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Tuesday, 12 January 2021

My year in books 2020

 Just as I did last year, I thought it would be fun to share a few insights and statistics from the Goodreads Year In Books feature that is available for Goodreads members. During 2020 I pledged to read 25 books but, due to all the sheltering in place we had to do, I ended up reading 40 books. I will not make this post longer than necessary so I am not going to list all the books that I read here. Instead you can find them in the individual posts that I wrote approximately every 3 months and which you can find here, here, here and here. Now let's move on to to the fun stuff.

Sincerely Loree: The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris

My year in books 2020

  • Number of books read: 40
  • Total number of pages read: 13 977
  • Average book length: 349 pages
  • Shortest book: Night by Elie Wiesel at 115 pages
  • Longest bookThree Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory at 560 pages
  • Most popular (i.e. most read):  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (which was shelved an incredible 5 367 820 times)
  • Least popular: A Brief History of British King and Queens by Mike Ashley (shelved 915 times)
  • Highest rated by Goodreads readers: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah with a 4.40 star average
  • My average rating for 2020: 3.7 stars (this is just a little higher from last year's 3.5 stars - I suppose I'm still difficult to please when compared to some other readers)
    Sincerely Loree: The  Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • The book that has been published longest: Tess Of The D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy in 1891
  • The most recently published book: Eli's Promise by Ronald Balson in September 2020
  • My 5 star reads: The Strawberry Thief  by Joanne Harris, All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and Night by Elie Wiesel
  • My favourite bookAll The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. You may read my review here
  • The book I liked least: The House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay
  • Most disappointing book: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (this book had such rave reviews and such a high rating on Goodreads that I expected it to be so much better than it was. It's a fast paced book and the plot is intriguing enough but some glaring errors and inconsistencies really marred my enjoyment of it).
  • Best suited for a book club: History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund. There are so many layers to this strange book and so many themes for discussion that I think it's perfect for a book club. 
  • Number of non-fiction books: 10 (which is equivalent to 25% of the books I read. That's not bad, especially since it takes me much longer to finish a non-fiction book.) 
  • Month in which I read most: May (6 books)
  • Month in which I read least: October (1 book)
    Sincerely Loree: Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

I hope you enjoy these book posts as much as I enjoy writing them. This year, I won't be reviewing multiple books in one post as it became overwhelming for me to write them (and probably for you read them). Instead, if I read a book and really like it, I will do a separate review. I will still share a list of the books I read every quarter but, in it, I will just highlight things like my favourite books, the ones that disappointed me and so on (a sort of miniature version of today's post).

I am not sure that I will read as many books in 2021 as I did in 2020 because I already have several very thick books in my pile. My aim is to read at least 30. But we will see how it goes. reading is something I never get tired of doing and, if I didn't have to get up for work, I would probably read all night.
Sincerely Loree: History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

Monday, 4 January 2021

2020: the year that never was

Here we are in the first week of January. The memories of another Christmas have been packed away and the dust has settled on another year. And what a year it's been!  It has changed us, challenged us, frustrated us and really made us question the status quo. In some ways, it has forced us to seek new friendships, find different ways of doing things and connect with our inner selves. 

In my first post of the year I would usually share the highlights of the previous year with you but there's nothing worth mentioning about 2020. It was a year of cancelled trips, thwarted plans, isolation and introspection. But it was not all bad. So many people had it so much worse. We kept our jobs and our sanity, our son was able to follow lessons from school and the quiet time meant that I was able to break my personal reading record.

2020: the positives

So let's take a look at some of the good things that 2020 gave us:
  • we went from working from the office to working from home literally overnight
  • our employers realised that work still got done even if we were not physically present in the office
  • using MS Teams became a daily occurrence and we were able to see some our overseas colleagues 'face to face' for the first time
  • a large number of local business finally bit the bullet and went online
  • we focussed on the things that mattered
And personally:
  • with nowhere to go, I spent most of my vacation days at the beach and managed to get a nice tan for the first time in years
  • I kept the promise I made to myself at the start of the year to decrease my time on Facebook. It was hard, at first, as I was quite addicted to it, but, by March I decreased the time I spent on it to 5 minutes twice daily. I am glad to say that I have stuck to that regimen.

