilers!) Patchett was inspired by a Japanese embassy crisis in Lima, Peru, in 1996-7. The setting is at a vice-presidential birthday party in an unnamed South American country, where the guests and staff are taken hostage by a group of young terrorists. The resulting standoff drags on for several months,with the inevitable outcome. Meanwhile, realationships and friendships develop amongst the hostages and their captors, and the central action revolves around the star guest, an internationally renowned American soprano. I found this an interesting take on the reliable trope of taking a bunch of characters, isolating them somewhere, and watching what will happen - and  I really enjoyed the book.

In July I visited Canterbury Cathedral, and stood at the very spot where 
Thomas Becket was brutally murdered:

The book was on display in the Cathedral book shop, and I decided that I would find it and read it when I got back to this side of the world. I am very glad that I did - it was very readable, and always interesting. Definitely my top non-fiction book of the year.

The best thriller/crime novel I read this year was by an Australian author. Robotham sets most of his books in the UK, and is acknowledged as a master of the psychological thriller. In my opinion, he gets better with each book he writes. As well as the elements you would expect, he touches on family, mortality, relationships, grieving and human frailty.  At times, the book was impossible to put down. Fantastic reading.

This list wasn't really in any particular order, but Hyperion was the best book I read in 2015. This sci-fi masterpiece was published in 1989, but I hadn't come across it before. My son gave it to me with the instruction that I had to read it, and I'm very glad he did. Complex, entertaining, absolutely brilliant - oh, to have an imagination like Simmons'!

If you're a sci-fi fan, you've probably read it already. If not, you should do so immediately. I am just about to start reading the sequel...

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sometimes, life is just annoying...

Manu has a habit of wrapping himself in his blanket, and occasionally has trouble unwrapping himself - not being equipped with opposable thumbs, you understand.

Yesterday he excelled all previous wraps.

He had made or enlarged a small hole, and put his head through it, as one does.  When I came in from the garden he was sitting more or less patiently on the step, waiting to be extricated.

Have a happy Monday!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Thematic Photographic 355 - Old

I chose one of my favourite old places for this Thematic Photographic, 
the Temple of Apollo on Mt Parnassus at Delphi in Greece. 

As I said in my comment on Fredaman's post, I love wandering around ruins, 
imagining what it was like for the people who lived there. 

How many people came to visit the Oracle, trying to find some 
answers to their questions?

See other posts at Written.Inc

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Spring, really.

Monday morning. 
Clear, calm, sunny, beautiful. 
The kind of spring morning I have been bemoaning the lack of (see here).

Manu and I decided to check out the shore of the estuary

The tide was right out


On the way home we stopped at the strawberry place, 
and got a box of sweet, luscious berries, freshly picked an hour before.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Spring, so far...

In the Antipodes, a new season starts on the 1st of the relevant month, 
not the 21st as in the northern hemisphere. 

Therefore, in four days' time we shall be starting our 3rd month of spring. 

With luck, month 3 will be an improvement on September and October! 
We have had weeks and weeks of winds - cold, strong, nasty winds. And very little rain. 

You expect some windy days in spring, and also some gentle, life-giving rain. Hmmph!

There are a few small brave signs of the season, thankfully. Most of the earlier blossoms
and flowers were destroyed by the wind. Tattered freesias and ripped daffodils are not very attractive!

And to qualify for Carmi's Thematic Photographic 353, "Size Small",
here's a monarch from last summer.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Holiday Memories 2

    The last country I visited was Scotland, and the city I stayed in before flying home was Glasgow.

The weather was just as you'd expect - cold, windy, damp and/or raining for the 5 days I was there. 
It was mid-July. I did enjoy my time there - especially the people-watching!

Everyone has seen this picture - the Duke of Wellington with his orange road cone, 
outside the Gallery of Modern Art:

I loved the Princes Square shopping centre, so different from the usual plastic malls:

On a dull day, these planters provided lovely colour:

Lastly, a reminder of the Commonwealth Games held in the city last year:

"The Glasgow invention of square-toed shoes was to enable 
the Glasgow man to get closer to the bar."
~ Jack House

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Holiday Memories

Earlier this year, I spent nearly 3 months in Europe: my retirement present to myself.  

I have posted quite a lot of photos since I got back, but there are many more which I would like to have see the light of day, so I'm going to try to publish a few every day or two. 

Today's are from Barcelona. 

My son and his girlfriend have lived there for about seven years now, 
and I've been there before; it's one of my favourite cities, 
especially away from the crowded sightseeing spots.

This peaceful spot is the little plaça which my son's apartment overlooks. 
No cars are allowed, and the trees provide much-needed shade. 
The people of the neighbourhood meet for coffee and conversation while
the kids play, there is a community vegetable garden...

On one walk, we paid a visit to the enormous Cementiri de Montjuïc:

"In Spain, the dead are more alive than the dead of any other country in the world."

~ Federico Garcia Lorca

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Wildlife and other Critters

Thematic Photographic 349 is Wildlife.  

Here's some of the wildlife I saw in Europe this northern summer...

(Please click to enlarge)

Storks, in Morocco

I love storks...

The heron is my new header photo above.
He was near Volendam, in The Netherlands:

This swan was one of the many on the canals in Amsterdam

and these were in Bruges, one of my favourite cities ever

You may already have seen this Canadian Goose in an earlier post. 
It gave me the eye at Leeds Castle.

At Dunrobin Castle, in Scotland, I saw a fascinating demonstration
by the resident falconer. There were falcons, hawks, and an owl - brilliant.

You can see other people's photos if you visit Carmi Levy's Written.Inc

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books."
- Sir John Lubbock
- See more at: http://wilderness.org/article/famous-quotes#sthash.9iDczeJY.dpuf

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books."
- Sir John Lubbock
- See more at: http://wilderness.org/article/famous-quotes#sthash.9iDczeJY.dpuf
Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books."
- Sir John Lubbock
- See more at: http://wilderness.org/article/famous-quotes#sthash.9iDczeJY.dpuf

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Surreal as you like...

Another highlight of my time in Spain in May (see A Day at the Rock) was a short trip with my son Mike to Cadaqués, a seaside town north of Barcelona (where he and his girlfriend live). 
They often go camping on this coast, and know it well.  

The scenery is stunning, and we had several lovely days there, 
but that's not the reason for this post.

Mike and I are both fans of Salvador Dali's paintings, and we were very keen 
to see the Dali Museum at Figueres, and his house and garden at Portlligat

The Museum and everything in it was designed and conceived by the artist, 
and is considered to be his last great work. 
It was amazing, strange and weird at times, but always brilliant. 

None of the photos I took inside came out well, but I did have a chance to see 
one of my favourite paintings, Galatea of the Spheres:

 The next day we walked over the hills from Cadaques to Portlligat to Dali's house. 
You have to book several weeks ahead to go inside, which we hadn't done, 
but we were able to buy tickets to walk around the garden, 
which I'm sure was far, far better than the house!

 The garden winds its way up to the top of the property. 
Here's the view from a high point:

As you will see, it was all white, with lots of lovely cool trees. 
And an egg theme...

One end of the very inviting swimming pool:

and, along a narrow channel, the other end:


There were some Dali-esque oddities, including quite a few 'snakes':

But the overall feeling was of a lovely, calm and peaceful place. 
I'd go back tomorrow, if I could:

Please click on the photos to enlarge them. They look better when they're bigger!