Adventures, baking, book review, Books, gardening, home baking, second hand bookshops

New shoes, veg plot, book reviews, my Sunday Sevens – 16th September

I can wear shoes again!

September and new shoes seem to be forever connected in my memory! Not only did I spend my childhood years proudly walking along pavements enjoying the September sunshine with new shoes but then went through my years of parenting subjecting my children to the same pleasure!

I will admit, like a lot of women, I have so many shoes – most of them of the high heeled beautiful but cruelly uncomfortable variety. One of the lovely things about getting older is that you get a little wiser – so I find myself buying ‘comfortable shoes’ but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t be fun!

My new shoes are momentous -because it is the first pair I have been able to wear since my major foot surgery! I cannot tell you how joyous it feels to wear shoes again –  I am beginning to get my life back! Not only that – I am enjoying long hot showers where I am not dangling one cling film wrapped foot out of the way of the water! Simple pleasures indeed.

On a practical level – these shoes from Gracosy are sublime – the soul is so cushioned my feet just sink in – no uncomfortable jarring. On a sustainable level, my last pair of clogs lasted me over ten years and were regrettably thrown away a few months ago, when the sole finally wore though. I like clogs because they are so easy to slip on and off. I did see my foot consultant this week with a little trepidation –  he thoroughly approved of them!  If you fancy a pair of your own you can buy them from Amazon.

 

Tea Time

The Bake off is back – I do love watching it – I think Channel 4 have done a good job of continuing the format well. I do admire the bakers – it is hard enough baking but under those conditions – they are inspirational!

I adore toasted tea cakes – but since discovering I have a dairy intolerance I have been a little scared of eating things – so I decided to try Paul Hollywood’s recipe for hot cross buns – and oh my goodness they are delicious! Of course I just added currants to the recipe rather than the crosses and drizzled them with warmed honey rather than sugar syrup. Luckily replacing cows milk and butter with Goats Milk and butter has improved my health! I am not sure if you can see – but the butter was melting on the tea cake when I took this photo – they were still scrumptiously warm from the oven!

little cinnamon buns

E is not a fan of currants – he seems to only tolerate them in Christmas pudding, so I used half the recipe to make cinnamon buns – rolling the dough like a Swiss roll with a mixture of cinnamon, mixed spice, brown sugar and toasted hazelnuts. I put it in a cake tin to rise and this is how it turned out! It was a huge success!

I did not take any pictures of the second batch to show you – the whole process went really well until the baking – where I managed to burn the whole batch and sadly had to resign all the hard work to the bin! I have the attention span of a gnat… I cannot count the number of times the smoke detector has reminded me that I have something cooking – so I have now invented a rule – I never leave the kitchen when something is baking or boiling – our diet has improved from carbon to edible!

Veg Italia book review

I have been pescatarian for over a year –  an interesting journey full of – if I am being entirely honest, an experiment in inedible food. When I was first trying to discover what food was causing problems – I tried lots of vegan recipes – they were expensive and quite frankly, inedible. I don’t want to eat another meal with sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes. (White potatoes cause arthritis)  I can’t bring myself to eat any more peanut butter – (Veganism seems to use it for everything!) I cannot swallow anything made with ‘wheat free flour’ – it dries my mouth out, my body simply can’t physically swallow it!

So I have relaxed a little – I am not completely free of migraines but I am having them less. My arthritis symptoms have also reduced – but there is good research about the Mediterranean diet is healthy. A ninety nine year old I knew told me his lack of arthritis was down to having olive oil every day – he was walking proof in my mind and at 99 he had been around longer than any of our so called experts! – I am moving away from the ‘alternative’ foods and more about cooking from scratch.

I bought Gino’s Veg Italia recipe book secondhand – what a refreshingly delight it is! every recipe is tantalisingly tempting. We have had an excellent week – home made pizza, creamy mushroom gnocchi and roasted vegetables. (I think, my rule about not leaving the kitchen has improved my results immensely!) Thankfully the recipes are easy to follow and don’t require a whole heap of gadgetry and tins and jars of stuff! I’ve tried gnocchi before – (with sweet potatoes – too sweet) but Gino’s recipe was simple, created not only edible but delicious food! There is a recipe for home made pasta that doesn’t require a pasta machine or slavish dedication to duty!

A little piece of heaven

If you want to know what your heart’s desire is, notice that gut wrenching stab of jealousy next time because it guides you to what is missing in your life. It is more authentic than the fleeting desire to make origami napkins from your Pinterest feed.

