Christmas Fun: The Weird and the Wonderful

Given that my Friday Fun posts are usually the most popular ones, I thought I would add one extra one this year for Christmas. Nothing to do with Christmas decorations (you’ll have had more than your fill of that on TV and in magazines and shops). Instead, I present: the most exotic houses I was able to find! Can you imagine living in a house like this?

The merging with the landscape house, from Pinterest.
The Shell House in Japan, from ignant.com
A dome house in Florida, from monolithic.org
The curvy shiny house, from decorsalteo.com
Another glassfronted luxury mansion, with the fireplace outside. From Maison Jac Collection.
Spiral hole in the ground house from Vietnam designed by Vo Trong Nghia, from dezeen.com
Fincube, a nomadic house that you can collapse and take with you elsewhere, from Sutdio Aisslinger.
The noise must be somewhat deafening in this waterfall house, from fx.worth1000.com
Cosy as a hobbit house, this Swiss cottage in Vals, From Pinterest.

Friday Fun: Christmassy Homes

Christmas and I are in a bit of a love-hate relationship. I used to get excited, of course, as a child, and I was lucky enough to live in Vienna, where the Advent period is an art form. But my parents were never big on flamboyant consumerism and hearty Ho-ho-hos, so I soon learnt to manage my expectations. Then, when I grew up and moved abroad, it became that time of year when all of my friends returned to their families and I was left alone with the dreary jingle-jangle of Christmas music on a loop blaring out of all shops. So I made the most of it when I started a family of my own, and learnt to love the season, as seen through my children’s joyous eyes. The past few years, however, it has been the season of cabin fever, constraints and complaints and this year will be the worst of the lot. [I tell myself that, if I expect the worst, it’s bound to surpass expectations and be … okay-ish.]

However, we can all love Christmas decorations, the smell of cinnamon and real fir, the crackle of log fires, the taste of mulled wine. It’s also the season when all kitsch is allowed and even honoured. Here are a few favourites, some more tasteful than others.

You can't beat the red and green colour scheme for seasonal cheer, from Blake-co.com
You can’t beat the red and green colour scheme for seasonal cheer, from Blake-co.com
Victorian nostalgia seems to predominate in most decorating magazines at this time of year, from Blake-co.com
Victorian nostalgia seems to predominate in most decorating magazines at this time of year, from Blake-co.com
Scandinavian-inspired interiors are always a winner, from Pinterest
Scandinavian-inspired interiors are always a winner, from Pinterest
The manor house in its more modern guise, from Country Living.
The manor house in its more modern guise, from Country Living.
Casually cool Scandinavian style again - perhaps too cool? From Interior Design Files.
Casually cool Scandinavian style again – perhaps too cool? From Interior Design Files.
Achingly modern, from Home Designing.
Achingly modern, from Home Designing.
An alternative fireplace, from freshome.com
An alternative fireplace, from freshome.com. But did a pheasant have to die for it?
I'll admit it - at this time of year, it's the cottagey rather than the minimalist style which appeals to me. From About Christmas.
I’ll admit it – at this time of year, it’s the cottagey rather than the minimalist style which appeals to me. From About Christmas.

Wherever you are, whatever you do, whomever you are with, and whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I wish you a very joyful and restful holiday season! Here’s to a far, far better 2017 for all of us!

 

 

Reading Plans for the Holidays

These will be the most unusual and uncomfortable Christmas holidays ever, as an estranged couple stuck in the same house non-stop for 2 weeks, making an effort to be civil for the sake of the children. I suspect I may spend quite a bit of it hidden away in a corner and reading, to avoid too much discussion and conflict, but there is the unavoidable ‘going through the rubbish in the loft’ moment, deciding on who gets what. (Luckily, there won’t be much crying over books, as they are 99% mine). 

So here is the reading that I am going to use to maintain my sanity through this tricky period. Not sure how much time there will be reviewing though.

Physical copies:

deepdowndeadSteph Broadribb: Deep Down Dead – have just started it and can confirm it really is as confident, sassy and American as others have reported!

Eva Dolan: Watch Her Disappear – fast becoming one of my favourite new authors

Marc Elsberg: Black Out – Austrian thriller writer I met in Lyon, this is his first book to be translated into English

Kate Hamer: The Doll Funeral – I was impressed by Kate’s writing skills in her debut novel and have high expectations of this second one – she does a child’s viewpoint so well!

guapaSaleem Haddad: Guapa – a strong new voice from the Arabic world, unafraid to tackle such contentious issues as revolution and repression, Arab Spring, homosexuality and drag queens

Kati Hiekkapelto: The Exiled – I’ve been waiting for a while now to catch up with Anna Fekete and her flawed but determined approach to policing

Luca Veste: Then She Was Gone – a missing baby and a missing politician – what on earth could they have in common? Liverpool and social issues, what’s not to like?

On the e-reader:

moxylandLauren Beukes: Moxyland – I was so blown away by Lauren Beukes’ writing that I’ve been saving her earlier books to savour but now it’s time I savoured her debut set in an alternative high-tech South Africa where apartheid is still alive and well (and evil)

William Nicholson: Adventures in Modern Marriage – irresistibly drawn to books depicting the difficulty of midlife relationships. As in ‘so much better to read fictional accounts of it rather than live through it.’

