Sunday 31 December 2023

December 2023

The month started off with a sprinkling of snow, in fact, it was more than a sprinkling. It wasn't forecast at all for our area but they got that wrong. We got into the Christmas spirit at the very start of the month by putting up our tree on the 1st.

Daniel and Jasmine spent Christmas with her family in Colorado this year so we decided to bring Christmas forward and spent a lovely 'Christmas Day' with them on the 9th before they jetted off on the 13th. We exchanged presents and had a full Christmas dinner and I have to say, it did actually feel like Christmas.

The following day was very wet, I don't think the rain let up all day but having spent the full day before indoors, we really wanted to get out. Ripley Castle was holding its Christmas market so we decided to have a drive out. Archie wasn't very pleased, he'd been having a snooze on the sofa before being rudely woken up and dragged out into the rain. We didn't stay long but it was nice to get out of the house.

I've read five books this month.

The Last Devil to Die by Richard Osman.

"An old friend in the antiques business has been killed, and a dangerous package he was protecting has gone missing.

As the gang spring into action, they encounter art forgers, online fraudsters and drug dealers, as well as heartache close to home.

With the body count rising, the package still missing and trouble firmly on their tail, has their luck finally run out?

And who will be the last devil to die?"

This is the fourth book by Richard Osman and by now we expect to be fully entertained, and entertained we were, or at least I was. I loved this book, not the hardest plot to unravel but I find that Richard Osman's writing just gets better and better. This book gives him scope to jump from what he's used to into other, more emotional subjects and I think these parts are written in a sensitive and understanding manner. One of my favourite reads of the year.

The French Chateau Dream by Julie Caplin.

"You are invited to a summer of sparkling champagne, warm buttery croissants and a little bit of je ne sais quoi...

With a broken heart and a broken spirit, Hattie is in need of a summer escape. So when an opportunity comes up to work at a beautiful, stately chateau in the Champagne region of France she books her flights quicker than the pop of a cork.

Romance is the last thing Hattie is looking for but then she wasn't expecting gorgeous Luc to stroll into her life. With picnics in the warm French sun and delicious trips to the local market, Hattie starts to wonder if a holiday fling - or maybe even something more - might be just what she needs."

I've read every one of Julie Caplin's Romantic Escapes books and enjoyed them all. Yes, it's the usual boy meets girl romance, but each book takes you on a trip somewhere different. I wouldn't say I have wanderlust but this author should be working for the tourism industry as she has me wanting to visit every country I read about. Another thumbs up.

Christmas with the Railway Girls by Maisie Thomas.

"Manchester 1941.

Christmas is the season for family and friends, and this year the railway girls will need each other more than ever.

Cordelia appears to have the perfect life. When her daughter Emily arrives home unexpectedly, she can't wait to introduce her to her friends. But when things don't go to plan, Cordelia must decide where her loyalty lies.

Things aren't going too smoothly for Alison either, Her beloved boyfriend has yet to propose, but there's a charity fundraiser dance and she's dressed up specially. Surely, tonight must be the night.

Colette's friends are envious of her devoted husband; he meets her after every shift on the railway, and accompanies her around town. But Colette has a secret that could change her life - if only she knew who to confide in.

With the festive season fast approaching, the railway girls are hoping for some Christmas magic..."

Back to some Christmas reading now and this is the third book which my pen pal, Pauline, bought me last Christmas. I suspected from the title that this book is one from a series and after a little investigation, discovered that this is indeed the case.

Many books which are part of a series can be read as stand alone stories and this is the case here, however, I do think you'd probably get more out of it if you'd read the preceding books first as many references are made to events which have already happened in earlier books and they're not fully explained. I also had a bit of a job following who was who at first whereas you'd have got to know all the characters gradually from the first books. Having said that, I still thoroughly enjoyed the story and wouldn't hesitate in recommending this book if you enjoy fiction set in wartime.

Merrily Ever After by Cathy Bramley.

