Monday, December 31, 2007

Wishing all who visit this blog a very happy, healthy and peaceful New Year and may 2008 be a special year for you all.



2007 - My year in books

99 books read
85 fiction

54 female authors

45 male authors
18 crime fiction
14 non-fiction
7 translations
6 biographical
4 from Africa
2 graphic novels
1 short stories
0 classics

Really ghastly books: 2
The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
Maggie's Tree by Julie Walters

The ten books I read this year that I thought were particularly good:
Arthur & George by Julian Barnes (fict)
Restless by William Boyd (fict)
Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi (fict)
Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones (fict)
Helpless by Barbara Gowdy (fict)
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell (fict)
Animal's People by Indra Sinh (fict)
When a Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin (non-fict)
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (non-fict)
Stealing the Scream by Edward Dolnick (non-fict)

I have kept a little notebook which lists everything I've read over the past 11 years - more or less!
Just the title and author are listed, plus a rating number and from where the book came. Of course I now include a symbol to indicate whether I've written about the book on my blog. The system is pretty crude but acts as an aide memoire, and from it I gleaned the above figures. On average I read 104-110 books a year, this year is down, and I suspect that is a direct result of packing and moving house.
I also have a notebook in which I list any book I hear of, have recommended to me, or see reviewed, so that when in bookshops and libraries I can seek them out. This little Moleskine notebook is known in the family as "Mum's book of books" and I carry it in my handbag at all times. I have another blogger - Dovegreyreaderscribbles - to thank for the idea, and I can't imagine why I wasn't doing it years ago.
Next year I will make an effort to read some classics - I have four lined up and waiting! I will also try to read more books on science - my DD thinks I am weak in this area, and she is right.

Finally, I have a fellow blogger, Charlotte of Charlotte's Web, to thank for the idea of listing my reading for the year, she did it on her blog and I have shamelessly copied her!


Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, Ian Rankin, Lewis Grassic Gibbon,
Robert Louis Stevenson, John Buchan, Alexander McCall Smith, Sir Compton MacKenzie,
Alasdair Grey, Muriel Spark, Ali Smith, Irvine Welsh, Alistair MacLean, Christopher Brookmyre, Hugh MacDairmid, George MacKay Brown, Iain Banks, J M Barrie, Liz Lochhead, James Boswell, William Boyd, Dorothy Dunnett

What do they have in common? silly question really – they are all famous Scottish writers and poets.

For some mad reason the U.S. Library of Congress which has the distinction of being the biggest library in the world has decided that they are all “English” writers, and is now reclassifying all work by Scots.

700 years of Scottish literature will now be categorised under English literature. As the Library of Congress subject headings are used by libraries all over the world, this decision would be widely copied thus wiping out a distinct literary category.

As a former librarian I think that it is an outrage, and I think all Scots should protest by writing to Dr James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress. Dear reader, if you are an American of Scots ancestry, I urge you to protest to your Congressman/woman. Do not let the literature of a proud and ancient nation be subsumed in an act of ignorant cultural imperialism.


It's New Year's Eve, and I have to take a dessert for the buffet table at the party. I've made an old favourite, which looks great and tastes fabulous and takes no time at all to make. If you've never made a roulade before don't be nervous, as it is easy-peasy when you follow
the instructions.


5ml (1teaspn) each of cornflour, vanilla extract, white wine vinegar
15ml (1tablespn) cocoa powder
20ml (4teaspns) water
4 egg whites (large) at room temp.
225g caster sugar

icing sugar for dusting.

For the filling:

150g luxury dark chocolate spread
300ml whipping/double cream, whipped to give soft peaks
200g frozen raspberries

Preheat oven to 150°C

Line a 33cmx23cm swiss roll tin with baking parchment

In a bowl mix together the cornflour, vanilla and vinegar.
In a separate bowl combine the cocoa powder and water.
Whisk egg whites to soft peaks and then whisk in the caster sugar a tablespoonful at a time together with a small amount of the cornflour mixture. Continue adding sugar and cornflour until the meringue mixture forms stiff peaks. Gently fold in the cocoa and water mixture.

Spoon the mixture into the tin and spread evenly. Place in the preheated oven for 45-50mins until crisp on the outside but still soft inside.

Remove the meringue from the oven and cover loosely with foil for 15mins.

Turn onto a large sheet of greaseproof paper and carefully peel off the lining paper.

Leave until cold.

Spread the chocolate spread evenly over the meringue. Cover with a layer of the whipped cream and sprinkle the raspberries on top leaving a 2.5cm gap at the ends.
Carefully roll up the meringue- lengthwise – using the greaseproof paper to help you shape it as you roll.

Place in fridge to chill before transferring to serving dish and dredging with icing sugar mixed with a little cocoa powder. Decorate appropriately. Keep chilled until ready to serve.
Serves 8 -10

Tuesday, December 18, 2007



A few nights ago it was the December meeting of my Bookgroup, and we did something a little different from our normal custom of all reading a chosen book and then talking about it. The member of the group who was hosting the meeting had asked us all to bring a book that that had the word Christmas in the title or that featured Christmas in some way. Our choices were very varied and as extracts from the various books were read aloud we were either reduced to tearful nostalgia for our childhood Christmases, or weeping with laughter at some of the hilarious writing people had tracked down. and I list some of them here.