I will admit to having pangs of envy – when I have seen posts of home grown vegetables. I have pined for outdoor space since I moved a couple of years ago. It is odd though, how I got so focussed on my dream of having a garden of my own that it is easy to overlook what is just round the corner. This little plot of land is in a neglected part of the grounds where I live. No-one loves it and while it might be very overgrown and sloping, it catches a lot of sun. So  I can’t tell you how excited I am to be able to grow our own veg!

September might not be the best month to begin – but I noticed a dark patch under large trees that barely gets any light – might just be the ideal spot for a mushroom patch,  we are just coming into mushroom season. Ever since I went on a camping trip with a Bear Grills guy who took us to pick field mushrooms for breakfast – I have longed to repeat the process. Those mushrooms felt like food from the Gods, not just because they were fresh but because they were the work of my own hands!

The Law of Angels book review

Oh joy of joys to discover a new author and a while new series of books! I purchased Law of Angels by Cassandra Clark from a charity shop while we were on holiday in Porlock Vale. The mix of historical medieval fiction – a daring nun, mystery and suspense was a temptation I could not resist! How glad I am that I give in easily to temptation – especially in book form – this was a pleasure to read! Little did I realise that this is the third in the series – but the story holds its own.

Cassandra immerses you in medieval society much easier than all the historical books I have been ploughing through recently. Set in York during the days running up to the Corpus Christi – I felt I was discovering more about the period while being thoroughly entertained.  A nun might seem an odd choice for a gun-ho sleuth but it was quite a liberating role in the 13th Century. Hildergard is her own woman, I liked her as a character – she is just really nosy if I am honest a bit of a Jane Marple with a little more daring do! Hildergard’s home is burnt to the ground, she is kidnapped twice,  ends up close to two terrorist bombings, and still manages to save York’s Mayor from being blown up. Its all well told with enough action and pace that kept the pages turning well past 10 o’clock!  (with my attention span that is praise indeed!) In order to avoid the usual book hangover, I ordered the first in the series when I was just over half way through.

I am determined to read more – I just have to gag the Calvinistic Shrew Mildred,  my inner critic,   nagging me that reading is time wasting… I should be doing so many other things.

It is reading before going to sleep that has really helped with my insomnia – so I am truly thankful to Cassandra Clark!

 

 

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Adventures, book review, Books, brooch, charity finds, charity shop finds, contentment, craft projects, diets, domesticiy, embellishments, embroidery, felt, food, frill edge crochet, hand made, hand sewing, hand stitched, happiness, health, health foods, healthy, healthy eating, home baking, home made, home made gifts, home sewing, London, making the most of life., novel, reading, recipe, simple pleasures, simplicity, stitching, Sunday Sevens, weekend

Sunday Sevens 19th August – Almond milk, embroidery and black magic

Roses in rose bowl

It has been a busy week and what weather we are having! Sunny days interspersed with rain it is nice to be back to our normal temperatures and see the grass turning green again!  I’ve escaped the four walls nearly every day this week – friends have been so kind to pop by and take me out for a bit. I am walking on crutches so I am somewhat  of a liability – especially as Thursday was raining cats and dogs – but it has been great to catch up with good friends and be a lady who lunches for a while! I have also been showered with more flowers! I bought this rose bowl in a charity shop some years ago – its crystal and was a bargain for about a fiver. I have used it often as it makes displaying flowers so easy as the grid holds the heads nicely.

mini heart brooch pincushion

We had a family gathering recently I wanted to make something to give as well as the usual gift. As she is a stitcher I decided to make a little heart brooch pincushion. I am always losing pins no matter how many pincushions I have scattered around the craft room – so having a little brooch that travels with me, has been very useful. I love this little print and the flower sat so beautifully framed in the pink felt.

brooch pin cushion

Its tiny, only about 4inches by 2 and a half inches but it came out nicely. Ok, I will admit I got carried away with the embroidery bit – I was watching Bletchley and the story tension was building so I was stitching faster! I crocheted a little border round the edge which seemed to finish it off nicely. I do adore Petra Cotton Perle – it is lovely to embroider with. Thankfully the gift was appreciated – which is always a bonus!

make a wish - dandilion embroidery

It is difficult to capture this little embroidery that hangs above this little heart, it is only 2inches – it is a dandelion head worked over fine organza. When I am eating it looks as if I have captured a lovely seed head in a frame, but photographs just don’t seem to come out right.

