Sunday 22 September 2013

Journey down the Nile

The Sacred River by Wendy Wallace
Published by Simon & Schuster

The Egyptians had written their magic for the dead.  But Harriet wanted assistance now.  It was life she longed for…

Harriet Heron’s life is almost over before it has even begun.  At just twenty-three years of age, she is an invalid, over-protected and reclusive.  Before it is too late, she must escape the fog of Victorian London for a place where she can breathe.

Together with her devoted mother, Louisa, her God-fearing aunt, Yael, and a book of her own spells inspired by the Book of the Dead, Harriet travels to a land where the air is tinged with rose and gold and for the first time begins to experience what it is to live.  But a chance meeting on the voyage to Alexandria results in a dangerous friendship as Louisa’s long-buried past returns, in the form of someone determined to destroy her by preying upon her daughter.

As Harriet journeys towards a destiny no one could have foresee, her aunt Yael is caught up in an Egypt on the brink of revolt and her mother must confront the spectres of her own youth.

‘Oh, Lord, what is that?’
     Louisa, out in the fog with a pair of scissors, explored the soft obstruction with the toe of her show.  A rag, she decided.  A cloth dropped by Rosina from a window, back in the summer.  Stooping to pick it up, feeling for it on the brick path, she gasped.  The thing was warm under her fingertips.  She crouched down and peered though the vapour at a yellow beak, jet plumage around a glassy eye.  It was a blackbird.  Newly, beautifully, dead.
     The fog was sour on her tongue.  It tasted of iron and smoke mixed with a primeval dampness, made hr eyes water and her cheeks sting.  Enveloped in the yellow cloud, Louisa could make out nothing.  Her own garden might have been a limitless place stretching to eternity in all directions or it might have shrunk to the very spot where she stood.
     All over London, birds had been dropping from the sky – thudding on to the leather roofs of carriages, falling down chimneys and splashing into lakes in the great parks under the gaze of statues.  Everyone said that they were an omen although there was no agreement on its meaning.  Louisa wouldn’t allow this one to be an omen.  She would rid them of it.
     Pulling on a glove from her pocket, she made herself pick up the bird.  It was light for its size, all feather and quill and claw.  Balancing it on her palm, she made her way along the path to the wall at the end of the garden and stretched out her arm to toss the corpse into the mews.  As she did so, she felt a scrabble of claws, sudden and intimate against her wrist.  The creature lurched, unfurled its wings like a black umbrella and vanished into the morning.

This is Wendy Wallace’s second book in a trilogy of Victorian novels.   Focusing on three very different women, she weaves an intricate tale of life, love and strength starting in London and culminating in Egypt.  The principal character is Louisa.  Suffering to breathe in the fog-filled air of London, she longs for change and begs her doctor to recommend that she go to Egypt, county of her dreams.  As this is the Victorian era, of course she cannot travel alone, so to accompany her are her mother and her aunt.  Both are very different people but agree to go with Louisa.

On the boat to Alexandria, we meet a whole host of characters who are to feature again later on in the story; newlyweds Mr and Mrs Cox, the dashing artist Eyre Soane and upon departure, a mysterious man with a piano.  Aunt Yael decides that she will not journey down the Nile with her sister-in-law and niece, so remains in Alexandria to do God’s work, leaving Harriet and Louisa to travel alone to Luxor. 

Wendy Wallace entwines the lives of these three very different women into this tale of discovery.  All three find a new purpose and sense of life outside the rigidity of their environment in Victorian London.  This is a tale of being able to escape from the binds that tie you, of being able to breathe fully and to take chances and risks that you may never have imagined before.  It is also a reminder that the past can sometimes come back to haunt you, with horrendous consequences. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, set in the beautiful country of Egypt which Wendy Wallace depicts so distinctly.  I liked the way that she manages to separate the stories of the three women, yet at the same time, keep them together.  I’m looking forward to the next chapter!

G x

Thursday 19 September 2013

This week

I've got lots I want to acomplish, though maybe this post should be called this month instead...?

Books to write reviews for - finished both of these this week, very good!  Reviews up soon.

Books to read to write reviews for - the pile grows weekly!

Books to read for my Book Groups.  I've got until next month to finish The White Queen but the Dodie Smith has to be read by Monday night!  Thankfully it's not a long one (and the font is big too)!

