Category Archives: books

Kindle registration = Usability fail?

My parents got a bit carried away at Otto’s school fete on Saturday and bought themselves a Kindle. They’ve been eagerly eyeing mine, and bought one for the Bigster for her birthday, so I suspect they had been working up to it for some time.

I love the feel of a paper book, but I also love the immediacy of a Kindle. I buy a lot of free/on special books, which is where the Kindle really shines, but I also use it for reference books when searchability is an issue.

On Sunday, I went to set up their Kindle and link it to my Amazon account (trusting that they won’t figure out the marketplace in a hurry … do you think I should be worried?),  and discovered something interesting.

See, I find the Kindle incredibly easy to use. You turn it on, use the “five way controller” to find what you want, page back and forth … it’s all there. And my parents had seen me use it and had tried it out and also found it easy. And they’re just nerdy enough to want a new toy.

But before they could use their Kindle, we had to register it. And this is a massive undertaking that took us quite literally 39 minutes (I checked my call logs).

Here’s what we found:

  • The Kindle (they have the Keyboard model) is quite unforgiving. Mum’s hands shake a bit, and sometimes she accidentally pressed the wrong key, then had to exit what she was doing to go back. Getting the wrong Symbol is particularly annoying.
  • The Kindle starts with the manual page open. I suspect it would be better to start with the Registration page. It took us quite a while to get there.
  • It’s easy to press the wrong button and the Kindle doesn’t give very informative error messages. Maybe this is a wish for mind-reading though – mum accidentally typed my email address wrongly (she typed melisssa – you’d think she’d know by now!) and it said “no username found”.
  • There was some anxiety when – after completing the registration process successfully – the first link on the screen she was returned to was ‘deregister’.

So here’s what could have been done better:

  • The Kindle should start with the registration page. Rewrite it to include a couple of basic usage tips if necessary, but be ready to receive the information required.
  • I should have been able to register the Kindle using the web interface. I’m sure this is possible in theory, as my own Kindle (bought through Amazon) arrived registered to me. Give me the serial number and I could have entered it straight away. Even if mum had then had to enter a password, at least it would have been one thing rather than many.

I suspect this is less of an issue for people in countries where Kindles are sold through Amazon, but in Australia we often buy through a third-party reseller (or, apparently, at school fetes).

That said, once she finally managed to register, we were in gravy. She scrolled through my archives, checking which books she wanted to read, while I scrolled through the web interface and sent some over to her. The web interface works well and mum was amazed to see things just appearing – the 3G is really excellent.

The only issue is going to be when she and dad want to read the same book, and have to fight over where it syncs to… I have a suspicion they might end up wanting another one.

So overall verdict: Kindle good, registration bad. I did reassure her repeatedly that the registration process is the hardest thing she will ever have to do on there.

It’s just a shame that they haven’t simplified it.

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Posted by on September 18, 2012 in books, work


This week in my life

There was a trip to the dentist. Resulting in a bruised jaw and droopy anaesthetised eyelid. Very attractive, me.

Also two trips to the Children’s Hospital, involving four vials of blood and a chest x-ray.

There was a trip to my accountant to do OMGTAX. And, if I manage to squeeze it in, a trip to the local council offices to view and photocopy the plans for our house.

There were traffic lights on Facebook that made it into my blog. And a bad friend who quoted the Traffic Light song and now I have an earworm.

There was a Diagram of Cheese, which did not. Until now. I don’t think it’s very complete.

There was an ill-advised Trip to IKEA (if I count last Sunday as part of this week).

Two gifts were bought for Fraser. He does not know what they are so I cannot tell you, Dear Reader. But they are awesome. And one might be for Sharing. Tragically, though, neither of them is Spy Cufflinks.

There was lots of work, jammed in between driving the Bigster around and hangin’ at the hospital.

And Nigerian Spam, addressed to Dearest One. Which made me feel happy even though it was from the Bad People.

There were no games at all, and only one very mediocre book. (See my slightly ranty review of the latest Pern novel, Todd & Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon’s Time at Goodreads – warning, SPOILERS sweetie!)

But there were TWO purple vegetables. Neither of which is usually purple.

And there was excitement about the upcoming Doctor Who card game by Martin Wallace.

As weeks go, I’d give it a 7.5/10.


