2016

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2016.

It’s been a funny old year. Politics and dying celebrities aside, I’d mark it down as ‘pretty good’ personally.

2016 has seen me learn new things, try new hobbies and reignite old interests. And I’ve kept some up, too, even when I wasn’t sure there was a lot of point. It’s seen me give lectures at universities, and overcome impostor syndrome.

I’ve made new friendships, cemented existing ones, and attempted to work out priorities. Mostly, if I’m honest, that’s involved nights in on the sofa, rather than nights out on the town. Some of the most enjoyable days this year have been spent exploring new places with old friends, and old places with new ones.

I’ve travelled – mostly for work, but also for pleasure. I spent most of this year on the road, and rapidly came to the conclusion that it wasn’t the right fit for me. I’ve learnt that I need routine, and to feel stretched. I found a new job which has given me chances for both, and where I feel considerably more at home. I’ve holidayed abroad twice, to Malta and to Germany, and felt particularly lucky that one of my trips was visiting two of my oldest friends. I’ve spectacularly failed to edit the photos or write up posts about either. At some point I’ll get round to writing up my “interesting doorways of Malta” post.

Speaking of which, there’s been quite a few half-written or mentally drafted blog posts this year. I’ve never been great at blogging regularly, particularly when life is busy. Maybe that should be my resolution for next year. But if you’ve dipped in, or popped by to say hello, then thanks. And a happy new year to you.

October and November in Books

“Please, no matter how we advance technologically, please don’t abandon the book. There is nothing in our material world more beautiful than the book.” – Patti Smith

In October I read a grand total of one book. Actually that’s not technically true – I started half a dozen but I only finished one. I had a reading blip, one of those months where I couldn’t quite get my head into anything. And so, I turned to Harry Potter. It’s a comfort thing – for me anyway – and seems so delightfully autumnal. It’s fairly safe to say that it broke my drought, and I was back on form in November…

J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secretsscreen-shot-2016-12-06-at-20-00-07

The second in our wizarding series, HPATCOS is possibly my least favourite, largely because the action all happens in the second half. However, there are some excellent sub plots, missed out from the films to cut down on time. I’d completely forgotten about several and loved revisiting them (death day party, anyone?). One of the joys of the HP series for me is how many characters are quietly brought in, particularly those who become more significant later (a feat of plotting many authors don’t seem to manage) and I love the subtleties of Ginny’s personality and the introduction of Dobby.

Rainbow Rowell, Landlinescreen-shot-2016-12-06-at-20-00-51

I think it was Janet who recommended Landline as a book to break my can’t-be-bothered spell, and it certainly did the trick. Entertaining, and easy enough to read in short bursts on my commute, the plot (LA TV writer is unpleasant to husband, thinks he will leave her, finds a phone which calls 1990s him and tries to fix things) frustrated me. I found myself rolling my eyes too frequently at our heroine, Georgie, and how incredibly selfish and irritating she was. It’s hard to be bothered about a romance when you’re not rooting for the lead…

Caitlin Doughty, Smoke Gets In Your Eyesscreen-shot-2016-12-06-at-20-01-42

I’ve been meaning to pick this up for ages and finally got around to it – reading it on a train journey while sitting next to someone studying a midwifery textbook gave me huge joy – and not just because I have a dark sense of humour. Doughty’s sort-of biography runs through her early years training to be an undertaker, starting off with the work of a mortician. Funny, brutal and at times very touching (she has a genuine love of her work) I really enjoyed the cultural history she inserts along the way. A surprisingly enjoyable read.

Katherine Woodfine, The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrowscreen-shot-2016-12-06-at-20-02-35

Next up, this Young Adult historical crime caper. Penniless Sophie blags herself a job in the haberdashery section of a large and newly opened department store (think Selfridges, circa 1905…) and rapidly finds herself accused of the theft of a priceless gold statue. Handily she has a couple of new pals to help her solve the crime and clear her name. Easy reading, but rather stereotyped (the poor male sidekick, the rich girl looked down on her parents), it was entertaining but I won’t rush back to read the next.

J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkabanscreen-shot-2016-12-06-at-20-03-32

The third Harry Potter instalment, and a close contender for my favourite. The Prisoner of Azkaban is where things start getting really quite dark for our teenage wizard, and the tone of the novel steers decidedly away from the children’s book writing of the previous two. I suspect this is why I like it, Rowling begins to introduce her overarching themes of injustice and darkness earlier, almost from the start and the threads from HPATPOA weave through the remaining novels. This is one which definitely weathers frequent rereading.

Hester Browne, The Honeymoon Hotelscreen-shot-2016-12-06-at-20-04-35

Every now and then you need a bit of fluff in your life. This is it. The tale of the Bonneville Hotel’s events manager Rosie and her rivalry with Joe, the controversial son of the hotel’s owner is moderately entertaining, although the only accurate depiction of working in hospitality is the talk of the ludicrous hours and low wages. I’ve read a couple of Browne’s earlier novels and found them rather fun and not too daft (compared to many others…) so perhaps this one was a dud.

Sophie Hannah, Closed Casketscreen-shot-2016-12-06-at-20-05-13

I wasn’t convinced by Hannah’s first foray into the world of Poirot… and I wasn’t convinced by her second either. Poirot is invited to Ireland for this installment, where a famous author is convinced she will be killed. She isn’t. Someone else is. While the mystery itself was passable, Hannah’s narrative style was frustrating – sticking to cliche rather than Agatha Christie’s slow and gentle unfolding of the mystery. None of the charm or personality of Poirot was there, none of his quirks. Such a shame.