On The Blog

Monday, 27 February 2023


Book review: The Stray Cats of Homs by Eva Nour, translated by Agnes Broomé

From the book blurb

Sami's childhood is much like any other - school with his friends, dinners with his family, playing with his pets (stray cats and dogs, and the turtle he keeps on the roof).

But with Syria at war with itself, nothing is really normal. And Sami's hopes for a better future are about to be ripped away.

Inspired by extraordinary true events, The Stray Cats of Homs is the breathtaking story of a young man who will do anything to keep the dream of home alive.

My review

We are all familiar with refugees, with people who flee conflicts and revolutions to seek shelter in distant lands. But The Stray Cats Of Homs is not a story about refugees. It is a story about those who decided to stay. 

If you are looking for a story with a complicated plot and lots of convoluted twists, then this book isn't for you. But if you want an insight into the Syrian revolution and how it affected ordinary citizens, then please give this book a try. Some parts are definitely not for the squeamish but it's a book that definitely needs to be read, especially by people like me who rarely watch the news or read the papers. My instinct when things get bad 'out there' is to cocoon myself and stay firmly inside my comfort zone. This book pushed me right out of it. It was poignant, heart-breaking, and horrifying, made even more so by the knowledge that this conflict isn't over yet.

Genre: modern historical fiction (Syrian civil war)

First published: 11 October 2018

Location of narrative: Homs, Syria; Paris, France

My rating: 4.8

Wednesday, 15 February 2023

On birthdays

Three weeks ago, I celebrated my 52nd birthday. I am grateful for all the years given to me but can’t help feeling a bit sad from time to time about the fleeting passage of time. I am even more aware of it when I look at our son. He turned 17 just over a week ago. Next year he will no longer be considered a minor in the eyes of the law. In my eyes though, he is still the mischievous toddler trailing after me and talking incessantly about dinosaurs, volcanos, airplanes and trains. There are moments when I think I am ready to sell everything except my soul just to have one of those days back. But life never goes backwards, so I will look forward to the time ahead with excitement instead of trepidation. 

On reading

As I mentioned in my last post, I plan to read 23 books from 23 different countries this year. I don’t yet have 23 books from 23 different countries but I will get there. My goal for 2023 is a total of 40 books, so there is ample time for me to search for books from around the globe. You may think I’m crazy, but I’ve joined a ‘Read The World’ challenge that includes 196 countries from around the globe. The nice thing about this challenge is that you can start or finish whenever you like. So my start date is 2023 but I could continue this challenge until it is completed several years in the future. There are book suggestions for nearly every country (except for some countries that I have never even heard of). I am very excited about this and keep hunting for the more elusive countries whenever I am buying books. Up to now, I’ve ‘done and dusted’ three countries: Syria (The Stray Cats of Homs by Eva Nour – I will post a review of this remarkable book soon), the UK (The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro) and Greece (Ariadne by Jennifer Saint). For some reason, ticking countries off the list just makes me smile. I could cheat and add books I read in the past to increase my tally quicker, but I’ve never cheated in my life and don’t plan to start now. After all, this challenge gives me the perfect excuse to beg for, borrow or buy more books.

The perfect storm

After a very mild autumn, the first 4 weeks of winter were also quite warm and sunny. Then it turned cold on my birthday weekend (which was the perfect present) and has continued to be so. Last week though, storm Helios battered our shores. We had constant rain for 24 hours and gale-force winds. Friday was a public holiday and the sun came out for a while. My husband and I went for a walk along Dingli Cliffs, where I was scared the wind would blow us into the sea, and then spent some time reading in the car. The sunlight warmed it up and it was perfect for a while (although the wind kept buffeting and shaking our car). After some time, dark clouds started to form on the horizon and by the time we drove home, the rain started coming down again. People in Malta have got so unused to storms (we haven’t had a major one since 2019) that anytime one hits our shores, it becomes the main topic of conversation for at least 10 days. I wonder how we would all survive if the weather was bad a bit more frequently. Of course, I relished it and now I wonder whether we will get a few more storms before winter is over.