Dandilion embroidery

Stitching on such a see through background is more difficult and messy than I hoped, and looking so closely at the embroidery – doesn’t really capture how effective it is when viewed from a distance. It took me less than an hour to do but it really does please me.

moon over soho ben aaronovitch

Moon over Soho is the second book from Ben Aaronovitch – I am delighted to see that there are a few more books already out in this Series.  I have become rather fond of DC Grant, – his sardonic humour is delightful, the police procedure and social commentary makes me giggle. Not to mention the mix of the magical in every day cynical London life.

The 1960s planning department of local council whose unofficial motto was Finishing what the Lufftwaffe started…

Some things never change, and a senior police officer doesn’t organise a costly raid and admit to failure, or violating the Magna Carta, until he has done his best to convict somebody of something.

I think this book follows on very well from the first one – and we are now introduced to our ‘modern day Moriarty’ in the form of a Black Magician who managed to escape this time, so I am keen to read the next book. I don’t think it will be long before we see this series televised – it is that good! although they might need some really good special effects to do it justice.

Oh and the little fox brooch was a tiny fabric illustration of the fox cushions I made for my daughter – I could not let it go to waste so I made it into a little brooch. It is lovely to have time to stitch.

almond milk

I made a huge mistake buying some ‘almond milk’ in the supermarket a few weeks back – It was basically water with a hint of almond – I am shocked they can get away with it – the almonds make up less than 5% of of the overall ‘almond milk’ – making it 95% water. So I decided to make some of my own and it is really easy, tastes delicious and is much cheaper.

Simply place a bowl full of almonds (I used the skin on) in water for 24 hours. The nuts plump up and actually taste nicer!

Then add a teaspoon of vanilla extract a couple of dates (to sweeten it a little) your nuts and water to a blender and blend for about a minute. Push through a fine sieve to remove the skins. (I think I might try the almonds without skins next time!)

I found my almond milk was very thick so I did a few more whizzes using the stuff left in the sieve and additional water. It still looked like milk after the third time and my home made milk was more creamy than the shop bought one. It is nice for cereals but I don’t think it would work in coffee or tea!

Sunday Sevens, your week summed up in photographs,  is the brainchild of Nat at Threads and bobbins – you can find her site here.

Have a lovely weekend.

x

 

 

 

Adventures, book groups, book review, Books, self acceptance, self love

Sunday Sevens – book reviews

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I’ve struggled a little with the concept of Sunday Sevens because in all honesty my life is pretty ordinary and not all that exciting, but I enjoy reading other bloggers posts and it is only fair to share. All in all, its been a pretty quiet week – no migraines thankfully! so I thought I would use the opportunity to write a little book review and a few of the simple things that have given me pleasure this week.

 

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Firstly, I am really enjoying this Sencha Sakura Green Tea from Char in Winchester. It is a scented tea – and has a delicate cherry flavour that is simply divine! perfect for Spring.

Rivers of London Book review

I really enjoyed this book! Right from the beginning I felt incredibly sorry for the protagonist – DC Peter Grant – he has a sardonic humour! To quote the blurb… Meet DC Peter Grant he will show you his city. But it’s not the capital that you all see as you make your journey from Tube to Bus, from elephant to castle. It’s a city that under its dark surface is packed full of crime. And of magic. A city that you never expected…

This is a wonderful book, (I am delighted that this is the first in a series) it has been described as Whitechapel mixed with Harry Potter – it is a great imaginative mix. There are the vampires living in a basement, a witness to a murder comes forward .. the only problem is the witness is ‘corporeally challenged’ as in not having a body because he is a ghost. It is a really good read and one that will keep you turning the pages.

Self care revolution

There are so many books on Self Care at the moment – many of which I have passed over because they are pretty thick and to be honest… boring. This one stands out because there is a lot of pictures… and I do love pictures! There is a lot of wisdom in the pages, but it is laid out in such a way that you can take chunks at a time for example there are a couple of yoga poses that could be done before bed. They take ten minutes and it has helped me achieve the desire to do more yoga because its achievable – I found the hour and a half sessions I attended a struggle if I am honest! but ten minutes before bed, four restorative poses – that is achievable!

There are various sections covering all aspects of good living – movement and nutrition, sleep rest and relaxation, coping skills, physical environment, social connections, mood boosters, goal setting and accomplishments and finally values and purpose.

