Best Reads of 2018

GoodReads prompted me this morning with an email about my year in books. You can see the update on my GoodReads page here. I’m not sure that I’ll get through anymore books before the end of the year, but I’ve managed to read 52 this year (although a few of these where actually quite short, so I’m not sure it’s quite the same as reading 52 tomes!)

There have been a few highlights for me out of the 52 though. In the order they were read, they include:

Adventures of a Young Naturalist: The Zoo Quest Expeditions by David Attenborough – Although this is essentially a reprint of some earlier editions of this book, it was wonderful to step back in time with the author to when an expedition wasn’t accompanied by loads of technology, and the wildlife was less vulnerable and exploited than it is today. As someone who is credited with being one of the great natural historians of modern times, this was originally written long before he was as well known as he is today. I enjoyed it immensely and am really pleased that I have the next volume in the series on my bookshelf to read, probably early next year or over the festive period.

Under The Rock: The Poetry of a Place by Benjamin Myers – Very much a book of the landscape, nature and the human interface I read most of this in just over a day. It was over too soon, and I know it’s a book that I am likely to revisit again and again. It’s also shaped how I look at the world now, giving me a different lense through which I see things.

The Light in the Dark: A Winter Journal by Horatio Clare – I’ve read several of this authors books this year, all have been excellent but this is the pick of the crop for me.  It’s the authors story of a winter through mental difficulties but one which is as inspiring as it is troubling. It’s a wonderfully written, candid account and another book that I know I will read time and again.

I’m leaving my list here, because although I’ve read many fine books these are the standout three for me, I can only hope that I read as many splendid ones in 2019.

Fourth Quarter Review 2017

Each year for the past few years I’ve been doing a year end review; last year I split that across the year, doing one at the end of each quarter. This year I’m going to try and do the same as last and do a quarterly review – books I’ve read, films/TV programmes I’ve watched and other things related to life, work and the allotment. The 2017 Quarter One Review is here, Quarter Two is here and Quarter Three here if you’re interested.


Work – Quarter four hasn’t been any different to the rest of the year. In summary a lot of work (unpaid) being spent pursuing potential paid work – writing bids, discussing proposals with clients and potential clients. I hope that this improves a little a lot in 2018, and I’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking in terms of what that means for next year and beyond.


Allotment – A good end to the year. With all the family things that have been happening this year, I’ve still managed to find enough time to keep on top of what’s needed at the plot. I am conscious of the amount of time it takes though and so not sure how easy this is going to be next year.


Books – My highlights for this quarter are “Mawson’s Will” by Lennard Bickel [GoodReads] and “Vacationland” by John Hodgman [GoodReads]. Very different books from one another and stand out for different reasons. The former because I wasn’t aware of Douglas Mawson until I read the book  and the latter having the credit for making me chuckle.


Films & TV – Sadly there is nothing that really stands out this quarter. It’s been really difficult finding anything of particular note to watch. I’ve enjoyed “Rick Stein’s Road to Mexico“, although I haven’t yet managed to watch all of  the episodes.


Life In General – This final quarter of the year has been just as hectic as the rest of the year. I don’t really want to talk about much of it, partly because it’s private but also because I’m not really sure where my head is at over some of it. I suspect that some of this will continue into next year and I just hope that I am able to navigate it as calmly as possible.

Third Quarter Review 2017

Each year for the past few years I’ve been doing a year end review; last year I split that across the year, doing one at the end of each quarter. This year I’m going to try and do the same as last and do a quarterly review – books I’ve read, films/TV programmes I’ve watched and other things related to life, work and the allotment. The 2017 Quarter One Review is here and Quarter Two is here if you’re interested.


Work – The third quarter has continued in the way quarter two went – a lot of effort on preparing proposals and looking for clients but no luck. There were a couple of proposals in there that I was really looking forward to delivering, so I’m disappointed that I won’t be – but that’s the way it goes.


Allotment – It’s been a good season this year, probably not as good as last year, but not shabby, and some things like pumpkins and cucumbers have been much better than last year. We’ve had a lot of our food from the allotment. As the quarter ends though, the season is winding down, but I’m planning for the winter season and next year.


Books – I’ve exceeded my GoodReads target of reading 25 books. That said, this still feels like an arbitrary number, particularly when there are only a couple of books that stood out for me this quarter. They were “Santorini” by Alistair MacLean [GoodReads] and “risingtidefallingstar” by Philip Hoare [GoodReads]. The former was a reread, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the book. The latter I enjoyed because of the personal content as well as the historical and biographical content.