Do you know Gladys?

Some few (many) years ago, Fraser and I enjoyed watching a short BBC series called The Mrs Bradley Mysteries.

Set in the 1920s, it featured the fabulous Diana Rigg as Mrs Adela Bradley, a criminologist and amateur sleuth, aided and abetted by her trusty chauffeur (and sometime lover) George and Inspector Christmas (played by ex-Dr Who Peter Davison) of the police force.

As a fan of crime novels from the early half of the 20th century (think Agatha Christie, Patricia Wentworth, Dorothy L Sayers), I was excited to discover that this series was based on the work of Gladys Mitchell, a very prolific author of over 70 novels.

Here are some of the things I have since found out:

  • While many of Mitchell’s novels have been republished, there seems to be little rhyme or reason about which ones are currently available. I’m therefore sticking to one particular imprint because I like the covers.
  • In the books, Mrs Bradley is “a small, birdlike woman”. Anything less like Diana Rigg is hard to imagine.
  • There are no steamy or even innuendo-laden scenes with the chauffeur in the books. sniff.
  • And no Inspector Christmas, either. Which is not necessarily such a bad thing.
  • The joy of online ordering is the instant gratification.
  • The annoying part is the waiting.
  • OK, I already knew those last two, but this list was looking a little short.
  • There is a DVD set of the BBC series. Tempting.
  • The website I just bought the DVD from says “Continue” on the order form but actually appears to finalise the order at that point and charge your card without confirming the shipping cost. Cheeky!
  • Impulse control is not my strongest skill, ever.

For what it’s worth, my favourite so far is When Last I Died.  Very, very funny.


Posted by on November 5, 2010 in books


Buying books online

Living in Germany last year changed me.

Not necessarily in mysterious internal kinds of ways: what it changed VERY tangibly, though, was my shopping habits.

I buy a lot of books. Let me rephrase that: I buy a LOT of books. I am not good at libraries, because for some reason they expect me to give the books back, and I don’t like that. Books are my friends and I like to keep the good ones close. Every time I try to join a library, even the one just up the road from home, I end up racking up enormous late fines. Also, our local library does not seem to be good at stocking series, so I have to order the third book in a series on Inter-library loan from Library A and the fourth on Inter-library loan from Library B, and then I end up buying the fifth book and what good is the fifth book if you don’t have all the others so then I buy them anyway and OMG it cost me MORE because I had to pay $1.20 for the inter-library loans and … well, it isn’t pretty.

And I do like to read.

And I read fast, so a book a night is not really unusual, even if it means I sit up till 2am reading.

Yes, there are possible some issues with self-discipline there. 🙂


Book prices in Australia are astronomical. And they were not astronomical in Germany. Even for English-language books.

So I bought quite a few books in Germany. Generally, new books, for less than I would pay here for second-hand books.

And then I came home, and I went shopping one sunny day, and I wandered into a book shop, and I nearly had a conniption on the spot, if you can do that with a conniption, because OMG the chick lit novel I was eyeing cost THIRTY TWO DOLLARS.

For a book.

And I realised how very much I must have spent on my bajillion or so books over the years. Even the ones that did not cost THIRTY TWO DOLLARS.

And I noted the name of the book, and I went home, and I looked on, and yea verily the book was going to cost me about TWELVE dollars plus whatever share of E14 postage it worked out to.

And so over the next few months when I saw books I wanted, I made a mental note of the name and I virtuously came home and bookmarked them on or added them to my ever-growing shopping cart … and eventually I ordered about thirty books all in one go and then read them greedily as they arrived … and then looked around and wondered where all the new books had gone. Must be time to order more.

The only place I regularly shop for books in Australia now is the specialist science fiction & fantasy shop. They send us catalogues and ring when our standing orders are in. And I like to support small businesses. It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling that I am not singlehandedly bringing about the demise of the book trade in Australia by evilly taking my orders offshore.

Oh, and Kmart. Where I buy Belle the Birthday Fairy and sundry assorted similar for Otto, who devours each new book in about half an hour and then starts counting down the days until the next one appears.

And then I told this story at a function at school and one of the mums told me about – and now I do not know whether I love her or I weep a little when I think of her. Because their prices on English books are EVEN LOWER than the prices at – and they include “free” postage anywhere in the world.