My most read blogposts of 2020

These are the posts that my readers found most interesting during 2020:

In which I shared the work of (mostly) local artists and artisans in an effort to support small businesses in the run-up to Christmas 2020.

In which I talked about a lot of things but especially about being out in the open (pre-COVID 19),        reducing plastic and a strange version of the flu (high fever accompanied by a dry cough that wouldn't budge for days) that my son got at the end of January.

In which I talked  about a coastal hike that we took from the memorial dedicated to Sir Walter                Congreve to a precariously-balanced arch at tal-Hamrija.

In which I reminisced about several places we have visited in the past. Parts 1 and 2 are here and        here respectively.

In which I shared the books I read between July and September.

In which I talked about an unexpected, but very welcome, downpour.

In which I talked about barbecues, recipe books and nail polish.

In which I shared a delicious and easy recipe for roasted chicken cooked in a Mediterranean style.

In which I wrote about the first hospital that was ever built on Malta. If you're new here and want to learn a bit more about Malta, the posts in my Malta in a Minute series are a good place to start and take just one minute to read. This post had also featured in last year's top ten list.

In which I talked about blogs written by mature women that I love to read.


Goals for 2021

As you all know by now, I hardly ever make new year's resolutions but I do try to set some goals for myself. Here are a few that I hope to tackle this year:

  • Improve my photography: after years of talking about it and trying to understand the intricacies of modern digital cameras by myself, my husband has enrolled me in in an online course taught by professional travel and street photographer Mark Hemmings. The course is called Digital Camera Mastery and it's perfect for beginners like me. Thankfully, you learn at your own pace so I won't have to face deadlines I can't keep.
  • Get out of my comfort zone and do something new on the blog: now that I have upgraded my blog and am excited about blogging again, I would like to bring my readers something new and was thinking of occasionally interviewing fellow bloggers or interesting people I know in 'real life'. Watch this space.
  • Continue making baby steps towards greener living: this is something very close to my heart and, although I made a few switches last year to reduce the amount of plastic that we use in our home, there is still a lot more that I can do.
  • Worry less and live in the moment more: if 2020 has taught me one thing it's that life is unpredictable, that we cannot take what we have for granted and that we can usually get by with a little help from our family and friends. I'll try to keep that in mind in the coming months.
I hope you have all had a good start to 2021. If there is anything in particular that you are interested in and would like me to write about, let me know in the comments section and I will try to make it happen.
Location: Gnejna Bay, December 30, 2020

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Books I read in 2020: Part 4 (October - December)

Today I will be taking a look at the books that I read during the last 3 months of 2020. Between October and December I managed to read 9 books in total, finishing off my final read for the year this afternoon. Just as I had done in 2019, in January I will review My Year In Books by publishing some fun statistics from the Goodreads website that I find really useful for book recommendations. Following bookworms on Instagram (generally referred to as #bookstagrammers) has also got me interested in genres that I would not normally read. For Christmas I was gifted 16 books which, in addition to another 2 books that I got from the Little Free Library at Find The Door, means that I will have plenty of titles to choose from once January rolls in. But enough of my chatter. Let's take a look at the books I read these past 3 months.

  1. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah 3/5 stars
  2. Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory 3/5 stars
  3. Innocence: Tales of Youth and Guile by Roald  Dahl 4/5 stars
  4. Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian 4/5 stars
  5. Eli's Promise by Ronald H. Balson 3/5 stars
  6. A Brief History of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley 4/5 stars
  7. The Good Doctor of Warsaw by Elizabeth Gifford 3/5 stars
  8. The French Girl by Lexie Elliott 4/5 stars
  9. Cornflakes With John Lennon: And Other Tales From a Rock 'n Roll Life by Rob Hilburn 4/5 stars

Innocence: Tales of Youth and Guile by Roald Dahl



Featuring the autobiographical stories telling of Roald Dahl's boyhood and youth as well as four further tales of innocence betrayed, Dahl touches on the joys and horrors of growing up.

