Monday, 31 July 2017

A Month in Books - July 2017


My July reading tally is sixteen books including the new David Grossman novel, A Horse Walks Into A Bar, which surprised me with its brilliance, and Paule Marshall's 1950s masterpiece Brown Girl, Brownstones. I added a third book to my Jane Austen Challenge 2017 and started the month with a special book for Plastic Free July. Plus I blogged five books authored by American women for July's WorldReads.

Literary Flits hosted two Guest Reviews this month. If you have an indie author, small press or global literature book review that you would like to share please do get in touch. It doesn't need to be exclusive content and you can check here to see if a book has already been reviewed. I look forward to hearing from you!

Do also get in touch if you want a Spotlight post. These are just £2.50 each and allow authors to showcase their own book to my Literary Flits audience. Further details through This Link. You could win a Spotlight post by following me and retweeting my pinned tweet on Twitter! June's winner was Kelly Florentia who chose to promote her novel The Magic Touch.


Guest reviews



Indie Poet - Thirty Poems From My Thirties: 2006 - 2016 by Harry Whitewolf

Buy the ebook from Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Read poet Andy Carrington's book review on Literary Flits



The Wrong Kind Of Clouds by Amanda Fleet

Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
Buy the ebook from Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk
Buy the ebook from Kobo
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository

Read author Catherine Green's book review on Literary Flits


Spotlights

The Magic Touch by Kelly Florentia

Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
Buy from independent booksellers via Alibris
Buy the book from Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository

Read the original post on Literary Flits



Paintbrush by Hannah Bucchin + Giveaway

Buy the ebook from Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk
Buy the ebook from Kobo
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository

Read the original post on Literary Flits


Seven Threads: A Book of Short Stories by Jason Atkinson + Giveaway

Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
Buy from independent booksellers via Alibris
Buy the ebook from Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk
Buy the hardback from The Book Depository

Read the original post on Literary Flits



Wheeler by Sara Butler Zalesky + Giveaway

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Read the original post on Literary Flits


My reviews


Enough Is Enough: 18 Ideas for Embracing a Life with Less Waste and Less Stuff by Lindsay Miles + Giveaway

Download a copy free from the author's website in return for signing up to the newsletter

Read my original book review on Literary Flits



The Extraordinary Journey Of Vivienne Marshall by Shannon Kirk

Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
Buy from independent booksellers via Alibris
Buy the paperback from Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository

Read my original book review on Literary Flits



Appointment With Yesterday by Christopher Stratakis + Giveaway


Buy from independent booksellers via Alibris
Buy the ebook from Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk
Buy the ebook from Kobo
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository

Read my original book review on Literary Flits



Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen + Giveaway

Download the free ebook from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
Buy the ebook from Kobo
Buy the paperback from Speedyhen
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository

Read my original book review on Literary Flits



The Praise Of Folly by Desiderius Erasmus


Buy the ebook from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
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Buy the paperback from Speedyhen
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Read my original book review on Literary Flits



Behind The Counter by Constantina Rebi


Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
Buy the ebook from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
Buy the ebook via Payhip

Read my original book review on Literary Flits



Killers Of The King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I by Charles Spencer


Buy the audiobook from Audible via Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
Buy the ebook from Kobo
Buy the paperback from Speedyhen
Buy the hardback from The Book Depository

Read my original book review on Literary Flits



Nemesis by Jo Nesbo

Buy from independent booksellers via Alibris
Buy the book from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
Buy the ebook from Kobo
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository

Read my original book review on Literary Flits



Revenants - The Odyssey Home by Scott Kauffman

Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
Buy the ebook from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
Buy the ebook from Kobo
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository

Read my original book review on Literary Flits



Blues With Ice by Tin Larrick

Buy the ebook from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk

Read my original book review on Literary Flits



Long Road From Jarrow by Stuart Maconie

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Buy the hardback from Speedyhen
Buy the hardback from The Book Depository

Read my original book review on Literary Flits



A Horse Walks Into A Bar by David Grossman

My Book Of The Month!