The problem with this is – well, there are many problems.

Because with, I did not pre-order books because it might mess with the very expensive flat-rate shipping. I merely bookmarked or wishlisted them for later.

And with, I added lots of books but then I went through and culled them before I placed my big order.

But with, I do not need to do that. Because even if I order only one teeny tiny book, it still costs OMGSOMUCHLESS – but if I am ordering one in a series I may as well get the rest of the series and then … oops.

And both sites store my credit card number so all I need to know is the secret 3-digit code (which I accidentally learnt by heart) and off goes my order.

I have considered those sites where you swap books. But a standard pre-paid envelope costs $5.90 or so, and some of these books only cost $7 NEW. And I can OMGKEEP them.

I suspect that the answer is probably ebay. Selling the books on ebay after I read them, I mean.

But that would require getting over myself to the extent of being able to get rid not only of books that I loathe and despise, but also of books that I quite enjoyed but probably will not necessarily re-read.

I did propose a new bookshelving arrangement to Fraser, that would allow us to store around 33 linear meters of books where we currently store 23. He frowned and glared at me, because he saw it as part of my Grand Ulterior Plan to get rid of his ugly bookshelves from our corridor. It honestly was not, but I don’t think he’ll believe me.

Which leads me to my new plan.

  1. Win the lottery
  2. Buy a holiday house
  3. Store books there.

I think this plan is a keeper.


Posted by on May 24, 2010 in books, shopping


back to the fray

Six loads of laundry down, one to go. We did well, this year. We’re almost completely unpacked already, too.

Our one unwelcome guest was a dead possum in the back yard – I guess that the neighbourhood cats have been making the most of our being away. I am a traitor to my feminist values – I played the “girl” card and made Fraser move it.

We headed out this morning with the best of intentions. We’d get the children’s new school shoes, get some school uniform essentials, buy the Bigster a new school bag, do our grocery shopping and buy a new lunchbox for Otto. All before coming home, getting changed, and heading to the Ballet.


We managed to get to the shoe shop (new runners and school shoes for Otto, replaced Bigster’s last set of school shoes where the stitching split – hooray for the people in the shop  who didn’t charge us for the new shoes). Then I picked up a new pair of cargo pants for Biggie, on the way to the chicken shop for lunch (Otto’s request/reward for behaving at shoe shop).

I can’t really blame the kids for the next bit. See, the shoe shop and chicken shop are just near one of three (AFAIK) foreign language specialist bookshops in Melbourne. So while the kids and Fraser finished lunch, I snuck out.

It’s a funny thing. Every year, I see lots and lots of books at Lorne Beach Books that I absolutely lust over and long for. And every year, I buy one or two and request the others for my birthday. (See, for example, Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Lore of the Land, Mrs Woolf and the Servants and Being Elizabeth Bennet: Create your own Jane Austen adventure.) 

This year, Fraser decided to go back to our old habits and only buy a token gift for one another at Christmas. The pay-off was that we ‘notionally’ allocated some money for each of us to spend on whatever we wanted, no guilt, no questions asked. I immediately thought of Lorne Beach Books and mentally set aside my money.

Now their range is as good as ever, their books as desirable as they always were. But somehow, having a sum of money set aside for buying them made me more picky? – at any rate, I found it easier to resist, even without trying, and in the 2 weeks we were there I spent a total of $30 on books for myself. Weird.

Anyway, it is possible that I made up for my restraint today at Language International. I’ve been working on French grammar exercises, but only having one real grammar workbook means I do one set of exercises on one point and then move on. So today I bought 2 more:

  • French Grammar Drills (“Perfect for Beginning and Intermediate Learners!” “Practice with More than 150 Exercises!” (I hope their French grammar is better than their English)); and
  • Schaum’s French Grammar 5th edition.

Then I bought a French verb wheel (because it is OMGadorable) and another book (with CD) about Alex Leroc, journaliste. This one is called L’ange gardien: À Perpignan, un justicier masqué protège les citoyens en danger. Il apparaît toujours au bon moment pour défendre les victimes contre leursagresseurs. Comment fait-il pour être si bien informé et qu’est-ce qui le motive ? Alex leroc, qui se trouve à Perpignann pour le mariage de sa sœur, a très peu de temps pour découvrir l’identité de ce Zorro du vingt et unième siécle. hee!

