Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn leaves a lasting impression

Wow, this is a book. A really good book with a unique story. One that makes you want to read the end to find out what’s happening when you’re only a few chapters in, because you can’t believe what’s unfolding. Fend off all thoughts of doing any internet searches, because spoilers are called that for a reason!

Gone Girl, published in 2012, is a beautifully written, engrossing, eye-popping account of a married couple who have lost touch with each other. Definitely aimed at the 25-40 year old market (I think), it’s the story of Amy, whose parents wrote a series of children’s books about her when she was small, called Amazing Amy. Amy still thinks she’s pretty darn amazing, even if the books are dated, and that sense of importance has carried her along in life … the constant need to be number one.

When she finds out she and Nick are just going though the motions, she turns … ahhh … ummm … well … mental. She’s a conniving, deceitful train-wreck of a human being, but as the author Gillian Flynn said, in regards to Nick she’s no longer trying to win any popularity contests. She wants revenge.

Every year on their anniversary, Amy puts together a cryptic treasure hunt for Nick highlighting the things that have happened to them during the year. Nick always feels like it’s a test, because he doesn’t remember (or dwell on) every detail the way Amy does. On their fifth anniversary, she goes missing, and it doesn’t look good for Nick. There has been animosity and tension between them, but most importantly, there have been many lies.

Neither party is innocent, but Amy’s way of making her husband notice her again is very off-kilter. Unnerving. She’s one of the most memorable and disliked heroines in a book (and now a film with Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck) of all time!

I totally recommend this story – the way it’s written is genius. The book is almost divided into parts. The bombshell in the middle creates a whole new world of pain for Nick. Who will believe him? Not many? Who believes Amy’s diary? Everyone it seems, except Nick. And what about the ending? For me, it’s perfect.

Now I really want to watch the movie! And to read more of Gillian Flynn’s books.

Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker

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Bruno, Chief of Police – everyone wants him around

Earlier this year, we watched a television program about the Dordogne region in France. A few days later I walked into a secondhand bookstore in Bern, and, for some reason, the spine of this book caught my attention. I was completely shocked to read the word Dordogne on the front cover, so I bought it, thinking it must be a sign.

Bruno, Chief of Police by former journalist Martin Walker, from 2008, is the first in the Bruno series, which currently stands at nine. Definitely in the same vein as Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano books, Benoît Courrèges, or Bruno, is the suave but unpretentious 40-something policeman in rural St Denis, where everyone knows everyone (and their business).

As a former soldier, he prefers his new quiet life, cooking with local produce (there are many references to the delights from the Perigord region), pottering in his renovated cottage with his dog and making wine from his small vineyard. The scene is set for something ‘not quite right’ happening in this sleepy town.

When the father of the local school teacher (and grandfather of the local rugby hero) is murdered in his own home, the big guns from Paris are sent to help investigate. Bruno’s first murder case isn’t all that it seems. The twist in the storyline took me by surprise – is everyone really who they say they are?

Bruno, Chief of Police had all the right ingredients for an enjoyable holiday read (I was lying under a beach umbrella in Taormina, Sicily) – a little bit of mystery, intrigue, romance, village politics, historical references and culinary teasers. It’s very well researched and tells a part of French history I had no idea about.

Overall, I really enjoyed the various characters who contributed to this being a memorable book with a very satisfactory ending. Sometimes secrets are best kept so.

May 26: A nothing kind of day!

Well, rain and more rain. It seems the more rain that falls, the less motivation I have!

I finished The Goldfinch today (thank goodness! My review is here) and watched some French Open Tennis. I hardly stepped out of the house all day … and ate a lot … not good.

But tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya … it’s going to be sunny apparently. A rip roaring 18 degrees (I’m currently wearing my winter slippers), woo hoo! It better be a long, hot summer when it finally comes around … brrr … or should that be grrr.

Wishing you a wonderful day.

Here’s a photo of a Fire Salamander I saw near the garage in June last year. I wonder if he (or any of his family) will be back in a few weeks’ time.

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A friendly Fire Salamander

Firmin by Sam Savage

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One educated rat’s musings on the harsh realities of life

Oh, wow, I loved this! A last-minute selection at the library could now possibly be one of my favourite books.

There are so many clever literary references and beautifully written thought processes in this short but weighty novel from 2006. The author, Sam Savage, has done a brilliant job relaying the angst felt by a ‘lowlife’ rat in his quest to be accepted and understood. We’ve all been through something like that at some stage, right?