Knitting to begin - my new order from wool4less arrived this week - they were having a 40% off sale last week - I got 7 balls of wool, plus the pattern and delivery for under £20!  The crazy thing is, the pattern is for a cable cardigan and I've never cabled before!  Better get watching You Tube videos first I think!

I've almost finished the dreaded poncho.  Do you remember the tale?  I started it, realised the pattern was wrong, had to start again, did loads (again) following the pattern only to discover that the number of rows stated did not match the length required so had to unwind and restart.  Last night I ran out of wool with only 10cm left to knit of the collar!  I phoned wool4less but they don't have any of the dye number in stock.  Am keeping my fingers crossed that she can get the same lot number for me, or the collar may just be a tad different in shade!  I'll be so glad when it's finished!

As it's getting chillier, I need to get on with the crochet blankets I started.  The variegated one from Mollie Makes magazine is about halfway to being finished!  Only about another 40 squares to go!

The nearly 5 year old mentioned today that her ballet cardigan has not been finished and she starts ballet again tomorrow.  It won't be done!

It's harvest festival tomorrow.  The nearly 5 year old is not happy that I can't go to watch her in church as I'll be at work.  Made up fruit and vegetable boxes last night to take in tomorrow.

Did a bit of shopping on Monday in order to try to get presents for a certain someone's birthday (the 4 year old), not too successful but I did get a new hairdryer and these along the way!  Naughty mummy!

Still not sure about the colour though?!

Wish it would stop raining.  It's like a mud bath for the chickens and ducks.  Am sure they are not happy.

What has your week been like?!

G x

Saturday 14 September 2013


Dot by Araminta Hall
Published by Harper Collins
288 pages

In a higgledy-piggledy house situated in a sleepy Welsh village, two girls play hide and seek within its maze of tunnels and range of turrets.

Squeezed under her mother’s bed, Dot’s hand brushes against a long-forgotten photography of a man, his hair blowing in the breeze.  Dot stares so long at the photograph the image begins to disintegrate before her eyes, leaving her with just one thought: ‘it’s him.’

They were playing a game of hide and seek, as they so often did.  Some people might have seen it as a lack of imagination , but as both Dot and Mavis displayed so much imagination in later life, it seems more likely a fact of  circumstance.  Druith is after all miles from anywhere, sunk in a low, damp Welsh valley, and Dot’s house suggested itself to hide and seek in a multitude of ways.  Not that two ten-year-old girls were aware of any of this.  They didn’t even find Dot’s house strange: it was still nothing more than a marker in their childhood landscape, and the fact that the floors tipped, cupboard doors opened into secret passages and a concealed turret sprouted out of the side of the house washed over them.  The only thing they were beginning to find amusing were the plates with Dot’s grandmother inexplicably chose to hang on the walls.  ‘What next?’ they’d whisper to each other.  ‘Will we be eating off paintings?’  Although one glance at the heavy oils of permanently displeased relatives and windswept landscape made this seen very unlikely.

Unlike her first novel Everything and Nothing Araminta Hall has moved away from the crime/thriller genre and written a novel about families and relationships and the twists and turns of life that can undoubtedly change not only your life but those around you.

Focusing on three generations of women, Dot is a well written novel encompassing a whole host of characters.  I liked that fact that there were no real secondary characters in the book; everyone had a chapter where they got the opportunity to explain themselves.  What begins with two school friends playing hide and seek, turns into something much more complex. 

Dot’s father leaves her on her second birthday.  But who is he, and why did he leave?  Her mother rarely leaves the house they share with their grandmother, and she isn’t telling Dot anything.  Why do both Dot and Mavis both have the same red hair?  And later on, why do the girls’ plans for university both take a dramatic turn?  Araminta Hall weaves together a fantastic tale of two families who on the outside appear to have nothing in common but as the story progresses, you realise that appearances are not what they seem.

Having loved Everything and Nothing, I was eager to read Araminta Hall’s second novel.  There is no comparison.  Whilst I have loved reading both, they are of completely different genres, which, is an amazing feat for a new author to accomplish.  With a whole host of complex characters, and twists and turns to keep you reading, Dot is an enjoyable novel of ordinary people and what how the events around us can shape who we ultimately become.