I don't know about you, dear readers, but Roald Dahl is one of my favourite story-tellers. He had the capacity to weave a tale out of almost nothing, using his imagination and life experiences to create memorable characters for the stories we are so familiar with, such as Matilda, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and James And The Giant Peach. In Innocence, Dahl talks about his childhood: his mother and siblings (his father died when he was 3), summers in Norway visiting his grandparents, his early years in Llandaff (Wales) and his boarding school years at St Peter's in Weston-Super-Mare (England) and Repton in Derbyshire (England). Spanning the years from 1922 to 1936, this memoir gives a wonderful account of what life was like in that brief period of peace between the two World Wars. Written in Dahls' inimitable style, Innocence manages to rise above the author's homesickness and the caning and bullying he was subjected to at boarding school, leaving the reader with an image of an author who never lost his sense of humour, even when faced with difficult and trying circumstances. The book ends when Dahl got his first job with the Shell Petroleum Company. Innocence is the first in a series of 8 books about Dahl's life. 

Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian



London is poised on the brink of World War II. Timid, scrawny Willie Beech--the abused child of a single mother--is evacuated to the English countryside. At first, he is terrified of everything, of the country sounds and sights, even of Mr. Tom, the gruff, kindly old man who has taken him in. But gradually Willie forgets the hate and despair of his past. He learns to love a world he never knew existed, a world of friendship and affection in which harsh words and daily beatings have no place. Then a telegram comes. Willie must return to his mother in London. When weeks pass by with no word from Willie, Mr. Tom sets out for London to look for the young boy he has come to love as a son.

Goodnight Mister Tom is aimed at older children and young teenagers and my rating and review reflects this. I think that this age group will appreciate and enjoy this story and it's cast of characters. Older readers may find this novel overly simplistic as it does not delve deeply into the development of the characters and, at times, the book almost reads like a modern-day fairy-tale. But this particular reader was happy to have her faith in humankind somewhat restored by a bunch of villagers from a bygone era who opened their hearts to an abused young refugee from London during WW2. Perhaps there's a lesson or two that we adults can learn from a time when people (admittedly not all of them) went out of their way to be kind. To sum it up in a few words, this is a story that is sad at times but leaves the reader with an overall feel-good factor.
Goodnight Mister Tom was the winner of the 1982 IRA Children's Book Award

The French Girl by Lexie Elliott



She appears, lithe and tanned, by the swimming pool one afternoon. Severine - the girl next door. It was supposed to be a final celebration for six British graduates, the perfect French getaway, until she arrived. Severine's beauty captivates each of them in turn. Under the heat of a summer sky, simmering tensions begin to boil over - years of jealousy and longing rising dangerously to the surface.

And then Severine disappears.

A decade later, Severine's body is found at the farmhouse. For Kate Channing, the discovery brings up more than just unwelcome memories. As police suspicion mounts against the friends, Kate becomes desperate to resolve her own shifting understanding of that time. But as the layers of deception reveal themselves, Kate must ask herself - does she really want to know what happened to the French girl?

Lexie Elliott's debut novel The French Girl is a psychological thriller that keeps the reader guessing about the course of events on that that fateful night in France ten years earlier until the very end. Elliott manages to keep a moderate pace throughout the novel and the book is only marred in places by the rather sluggish side-story. The ending leaves a few unresolved questions forcing the reader to surmise the answers. Overall, The French Girl is a strong debut novel and I look forward to more books by Lexie Elliott in the future.

My other 4 star reads are not novels and deal with niche subjects that will not interest everyone so I will be as brief as possible.

A Brief History of British Kings and Kings is exactly what the title says. It presents an outline of each British (English, Welsh and Scottish) monarch from Alfred the Great to the present Queen and even provides some insight into shadowy historical figures such as Boudicca and Macbeth. The book also provides a good explanation into how the three separate kingdoms eventually merged into the United  Kingdom that we know today. It is fascinating reading for die-hard fans (like myself) of the British monarchy.