Viet Thanh Nguen: The Refugees – the dreams, aspirations, challenges and reality of immigration, the curse of living between cultures

Ian Rankin: Rather Be the Devil – the 21st Rebus novel (I know, I can’t quite believe it either!) – a reliable author I can always turn to when times are tough and I need distracting

OK, maybe I am over-optimistic about how much I can read, as I am also planning some trips to London with the boys, and we’ll also be celebrating my older son’s birthday. But that should keep me out of mischief…

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Merry Christmas and Good-Bye to 2015!

I will now go on a blog hiatus until the New Year, as I spend the next two weeks preparing wintry treats, wandering around Christmas markets, playing board games and watching old films, skating and skiing, hiking on snow-filled country lanes and coming home to a crackling fire to roast chestnuts… In my dreams!

More realistically: watching the children play video games, watching inane Christmas specials, slaving over food no one else wants to eat, trying to persuade kids to change out of their pyjamas… Whichever scenario comes true, time-consuming tasks one and all, so Part 2 of the Silenced Writers may have to wait until 2016.

‘There are years that ask questions and years that answer’ said Zora Neale Hurston. 2014 asked many profound questions of me, while 2015 was a year of waiting far too long for answers. So I won’t be sorry to see the end of it. Third time lucky, right?

A very merry Christmas to you all, a heartfelt thought to all of you who may not be feeling too cheerful at this time of year, and may 2016 bring you good health, much joy and lots of excellent (and extreme) reading!

ExtremeReading1

Jazz and Java

Frost1When rhythm kicks

when rhythm hits

I

feel the heat

wrap up in it

why

music fills all spaces in me

never claim to see          just wonder and be

but

no denying its power-grip

heart does a tock-salto-tick

it blends its dazzle into my soul

feel all the tension

feel all the edges

soften         making me whole.

The irresistible syncopation of the Claude Nougaro song ‘Le Jazz et la Java’ (see the link below) inspired this poem, which I am offering up with my best Christmas wishes to the last Open Link Night of the year. Let’s celebrate in style with dVerse Poets!

Who is Flavia de Luce?

As it happens, Flavia is my 7th continent for the Global Reading Challenge hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.  For those unfamiliar with the notion of the seventh continent, this could be crime fiction from or set in Antarctica.  However, since there is remarkably little literature being written there – I suppose all those scientists have got bigger equipment to fry monitor – it can also be defined as: the sea, space, the supernatural, history, the future – or whichever alternative setting you can come up with for this wildcard category.

In my case, following fashion would clearly be a novelty for me.  So I read something about vampires (that was my first contribution to the challenge). My second venture into the realm of trendiness was YA literature.  My children are still too young to read YA, so I haven’t been able to borrow their books yet.  In fact, I am not quite sure what YA is, because when I was 12-18 I was reading all the grown-up books when I wanted to be cool and all the children’s books when I needed comforting.

I still do.

FlaviacoverAnd sure enough, the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley strikes me as the kind of thing to appeal to grown-ups more than to eleven-year-olds, even such precocious 11-year-olds as Flavia.  This is comfort food at its best.  The book I read was ‘I am Half-Sick of Shadows’ and it’s a perfect escapist read.

Flavia is the youngest daughter of an aristocratic English family, who has fallen on hard times. They are struggling to make ends meet in their crumbling country house, but they still manage to have servants and a laboratory in the east wing.  This is where Flavia, a budding chemist, can recreate her uncle’s experiments.  She is planning something special this Christmas: to entrap Father Christmas with a birdlime resin mixture as he slides down the chimney.

In the meantime, her father is renting out their manor as a film location. Flavia is annoyed that Christmas preparations are suffering as a result of the invasion of the film crew, but her sisters are excited to meet the famous film star Phyllis Wyvern. When Phyllis agrees to stage a charity event at the hall, more than half the village turns up to watch despite forecasts of blizzard.  Everyone is snowed in for the night, and they soon make a shocking discovery: a body, strangled to death with a length of film.  As the local police bumble along in their investigation, it is up to perky little Flavia to uncover the real culprit.

As you can surmise, this book looks back nostalgically at the Golden Age of crime fiction: a typical country-house mystery with a small cast of characters.  What makes it different, of course, is the witty, prickly and mischievous narrator, Flavia herself.  She is an intriguing, beguiling creation – but, let’s be honest, no eleven year old would think, talk or behave like that.

So that’s why I think this book is aimed at an adult audience, who can appreciate all of the puns and cultural or scientific references. Adults who have a nostalgia for their childhood capers and who seem to remember they were far more precocious than they perhaps really were. I’ve reread a few of my ‘young adult’ diaries and there is very little trace of sophistication or wit there, I can assure you.  Luckily, there is in this book, so a good time will be had by all.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

We know how to relax...
We know how to relax…

Aren’t cats just the best at teaching us how to relax and take life as it comes? May you all have a Christmas that is at least half as restful and enjoyable as Pepina’s, shown here!  (Oh, and have you ever wondered why there seems to be such a prevalence of cat and dog lovers among writers?)

I may be missing in action over the next few weeks, as I am not sure how good my Internet connection will be, but I wish you all a great start to the New Year.   Fingers crossed, I will get the editing on my novel done!