"Two Strangers. One big secret. And a Christmas to remember...

Merry has always wanted a family to spend Christmas with, and this year her dream comes true as she says 'I do' to father-of-two Cole. But as she juggles her rapidly-growing business, wedding planning and the two new children in her life, her dream begins to unravel.

Emily is desperately waiting for the New Year to begin, so she can finally have a fresh start. She has always put her family first, leaving little time for happiness and love. When her beloved father Ray moves into a residential home, she discovers a photograph in his belongings that has the potential to change everything.

As past secrets come to light, will this be a magical Christmas for Emily and Merry to remember?"

You may remember that I read The Merry Christmas Project in October, a book which my pen pal bought me last year. I enjoyed it so much that I bought the sequel, well this is it.

A year has passed and a Christmas wedding is on the cards, new characters are introduced and there's a dementia storyline running alongside the usual boy meets girl romance. I'm so pleased I bought this second book in the series as it was just as enjoyable. Another entertaining read. 

Celebrations For The Woolworths Girls by Elaine Everest.

"It's February 1952 and while the nation grieves the death of King George VI, life must go on for the Woolworths Girls.

At the Erith store there is a new temporary manager and Sarah is getting more than a little concerned by problems he seems to be creating. The whole mess is enough to make her want to resign.

Meanwhile, Ruby is extremely worried about her friend Vera and, with illness causing a problem from Vera's past to come flooding back, she knows it's going to take a lot of strength and willpower to do what needs to be done.

Then there is Freda, looking forward to the arrival of her first child, but sick with worry that her Tony won't have returned home in time for the birth, let alone to run the Erith store.

As coronation day for young Queen Elizabeth II approaches, the girls from Woolworths celebrate friendship, family and overcoming anything that life can throw at them..."

The latest offering in the Woolworths Girls saga. I've read all the books in the series and they never disappoint. I am beginning to get a little confused about who is who though, after nine books we not only have the original characters but there's now their husbands and children, not to mention other unrelated characters who have been introduced along the way, and I'm not the best with names. It does keep me on my toes trying to follow who's who. Another enjoyable read though, I like the storylines which this author comes up with and I'm looking forward to reading more.

Haworth was hosting its Christmas celebrations in the run up to the big day. Unfortunately, the torchlight procession on the 9th of December was cancelled due to high winds and rain, though I believe it went ahead on the 10th. On the 16th we had a drive out for their Christmas Music Weekend. We saw a traditional brass band playing carols and a ukulele band too. Inside the church was the most beautiful organ music, very atmospheric. It was a nice day out.

I'm not a huge film watcher so there's lots of Christmas films which I've never seen. I decided I'd make the effort to watch some of them this year so during December Mick and I have watched quite a few, by my standards anyway. We've watched The Snowman, The Snowman and the Snowdog, The Polar Express, Elf, Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Genie, Arthur Christmas, Deck the Halls, Scrooged and of course, no Christmas film viewing would be complete without National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Some of these films I've seen before and some I haven't. Some I thought were considerably better than others and some which were firm favourites already and some which I'll never bother watching again!

Christmas Day was lovely. Eleanor and Jacob joined us around midday as Jacob had been working a night shift on Christmas Eve so he caught up on a couple of hours sleep first. It was much quieter than usual with it being just the four of us but Daniel and Jasmine video called us in the afternoon, they're seven hours behind us in Colorado so they'd just got up. They were having a nice time with Jasmine's family. We may have been two men down but we still enjoyed our Christmas dinner, cooked mostly by Mick with just a little help from me (doesn't it always taste better when you don't cook it yourself) and enjoyed some games. We picked up a couple of new games when Tesco were having their toy sale, each of these cost just £5 and they've been a big hit.