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Buy the ebook from Kobo
Buy the paperback from Speedyhen
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository

Read my original book review on Literary Flits



Hopeless Love by Kerdel Ellick + Giveaway

Download this book for free from Smashwords
Buy the ebook from Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Read my original book review on Literary Flits



Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall

Almost my Book of the Month!

Buy from independent booksellers via Alibris
Buy the ebook from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
Buy the ebook from Kobo
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository

Read my original book review on Literary Flits



Lovers' Vows by Elizabeth Inchbald + Giveaway

Download the ebook free from Kobo
Buy from independent booksellers via Alibris
Buy the book from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository

Read my original book review on Literary Flits



Torquay In Old Photographs by Ted Gosling

Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
Buy from independent booksellers via Alibris
Buy the paperback from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk

Read my original book review on Literary Flits


That's it for this month and I know I have already got some great books lined up for review in August including Rebecca Gransden's new short story collection, plus more new books by Bernard MacLaverty and Tony Knighton. Keep up daily on Literary Flits or I will see you here at the end of the month for another round up.

Don't forget the Giveaways!

Saturday, 29 July 2017

My first visit to Earth Food Love - Totnes zero waste shop

Earth Food Love in Totnes 
I've been wanting to make another trip to Totnes since I heard about a new wholefood shop that had set up in the town. It's right up the top of the High Street. Earth Food Love is a family-run organic, wholefoods, zero-waste shop whose owners 'want to live in a world where consuming doesn’t have to cost the earth! Focusing on creating a better future, they decided to look back to the past, where eating real food with minimal packaging was normal practice. They believe returning to these simple ways will benefit not only our health, but the planet's too.' Plastic Free July was the perfect time for my first visit so I am glad I made it there before the month ran out.

The basic Earth Food Love idea is that everything in sold loose by weight and customers take in their own tubs / jars / bottles for self-service refilling. There is a good range of dry products including oats and rices, pulses and dried fruits, spices and teas. I could also have refilled oils and even laundry products.

The shop staff are friendly and helpful and the system is very easy once it had been explained!
First I popped each empty container on a scale and marked their weights with a provided white pen.
Then I allowed myself to be overwhelmed by the choice of foods available! (I only actually needed oats, dates and arborio rice.)
I positioned each container in turn under the spout of choice and gingerly raised the lever. I was surprised by how fast the oats came flying out!
My rice jar was narrower than the spout, so I used a provided metal funnel. Earth Food Love have thought of everything!
When I had found all I needed, I took my filled containers to the till and paid.
Simples!

Earth Food Love prices are very reasonable, cheaper than anywhere I've found in Torquay, and I got a real sense of satisfaction from buying good organic food with no packaging waste. Plus this shop is great fun. There was a good atmosphere there this afternoon with several of us crammed in learning the ropes. The bulk buy idea is popular in French health shops like the BioCoop chain which we use when caravanning over there, but I've not seen anywhere encouraging customers to bring their own refill containers before.

The only problem for me is that Totnes isn't the easiest place to get to from Torquay. It's not that far in miles, but seems a long drive for the distance and parking isn't always easy. I think going by bus is probably my best bet. The £5 return bus fare would eat up all my savings, but if I go on a day when I am already buying a Torbay Day Rider to get somewhere else then it would effectively be a free trip. I just need to get organised so enough of my jars need refilling around the same time.


Thursday, 27 July 2017

I'm inspired by the Centre for Alternative Technology at Machynlleth

I got so lucky with two amazing visits to very different places in Wales last week. I've already blogged about our afternoon in Portmeirion and, two days later, we detoured slightly when passing through Machynlleth in order to visit the Centre for Alternative Technology. Dave visited this innovative facility over forty years ago which, we discovered on this visit, was not long after the site had opened. A small group of people moved into a disused Welsh quarry and began an experiment into truly sustainable and self-sufficient living. Dave remembered a house, some of the earliest solar panels and lots of huge batteries! A lot has changed since then both at CAT and in the wider world.

These days CAT is an education and visitor centre demonstrating practical solutions for sustainability. Their expertise cover all aspects of green living: environmental building, eco-sanitation, woodland management, renewable energy, energy efficiency and organic growing. The site is a unique and valuable practical demonstration centre, a living laboratory with an enormous range of live examples of sustainable solutions. CAT says they have the largest range of installed renewable systems anywhere and I can believe it.