Cornflakes With John Lennon provides a candid, behind-the-scenes look at some of the most legendary musicians of the past 5 decades. Written by Rob Hilburn, a music critic who worked for the Los Angeles Times between 1970 and 2005, this book is a fascinating insight into the world of rock 'n roll greats such as John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain.

If you're looking for a few books that you might like to read, you may find more titles in Part 1 of this series here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

This will be my last post for 2020. I would like to wish you all a very Happy New Year. Let's all hope that 2021 will be everything that 2020 was not. See you all on the other side.

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Glimpses of a Maltese Christmas

I was on the point of writing about a traditional Maltese Christmas but, just as I started thinking about what a traditional Maltese Christmas is all about, it dawned on me that the traditional Christmases that I remember from my childhood are now a thing of the past and they only linger in the memories of those that lived them. In reality, what most of  us now think of as 'traditional' has been imported into Malta in the last 30 years. This includes Christmas markets (strictly forbidden this year), mulled wine and panettone. These foreign traditions have now become our traditions too, making our Christmases richer and more varied - more European, perhaps. 


So if you're curious to see what Malta looks like during this time, lets take a virtual tour around a few places.


Glimpses of a Maltese Christmas: Out & About


Lights, wreaths, outdoor Christmas trees and nativity scenes are amongst the most common decorations that grace our doors, streets and public squares. Light displays can range from the simple to the ostentatious, both in public places and private residences but, at this time of year, the focus is always on the abundance of artificial lights which make these darker days feel so much more cheerful. 

Valletta

The light display in St George's Square


This year, the light display projected onto the buildings of St George's Square in Valletta depicts huge snowflakes that are lovely to look at but don't quite make up for the real thing - which never makes an appearance here, so these virtual snowflakes area as good as it's going to get.

       

A life-size nativity scene in Jean de Vallette Square


The Office of the Prime Minister in Castille Square



A display of bunting in Santa Lucia Street


Decorating with bunting at Christmas is a new trend but it works in this street that is lined with quirky eateries and cafes (like my absolute favourite Sunday In Scotland - their chocolate treats are to-die-for) and interesting boutiques like Boutique Perruche and Marquis de Vissac.

Rabat

In St Paul's Street



In the quieter residential area of Republic Street


The church of St Mark (more commonly referred to as St Augustine's)


Glimpses of a Maltese  Christmas: a peak inside

I will end this short tour by taking a peak through windows and front doors of restaurants and boutique hotels located in old palazzos. These places emanate a cosy and welcoming feel, especially when they are decorated for the holidays and I couldn't resist lingering to take a few photos.




I hope you've enjoyed these few glimpses of Malta at Christmas. As Freddie Mercury sang in Thank God It's Christmas, 'it's been a long, hard year' but I want to take the opportunity thank you for your support and to wish you and your loved ones a very blessed and joyful Christmas. Stay safe and healthy and remember that the joy of Christmas should come from within us. May it shine like a light and be a beacon for those who walk in the dark.
Happy, happy Christmas


Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Sincerely, Loree is getting a makeover!

 Dear friends, I am very excited to announce that, with the help of the very helpful and patient Berenica of Simply The Studio, Sincerely Loree is getting a long-overdue makeover. I have been mulling over this for at least a year now and have always been hesitant to take the final step because I was afraid I would make a mess of it. But, with Berenica's help, I think that you will soon see a more polished and modern-looking blog.

I cannot recommend Simply The Studio highly enough.  For a very affordable fee I will have a new template and Berenica has answered all my questions and will be helping me with the final installation. This may take some time. So please bear with me if links don't work or things don't show up in their proper place for now. I am really hoping that this new template will challenge me to improve my writing and photography so that you will all have more enjoyable experience when visiting the blog.

I will try to be back with one last post before Christmas if everything is up and running as it should be. I am really very busy right now preparing for the most wonderful time of the year and tying up loose ends at work. But I will prevail and am sure that, by 2021, an updated version of Sincerely Loree will be live. Fingers crossed ...