We'd planned to have a drive to the coast on Boxing Day but I wasn't feeling my best so that didn't happen. I didn't want to stay cooped up in the house so we took ourselves off for a walk down the lane. We'd had some terrible storms and were due more but it stayed dry and still while we were out. I'm glad I got out when I did as I've been a bit under the weather ever since with a hacking cough which is so bad that it's making me sick. I've been testing for Covid but each test has shown negative, thank goodness.

Daniel and Jasmine arrived home on Friday evening, worn out after a long haul flight and then having to hang around at Heathrow for a connecting flight to Manchester. Mick drove over to pick them up so they didn't have to worry about getting home from there. We had a lovely time yesterday hearing all about their trip and catching up on each other's news and we're expecting everyone round again later today for the New Year's celebrations. I'm sure there'll be drinking and games involved, though I think the strongest drink I can manage at the moment is a cup of tea!

That just leaves me to thank you all for visiting my blog and for all the wonderful comments so many of you leave throughout the year. Every one of them is very much appreciated. Wishing you all a happy, healthy and prosperous 2024.

Thursday 28 December 2023

Books Read In 2023

I've read fifty three books this year, not as many as some years but a few more than last year. I think I'm at a number which suits me though, it's averaged out at a smidgen over one book a week and this leaves me plenty of time for doing lots of other things which I enjoy too. Some of the books I've read have been quite short ones but then I've read some whoppers this year too, like Les Miserables and David Copperfield.

I'm still enjoying reading some classics, and some of them children's books which I missed out on when I was a child myself. I continue to thoroughly enjoy Charles Dickens but there's been some duds too, such as The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

I finished reading the Thrush Green series by Miss Read which I embarked on after finishing the Fairacre series. They're books I'd definitely recommend, such gentle village life tales of yesteryear.

I've managed to catch up with all the latest releases from my favourite authors by using my local library. I even remembered to keep checking well in advance of Richard Osman's new book being released so that I wasn't number one hundred and whatever in the queue, as I was when I reserved his first one. I was only number twelve when I requested the new one.

My Name is Eva - Suzanne Goldring

Battles at Thrush Green - Miss Read

Animal Farm - George Orwell

The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne

Return to Thrush Green - Miss Read

A Man Called Ove - Fredrik Backman

The Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling

Gossip From Thrush Green - Miss Read

The Woolworths Girl's Promise - Elaine Everest

The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde

Mrs England - Stacey Halls

Affairs at Thrust Green - Miss Read

Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens

At Home in Thrush Green - Miss Read

Picking up the Pieces - Amanda Prowse

Finding Happiness at Penvennan Cove - Linn B Halton

The School at Thrush Green - Miss Read

Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

The Road Trip - Beth O'Leary

Friends at Thrush Green - Miss Read

Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson

The Ebb-Tide - Robert Louis Stevenson

David Copperfield - Charles Dickens

The Testimony of Alys Twist - Suzannah Dunn

Celebrations at Thrush Green - Miss Read

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne Bronte

The Year at Thrush Green - Miss Read

Someone Else's Shoes - Jojo Moyes

Three Sisters - Heather Morris

How to Kill Your Family - Bella Mackie

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

Christmas at Thrush Green - Miss Read

Lessons in Chemistry - Bonnie Garmus

From a Far and Lovely Country - Alexander McCall Smith

A Merry Little Christmas - Julia Williams

Strictly Christmas Spirit - Helen Buckley

The Merry Christmas Project - Cathy Bramley

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson

The Bottle Imp - Robert Louis Stevenson

The Nightingale Daughters - Donna Douglas

The Magician's Nephew - C.S.Lewis

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S.Lewis

The Horse and his Boy - C.S.Lewis

Prince Caspian - C.S.Lewis

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - C.S.Lewis

The Silver Chair - C.S.Lewis

The Last Battle - C.S.Lewis

All Good Things - Amanda Prowse

The Last Devil to Die - Richard Osman

The French Chateau Dream - Julie Caplin

Christmas with the Railway Girls - Maisie Thomas

Merrily Every After - Cathy Bramley

Celebrations for the Woolworths Girls - Elaine Everest

Favourites from this year include Les Miserables, David Copperfield, The Last Devil to Die and Lessons in Chemistry. A mixed bunch but I think reading a wide range of genres keeps things interesting.