Meanwhile, I found a DVD of German-English songs for children and a rather good book about Germany for the Bigster. (I see there are also books about France and Spain in this series).

Then we were too tired to be bothered going hunting for school clothes, so we came home. Biggie’s practising her recorder, Fraser’s doing something on the PC in the study, and I am on the armchair watching Otto play with the dollshouse that I cleared out just before we went away (it was used to store “random paper junk” before then – she’s never really played with it before). That means we have lots to do tomorrow – but for now, I have to either restrain Otto from getting TOO frocked up to go to the ballet (she wants to wear the tulle and satin number she had for my cousin’s wedding) or suck it up and find a pink hair ribbon to match.

I guess I’ll try my sewing box first…

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Posted by on January 24, 2009 in books, family, shopping


Holiday reading

One of the joys of being on holidays is, of course, reading. Here are my highlights (and lowlights) so far. All authors’ names from memory. I am too lazy to walk to the other end of the house and read them.

  • Dead Line (Stella Rimington). This is the fourth or so in a series about Liz Carlyle of MI5 – but the first that I’ve read. It was a Christmas gift to me from Otto, who liked the picture on the cover. There were a few massive leaps of faith along the way (and a few times where I just wanted to clunk her over the head to point out the blatantly obvious) but it was an enjoyable beach read, and I might even pick up some of the others. (Lorne Beach Books has at least one of them). Fraser enjoyed this too.
  • Suffer the Little Children (Donna Leon). Donna Leon is one of our traditional beach reads. She does not disappoint.
  • The Phantom Tollbooth. A childhood favourite, re-read for the first time in years. The Bigster also enjoyed it.
  • Jeux dangereux. Finally finished this DELF A1-A2 French novel. Hardly in the same class as the other things I have been reading.
  • Gegensaetze ziehen sich aus (Kerstin Gier). German chicklit. I picked it up on one of my two large bookshop raids. Really enjoyed this one and figure it’s a good way to keep reading German without actually having to notice that I am reading German (and therefore concentrate) … do I smell an order or can it wait till the middle of the year? I still have Der Schwarm at home, which might be a tad more challenging. This is the third in a series, so I might even look up the other two.
  • A life in time and space: The biography of David Tennant. A christmas gift from the Bigster. What a dud. This is one of those unauthorised biographies that is hastily cobbled together from trivial internet research and a few newspaper articles (which are probably also on the internet), padded with a “glossary” of film, tv and acting terms that are, for the most part, not even used in the book. It reads like a bad literature review, and I wanted to throw it across the room. Not even remotely recommended.
  • Trixie Belden #18: The Grasshopper mystery. Or #19, or something. Biggie loves these.
  • Le roi Arthur et les chevaliers de la Table ronde. This one is easier, I think (DELF A1) and I have the CD with me. OMG French people speak fast! I could cope if it were only slowed down by 50%!
  • Staying alive in Year 5 (John Marsden) – found this for 50c or so at the book exchange. Biggie enjoyed it, as she is going into Year 5.
  • The Burglar who quoted Kipling (Lawrence Block). This was fun. Good beach reading. A semi-retired burglar runs a used book store – except when he comes out of retirement for “special” jobs. I’d read more of this series.
  • Babar’s Travels. Here’s the danger of buying books without reading them through. I remember the Babar books – good clean fun, monkeys, etc etc. Except for this one, which features OMGCANNIBALS! (although I am not sure that people eating an elephant is technically cannibalism …) and a very bloody war. I suspect the books were toned down after this one. Otto did not particularly enjoy this.
  • My Little Pony Colouring and Activity Book. shudder.
  • Thomas the Tank Engine wipe-on wipe-off activity book. The maze is broken. I am going to write and complain. omgrly.
  • Complete French Grammar. Still deciding what level I should re-enrol at. I’m thinking of repeating the second half of the last intensive course I did, because it was about then that I lost the plot as far as homework goes. 
  • The Tomorrow Code. One of Biggie’s – a gift from Auntie’s boyfriend. This was OMGSOGOOD. I was dubious about the Heckler & Koch on the first page (that’s a gun, right?) and even more so about the explosions and mass carnage on the next – but it’s just great. Super-smart teens in Auckland do what no adults can and find a way to decipher messages from the future – and work together to save the world. The author doesn’t pull his punches, and the ending is just terrific. Some big plotholes (what happened to the fog after the first two incidents?) but it’s fun enough that you don’t notice them at the time – which is the essence of action writing, I think.
  • Insight Guides: Continental Europe. Otto likes the bits on Spain. Really.
  • My Naughty Little Sister. Reading this with Otto. Lovely stories which still appeal today.
  • 500 places to take your kids (before they grow up). Discussed earlier. Only of value as a preliminary list – more information needed to make good decisions. But that’s what I figured when I bought it.
  • The Club Dumas. A style of book that I am always dubious about. Too self-consciously ‘literary’ – it would probably have been good to have a copy of The Three Musketeers handy as I read it. I couldn’t accept the business of the girl with green eyes, and the book seemed to kind of splice on the supernatural parts in a not-entirely-believable way. Was the author too adventurous with this one?