Films & TV – I’m pretty disappointed with TV at the moment, there seems to be nothing on. That’s pretty normal for the summer months, as most of the new programming starts in the autumn. There are a few things that stick in my mind as I enjoyed them:

Strike [LINK] – This is the adaptation of the novels of Robert Galbraith (a.k.a J.K. Rowling), so far they’ve adapted “The Cuckoo’s Calling” & “The Silkworm”. I thought they were well acted and as far as I can tell were pretty faithful to the original books. It’s also supposed to be coming back for further adaptations next year. I’d recommend checking it out, even if you haven’t read the books.

Arrival [LINK] – I watched this on Amazon Prime with little expectation, but enjoyed it. I’d say though that this is perhaps a film that you’ll either like or find really boring.

The Martian [LINK] – I know I’m pretty late to the party on this one and I’ve had the DVD for a little while before getting around to watching it, but I did really enjoy it. A nice Saturday evening in film – if that makes any sense?


Life In General – It’s been a hectic quarter with family things. My Mum has had her knee replaced, and so I’ve been spending a lot of time with her. In some ways the fact that work has been quiet has been helpful to me. I’ve got lots of things to do around the house and garden, as well as continuing to help sort out my Dad’s things and my Grandma’s house. Hopefully the latter is almost complete as there’s a buyer in place and it’s just waiting for things to go through.

Second Quarter Review 2017

Each year for the past few years I’ve been doing a year end review; last year I split that across the year, doing one at the end of each quarter. This year I’m going to try and do the same as last and do a quarterly review – books I’ve read, films/TV programmes I’ve watched and other things related to life, work and the allotment. The 2017 Quarter One Review is here if you’re interested.


Work – It’s been a very quiet quarter. I’ve been doing a lot of proposals and business development work, but it has yet to lead to any paid contracts. I think to an extent that uncertainty around Brexit, the General Election, and a few other things mean that things are quieter than they were this time last year, and as we now enter a traditionally quiet time that will probably continue for a while yet. I’m conscious as to how long a contract drought can last before I need to bring in a wage or income from somewhere else. I’m not there yet, but it is something I’m thinking about at the moment.


Allotment – These second quarter months really mark the start of when things really get going in the new season. Although it’s been a little bit odd with quite a few failed or only partial germination, most notably with sweetcorn, courgettes and cucumbers. Second sowings have been more successful, but the timings have been no different to last year, although the weather has been a little bit cooler in April & May, although June was a scorcher! So far this year doesn’t feel as strong as last year, but that’s just the ups and downs of growing.


Books – I’ve reached my GoodReads target of reading 25 books early. It feels like such an arbitrary number to me, I sometimes wonder why I bother with the challenge, but I’ll leave it alone for now.

Highlights this quarter, include Guests of Summer: A House Martin Love Story by Theunis Piersma and Bee Quest by Dave Goulson. Both excellent natural history books and both sadly showing evidence of decline in many of the amazing species on our planet.


Films & TV – Still watching the reruns of  “All Creatures Great & Small“. Although, apart from the Christmas special all have been shown now, and the channel has started back from the first episode again. I have a good few stacked on our DVR still to watch.

I did enjoy the BBCs Line of Duty, although this is in its fourth season, it’s the first one I’ve watched. Although some of it has been a bit of a stretch, it had me watching each week. I’ve also been watching a few things on Amazon Video. Bosch returned for Season 3, and was excellent, it’s a series that keeps getting stronger. I’ve also been catching up on The Walking Dead and Fear The Walking Dead.

Finally I’m going to mention American Gods. I had great hopes for this adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s book, and although there were some high points generally it was a disappointment.


Life In General – Although things are moving on there is still a lot to do following the passing of my Dad and Grandma. I suspect that it will be a running theme of the year and dominate a lot of what I do during the course of the year. I’m more aware that I’m thinking about my Dad and being a bit introspective in terms of my own life and it’s direction.

I’m also waiting to hear about my Mum having a knee replacement, which is likely to be sometime before the end of the calendar year, so the upcoming six months, have a certain level of uncertainty about them.

I’ve also been having car trouble, it’s not let me down, but has been back and forth to the garage for a scheduled repair where a part failed repeatedly, this might mean that I have to replace the car in due course, but I’ll see how that goes.

First Quarter Review 2017

Each year for the past few years I’ve been doing a year end review; last year I split that across the year, doing one at the end of each quarter. This year I’m going to try and do the same as last and do a quarterly review – books I’ve read, films/TV programmes I’ve watched and other things related to life, work and the allotment.


Work – Last year was my first full year being self-employed, it had its ups and downs, and as I enter my second year I’d like to be a little busier than I am but in some ways with everything that has been going on generally in life (see below), having some extra time for that has been useful. I’m trying to grow things a little this year, and am looking at new areas of work to help spread my horizons a little more and hopefully bring in some more work over time.


