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Happy New Year


Welcome to 2015 from the molluscs and me

2014 was quite year!

Fireworks Show

Looking back to last January I can see I spent a lot of time reading and reviewing books in the short days and long evenings of winter. My memory is so bad these days I'd forgotten that Bugsy and Splash the guinea pigs joined the menagerie back in January too. Splash was very old and cranky so we weren't surprised when he left us to join the great guinea pig heaven in October. I wondered if Bugsy would pine but he seems to be enjoying not having to share his breakfast with someone else. Nevertheless I think we will be looking for a companion for him soon. In February I posted my first blog about Mollusc World, the wonderful magazine of the Conchological Society and I'm sure I will be telling you more on that subject. Moving Slow Summer Snail Farm from Brogdale to Littlebourne Allotments was a major event that took months of hard work but it all started in February... much earlier than I thought. Who would have thought that the floods happened in February? I'm so glad I took some pictures otherwise I would have forgotten what it looked like.

March began with some thoughts about why snails feature on the menu during Lent. I've recently been given some new insights into why snails fell out of favour in England after centuries of popularity. The new information came from a blogger called Miss Foodwise, who is very knowledgeable on the history of cooking in Britain.  She suggested that the Reformation was the key to the change because after that it became dangerous to engage in any activity that might be associated with Catholicism. So the ‘wallfish’ was left to flourish and become a garden pest instead of remaining the cheap nutritious source of protein it still is in many parts of the world.

Well that was the first three months of 2014 - lots more to come!



Our best book group books of 2013

Joining a book group about then years ago was a really good way to get me back into reading fiction. I'd got so much into the habit of reading textbooks that I'd forgotten the delights of good story telling. It's a small group and we meet in each other's houses once a month, taking it in turns to choose the book.

Last January we were reading Peter May's The Blackhouse, the first of his Lewis trilogy and we were so engaged by the atmosphere of the Hebridean location and the intriguing characters that we went on to the read the other two just to find out what happened next. I then made the mistake of trying out the first of the China thrillers - The Firemaker which I really didn't enjoy. I found the characters irritating and the style a bit 'instructional' - I was conscious of being taught about life in China and given a stereotypical view of the Chinese. The insights didn't flow comfortably from the story in the best 'show don't tell' manner. So I don't think I'll try any more of those. However, the Lewis trilogy I would recommend.

I went to two book launches in January too. Alex Brown held her launch for Cupcakes at Carringtons in a rather posh members club in London, with red velvet cupcakes to suit the story - so it was wortth going just for that experience. It's a good book to take on holiday and read on the beach. The second book launch of the year was for Elizabeth Haynes' Human Remains which is her best book yet in my view. The story rests on the discovery of a pattern in unexplained deaths - people found long after they had died but with no evidence of foul play. It draws on Elizabeth's experience of working as a police intelligence analyst and it is well worth reading. Her fourth book Under a Silent Moon is next on my list for 2014. It sounds really good - a 'police procedural' with a woman DI. The Kindle edition is out already and it looks like the paperback will be launched early in 2014. There are some books I have to have in paperback and this will be one of them so I can look back at all the procedural documents and try to solve the crime.

In March we read Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey which was a big chunky book with lots of historical research behind it. It gave us insight into what it was like for both owners and workers when the mines were privately owned. It told the story of a big house Wentworth in Yorkshire, the Fitzwilliam Family who lived in it and the miners who worked for them and the other owners of the 70 local coal mines. It covers fifty years of history when relationships between different stratas of society changed dramatically so it's full of all the elements of a good story and we all thoroughly it. When I was browsing in Waterstones yesterday I noticed she had a new book out in 2013 The Secret Rooms, and I'm definitely going to get it in 2014... definitely in paperback because of all the details I will need to refer back to.

That's a few of the best reads last year - there are so many good books around I look forward to reading more. Happy New Year!