It is written with such honesty, the author was in need herself – and she is honest about her depression which helps. Sometimes self help books are written in such a way that you feel the author has never had a problem – but Suzy Reading is open about her own journey which seems to make the advice more authentic.

The Simple Home Book Review

I had to have this book as a physical book because I bought Rhonda’s simple living on my kindle and really wished I had bought the book. Rhonda gave up the rat race of life.. realised that the key to freedom lay in living simply – within your means and cutting back on all the should haves and must haves. She writes a great blog, down to earth about her life growing their own vegetables and making her own bread. This book is set out in home making areas by season. (although you have to tweak it a little because we are in the northern hemisphere)

A month to month guide to self reliance, productivity and contentment.. With all the talk of financial uncertainty, sky-high property prices – I know this book can help people, you and older, live well in difficult times. There needs to be a way forward that gives ordinary folk the power to choose family and home life instead of intense consumerism and the bleak consequences of it. Living simply can e that way forward.

It is so easy to underestimate just how our lives are tethered to a consumerist culture.. the must have phone upgrades that have us in debt for another couple of years, the lifestyles pumped into our living spaces unconsciously by Television programming as well as advertising. Not to forget that since the introduction of the national curriculum – independent living skills have been virtually eradicated from education – instead of spending 6 weeks a year learning to cook, children spend most of that time designing packaging for their food product – running an imaginary food company. Debt has become a way of living and shopping a way to pass time – made even easier at a click of a button. What we don’t realise is that it takes our lives away, we are selling our time and future for items that really don’t matter. Living within your means without debt – is the way to freedom. Eating food made from scratch – is taking back the control for your health.

ok… rant over. This book is awesome – I am only disappointed that I can’t have chickens anymore!

Paris Undressed Book

In America women save their best lingerie for date night or Valentines day. French women don’t need a special occasion or permission. They resist cookie cutter definitions and labels for love. Why put a quota on pleasure? If lingerie feels good next to your skin, why not wear it as much as possible? Life is the special occasion. Today. Right here. Right now.

We pretty much follow our American cousins when it comes to lingerie – and so lingerie shopping in the UK is very limited. I have to admit I am ashamed of the underwear I reach for every day – its not pretty but it is – thankfully comfortable!

I am certain I am not alone – I have piles of bras that I have worn that have tortured my body until I can bare it no more… it is why I have now taken the sum total of five bra making courses! Yet I the perfect bra seems to elude me! I have a large pile of toile bras that simply don’t fit well either…

But here lies the problem.. French Women spend a lot of money on their lingerie and they have a wide choice of shops to choose from. Here I pick up a £3.00 bra in Sainsbury’s and wonder why the blasted thing is so irritatingly uncomfortable before chucking it on the ever growing pile of torture devices that I hide in overflowing drawers.

Its not just not as simple as Kathryn kemp-Griffin makes out – I’ve visited Agent Provocateur and spent a lot of money on lingerie and yes, you can tell the difference in quality, but sadly, what lingerie manufacturers don’t seem to understand is that women above size 10 would like something beautiful. And yes, women with a cleavage a bit bigger than a D cup would like the same amount of pretty lace and bows that you get on a double AA cup! Why does it all disappear after C I wonder?

ok… yet another rant over.. !

There is a lingerie shop near where I get my hair done… I will make an appointment and let you know how it goes. I really would like to believe that it is as easy as Kathryn kemp-suggests – lots of beautiful lingerie that is comfortable and pleasurable next to the skin!

This book does suggest the holy grail of comfortable underwear exists.. you just have to visit Paris … !

Emotional Sensitivity Book review

This little book rocked my world and has helped me more than all the growing self help books on my shelves. I am an Highly Sensitive Person – its a bit like having extra sensory perception and it does make life incredibly hard sometimes.

I have to admit, there were early chapters in this book that brought tears to my eyes. Imo Lo knows a great deal about her subject – because finally a lot of my painful past not only made more sense but I realised I was not alone – that there are others who also struggle.

There is great practical advice – how to look after yourself, how not to close down and shut off all feeling. Being HSP means that if you sit with an angry person – you feel their anger, their rage, it is uncomfortable – it is painful and it is overwhelming at times. It means you cannot hurt someone – no matter how much they deserve it, without feeling that hurt too. So it makes you very vulnerable – and a target that seems to bring out the bully in a lot of people.