G x

Monday 9 September 2013

This week

Has seen the temperatures drop a bit.  It's feeling colder here, and I have already been tempted to light the logburner for a bit of cosy warmth.  However, I have resisited as once I start then I know I shall continue, so I keep reminding myself it is still only September.  Plans for installing a new boiler are underway but apparently we need to choose a kitchen first - this is proving difficult as nothing is giving us the wow factor despite having looked in every kitchen showroom possible - any suggestions?!  Although a trip to Ikea did turn up these beauties!

As the girlies have been feeling the chill in the mornings when they wake up, I rustled up some quick blankets for them to snuggle under while on the sofa using an old duvet cover and a fleece blanket.  They should have been quick and simple but for some reason took me an age to do!

I found some delightful reading material in the supermarket yesterday, just looking forward to sitting down with it now.  I love discovering new magazines, infact I've just resubscribed to Red magazine after cancelling it a year ago after a continuous 8 years of subscribing.  I found that having 4 magazines a month delivered meant I no-longer got to read it, so cancelled it, along with 2 other magazines.  However now I'm back to just getting Mollie Makes so when they sent me an email saying I could get 12 issues for £12 I relented!  First issue due next month.

Hubby treated me to these beauties from ebay - in perfect condition.  I've also found a gorgeous vegetable pyrex dish and a junior Lilliput typewriter that I'm just waiting for the postie to deliver!  I love ebay, don't you?

Tomorrow sees me start at the girlies big school in my bid to decide if I want to return to teaching.  I'm nervous but excited to see where this will take me.  Wish me luck.

G x

ps thank you for all your kind comments; I love hearing what you think of my blog, it makes me smile!

Friday 6 September 2013

Super-cute felt animals

Super-cute Felt Animals by Laura Howard
Published by Cico Books
12th September 2013

How cute is this snail?!

 I was very lucky this week to receive an early copy of Laura Howard's new book Super-cute Felt Animals to review on the blog.  This is Laura's second book, following on from her first Super-cute Felt which was published a couple of years ago and I've used before.

This book is full of felt animals, ranging from those found at the zoo, to the sea and at home, and is perfect for using up those smaller pieces of felt we all having lying around.  Want to see some of it?  Of course you do!

There's that snail again!

On Safari

 The photography is very sharp, and the instructions are clear and concise. 

I have to say, I'm a little worried my embroidery skills won't be up to par for some of the more elaborate creatures, but there are many that don't need any embellishments, like the tiny chicks.

Look at the detail on that zebra!

My girlies both oo-ed and ahh-ed at this book, and pointed at every page asking if they could have this one, then this one, then this one....

There is also a section at the front of the book where Laura gives alternative ideas for the makes, ie brooches, garlands and keyrings to name but a few.

This is a lovely book that contains exactly what it says on the cover - Super-cute Felt Animals.  My biggest dilemna is which to start first?!

G x

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Ringing in the changes

Oh yes, along with the change of the seasons comes change here.  The first change is the 4 year old starting big school today.  I didn't cry, though I did last night just thinking about her in her big school girl uniform and not being here talking constantly and keeping me company.  I know she will be loving it.

New Quality Street tin found in Matlock

The next big change is me - weight gain, not good!  I don't know what has happened but I weigh more now than I have ever done, and I am not happy about it.  If the weight went on everywhere then it would be okay I think but it goes onto my face - no good, and my stomach - even worse, so something has to be done!

Sweet new plastic pots for storing bits in

I've started zumba in the weeks which hasn't been too bad considering I haven't been in a gym in 7 years!  I used to go three times a week to the gym and to exercise classes, then I got married, got pregnant on my honeymoon and that was the end of that!  No more! 

New wicker basket
 To go alongside the zumba, this month sees the start of undertaking the 30 day Shred care of Jillian Anderson.  Believe me, if you haven't heard of it, give it a google search and see what I'm talking about!  £5 for the dvd and I'm on day 3.  I've discovered muscles in my legs that I had clearly forgotten that I had!  But for 20 minutes a day I'm determined to keep it up.

Necklace from paperpiedesign
Along with my littleist going back to school, I've had to rethink my role too, and am considering going back to teaching after a 7 year career break.  Before I had the 7 year old, I was Head of History at an 11-16 school.  I haven't set foot in a classroom professionally since but am thinking about moving across to the primary sector.  I start as a volunteer next week for one day a week at my girlies' school and once I'm up to speed with the primary sector I can start applying for jobs - part-time jobs that is, for I am not returning to the job full-time for I fear that will break me.