There are already quite a few signs of spring here in Malta. The daylight hours are, like everywhere else in the northern hemisphere, noticeably longer. Some wildflowers, like the crown daisy, yellow wall rocket and asphodel, are already blooming, while buds are starting to form on the giant fennel. Soon the garigue and the countryside will be humming with bees and that somnolent feeling which I always associate with spring will be in the air.

I want to try and keep my posts as short as possible because I know how busy life gets and I don’t want to take up more of your time than necessary (and I have to get back to my books :)). So that's all for this week except for one small question: I would like to write some posts about sustainable living and making simple environmentally-friendly choices but I wanted to know whether anyone would be interested. Thanks in advance for any feedback. 

Have a wonderful week.

Monday, 16 January 2023

As I’ve been doing these past 3 years, today I will be taking a look at the books I read during 2022. I had shared the books I read between January and June, part 1 here and part 2 here ,but I never got round to doing the same for the books I read between July and December due to the blogging slump I fell into during the second half of the year.

Overall, I had a very good reading year. Out of the 41 books I read, 34 were by authors who were new to me. My most-read genre remained historical fiction, followed by literary fiction and classics. Out of the 41 books I read, 9 were non-fiction and five of these were memoirs (which remain my favourite type of non-fiction genre).

According to The Storygraph, which gives a very detailed insight into the reading patterns of members, last year I mostly read emotional, reflective and sad books that were slow-paced.


  • Number of books read: 41 (2 more than the 39 I read in 2021)
  • Total number of pages read: 13 097 (down from 15 316 in 2021 but I had a bit of a reading slump in the last 3 months of 2022)
  • Average book length: 319 pages
  • Shortest book: A Month in Siena by Hisham Matar at 128 pages
  • Longest book: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly at 502 pages
  • Most popular (i.e. most read): The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (which was marked as read 3 508 805 times)
  • Least popular: The Adventures of a Curious Cat  by Curious Zelda (which was read 542 times)
  • Highest rated by Goodreads readers: Lalechka by Amira Keidar with a 4.00 average
  • My average rating for 2022: 3.6 stars which is a bit better than it was last year (3.4)
  • The first book I read: A Thousand Days In Tuscany by Marlena de Blasi 
  • The last book I read: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  • The book I read that has been published longest: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte in 1847
  • The most recently published book I read: The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin in April 2021
  • My top 5 fiction reads: The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain (4.8), Suite Française  by Irene Nemirovsky (4.5), Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (4.4), The Absolutist by John Boyne (4.3) and Fresh Water For  Flowers by Valerie Perrin (4.2). 
  • My top 5 non-fiction reads: The Twins of Auschwitz by Eva Mozes Kor (4.5), The Boy Who Followed His Father Into Aushwitz by Jeremy Dronfield (4.25), A Month in Siena by Hisham Matar (4), 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (4) and A Thousand  Days in Tuscany and The Lady in the Palazzo by Marlena de Blasi (4) – I know that makes 6 books but I really enjoyed all the 4 star reads so I couldn’t really leave one of them out.
  • The book I enjoyed least: this was a tie between The Virgins by Pamela Erens and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (both of which received a 2.6 star rating)
  • Most disappointing book: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid - there was a lot of hype around this book and it got many rave reviews but I felt it just did not live up to its promise. Here’s a small extract from my review: ‘Everything about Evelyn’s life seemed very superficial, including her love life. I felt that if we scratched beneath the surface we wouldn’t find any substance. And therein lies my biggest issue with this book.’
  • Best suited for a book club: The Absolutist by John Boyne which deals with the subjects of absolutism, conscientious objection, and unrequited love.
  • Month in which I read most (based on the number of pages): February
  • Month in which I read least (based on the number of pages): October (no surprise, it happens every year) and December (let’s blame Christmas)

2022 will always be a special year for me from a reading perspective, as I really seem to have found ‘my tribe’ on Instagram, or Bookstagram, as we like to call it. My Bookstagram handle is lorees.reading.nook and if you’re on IG and love books, please send me a message so we can connect. The feeling of discussing books with like-minded individuals is very special and we all gain so much from these conversations that we have on a daily basis with other bookworms. The whole process has enriched my reading and this year I will be reading more books recommended by people who have he same tastes in books that I do. I will try to veer away from historical fiction, especially the WW2 trope, because I’ve read too many books from that genre in 2022 and it got really old. I felt like I was reading the same thing repeatedly and only the characters were different but the plots were very similar. I’m also avoiding new releases, books that come with lots of hype and anything on Oprah or Reese Witherspoon’s ‘must read’ lists. I’ve been disappointed too many times.