I cannot recommend this book enough – it is practical and offers strategies that give me hope.

Be Gentle to yourself

I have finished another little quilt – these little sewing meditations are soothing and relaxing. You can read about my first little quilt here.

 

book groups, book review, Books

The Dress Shop of Dreams – Menna Van Praag book review

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This is the second book I have read from this author – she creates such cosy worlds full of kind people. The dress shop in question is magical – when a woman tries on one of the beautiful silk dresses – she is clothed in the confidence and beauty to attain her dreams – which mostly revolve around finding love.

This book is about love and loss and finding your way. It is full of kind hearted people who for many reasons are lost. Cora – a scientist has closed off her heart after the tragic death of her parents – begins to remember what happened that night and decides to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Walt – the owner of the nearby bookstore – makes the most delicious cherry pies – has been in love with Cora all his life – but Cora seems immune to his advances. He reads books on the local radio – and his deep voice draws may admiring letters which Walt has no interest in responding to. Dylan – the radio producer begins to write back to some of the ladies – and finds love.

dress shop of dreams

The shop owner – Etta – who is also Cora’s grandmother – is pining for a lost love years ago – and while she can stitch magic into the dresses that bring out confidence and beauty in every woman – she can’t help herself.

All these lovely broken people – somehow navigate their way through the book to a satisfying ending. This is a tale about love, loss and recovery and finding the courage to love again.

These books are a great escape and enjoyable to read – I intend to read another of her books soon.

Adventures, book groups, book review, Books

Menna Van Praag – Lost Art of Letter writing book review

Menna-blog

I can’t recall how I stumbled across this author, but I am so glad I did, if you enjoyed Chocolat then this author is going to really delight the senses – she writes joyful tales that include just a sprinkling of magic, in the same way that Chocolat does – its believable magic, that hint that somewhere out there is a force for good.

I don’t know about you, but with all that is going on in the world, I find I want to escape into a good book, where people are kind, and there is hope – Menna’s writing is just such an escape and the settings she chooses for her tales are so close to my heart that I find them irresistible.

Letter writing

The Lost Art of Letter Writing begins with a tiny, shop tucked away in the Cambridge, it contains beautiful paper, pens and a magical writing desk. Clara the shop owner walks the streets after closing – observing the inhabitants and then writes them letters of encouragement – these letters give hope or support – what ever she is drawn to write.

However, waiting for her is her own mystery, a discovery of a box of letters that send Clara on an adventure beyond the four walls of the shop. It is not just her story, there is a mix of other stories interwoven – the people Clara sends encouraging letters to – which fragmented the story a little.

However, it is a pleasurable read, one that I could recommend.

 

Adventures, book review, Books

Book Review – The Taxidermist’s Daughter Kate Mosse

taxidermists-daughter

It is wonderful to read a story set in your own small corner of the world, Kate Mosse is a local writer and this is the first book I’ve read that features many of the local landmarks. I loved hearing the names of places I know well, Chichester and Fishbourne which is where Kate grew up. You can read an article about the house that inspired this tale here.

What Kate does well, is to write evocatively about a place – I loved that about Winter Ghosts and I began this book almost straight after finishing Winter Ghosts, but this tale is darker and more macabre.

Sussex, 1912. In a churchyard, villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will die in the coming year are thought to be seen. Here, where the estuary leads out to the sea, superstitions still hold sway.

Standing alone is the taxidermist’s daughter. At 17, Constantia Gifford lives with her father in a decaying house: it is all that is left of Gifford’s once world-famous museum of taxidermy. The stuffed animals that used to grace every parlour are out of fashion, leaving Gifford a disgraced and bitter man.

The bell begins to toll and all eyes are fixed on the church. No one sees the gloved hand pick up a flint. As the last notes fade into the dark, a woman lies dead.

While the village braces itself against rising waters and the highest tide of the season, Connie struggles to discover who is responsible, but finds herself under suspicion. Is Constantia who she seems – is she the victim of circumstances or are more sinister forces at work? And what is the secret that lies at the heart of Gifford House, hidden among the bell jars of her father’s workshop?

Told over one summer, The Taxidermist’s Daughter is the haunting new novel from the bestselling author of Labyrinth, Sepulchre, Citadel and The Winter Ghosts.