I am sure that, when I get to the Internet, I will read that Babar’s Travels is a famous classic, The Tomorrow Code has been slammed by critics, and the Club Dumas has won every literary prize imaginable. Oh well.

I also picked up a copy of Weasel Words, by Don Watson, in a slipcase with Death Sentence. Both are about the decay of public language and the rise of “consultant speak” (which, I acknowledge, I do too). I’ve been wanting to read these for ages.

Remaining in my bag, so far, are:

  • Le Club des Cinq en randonnee (yes, it’s the Famous Five in French … I figure it’s probably about the best I can hope to understand so far)
  • Lonely Planet: Eastern Europe
  • A concise history of Germany (bit heavier than usual beach reading, but when else will I get the chance?)
  • Queens consort: England’s medieval Queens: Harlot. Warrior. Witch. Crusader. Queen. (Lisa Hilton) – a Christmas gift from Fraser. We are particularly interested in Eleanor of Castile (by all accounts a horrible woman) but we have an interest in visiting the remaining Eleanor Crosses when we get to the UK (Charing Cross, Banbury Cross, Lincoln, Coventry?, Bath?, St Albans, Cheapside, Westminster (is one of these two Charing Cross??) – there were 12 of them originally plus two “fakes” erected later – need to research these). Hardbacks aren’t good to take to the beach.

Posted by on January 20, 2009 in books


Kidlit for Grownups

There’s a great thread on Boardgamegeek at the moment about children’s “classics” that are still good for adult readers. One poster makes the excellent point that, while many of us look back nostalgically on those books, we may not have read them to/with our own children.

Since I have a little time (waiting for Otto to fall asleep), I’ve gone through the list (so far) and annotated them – and have added my own suggestions at the end. (Warning: There are around 80 titles – this is not a short post!)

Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on December 17, 2008 in books, children


Death of an icon

vale Pamela Bone.

While I didn’t agree with everything she wrote, at times it got pretty darn close. And it was always thought-provoking.

I will look for her book today.

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Posted by on April 28, 2008 in books


Holiday Day 12 – Part 2

I took both girls out for breakfast (Otto woke as Biggie and I were about to leave) and downloaded some more emails. Then we headed for Lorne Beach Books, which was much less busy at 9am than it is at 4pm (surprise). I noticed 3 more games – BattleLore, Heroscape and Descent.

The kids were big winners – Otto scored another Charlie and Lola book (My haircut sticker book) and a Little Princess book (New Shoes); Biggie got 2 novels (one about a teenage psychic investigator, the other a young adult novel (The Long Walk) by Kerry Greenwood about a family of children whose father is working on building the Great Ocean Road) and I succumbed to the half-price Charlie and Lola calendar with stickers (sadly, they are not as good as they might have been).

I could buy many, many books from that shop. I looked longingly at a book of letters and diary entries by Virginia Woolfe, edited as a commentary on the various servants in her household. There was also a collected letters of the Mitford sisters, an illustrated book on “reading” English villages, a beautiful book of maps and the one I couldn’t resist – “Being Elizabeth Bennett” – which is a sort of Choose-your-own-adventure version of Pride and Prejudice, with other Austen novels worked in. It’s hysterical and I think I will buy another for my fabulous sister-in-law (who gave me a Jane Austen sex book a couple of Christmases ago).