Gorgeous new broach from love and buttons

So that's September sorted for me, exercising and teaching away, with a little bit of crafting, reading and baking thrown in, plus hopefully a trip oop North to Yarndale at the end of the month. 

What will you be up to?!

G x

By the way I know the photos have no relevance to this post whatsoever but they are my recent treasures and I wanted to share them!

Sunday 1 September 2013

All Aboard

The Sleeper by Emily Barr
Published by Headline

Lara Finch is living a lie.  Everyone thinks she has a happy life in Cornwall, married to the devoted Sam, but in fact she is desperately bored.  When she is offered a new job that involves commuting to London by sleeper train, she meets Guy and starts an illicit affair.

But then Lara vanishes from the night train without a trace.  Only her friend Iris disbelieves the official version of events, and sets out to find her.

For Iris, it is the start of a voyage that will take her further than she’s ever travelled and on to a trail of old crimes and dark secrets.

For Lara, it is the end of a journey that started a long time ago.  A journey she must finish, before it destroys her….

She should have been back two hours ago.
   A person could not disappear from a train in the middle of the night, but apparently, she had.  She got on at Paddington (as far as we knew), but she did not get off at Truro.
   ‘I’m sure she’s fine,’ I told him.  My words hung in the air, improbable and trite.  I cast around for an explanation.  Once you discounted amnesia and sleepwalking, there were really only two, and neither of them would give her husband any comfort.
   ‘I hope so.’  His face was crumpled and his eyes seemed to have shrunk back under slightly hooded lids.  Everything was sagging as, gradually, he stopped being able to pretend that she might be about to walk in through the door.  His face was, somehow, at once both red and grey, patchy and uneven.
   I had no idea what to do, and so, once again, I started to make coffee.  He was looking at his phone, checking again for messages that might, somehow, have arrived by stealth, even though he had turned the volume right up and called it from the landline, just to see.
   ‘Next train in seven minutes,’ he reported.  I set the coffee pot on the stove, lit the gas under it and left it.  I opened a few cupboard doors, looking for something easy, something that he might eat without noticing it.
   It was strange being in someone else’s kitchen, flung into what I feared was the very early stage of the total breakdown of the life of a man I didn’t even know.  He was halfway off the cliff already, clinging on with his fingers to a flimsy clump of grass.
   I put some custard creams on a plate.

With twelve novels under her belt already, Emily Barr enters the world of the commuter with her novel of strangers on the night train travelling from sleepy Cornwall to the busy city of London.  Lara has given up her city job to move south to focus on her marriage and having a baby.  With failed IVF treatments behind her, and a host of bills to pay, Lara accepts a temporary position in London that means she will have to take the sleeper train to London every Sunday, returning in the early hours of Saturday morning.  Little do either her, or her husband Sam realise what this will entail.  While Sam is pining away for her, Lara has created a new life for herself, one that now involves Guy, a married man who she meets on the train.  In love, and determined to tell their partners about their relationship, Lara and Guy make what is to be their final return journey to Cornwall.  But then tragedy strikes and none of their lives will ever be the same again.

Having discovered Emily Barr shortly after her first novel Backpack was published, and having read every one since, it was probably inevitable that I enjoyed this latest book.  Actually I loved it; the characters, the way she describes Falmouth, her current hometown, with such detail and of this incredible world of the sleeper train, for it is in itself like entering a different world.  The twists and turns that are incorporated into her writing, plus the inevitable element of travel are what make Emily Barr’s novels distinctively her own.  She is a seasoned traveller, and this is by all means apparent when reading any of her books. 

The Sleeper is an easy read but that’s because it is a real page-turner.  I read it in just two days and couldn’t get enough of it.  I loved the character of Iris, Lara’s only friend in Cornwall, who lives this reclusive life in a ramshackle cottage with her mysterious boyfriend, and that of Olivia, Lara’s sister, who is the polar-opposite of her, and harbours a deep hatred of her sibling.  I challenge you to read The Sleeper this summer and not to gasp out loud as the twists and turns of the tale are slowly wrapped together, as I did!

One more day of the holidays to go - where did the time fly?  Off to try to make chocolate bread from my Apples for Jam book, but I'm not sure I have the right yeast!!!

G x