Allotment – The first quarter is all about getting things ready really. The weather hasn’t been that kind in terms of being able to get onto the plot but the last few weeks of this quarter have seen things picking up. We’ve enjoyed fresh vegetables all through the winter and continue to do so in the spring. I’m looking forward to what I hope will be another good year on the plot, with it providing a significant proportion of our food during the coming months.


Books – Well according to GoodReads I’ve read 18 books so far this year. That feels like a lot, but a couple were short books or novellas, so perhaps it’s not as many as it at first seems. There wasn’t really anything that stood out particularly, although some of the images in Yellowstone by David Quammen were amazing.


Films & TV – TV has been a bit of a disappointment so far this year, I had high hopes for the adaptation of Len Deighton’s SS-GB, but in the end I was pretty disappointed by it. The one thing I have been watching and enjoying though is “All Creatures Great & Small“. This was first shown in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and I remember it well from my childhood. One of the Freeview channels has been repeating episodes each afternoon, and we’ve been recording them and then watching them when nothing else is on. They hold up pretty well and it’s been quite an indulgence to rewatch them.

On the film front there are a few that stick in my mind. Rogue One was a highlight at the start of the year. I do like Star Wars films, and this one is no exception. It’s also the first film that I’ve been to watch in the cinema for quite a long time. I’d also add The Magnificent Seven reboot with Denzel Washington & Chris Pratt; Hell or High Water with Jeff Bridges & Chris Pine; The Legend of Tarzan with Alexander Skarsgard & Samuel L Jackson; In a Valley of Violence with Ethan Hawke & John Travolta; and finally Swallows and Amazons, another reboot.


Life In General –  As regular readers will know, I lost my Dad at the end of last year and then early in January my Grandma. Loosing my Dad has been particularly hard and I still think it will be sometime before things return to “normal”, whatever that looks like. Much of these first few months of this year has been taken up with various things in connection with these two events – solicitors, dealing with companies, bureaucracy, etc. I am a little astounded by how little some companies care about their customers in these situations and how just getting something right first time would be essential. It seems that this isn’t the case for many of them.

I’ve also had some health issues of my own to deal with, and that will be ongoing for a while I think.

Being my own boss has helped give me the time to deal with a lot of this, I know that were I still working for my old employer that this wouldn’t have been possible in the same way, and ultimately may have lead to more conflict. However I can’t continue to give this much time to some of these things, it’s not critical yet, but something I am conscious of and need to keep under review, and try to resolve some of the outstanding items.

Fourth Quarter Review 2016

Each year for the past few years I’ve been doing a year end review; books I’ve read, films/tv programmes I’ve watched and other things related to work and the allotment. You can read the end of 2015 here, if you’re interested.

This year I’m trying something a little different, and am splitting my year into quarters and trying to do a review at the end of the quarter. It helps me remember stuff more easily, and is more up to the minute than waiting to until December and trying to do the whole year in one go, or at least that’s the theory. The first quarter review is here, the second quarter review here, and the third quarter review is here.


Work

This quarter has been very quiet, mostly due to things going on in my life outside of work (see below), I have however been thinking a lot about expanding my business and will be exploring this in the New Year. I’ll be talking about this more (I hope) in the coming months, but a couple of things need to happen first. I’m quite excited about this, and hope it will see things grow.


Allotment

This time of year is when things start to quieten down a bit on the plot. I still have quite a few things growing: parsnips, chard, leeks, Brussels sprouts – all of which I am harvesting still – and purple sprouting broccoli, regular broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onions, garlic and broad beans – all of which are crops for the early spring.

I’m going to try and keep track of things from a financial perspective a little more next year, I want to understand just how much money we’re saving by growing our own, compared to buying things in the supermarket. It feels like the difference is quite small, and being honest I’m doing this for more reasons than just saving money, but I’ve never really tried to quantify the benefits.


Books

My reading has slowed down a bit this quarter, but there are two books that I particularly enjoyed:

Dogging Steinbeck by Bill Steigerwald [GoodReads] this is the author’s account of his retracing the steps of John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley”, and uncovering that the original may have been more of a work of fiction than non-fiction. It was an enjoyable read, and the author also kept a detailed blog, of this journey, including photos and videos. Around the same time that I was reading this I was also listening to the audiobook of “Travels with Charley” [GoodReads] in the car, so I was  able to track where Steigerwald had gotten to, compared to Steinbeck. It was a good way to “read” both books alongside one another. As things at the time weren’t going well with my Dad (see below) it was a welcome distraction to have Steinbeck and Charley with me in my car, and Steigerwald at home each evening.

Nigel: My Family and Other Dogs by Monty Don [GoodReads]The title of this book might not mean much to people outside of the UK or who don’t watch Gardeners’ World on TV, but Nigel – a Labrador retriever – belongs to Monty Don who is the presenter of the programme. The dog has become a little bit of a personality in his own right, and this book is about him, plus some of the other dogs that the author has owned over his lifetime. It’s a good read whether you get the references or not, and particularly if, like me, you are a dog person.