I have to admit the detailed description of the process of taxidermy described early on in the book made me feel slightly squeamish. I can’t say that it endeared me to Connie, I found it took a while to really get into the book. It was like catching glimpses in the mist, the sense of place, the marshes and the ebbing water – play just as big a role in this tale along with the characters.

wash stand Petworth Cottage Museum

The tale unfolds gradually, the lives of Gifford and his daughter resonate strongly with the sense of decay. Their art is no longer sought after or appreciated, but, Kate makes it very clear, it may be macabre but it is an Art of its own. It made me look at taxidermy in a different light – the skill is in preserving life, forever -from the smallest bird to the well loved dog.

It is gruesome in parts, especially the murders – but then it is why this tale hangs together, so reminiscent of Victorian Gothic – you get a sense of chilling in your bones, as the tidal waters rise, the crows circling or roosting in packs, even though it is more Edwardian than Victorian, it is a delightfully suspenseful tale.

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Kate’s sense of  of place is masterly, cosy tap rooms of local Public houses, an austere asylum, chilly carriage rides and living beside the frosty ebbing and flowing estuary mirroring the Giffords’ place in the community. We also have gallantry and just the wisp of romance .. if only the two lovers had a chance.

It’s a good read, one definitely for cold winter nights with a crackling fire – to ward off the chill of the mist and fog, in good gothic style.

If you loved Susan Hill’s The woman in Black, then you’ll enjoy this. (When, dear Susan, will you write another Gothic novel?)

I can’t wait to see what Kate Writes next…

Adventures, book review, Books

Remarkable Creatures – Tracey Chevalier Book review

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You might imagine Lyme Regis in Dorset on a November day would be rather bleak, but we were blessed with beautiful sunny weather when we visited last November. Lyme was enchanting, there were hardly any other tourists – the beach was empty and it was easy to enjoy a warming latte from one of the cafes on the prom.

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We ambled along the front turning up the high street to discover the most extraordinary Sanctuary Book Shop! It was full of oddities and curios including old black and white photographs and a battered sewing machine. Room after room, crammed in on every surface, books old and new jostled among teddybears and antiques. Classical music drifted around the shop, while we explored – in awe of the odd collections and tableau. If you ever get to Lyme do pop in! it is a cross between museum and book shop they even do Bed and Breakfast!

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On such a glorious day, I could not resist purchasing Tracey Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures as a way of taking a little bit of Lyme back home with me. Not just a reminder of a perfect day, but the extraordinary bookshop!

Set in Lyme itself, Remarkable Creatures tells the story of Mary Anning – who unearthed many fossils back in the early 19th century and her friendship with Elizabeth Philpot a middle aged spinster.

Had it not been for the fact that the book would be a reminder of a perfect day, I might not have picked this book – because it doesn’t sound all that inspiring, but I had enjoyed Tracey Chevalier’s the last runaway – and what a lovely book it turned out to be!

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I had no idea about the lack of opportunities for middle class ladies, but Chevalier presented the plight of the three Philpot sisters very well – it seemed that women had only a very short time to find a husband and when they did not – they became the fringe of society. I love the way Chevalier weaves a rich story around real life characters. Mary Anning lived in Lyme- born into poverty, but able to survive by unearthing and selling her fossils – to men who took all the credit and the praise.

This is light hearted tale raises a deeper question in my mind, women’s contributions  to science and natural history, seems to be written out of history I wonder how many unsung women there are? What other female contributions are claimed by their male counterparts?  Many of Mary’s discoveries were simply attributed to the men who purchased them, rather than Mary herself. Chevalier also touches lightly on the challenges these creatures created in opposition to religious beliefs at the time. Darwin’s origin of the species is not mentioned, but Elizabeth ponders on how these discoveries fit with ‘God’s plan’.

While the Annings might be poor and the Philpotts rich in comparison, the balance of friendship is one of equality. Elizabeth’s life might not be restricted by poverty, but it is just as confined by circumstances as Mary’s is. Life for all women is not one of equality with men in all levels of society.

It is a light read – the tale is merely 350 pages, but one that I enjoyed and would recommend wholeheartedly, I liked the Philpott’s and would have liked to have spent more time with them in their cosy cottage in Lyme.