My plan for 2023 is to read books set in as many different countries as possible. My goal is to read books from 23 different countries in 2023. This is to try to get away from books set in the UK and the US. I am sure that this will be very enriching and rewarding, as it will not only expose me to different cultures, some of which I know nothing about, but also to perspectives that I could never have imagined. I am sure I’ll let you know how I’m getting along in future blog updates. 

For today I’ll end it here because books are my favourite topic and I could go on forever. I am just going to add the list of books I read between July and October, my respective rating and the genre. If there are any that you have any questions about, please let me know in the comments.

The Absolutist by John Boyne (4.3) - historical fiction WW1

The Virgins by Pamela Erens  (2.6) - campus fiction

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell (3) - psychological thriller

Life Of Pi by Yann Patel (2.9) - philosophical fiction

The Boy Who Followed His Father Into Auschwitz by Jeremy Dronfield (4.25) - memoir

The Lady In The Palazzo by Marlena de Blasi (4) - memoir

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi (3.4) - historical fiction

The Room On Rue Amelie by Kristin Harmel (2.8) - historical fiction WW2

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (4.2) – historical fiction

Suite Française by Irene Nemirovsky (4.5) - historical fiction WW2

The Island by Victoria Hislop (2.8) - historical fiction

All We Left Behind by Danielle R. Graham (3) - historical fiction WW2

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (2.9) modernist fiction

Tuesday, 10 January 2023

I suppose that I will always remember 2022 as the year we returned to normality - even though the first half of the year was characterized by social distancing and masking-up. In reality. this is a distortion of the facts because while the world was slowly recovering from Covid 19, a gaping wound was opened in Europe's side when Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine. Eleven months have  passed since the start of the conflict and we are collectively guilty of forgetting that  normality has not returned everywhere. For the Ukrainians, it has been a year of horror and hardship. Some have escaped, with just the clothes on their back and with their children in their arms, and found refuge elsewhere. Others, who are stoically defiant, or too old and infirm, have remained. There are stories of heartbreak all over social media; displaced families that have found refuge wherever they could. And yet, a new year awaits, with its blank chapters and empty pages, eagerly preparing for the next big distraction, so that we flit and flop, from one thing to the next, like bumblebees in Spring, never alighting long enough to really live in the moment and recognise it for what it is. 

My year in pictures: the highlights of 2022

After testing positive for Covid and starting the year off in quarantine. I was ecstatic to be out of the house on January 19th (I even remember the exact date) and celebrated with a solo walk around Chadwick Lakes. Since it was a month after the Winter solstice, the light lingered for a while and, at s unset, the pastel hues in the sky were reflected in the water, painting the surroundings in a rosy hue. It was a memorable return to the outside world.

Later in the month my husband and I took a walk at the Majjistral Nature and History Park. Majjistral is the Maltese word for the north-west and it is also the name of the wind that blows from that direction. The park includes a stretch of protected coast and there is some nice scenery, including some spectacular cliffs and caves.

In February our son turned 16  but due to imminent school examinations and the thousands of new Covid cases that were being registered daily, his birthday was a low-key affair, but we promised to make up for it later.

During this month we explored the Xemxija Heritage Trail. This trail passes through several areas of archaeological importance which include Punic tombs, ancient granaries and neolithic burial site, but I think that the most well-preserved remains are the Roman apiaries which are extremely fascinating.