We began by ascending in a little cliff railway - similar to the one at Oddicombe but entirely water powered. Don't sit at the front of the car if you are nervy of heights! The climb is steep! Once at the top we saw a brief informative film about CAT before being allowed to wander pretty much anywhere at will. I loved the working gardens and was amazed at the variety of plants grown for food and practical purposes. The greenhouses are beautiful and vividly colourful with flowers. One is set over a vent from the underground slate quarry - the original use of the site. Because the underground temperature remains constant throughout the year, CAT gardeners use the geothermal heat rising in winter as free frost prevention. Genius!

In other places we saw various types of solar panels creating electricity or heating water. One display demonstrated how painting a panel black and placing it under glass drastically increases its heating power. A DIY solar water heater on a roof - basically an old radiator painted black - reminded me of similar setups we saw in rural Spain. CAT also has Lots of Toys Educational Machines for all ages. I played with learned about wave power, pedal power and the best material blends for composting. Chris Killey if you're reading this - there's a whole section dedicated to composting toilets! The photo shows different wall building resources and elsewhere there was a cutaway straw wall too.

We explored for a couple of hours and my mind was buzzing with ideas for things we could try out at home. I appreciated that, while CAT runs training courses for professional tradespeople and post-graduate students, they offer advice and suggestions to be utilised cheaply by small-scale amateurs too! Displays about energy and water consumption were particularly interesting as clear graphics showed how even minor household decisions can make massive usage differences over time. The pictured graphic shows the needed water for a kilogram each of chickpeas and beef. Wow!


Because CAT had grown so much in scale since Dave's first visit we had no idea how long we would end up spending there. As it was we didn't do the quarry walking trail or go up to see the eco cabins, but we did find ourselves needing to visit the canteen for lunch! Very reasonably priced vegetarian food is served to staff and visitors alike. I had a proper oven-baked jacket potato - none of your microwave nonsense here! - which was delicious. I'd forgotten just how much I used to love jacket spuds!

Even the shop at CAT is an experience. I don't think I've ever seen so many how-to guides and green living books in one place. I managed to only buy one, but it was a struggle! I brought away a Short Courses brochure although I am not sure I will sign up to any. But if I ever need to learn how to build a tiny house, make hempcrete, cultivate mushrooms, understand deglaciation, set up a solar photovoltaic system, ... render lime or build an earth oven, I'll know who to call.


Wednesday, 26 July 2017

I am not a number! ~ visiting Portmeirion in North Wales

Did you ever watch cult 1960s TV series The Prisoner? I (obviously) didn't see it first time around, but caught a rerun probably in the late 1980s and got hooked. I loved the colours and the surreal imagery and, even though I still have absolutely no idea what was really going on (does anyone?!) The Prisoner was about my favourite programme before Twin Peaks came along. Its real location, the Welsh village of Portmeirion, has been on my travel bucket list for decades and last week I finally found myself there. At last! Fortunately I didn't get gassed and wake up there - we drove instead - so leaving at the end of the day wasn't a problem!

Portmeirion was designed and created by architect Clough Williams-Ellis to show how a beautiful site could be developed without spoiling it. An ongoing project which he led for some fifty years from the 1920s to the 1970s, Portmeirion is now owned by a registered charity. The site was inspired by Mediterranean villages, particularly Italian ones, and contains a bewildering array of Grade I and Grade II listed historical buildings in wildly differing architectural styles. They are painted in sunny colours and the whole place looked stunning for our visit.

We were lucky to get our tickets bought just as one of the half-hourly guided tours was beginning so quickly caught up. Our guide drew our attention to artworks painted onto walls by one of the Williams-Ellis daughters and to odd artefacts such as the gold painted Buddha statue which I believe I remember had been a film prop. We passed cafes, the Portmeirion pottery shop and a The Prisoner shop too. The tour took about twenty minutes and we were then right on time to board the train and be driven around the Woodland Walk. A stop on this route allowed us views across Portmeirion village and its estuary. Disappointingly, there weren't any giant white balloons guarding the sands!