It was a very successful formula for the meeting and every one left in extremely up-beat mood.

The Twelve Days of Christmas [Correspondence], by John Julius Norwich.

This little book, beautifully illustrated by Quentin Blake, consists of twelve thank you letters from a young lady called Emily to her adoring swain, Edward, who sends her all the different birds, people, animals etc as featured in the Christmas song. Emily starts off enchanted by his first gift of a Partridge in a Pear Tree, but by the time she has received nine Ladies Dancing (who she describes as “hussies wearing little more than lipstick”) she has had enough, the gifts are wreaking havoc on her garden and her mother has collapsed and had to be carted off in an ambulance. When the final gift arrives, the entire percussion section of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, she resorts to the law and her solicitor writes Edward a very stern letter informing him that Emily has taken out an injunction against him.

The book is an amusing whimsy and would make a great stocking filler for a Mum, Gran, or Auntie.


The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Anderson

Most of us could remember being read this as children, but I for one, had forgotten just how poignant it was. Children's stories today do not tend to end with the death of a child, obviously the Victorians didn't think that reading of such a fate would cause long term distress to the reader.


Christmas at Fontaines by William Kotzwinkle. This book all takes place within a big department store, with all the hustle, bustle and tension of the Christmas period. There the reader meets a variety of characters who are mysteriously transformed in nature by a magical presence. One of them is the young man who is the buyer for the toy department, he has had enough, enough of children, enough of their parents, and enough of toys. He fantasises about massacre and mayhem with exploding toys. The book will remind anyone who has worked in the retail trade about how tough the festive season can be, and remind the rest of us – the shoppers – to be more civil and less aggressive to shop workers when doing the Christmas shopping.


A Wayne in a Manger by Gervaise Phinn, had us all laughing so much we could hardly hear what was being read. Gervais Phinn is a retired Primary Schools Inspector from Yorkshire, and in this book he has collected together anecdotes from some of the many school nativity plays he has sat through over the years.
Did the shepherds pick their noses whilst watching their flocks?
Did the third king cry when he couldn't hold the gold?
Did the innkeeper really tell Joseph to 'push off'?
Did Mary tell Joseph “ I'm having a baby - oh and it's not yours.....”?

If you have children or have ever watched a children's nativity play you will laugh yourself silly; a perfect little book to give grandparents, parents and teachers.


Our parliamentary representatives have just been issued with comprehensive instructions on how to clear up a broken light bulb.

‘The cleaning operative, using protective gloves and wearing a mask, should collect the main fragments of the light bulb and carefully place them in a sturdy box.

All splinters should then be collected using stiff card or paper. The area should then be cleaned using a damp cloth. The splinters and the cloth should then be placed in the box.

Once the area is clear and clean, the box should be sealed and labelled with details of the item.

The box should then be taken to the waste removal area in the loading bay and passed to the waste disposal contractor in an appropriate manner.’

Apparently such guidance from the House of Commons Commission was necessary because in the past someone put their hand into a waste bag and cut their finger….Ah diddums, we can’t have that can we?

No doubt there is another set of comprehensive instructions on how to apply a Band Aid or Elastoplast to digits injured on shards of light bulb glass.

You will either find all this very funny, or bloody irritating (or both) – what kind of nation are we becoming where our MPs require written instructions for such a simple thing, don’t they have common sense in the House of Commons? It is absolutely ludicrous, and producing such instructions no doubt took time and money from some budget or other that we fund through our taxes. Don’t they have better things to do?


I have become really fed up with Christmas shopping, the crowds, muzak being played at top volume in the stores, the tat on offer. Some years ago I decided that unless I knew exactly what to get as a gift for a particular individual I would only give books or something homemade. This
year, having moved house a couple of months ago, I didn't think I'd be able to manage homemade Christmas cakes or Stollen, but then I came across a magazine article about flavoured alcohols and hey presto this year's production was solved. It is absolutely terrific (and I say that as a confirmed G&T drinker) so next year, get out some bottles and give it a go, your friends will not be sorry!


1 litre vodka
4 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
Peel of one lemon and one orange
25g each of currants, raisins, dried figs(cut the figs into quarters)

Extra lemon and orange peel and cinnamon sticks for the final bottling.

Sterilize a large glass container by washing well and then drying in a hot oven.

Combine all ingredients and put into the container. Seal and leave in a dark cool place for 2 weeks, turning the container occasionally.

Filter the liquid* and decant it into sterilized gift bottles.

Add a fresh piece of orange or lemon peel and a cinnamon stick to each bottle. Cap the bottles.

3 month drink by date.

Serve very cold.
Delicious over ice, or with tonic water and a slice of orange.

* Don't waste what you've filtered out. Remove the peel, cloves and cinnamon stick from the filtered residue and stir the boozy fruit through some vanilla ice cream - yum!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007



Minette Walters is one of Britain’s best-selling crime/thriller writers, and I have enjoyed several of her books. They all fall into the psychological thriller genre, and The Chameleon’s Shadow is her most recent book, having been published in October this year, so it is not yet available in paperback.