Firmin, the runt, is born to a mother of dubious social standing and battles his 12 brutish siblings before going it alone. Staying in the book store where he was born has considerable benefits, because Firmin can read. He devours the shop’s contents (initially literally, then figuratively) to be a well-read rat of note, and would dearly love to have an educated conversation with the shop’s owner, Norman, or a one-on-one encounter with an actress from the nearby movie theatre, where he goes on his nightly food run. But without the ability to speak, write, type or even do sign language, he relies on his imagination.

I don’t want to write too much, because this was such a lovely surprise for me, that I’d love for it to be a surprise for you too. It might make you look at a rat differently on your next encounter. I want to say “I guarantee it will make you …” but some people could never be swayed in their hatred for vermin!

Poor Firmin!

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo

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Marie Kondo gets to the heart of decluttering

“Effective tidying involves only two essential actions: discarding and deciding where to store things.”

There are hundreds of decluttering and organising books on the market, guiding you on your chosen journey to ‘get rid of stuff’. I’ve read many of them over the past four years, after a “my stuff owns me” revelation in early 2011. Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying (or The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, depending on the version) is possibly one of the most extremely simple, because she gets down to the nitty gritty by asking one brilliant question.

“Does it spark joy?”

When you hold something in your hand, and really feel it, does it make your heart sing, or do you feel indifferent, or, at the other end of the scale, repulsed? We think we might have indifferent reactions to, say, kitchen utensils, but if you hold your whisk and think, “That makes lovely scrambled eggs for breakfast on Sunday mornings” then the association is a good one, and therefore the item stays. If you hold a book in your hand and think “I disliked the main character immensely”, then, obviously, it’s a goner.

I read this book quite quickly, because Kondo has a very relaxed style, with the occasional anecdote and story from a client. She is a Japanese tidying expert, and has been decuttering, cleaning and organising things since she was a small child. It was her calling, so to speak. Once she’d finished with her room, she did her siblings’, and then her parents’, with mixed results! So she strongly suggests sticking with your own personal things at the beginning of your what-will-soon-be mania. Organising is divided into clothes, books, papers (sorting through papers! Argh!), miscellaneous items and lastly, sentimental items and keepsakes and should be done in this order.

As mentioned before, we live in a small house, which I love, because it limits what we can bring in. We have a wardrobe, set of three large drawers and two smaller chests of drawers each. Before reading this book, I was an advocate of Project333, where you have about 33 pieces of clothing in your cupboard for each season. I hadn’t quite got around to whittling my wardrobe down, because I pretty much had 33 items of clothing for EACH season, and stored the out-of-season clothes in the three large drawers and hung the in-season things, including t-shirts etc, in the cupboard. Then I only needed to look into the cupboard to decide what to wear. Surprisingly, I miss this a little bit – knowing everything you’d decided was right for the season is right there in front of you. I hung t-shirts and singlets and shirts and skirts and shorts and jeans in the cupboard. No guess work really.

Now, everything that needs to be hung is hung, so summer and winter skirts snuggle side by side. Seeing these summer skirts when it’s -4 outside does seem like a bit of a waste of space at the moment, but I’m making a commitment to the KonMari Method and know there will be an adjustment period! But one thing I am truly excited about is Kondo’s great way to fold clothes. When you read about it you slap your head in disbelief that you’d never thought of it before. For example, instead of putting all your t-shirts piled up on top of each other in a drawer, so the bottom ones rarely see the light of day, fold them all on their side, from the front of the drawer to the back, so you can “flick” through them easily and see them all in one go. This little change means I’m now wearing things I’d forgotten about.

Kondo could be classified as a little bit odd, but by goodness, she is passionate. And you cannot hold that kind of harmless passion against anyone. She loves it. She’s made a business of it. She’s written a million-copy bestseller about it. She’s into it! And I like that about her. She has many sweet ways to help you let things go and most of the time her logic is sound (note that I use “most of the time” … if you read it, I think you’ll know what I mean).

But her undeniably intelligent strategy is this – once you have only the things that spark joy, and you’re found the right place where they should live, you will never have to tidy or declutter again; the day-to-day house stuff solves itself. When you love what you see around you, the promise is almost there that it will be a life filled with much more joy. And therein lies her perfect pitch. After a recent clean-out, I still have the last three sections to attack (Papers! Argh!) and in a strange way, despite my joking protestations, I’m actually quite looking forward to it.

February 8: The good, the bad and the joyous

Just a short post today – it’s late and I’m ready for bed!

We had a lovely brunch at Sandra and Tom’s house this morning, and I enjoyed pouring over their new house plans. They begin building in April/May. For a while in my mid-teens, I entertained the idea of being an architect, until a cousin’s husband (who is an architect) asked me how much I enjoyed physics, with regards to acoustics and so on. There ended my architectural dreams. The science forces were not strong in this one.