I will remember the Spring equinox of 2022 as one of the coldest in the past 10 years. I even made a note about it in my journal. Towards the end of the months though, it had already warmed up quite a bit and we spent a public holiday exploring the Lunzjata area, with its medieval chapel dedicated to the feast of the Annunciation. Other than that, March was a mostly uneventful month.

April brought Easter, sunny days and Saharan dust with it - all perfectly normal for the time of year.

In May we were allowed to unmask, even in stores and places of mass gatherings. This also warranted a journal entry in which I commented that after more than two years of constantly wearing a mask I felt 'strangely naked'. This was also the month when Maltese towns and villages were once again able to celebrate their beloved feasts. I am not a feast-goer but even I had to admit that it was good to see all the associated paraphernalia decorating the streets once more.

Our son graduated from secondary school in June with excellent marks. It was a proud moment for us and we were also happy that his hard work paid off. I'm sharing a rare photo of him here as he is quite bashful about appearing on social media. This also happens to be one of my favourite photos of the year.

For three weeks in July my husband and our son visited family in the US. I had to stay behind this year due to work commitments. It wasn't easy being alone at first and I missed them terribly but I soon fell into a routine that worked well for me. I had some free time on my hands,  mostly because I rarely cooked, eating mostly salads, fruit and the occasional plate of pasta. I also got to spend a lot of time with my parents, especially my mum, and we went to the beach together a few times (my mum and I, that is, my dad hates the beach). When the boys returned from the US I took some time off and on one of the days we paid a visit to the Red Tower (St Agatha's Tower) in the northern part of Malta. The deep red colour of this building makes it one of Malta's most  prominent and famous coastal fortifications. If you have a minute (literally) you can read a bit more about it in this post I had written some time ago:  Malta In A Minute: St Agatha's tower.

August is the month when we practically hibernate but this year we braved the heat and went to Valletta's Saluting Battery to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the arrival of the convoy that saved Malta from starvation during WW2. A 21-gun salute was fired from the battery at the Upper Barrakka gardens and it felt like being present there for this commemoration was the right thing to do.

Later in the month my husband celebrated his birthday and we had a date night (I can't even remember the last time we had had one) with dinner at Chukkas.

In September we visited the small but informative Meet The Phoenicians of Malta exhibition at the National Museum of Archaeology which I had written about here. It was also the last month that we visited the beach because, although the weather was still very warm, there were a number of jobs we needed to do around the house that, unfortunately, couldn't wait any longer.

In October we hiked to Il-Karraba, an area of blue clay hills that are slowly but surely being eroded and I am always under the impression that their height decreases every year. It was a pleasant walk and we ventured further around the cliff-top than we usually do.

November is always a strange month. Here in Malta it is traditionally the month dedicated to the remembrance of departed souls but it is also when we celebrate Thanksgiving and it's also full of the anticipation that I always feel in the last few weeks before Christmas. Right at the end of the month we were hit by a massive storm which brought gale force winds and quite a bit of rain. I thought that winter was finally here.

Compared to the previous two years, our social calendar was pretty busy during December with work parties and social gatherings taking place once more. On most evenings, the streets were chaotic with all the traffic until it got to a point where I was very happy to stay home and enjoy the solitude of our quiet little town. The Christmas celebrations were lovely and we all had a good time. 

For my son and I the highlight of the season was afternoon tea at The Corinthia Hotel. Tea (or coffee) is served with a selection of small sandwiches, cakes and scones. It was something I had been promising to take him to and Christmas felt like the perfect time. He really liked the rather posh surroundings and the very English tradition of afternoon tea. 

I'm now sad that the celebrations are over and we are back at work (and school) but I need to remember that time moves on and so must we.

Needless to say, I also read a lot in 2022 (41 books - but more about that next week) and continued to find joy in gardening. I'm still trying to decide where this blog is going so you will all need to have patience with me until I figure it out - if I ever do. It was a rather quiet year on a personal level but a year during which the turmoil in the world continued to increase. I worry about what the future holds sometimes, but then I try to let go of all the fears and trust that a Higher Power is watching over us. There can be no other way.


Sincerely, Loree. Theme by STS.