After the train we explored part of the village before heading down to the waterside where we decided to attempt the Coastal Walk without the aid of a 'dotto train'. Dave was suffering from the aftermath of a bad cold so was particularly breathless so we hoped this walk would be flatter than the forest one. It mostly was - until the two routes merged! We sat on a porticoed terrace and climbed up to a lighthouse viewpoint before ambling back past ponds and a red Japanese bridge where Dave made friends with a surprisingly tame robin.

Back in Portmeirion itself I took the opportunity to talk to artist in residence Briony Clarke who has her studio overlooking the lawns. Initially on a six month residency, Briony ended up staying for four years and has created a fascinating painting technique combining locally gathered pigments with moving water. She has developed a trio of machines, one of which - a spiral of water going down a drain - produces spookily beautiful monochrome landscapes that could almost be the water painting where it has come from. I know that sounds weird, but the work is amazing! Unfortunately I forgot to take any photos.

I am so glad that I finally got to visit this incredible village and I certainly wouldn't rule out returning at some point in the future. As well as day tickets there is also self-catering accommodation and a hotel at Portmeirion so perhaps we could treat ourselves for a future anniversary?



Monday, 24 July 2017

#PlasticFreeJuly - three weeks completed

It's a general consensus that changing ingrained habits takes time. This is a point I need to remember as I easily get frustrated when everything New doesn't happen Now!

Having discovered the near-impossibility of avoiding single-use plastic when buying meat, fish and dairy, I am investigating alternatives such as making my own cheese which looks like fun. Even plant-based food isn't always a plastic-free answer as tofu is vacuum sealed in plastic too so I also want to try making a kind of Chickpea tofu. The instructions seem easy enough?!

We were camping in Wales for the whole of this third Plastic Free July week but my reduced kitchen didn't make for as much difficulty as I thought it would. I managed to get our rices and pastas into recycled glass jars before we departed so had several lock-tite tubs empty. Of course they are themselves plastic, but I am not going to discard perfectly serviceable containers so our reusable plastic will stay until each piece wears out! Anyhow, our Outwell coolbox is excellent but it does tend to collect condensation. Cling film is useless when it gets wet so I was very glad of my tubs for cheeses, half onions and lemons, and my lentil spread (which is easy enough to make on a camping hob). Partway through this week I realised I hadn't actually reached for the cling film at all this month which, for me, is quite an achievement! The roll we bought in Spain last winter might now never get finished.

I was delighted on our return home yesterday to have an envelope from Bee Bee Wraps waiting for me. I featured these innovative food storage cloths in my Top Five Etsy Finds a couple of weeks ago and now have a trio to review. They are pretty and I have been looking forward to trying them out. I will share my thoughts in a future post.

Today, instead of nipping to the Co-Op for plastic-bagged bread, I dusted off my favourite Slow Cooker Wholemeal Bread recipe. I began baking this regularly on our 2014-15 caravan journey because It was usually easier than trying to find the 'right' sort of loaf in Spanish supermarkets. Using the slow cooker keeps our energy consumption right down and meant we didn't have the oven overheating the caravan! Overheating isn't so much of a problem in our flat, but our inherited an electric oven uses 2000w+ to bake bread. The slow cooker uses just 163w so even with the much longer bake time, it's still about a tenth of the electric cost. The ingredients are cheaper than a bought loaf too, it tastes better, and dough kneading is superb exercise for reducing 'bingo wings'! Win-win-win-win! I'm struggling to remember why I stopped baking bread.


Sunday, 23 July 2017

Camping on the North Wales coast - Llandanwg and Harlech

View from Llandanwg beach 
I vaguely remember going to Anglesey for a week with a schoolfriend some thirty years ago otherwise I don't think I have explored North Wales before now. It's beautiful!

We booked in for four nights at a Camping And Caravanning Club certified site in the tiny village of Llandanwg, about two kilometres from Harlech. Ymwlch Farm campsite is essentially a neat stonewalled field with electric hookups and several water taps. There are a pair of toilets off to one side and the possibility to take showers at the nearby farmhouse. A 'shock horror' moment revealed there was absolutely no phone or portable wifi signal there so I had the bizarre experience of being almost internet free for several days! I say almost because there was a good signal about a hundred yards away on the beach. The campsite was £16 per night including electricity. Showers are 50p extra each. There is a fairly tight turn off the road and I was glad we only had our trailer tent on tow although larger caravans than Bailey were in the field so it probably would have been fine!