Christmas in Valletta, December 2020


Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Gifts with heart

So, here we are. At the beginning of the last month of 2020 and Christmas is just a few short weeks away. If there ever was a year when Christmas should be about what's in our heart rather than what's under the tree, it's this one and my aim is not to put together an extravagant gift guide from major stores or retailers. Instead, I just want to share some small stores, mainly locally-owned by artists or artisans,  because some of these people have had a hard time surviving this year so I thought it would be nice to share a few of ma favourites.

Jewellery

JAD Jewellery

Artistic duo Gioia and Ivano hail from Italy but live in Malta.  They create beautiful one-of-a-kind jewellery in silver and other precious metals. The craftsmanship is excellent and the pieces are all very modern, many of them in a unisex style. I have my eye on a particular bracelet so I hope Santa is reading this.

Instagram: JAD_Jewelry
Store: JAD Jewelry at Find The Door, 27 Triq it-Tramuntana (North Street), Birgu,  Malta

Sarah Gauci Jewelry

Sarah Gauci is a self-taught jewellery designer with a fondness for sparkly things. She specialises in feminine and bridal jewellery and adores creating anything to which she can add a little bit of sparkle. All her jewellery is hand-crafted and of outstanding quality. Last year I was gifted a lovely silver necklace with a blue Swarovski crystal by my colleagues at work and it is a really dainty and pretty  piece that I love.


Website: Sarah Gauci Jewelry
Store: 82 Birbal Street, Balzan, Malta

Paintings

Carmen Vella Gauci's Art

Carmen Vella Gauci and I go back a long way. We met in primary school over 40 years ago, lost touch for many years and then reconnected on Facebook. In the past few years I've attended a couple of Carmen's exhibitions. She is a very talented painter who is very passionate about her work. Carmen paints a wide variety of subjects including flowers, landscapes and pets. She also does commissioned portraits. 


                                                        Instagram: Carmen_Vella_Gauci

Jacqueline Agius 

Jacqui Agius is another talented Maltese artist. Her paintings, which generally depict Maltese towns and villages, the countryside, and seascapes, are extremely detailed - almost like looking at a watercolour photo. 

Website: Jacqueline Agius Art (at Fine Art America)
Instagram: Jacquiagius

Home And Living

Bespoke Binny

I first came across Natalie Manima, the founder of Bespoke Binny, on Instagram and I was immediately drawn to the vibrant colours and prints that she uses for her creations. If you would like a few pops of colour for your home, Bespoke Binny is the perfect place to find it. Natalie uses African prints to create pillows, aprons, lampshades and many other household items at very affordable prices. She also offers Virtual Lampshade Making Classes that are pre-recorded so anyone that's interested can enrol at any time.



Website: Bespoke Binny

Stephanie Borg

Stephanie Borg is a self-taught artist who has taken the patterns found on traditional Maltese tiles (a colourful selection of which you can see in the photo below) to a new level by incorporating them into contemporary products that include mugs, coasters, cushions, prints, mousepads and other items. Traditional tiles are not Stephanie Borg's only inspiration as village streets, traditional Maltese doors and intricate wrought iron patterns are also included in her beautiful and imaginative designs.
 

Website: Stephanie Borg
Studio Boutique: 33, Saint Catherine Street, Rabat, Malta

For Children

She Chases Butterflies

I had already briefly  mentioned the very cute creations of She Chases Butterflies when I wrote about Find The Door, an artisan boutique located in  Birgu. She Chases Butterflies creates handmade accessories and soft toys for children and for those still in touch with their inner child. My inner child is hopelessly in love with Charlie the bunny and his siblings.
Isn't he adorable?
Store: She Chases Butterflies at Find The Door, 27 Triq it-Tramuntana (North Street), Birgu,  Malta

I have mainly tried to focus (with one exception) on artists and artisans residing in Malta and I would have loved to include many more talented people that deserve our support. I hope you have enjoyed the creatives that I shared with you today.

If you enjoyed this post you may also like A different kind of gift list that I put together last year.

Disclosure:
All photos belong to the respective website owners.
This is not a sponsored post.
About Loree
I am Lorna, or Loree (as my best friends call me) and I am the author of Sincerely, Loree. You may get to know me better here:

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