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Adventures, book groups, book review, Books

Ghostly tales -Book recommendations for Christmas Reading


December’s bleak weather – drab grey clouds creating a state of perpetual twilight in the short daylight hours contrasts sharply with the twinkling lights of Christmas Decorations. No wonder we all huddle in the warmth and light of our homes, gather together by a crackling fire and read dark brooding tales. Winter weather gives rise to the the gothic novel, Frankenstein was written after a lengthy storm, maybe the tapping of rain against the windows gives us a deep contrast to our cosy nest, that just beyond the walls, something lurks.

It was a Victorian tradition to tell ghost stories on Christmas Eve – maybe created by Charles Dickens Christmas Carol although Shelly’s Modern Promethus better known as Frankinstein was written a good twenty years earlier after a particularly violent storm.    Whatever the tradition, there is nothing nicer than being curled up safe and warm reading brooding gothic tales – I thought I would offer some recommendations as alternatives to the flickering box on the wall.


The Winter Ghosts – by Kate Mosse

Kate is a local author to West Sussex, I was delighted to meet her a few years ago. She has written a number of books but this is an engaging a ghostly tale. Set in France between the wars our protagonist, Freddie is lost; not just on his way to Ax-les-Thermes to spend time with friends but suffering deep grief at his brother’s death.  He is caught up in a blizzard high on a mountain road – crashes his car and wanders towards the nearest village.  In the woods, he hears a woman’s voice calling.

This is a good read – the ghosts are not scary enough to give you sleepless nights. The tale is evocative – the atmosphere definitely one that makes this tale believable. Although you might need to wrap up warm – his wandering in the snow made me gather lots of blankets round me!


The Woman in Black – Susan Hill

This is my favourite gothic novel – one that set me on the road to reading more from this genre. The tale begins with the cosiness of a happy family gathered round the fire on Christmas Eve, where the protagonist, Arthur Kipps, is asked to tell a ghost story by his step children. This evokes terrifying memories for Arthur – of his time spent in the aptly named Eel Marsh House – the memories surface and disturb his peace.  Arthur is unable to rest until he has written his account down on paper.

Unlike the film, this story is darkly plausible – Arthur convinces us that until the visit to Eel Marsh House, he was a man of logic, one not easily given to melodrama and superstition. The Woman in Black is a tale of heartbreak and revenge – whenever she is seen death follows shortly behind, he fears catching sight of her and is always looking over his shoulder. The happiness of his family home, the joy of love and peace that surrounds the house is not able to drive out his fear, instead it casts a shadow on his life – will he escape her clutches or will she get her revenge?


Florence and Giles – John Harding

Set in New England – this tale of innocence, neglect and crumbling mansions has all the elements to create a gothic story. Florence and Giles roam free, while servants go about their business in the absence of the Master of the house and uncle to the children. Florence is forbidden to read, because her uncle was rejected by an educated woman. However Florence is not to be thwarted, she escapes to the library, hides herself away and teaches herself to read, devouring novel after novel in her Uncle’s vast library.

I have been a life long reader – my childhood was spent escaping into books, so I could relate to Florence and felt sympathy with her almost straight away. I loved the way Harding gave Florence a strange way of speaking – creating her own words and phases that were uniquely her own and quite endearing.

However, we are talking gothic novel – where suspense and horror lie. It gathers pace, in a similar way to the Turning of the Screw – layer upon layer  right up to the horrifying conclusion. It left me completely traumatised at the end – with a complete book hangover for several weeks. Read if you dare!

 

 

Adventures, book review, Books

Outlander Series one and The Witches Daughter – book review

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We bought an Amazon TV stick and have been enjoying some great films; this Series kept on popping up in our feed, so we decided to try it.

The basic story is about an Army Nurse in the 1940’s who is visiting Scotland with her husband after the war. One day she visits a standing stone circle and falls back in time by 200 years.

I really enjoyed the first half of the series, it was great learning about the clan culture and seeing Claire navigate her way in another time. She used her knowledge to heal and earned respect for her skills. She falls in love with one of the characters (I’ll try not to spoil it) but somehow when we reached two thirds of the way in I began to feel my interest waning.  How many times did she ignore advice and get herself in trouble? I find I was getting restless at her inability  to learn from her mistakes.

Beyond episode 11, I was watching it alone, Mr D having lost interest and it was becoming too romantic even for my interest, but the final episode left me frustrated and angry! What began as a promising tale – seemed to take a turn that left me feeling uncomfortable to watch. It seems to me that current box sets seem to desire to push boundaries, but I find it difficult to understand why the last episode would be so dire.