It was rather coincidental that I picked this up at the library, just after having ranted in my last blog post about injured servicemen being abused at a local leisure centre. The main character in the book is a young army officer who has just been serving in Iraq. Lieutenant Charles Acland has survived a bomb on the road between Baghdad and Basra, the two soldiers under his command who were with him were not so fortunate; however Acland has been horribly injured, and therein lies the plot. From the moment he comes to consciousness in a British Military hospital it seems as if what has happened to him has changed his personality dramatically, and his behaviour becomes increasingly violent, anti-social and unpredictable particularly towards women.

Meanwhile, in London there have been a series of brutal murders. Several men have been violently battered to death, and the police are baffled. When Acland is eventually released from hospital, and is discharged from the army on the grounds of his disabilities, he gravitates to London where he eventually comes to the notice of the police and is linked with the latest in this series of killings following a violent altercation with a man in a pub. Could he have committed the murders ? can he control the rage boiling up inside him? I don’t want to give any spoilers here, suffice to say that the plot becomes increasingly complex and twisted, and the reader is never quite sure where it will go next.

What I found particularly interesting about this book was the first part when Acland is still in the hospital and having many sessions with the resident psychiatrist. Walters really makes the reader think about what can happen to young men (and women) who go to war, and how, if a career in the army (or any other of the forces) has been your life plan it is totally devastating when, in addition to disfiguring and handicapping injuries, that is taken away from you. Reading this I could see how it happens that many of the homeless people on the streets of Britain are ex-military.

Rated: 3.5*


Bear with me whilst I have a little rant about rape. Rape is a nasty word, a nasty word for a nasty deed. I can remember, as a girl, hearing it referred to as “a fate worse than death”, and maybe for some women that seems to be true. In real life, death is the only final fate, and therefore there can never be a fate that is ‘worse’ than death. But I digress….

The reason I want to rant about rape is because the government, in the person of the Solicitor General, Vera Baird, announced a week ago that they were not satisfied with the rate of convictions for rape in the UK and therefore they planned to implement certain measures to increase the conviction rate.

When first I read this proposal I thought ‘fine, ok, that seems sensible’; but then I started thinking about what was really being said.

In this country a person is innocent of a charge brought against him/her until they are PROVED guilty beyond doubt. So in the case of rape and the conviction rates, is the Government saying that they KNOW that all persons accused of this heinous crime are actually guilty but are not being convicted by the courts? Because that is the implication of their recent statements –which goes against everything that the law in this country has stood for – namely, presumption of innocence.

Of course I realise that to prove a case of rape is never easy. Usually it is the word of one person against another with no witnesses. So it is likely that there are cases where rapists manage to get themselves acquitted, and that is horrible. Horrible for the person who was raped, and potentially horrible for others who may then suffer the same fate if the rapist strikes again.

Never-the-less, we change the law at our peril.

The Government is concerned about the number of reported rapes which fail to lead to a conviction. This means that a low number of allegations of rape made to and recorded by the police actually end up with the rapist being found guilty in a court of law. This is not because the courts are any softer on alleged rapists than they ever were, but because many of the reported rapes never make it to court at all. Of those that do, the conviction rate is nothing like as low.

I suspect that these proposed changes are due to three things: (1) Emotion – rape is a very emotive issue; (2) Government obsession with ‘targets’ in all aspects of national life, and 3. a huge widening of the definition of rape in Britain.

It is true that most women who are raped (and it is usually women) are raped by someone they know, a friend, a family member, a work colleague, a neighbour. Or a woman may well be raped by her own husband.
But I have grave concerns about the new view that someone who goes out and gets themselves totally legless, so that they cannot recall whether or not they consented to sexual intercourse, should be able to then cry ‘rape’. They must carry some responsibility for what occurred, even if in retrospect they are shocked, appalled, ashamed or concerned.


My DD is the muffin maker in our family, and has a huge repertoire of delicious muffin recipes; but from time to time I do venture into her territory, and last week when I had to take a contribution to a morning get-together I decided to try something new so made a batch of these. All I can say is that they vanished off the plate so fast I had hardly sipped my cappuccino before they were gone!


Makes 12

350g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground mixed spice (or cinnamon)
240g golden caster sugar
3 dessert apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped
3 large eggs, beaten
120ml vegetable oil
100ml milk
150g SOFT toffees, chopped into small pieces - it is essential to use soft toffees as hard ones take forever to chop up.

1 Preheat the oven to 180C and line a 12-hole muffin tray with paper cases. Sift the flour, baking powder and mixed spice into a large bowl and stir in the sugar. Make a well in the dry ingredients.

2 Add the chopped apples,toffee pieces, eggs, oil and milk in the middle of the well, and fold the mixture together with a large metal spoon, using as few strokes as possible. Don’t worry if the mixture is lumpy, the trick behind the lightest muffins is not to overwork the batter.

3 Fill the paper cases with the mixture, then bake for 25-30 minutes or until the muffins are well risen and golden.