My results:

Accomplishments: speak French; Screen-covering Skills; Ability to be Happy in Reduced Circumstances

Failings: Resentful; Love of Walking; No style, taste or beauty; Insufficient knowledge of Dancing; The Sense-ibility Type; Insensitive Rudeness

Intelligence: -40 (down from a high of 210) (yes that is a minus sign)

Confidence: 80

Superior Connections: Charlotte Lucas; A Distant Cousin Living in Gracechurch Street

Fortune: 80 (up from 50).

I married Colonel Brandon and my mother liked me the better for it.

I will have another try soon.


Later, we went out for dinner at the Arab (the apple crumble was not up to the remembered standard), and Biggie asked to see “27 dresses”. As far as I can tell, it is a movie based on the saying “3 times a bridesmaid, never a bride” – I’m not really sure what the appeal is to a 9 year old. I assume it’s just that it’s a real grown-up chick flick.

Biggie and I were chatting about reasons why that saying isn’t true, and she suggested that maybe someone hasn’t met a romantic enough man yet. Then she giggled and started talking about romance – that it’s candle-lit dinners and holding hands. All still alien concepts to her, thank goodness.

It got me reminiscing, though.

The most romantic dinner I ever ate, I shared with two women. We were all living in Austria, all on fairly tight budgets. We’d travelled to Budapest for a few days, and were determined to go to the famous Gundel’s restaurant for dinner. It was worth every penny – we had, I think, three waiters for our table, and were serenaded by gypsy violinists.

The most romantic dinner I shared with Fraser was – well, it was more funny than romantic. We’d booked seats on the Colonial Tram-Car Restaurant for our first wedding anniversary, frocked up, and settled in to enjoy our dinner. Because you’re on a tram (a 5-star restaurant tram, but a tram nonetheless), you’re packed in with the other diners and so there’s little privacy. The table beside ours housed a group of 4 people – two from a local large confectionary company, and two visitors. Over the course of the evening, we learned more than we’d ever imagined to be possible about Chupa Chups lollipops (Chupa Chup is Spanish for Sucky Suck). Better, we just enjoyed listening to the visitors, one of whom sounded exactly like a character from a TV comedy we’d enjoyed. (The actor later reprised the accent as Bat-Manuel in the live action version of The Tick).

There just isn’t a huge list of romantic dates. We were both slightly pissed (raises hand for more than slightly) the night we got engaged, and other wedding anniversaries have been equally memorable (and equally unromantic). One year (our 3rd, I think) we went on a night ferry ride to the Planetarium for champagne and starry skies – and our very friendly boat driver (errm, captain?) turned out to be a gregarious type with a big plate of sticky Greek pastries in the cabin that he wanted to share. (They were delicious). After that, I rather suspect we’ve never done anything in the evening except occasionally watch our wedding video and giggle at how much more hair most of the men (and some of the women) used to have (and how the colours have changed).

Who says romance is dead?


No games today at all (unless you count the Elizabeth Bennett book), but some books.

This morning, I finished Kathy Reichs’ Death du Jour, which I enjoyed very much. Interestingly, Fraser and I both found one scene (the cat subplot) very familiar, and I found another (the woman turning up at her home) rang some bells too. It’s possible that we both read it a long time ago, but the rest of the book didn’t seem at all familiar. I wonder whether she’s re-used those events in another book. We both found the “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing” really annoying when it went on for about ten chapters without telling us what it was (my guess was good).

Two more books today – The Long Walk, by Kerry Greenwood (see above). This was a great book for Biggie, very age-appropriate with the exception of the wannabe child-rapist, although that was subtle enough that I doubt that Biggie knew what was going on. There’s lots to discuss (racism, child labour, poverty, geography) and a compelling, although simple, storyline.

Also another Kathy Reichs book, Deadly Décisions. We are always astonished when we watch the TV show Bones, as all they seem to have retained is the character name and the type of work she does (in the vaguest possible way). Another good beach read from the excellent book exchange.

I went straight into the third Kathy Reichs book from the book exchange – Monday Mourning. She does what she does very well. I thought this was probably a little better written than the other two – she had well and truly found her style by now.

Early bed, because it was cold and bed was warm.


Posted by on January 23, 2008 in books, family, travel