We became sucked into Game of Thrones a few months back – the first series was gripping, but when we reached the end of series five I felt sickened by the sheer violence depicted and refuse to watch any more. (Seriously, seeing someone squeeze a person’s eyeballs out of their sockets is gruesome! a final straw after episode after episode of skinning people alive, cutting off hands, beheading and poisoning, it is not my idea of entertainment)

However, I shall give the second series of Outlander another chance in order to recover the initial enthusiasm, maybe try and see if the books are any better than the TV series, Game of Thrones readers say there is not the same level of violence in the books.

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Outlander left me with an interest in time travelling tales: The Witches Daughter was an interesting read. I am not really into witchcraft but I do love the concept of fantasy and adventure.

Bess sees her mother hanged as a witch, with good reason it turns out. She is taught how to cast spells by a warlock called Gideon, who eventually helps her to become immortal. We follow Bess through three lives with Gideon hot on her tail.

It is an entertaining story , Paula Brackston is a talented writer: the story moves quickly and easily to a satisfying conclusion.

A good read I will give it five stars.

What do you think of time travelling tales?

Adventures, book review, Books

The House at Riverton book review

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If you haven’t read the book, don’t worry, you can read this review there is no spoiler. 

Grace Bradley went to work at Riverton House as a servant when she was just a girl, before the First World War. For years her life was inextricably tied up with the Hartford family, most particularly the two daughters, Hannah and Emmeline.
In the summer of 1924, at a glittering society party held at the house, a young poet shot himself. The only witnesses were Hannah and Emmeline and only they—and Grace—know the truth.
In 1999, when Grace is ninety-eight years old and living out her last days in a nursing home, she is visited by a young director who is making a film about the events of that summer. She takes Grace back to Riverton House and reawakens her memories. Told in flashback, this is the story of Grace’s youth during the last days of Edwardian aristocratic privilege shattered by war, of the vibrant twenties, and the changes she witnessed as an entire way of life vanished forever.
The novel is full of secrets—some revealed, others hidden forever, reminiscent of the romantic suspense of Daphne Du Maurier. It is also a meditation on memory, the devastation of war, and a beautifully rendered window into a fascinating time in history.
Originally published to critical acclaim in Australia, already sold in ten countries and a #1 bestseller in England, The House at Riverton is a vivid, page-turning novel of suspense and passion, with characters-and an ending-the reader won’t soon forget.

 

My thoughts:

Kate Morton is a very talented writer, of that there is no doubt… I found this book an engaging read.

It is so beautifully written in places:

I told you about the memories I’ve been having. I told you about the curious sensation that they are becoming more real to me than my own life. The way I slip away without warning, I am disappointed when I open my eyes and see that I am back in 1999. The way the fabric of time is changing, and I am beginning to feel at home in the past and a visitor to the this strange and blanched experience we agree to call the present.

What beautiful observation – simple genius.

There are so many metaphors where the house and the family reflect the wider society. The house personifies the fate of the aristocracy, the family’s decline is a slow painful death, as the dust begins to collect in corners. Class is brushed aside as bankers and business take control, reflecting the change in the wider society, it is the nouveau riche in the guise of Teddy that intend to bring the house back to its former glory.

The incident weaves in and out like a ghost, we catch snatches, we know someone died, we know there were two witnesses but we ebb backwards and forwards in time the story is pieced together like a jigsaw. At one point I was frustrated with the writing, we get closer and closer and then suddenly we are transported away to another time. Perhaps that is what is it is like in old age?

The last piece is not supplied by the narrator but as a recorded epilogue from Grace to her son. To be honest, I felt rather cheated by this, we never really get the story straight, the details are second hand and not fully there – we are left to surmise our own opinion about what happened.

But then so much of the novel is hinted at, Grace’s father, her mother, the game .. the mystery swirls around the story, just like the mist around the house itself.

I am not entirely sure I agree with the publishers that this is reminiscent of Daphne Du Maurier – Rebecca is a novel about a house of ghosts, but the tale has none of the suspense or tension of Rebecca as it  whirls to a crescendo where this tale just fades away.

It was an engaging read, she deserves her place on the best seller lists but I am reluctant to pick up the second book: the Forgotten Garden just now, because I am not really satisfied with the ending – it just simply faded away with Grace’s death and perhaps that was intended by the writer.

I did not mourn its loss which is an indicator of how I feel about books, when I am usually sad to let the characters go. In this instance, it was a peaceful passing!