Films & TV

I don’t really recall anything much that stands out this quarter, probably because we haven’t actually been watching much. We have been watching (or rather recording and watching later) a few daytime series on BBC; The Coroner, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, and The Father Brown Mysteries. All very good.


Life In General

Not a great quarter. As you may already know my Dad passed away in November, and we have had to put my maternal Grandma into a nursing home. Many people have said how bad 2016 has been, and frankly I couldn’t agree more. For me though it will always have more personal bad memories than perhaps other years have had.


Finally

If you’ve read all four quarterly posts, what do you think? Does it work better than one end of year round up? Let me know in the comments.

I wish all my readers a very Happy New Year.

Third Quarter Review 2016

Each year for the past few years I’ve been doing a year end review; books I’ve read, films/tv programmes I’ve watched and other things related to work and the allotment. You can read the end of 2015 here, if you’re interested.

This year I’m trying something a little different, and am splitting my year into quarters and trying to do a review at the end of the quarter. It helps me remember stuff more easily, and is more up to the minute than waiting to until December and trying to do the whole year in one go, or at least that’s the theory. The first quarter review is here, and the second quarter review here.


Work

This quarter marks the anniversary in my change of employment, going from being and employee to self-employed. Looking across those 12 months I’d say it’s been pretty productive, although things have slowed down a bit over the summer. There are a couple of things on the horizon, but as ever they rely on things outside my control, so it’s a little difficult to say at this stage how things might pan out. Having said that I currently have a close family member in hospital, so having the time to be able to visit has been a bonus, and something I can’t ever see that I would have been allowed to do (quite rightly) when I was an employee, so things seem to work out.

I am hoping that things will pick up, as I do like being my own boss, but if they don’t I will have to look for alternatives.


Allotment

It’s been a very good year on the allotment so far, we’ve spent most of this quarter not having to buy any fresh produce from the supermarket, as we’ve been able to provide our own from the plot. This has started to ease off a little now, and I am having to buy odd things – either as crops have started to slow down their production with the shortening days or because things aren’t quite ready yet. In some areas though e.g. potatoes, onions, garlic, we have lots stored that will see us forward for many weeks yet.

I’ve also been trying to do regular update videos on my YouTube channel, and often embedding them here too.


Books

I’ve been reading pretty consistently and have gotten through a number of books this quarter including a couple of “biggies”. I’ve started adding a “currently reading” item to my Quick Links entry each week (when I remember too!).

There are a few that I’d like to mention specifically, and in no particular order they are:

“Normal” by Warren Ellis – This was actually a novella released in 4-parts, one a week over a month. What I liked about it the most was how it told the story in that weekly pattern and how well this worked. Whether or not that was intentional I don’t know, but I don’t think it would have worked as well as just a single book. It reminded me a lot of one of those weekly black and white serials that used to be shown in cinemas e.g. King of the Rocket Men, when I get time, I’m going to sit and reread all four – hopefully in a single sitting.

“Joyland” by Stephen King – I’ve had a copy of this for quite some time, but had never gotten around to reading it until recently. What I liked about it the most, was that it reminded me of some of the early Stephen King books, which I enjoyed far more than some of from the late ’90s / early 2000s. I’d stopped reading his books not long after Geralds Game and The Tommyknockers, so can’t speak for other ones he may have written more recently, but I did think that Joyland was more of the old King.

“Seveneves” – Neal Stephenson – This was one of the biggies and took me a while to get through, but it was worth it. Although it is a work of science fiction, it has a very believable story and characters and despite it’s size held my interest throughout.

“The Book of Yaak” – Rick Bass – Rick Bass has had a mention in both of the previous quarter reviews, and I still have a number of his books that I haven’t read yet, so may well feature again. I really enjoy his writing, both fiction and non-fiction. This is a work of non-fiction and brings to the fore another area of this writers passions. As an environmental activist this book highlights the issues in the Yaak Valley in Montana and the tensions between preserving the old growth forest, the nature and wildlife that it supports and other areas that are important for their nature conservation and the pressures of development and modern intensive forestry. It’s a treatise to the area and the issues, and a fascinating read. It stirred the passion in me for some of the environmental issues that I feel are important.


Films & TV

It’s been a bit of a summer of sport with Euro football and the Olympics and Paralympics. I don’t generally watch much sport, so we’ve been watching a lot of reruns or turning it off. Outside of that there isn’t much to report. We’ve watched a few DVDs but nothing that really inspired me enough that I want to mention it here.


Life In General

Pretty good. As always there are areas I’d like to work on. I’d like to be writing more, and I’d like my business to grow a little, but for the reasons mentioned above I’ve been occupied in other areas and am grateful to have had the time to be able to do those things.