Going forward into 2024 I plan on doing much the same, reading a few classics and picking up anything new from my favourite authors. Now that I've finished reading the Miss Read books I plan on embarking on a new series, The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley. I've never read anything by this author before but I've heard great reviews so I asked for the first book in the series for Christmas. I've also heard good things about the Ruth Galloway mysteries by Elly Griffiths so I picked up the first one in this series when I saw it in TK Maxx. It's exciting to be starting something new.

Saturday 23 December 2023

Merry Christmas 2023

It's going to be a quiet Christmas for us this year. Daniel and Jasmine are in Colorado visiting her family so it will just be Eleanor and Jacob joining us for Christmas dinner. Jacob's on a night shift on Christmas Eve so they won't be arriving until a little later in the day and Eleanor's working Boxing Day so they won't be wanting a late night. 

Mick's off work though now until the new year so I'm looking forward to enjoying the days ahead.

Wishing you all a happy and peaceful Christmas. I hope it's everything you wish for.

Tuesday 12 December 2023

The Christmas Experience

We visit various events at Lotherton throughout the year but one thing we never miss is The Christmas Experience when all areas of the house and estate are decorated for the festive season.

There's certain things which are there every year but they do try and change it up a bit so that each time you visit is that bit different.

As you can see from the map, there's lots of things to do and see. It's especially magical for children as they're able to visit Santa or decorate gingerbread people with Mrs Claus in the Hall.

We didn't go inside the house on this occasion as we had Archie with us but you can see a little of what it's like in my Christmas At Lotherton post from last year. Instead, we opted to take the Festive Woodland Walk and wander through the formal gardens.

It was a cold but bright wintry day when we visited last week and Archie definitely needed his coat.

As you walk around the grounds you discover various installations which have a little information about how they play a part in the Christmas celebrations. Most of them are interactive which is great for little ones.

I must admit that it's not only children who enjoy having a go at things though, some of the installations can cause much hilarity in those of us who are young at heart too.

The Reindeer Race is a favourite.

You have to turn a wheel to make your reindeer move and the quickest one wins the race. One of us is very competitive and it's not me!

Turn the wheel and the carolers will sing We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

A gingerbread house in the woods. Perhaps the witch from Hansel and Gretel lives here.

We had lots of laughs as we stood in front of these Christmas presents, a hall of mirrors.

We came to the Lotherton advent calendar.

Archie had his obligatory annual photo and looked just about as impressed as he has done in previous years.

The fun continues into the formal gardens where you'll find this Christmas cracker. If you pull the ends you'll hear a joke.

The pond was frozen solid but it had been decorated. I bet it looks amazing in the dark. I should just say here that you are able to visit after dark and from what I've seen, the house and grounds look fabulous all lit up. We've always visited the Christmas event during daylight hours but perhaps we'll make the effort to see it after dusk next year.

The Fairy Dell is always a favourite. As you walk through you can hear the fairies whispering and giggling.

The little houses have so much detail. You can see more in The Fairy Dell post which I wrote a couple of years ago.

We walked past the house which is suitably decorated.

I'm sure it all looks different again when the lights are illuminated at night.

Before we left I popped into the Elf Village to have a quick look around. Dogs aren't allowed here so Mick had to wait outside with Archie and we daren't disobey the rules as this guardsman was keeping watch (one of the twelve drummers drumming).

You can get refreshments in the Elf Village or do a little shopping for baubles and decorations. Little ones are able to make reindeer food to sprinkle outdoors on Christmas Eve.

Another enjoyable time at The Christmas Experience. It was very quiet when we were there but I should imagine it's much busier after school and on weekends. A great place to go with little ones.