View from Llandanwg beach 
Ymwlch Farm's great advantages are its proximity to a wide sandy beach and to the historic town of Harlech with its interesting shops and cafes and the partially restored castle. There is good walking country hereabouts too, but unfortunately Dave came down with a nasty cold for a few days so we will need to return and walk! We did manage an hour or so strolling towards a small harbour and back around on our first evening. The views were stunning and these photos really don't do them justice!

We visited Harlech Castle the next day. Edward I had its construction started in 1283, one of a number of structures he commissioned, and it was virtually completed by 1289 which is apparently fast by large-stone-castle standards. I learned that 950 men worked on the build at the busiest time and, like all grand designs, it went rather over budget although at just over £8000 was still Edward's cheapest castle! By the early 1400s Harlech Castle was occupied by Owain Glyndwr (whose name we last encountered I think in Llandovery) and the famous anthemic Men Of Harlech song was written about the siege of Harlech Castle during the Wars Of The Roses.

View across to a harbour
near Llandanwg 
Entry to the castle these days is by way of a ticket office with attached gift shop and cafe. Once inside there are a number of informative poster boards and I especially liked two small models of the castle. Towers and walls have been restored so it is possible to climb (too many!) spiral steps and get long views over Harlech town and out to sea. At the time of its construction the sea was much closer, but now there is a band of protected dunes and a small golf course between its sea gate and the water.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

#TreatYourself - special offers that caught my eye

You may already have spotted the fantastic bargains to be had in the Not On The High Street summer sale at the moment. Many items are up to half price so I thought I would concentrate July's TreatYourself post on showing you my favourites. I love that Not On The High Street shops are independent artisan businesses and craftspeople who make high quality products. I have kept Plastic Free July in mind too!

Click on the photos to buy!


Dust And Things, based appropriately enough in Caerphilly, have their wooden Commemorative Cheeseboards at half price in the summer sale. Reduced from £34.99 to £17.49 these make perfect wedding gifts as they can be engraved with the couple's names, special date and venue. The cheeseboards come complete with a grio of cheese knives and a fork.


If you need a last minute coach, tutor or teacher's gift, you might just have time to receive a Thank You For Helping Me Grow kit from Kutuu. It's reduced from £15 to £12 at the moment. Inside the gift box which is personalised with your chosen message you will find a mini terracotta plant pot wrapped in tissue paper, an expanding coir compost disc, a seed ball of your choice, “thank you for helping me grow” pewter plant marker and instructions.


Unsurprisingly, discarded plastic toys make up a significant proportion of landfill waste and most can't be recycled. Alternatives are available though and I liked this adorable six piece train which is made by Twenty Seven in Edinburgh. Made from long-lasting wood, it can be personalised with a child's name and a date and is suitable for children aged three or older (perhaps much older!) The train is 20% off in the sale, reduced from £27.95 to £22.36.


I thought this rugged canvas holdall would be ideal for travellers or gym bunnies alike. The strong holdall bag is made from washed canvas with detachable retro stripe webbing strap in cream and chocolate. It can be personalised with your choice of initials or name and this printing is done by Sparks Clothing in Somerset. Make the most of the 50% discount by buying now at £30, reduced from £60. Sparks Clothing have a matching cross-body messenger bag currently at a 60% discount too!


And, after all that shopping excitement, I chose a relaxing Lavender Infused Silk Eye Mask for my closing suggestion. Made in West Sussex by StephieAnn for the ultimate luxury, these beautiful eye masks, infused delicately with lavender oil, were created for the perfect night's sleep. Each one features a floral front printed with your choice from one of four of Stephie's paintings, a black silk reverse and comfortable elastic strap. Eye masks are perfect gifts for mums to be, jet setters and spa or relaxation weekends - or treat yourself! They are currently discounted by 50%: £11.50 each, reduced from £23.