Back home, we hunkered down on the couches to watch the second-last show in our 26-episode set of “Inspector Montalbano” (I’m going to be so sad when it’s finished – we’ll probably have to go back to the beginning and start again, as a weekend won’t be the same without him!) and then ruined the satisfied mood by watching Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “comeback” movie, “The Last Stand”. In an unsuccessful attempt to make it end faster, I did 20 minutes on the step machine with the baked bean tins. My arms feel good, but are still pretty flabby.

So that was Sunday, February 8. This week, it’s time to get stuck back into studying the nutrition course I’ve been neglecting – there’s a lot of catching up to do. I’d like to find two more workouts to add to my morning routine, and read more! Also I’ll write a review of Marie Kondo’s book, which now makes me look at everything and ask “Does it spark joy?” This little beanie, which was on a fruit juice bottle a few weeks ago, now lives on my computer, and every time I look at it I smile. It definitely sparks joy, and may need a friend or two. The beauty of minimalism – isn’t it all in the eye of the eggholder? *groan*

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Seeing this little chap every day really gives me a boost

What’s sparking joy for you at the moment?

Wishing you a wonderful day.

Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

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The original book was a best-seller

Once you get your head around the writing style – mainly the old-fashioned language – this book is fantastic. I pretty much read it in an afternoon, it was so engrossing … and very unsettling.

Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup was published in 1853 and documents Northup’s kidnapping and enslavement. After stating he was a free man from New York, he was beaten so badly by his captors he decided it was better to preserve his life and bide his time. He was sold and passed around between an unfortunate mix of decent and horrific owners (guess which way the balance fell), tried to escape, fought in self-defence, helped others, built things, picked cotton, played his violin at gentrified parties … it’s a life of one thousand men. What he goes through, and how he manages to be free, make for mesmerising reading.

No wonder it was turned into a movie (which I haven’t seen). I’ll be looking out for it now though.

Have you ever been so engrossed in a book, you turn into a zombie? Here are photos Leo took to prove it.

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Can’t talk, or even look …

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When it got a bit cold, I just rugged up more. No way was I moving!

I wanted to read it fast because not only was it just one of those stories, but I also didn’t want that stop-start reading experience I had with Alice Monro.

Do you think you enjoy a book more when you read it in one or two sittings, rather than a page or two each night? I really like getting my teeth into a book and believe this intensive reading experience plays a major role in how much you enjoy a story.

I’d definitely recommend this book … to be in awe of one man’s fight against injustice.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

What a load of bollocks!

What a load of bollocks!

The first half of this book was okay, an interesting theme with some interesting, albeit unlikeable, characters.

The second half was a travesty. I got to page 395 (of 482) before a shouted “THIS IS B**LSH*T” to the empty room. Waiting so long to say that, and keeping it so clean, showed some serious restraint.

I read to the end, but wow, what a major disappointment. The book was terrible. Illogical. Implausible. Sick. And it ended so abruptly it was as if the author wanted to be rid of the book as much as I did.

Such a letdown, as I had really enjoyed The Time Traveler’s Wife all those years ago.

Sigh. Onwards and upwards.

This book shouldn’t be categorised in the Mentally Fit section, because it has contributed to me being mentally UNfit, but it’s a book I’ve read in 2015 and therefore has to be categorised somewhere.

Next!

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Reese Witherspoon will play Cheryl Strayed in the upcoming movie for Wild

Reese Witherspoon will play Cheryl Strayed in the upcoming movie for Wild

If you don’t know me so well, you may not know I’m an avid walker. I’ve done a lot of day walks in Switzerland plus I’ve walked Der Weg der Schweiz (2014), Hadrians Wall in England (2014), from Bingen to Koblenz on the Rhine in Germany (2013), the middle section of the Swiss Camino (2012) and it all started back in 2011 when I walked 900km on The Camino Frances in Spain. I met my partner on that walk too!

So when I heard a new movie was being made about a woman who went on a three-month walk in America, it was time to find the non-fiction book.

It’s my first book for 2015, and it made me want to sling on my backpack and go walking again.

Cheryl does it pretty hard though – she’s packed the kitchen sink, has massive problems with her feet (oh I can relate!) and sleeps in a tent most nights (whereas I had the luxury of sleeping in a bed every night – not always a great one, but at least a bed). She meets some fun people, soaks up the views, and generally has a great time despite her minimal budget and some hairy situations.

Highly recommended for an easy, inspirational read.

It will be interesting to see Reese Witherspoon play Cheryl in the upcoming movie.