The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

The Republic of Thieves is the third book in the Gentleman Bastards series, set soon after Red Seas Under Red Skies (reviewed here), and unlike the previous books this one didn’t have a slow build-up but hooked me from the start. Locke has been poisoned by his previous employer and is dying, but he’s offered a cure from the most unlikley source, the mother of the Bondsmage he defeated in the first book, The Lies of Locke Lamora, (reviewed here) in exchange for rigging an election.

Locke’s old flame, Sebetha, finally makes her appearence, and it was so fun to see her working for the opposition in the election campaign. I really love Lynch’s female characters from the spymaster in The Lies of Locke Lamora to the pirates Ezri and Captain Drakasha in Red Seas Under Red Skies, and Sebetha is no exception. Locke’s love interest absolutely refuses to be defined as such, as she’s very much his equal and rival, often outwitting him in politics and reducing him to a lovesick fool.

The plot switches between two timelines, the election campaign in the present, and the other following the Gentleman Bastards as youths performing a play over a summer as they hone their thieving, fighting and con-artist skills. It’s a clever contrast with the Gentleman Bastards learning to work together (and falling in love) in one timeline, but being forced to work against each other despite their personal feelings in the other.

I love fantasy heists and the thing that always keeps me interested is how the characters have to improvise when their carefully laid plans fall apart, they’re betrayed and outmanoeuvred by their rivals and enemies, and this kept me guessing right to the end about which side would win the election and whether Locke and Sebetha would finally get together. Despite being over 700 pages long, I found this a really quick and absorbing read, full of humour, romance and clever twists. Have a lovely week. X

Chaos and Calm

Life has been fairly hectic over the last couple of months, I returned to work in March and it’s been quite an adjustment settling back into the routine, getting to grips with a new caseload, MS Teams, lateral flow tests and various other changes that happened while I was on maternity leave. It’s a challenging time to work in Health and Social Care but I’ve returned with a renewed sense of purpose and motivation. My husband has recently changed jobs too, finding a position just ten minutes from home, but full of new opportunities and challenges.

Our daughter also started nursery in March and has settled in so well. It’s a relief given how isolated we were during her first year that she’s turned into such a curious, sociable and lively toddler. She’s had almost back to back colds, teething and most recently an ear infection (requiring a late night trip to the out of hours GP and antibiotics) since starting, but she’s a little whirlwind of energy that doesn’t let anything slow her down, and treats the whole world like her playground. We’ve been having lots of fun playing in the garden, visiting our recently re-opened library (closed since the first lockdown last year) and local parks, where dandelion clocks and splashing in puddles are almost as entertaining as swings, slides and tunnels.

Our other little girl, Mara, is also doing well, enjoying a couple of days of peace and quiet while the toddler is at nursery during the week. Mara’s actually been more playful in the last few weeks than she has been all winter, and while she’s not as energetic or acrobatic as she used to be, it’s reassuring to see her hunting and chasing her toys. Mara has slowed down as she’s aged, but she’s still the same affectionate, playful companion she was when we adopted her nearly six years ago.

Renovations have started on our home, we’re building a small extension to our kitchen and adding a downstairs bathroom. The changes are small as we don’t want to change the character of our home too much, but will make a big difference to our living space and daily routines. It does mean the temporary inconvenience of having a skip outside the house, a cement mixer and building materials in the back garden, as well as the fun of walking the plank whenever we leave or enter the house. It’s quite exciting to see ideas we’ve discussed since moving here 4 and a half years ago finally coming to fruition.

Between work, renovations and an adventurous toddler, our days have been full and busy, in contrast our evenings have been fairly calm, once our daughter goes to sleep, my husband and I usually have a quick tidy up around the house, before settling down to watch a little bit of TV, read books or sometimes do a Yoga session together with the DownDog app. We are unfortunately in the only part of Scotland still under travel and socialising restrictions, but we are looking forward to being able to travel further afield and visit loved ones again hopefully in the near future. Take care and have a lovely week. X

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Wuthering Heights is such a devisive story, and I sometimes wonder if readers expecting a gothic romance (perhaps similar to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre) are shocked by Emily’s dark tale of obsession, madness and revenge.

I first read Wuthering Heights on the cusp of my teenager years, and have re-read it several times since. I picked it up most recently after reading ‘The Bronte Mysteries’ by Bella Ellis, and once again I was drawn back into the wild Yorkshire moors and the tangled web of the Earnshaw and Linton families.

Narrated by Heathcliff’s tennant, and the Earnshaw and Linton families’ long suffering servant, Nelly, both appear to be somewhat unreliable narrators allowing their prejudices and superstitions to influence their perceptions and memories. Nelly, in particular, is interesting in that she openly admits to prying, meddling and with-holding information from Heathcliff, Cathy, Edgar and their children, nevertheless she tells a gripping tale.

While the tempestuous, destructive love affair between Cathy and Heathcliff, and Heathcliff’s subsequent quest for revenge, dominate the story, it’s the slower, kinder romance betwen Cathy’s nephew, Hareton, and her own daughter (also called Catherine) that finally restores peace to Wuthering Heights, despite how badly Heathcliff mistreated and wronged them both. Hareton and Catherine arguably represent the lovers Heathcliff and Cathy could have been if only circumstances had been different, and they’d been able to temper their wild impulses and passions.

Wuthering Heights is not without its flaws, but it remains one of my favourites, a story I return to again and again, finding something new every time I read it, and I’m still impressed by the power and urgency of Emily Bronte’s writing. Have a lovely week. X

Back Again

As soon as travel restrictions were lifted in Scotland, we took a trip to our favourite beach, Croy Shore in South Ayrshire. We’d normally visit in January, often on New Year’s Day for a bracing walk along the coast, but that wasn’t possible this year due to lockdown; instead our first visit of 2021 was on a sunny Spring day with blue skies above, waves gently lapping the shoreline, sands stretching out for miles ahead and temps just hitting double figures. I was so glad to see the familiar sights of the curving coastline, Turnberry lighthouse (now part of a luxury resort owned by a former U.S. President), Culzean Castle to the South and the hazy outline of the Isle of Arran across the sea.

We had to planned to let our daughter just toddle about on the sands but she surprised us with her fearlessness by running straight towards the sea and splashing about in the waves grinning and squealing with laughter.

Croy Shore has been the setting for so many memories between me and my husband, we’ve come here to gather our thoughts, clear our minds and contemplate some of our biggest decisions, yet on this day we were just content to stroll along letting our little girl dictate the pace and direction, making some new memories as a family, and savouring the first taste of freedom after so many months of lockdown.

Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Just tapping out a quick review after a busy weekend of sunshine and playdates at the park. Last year I read my first mystery novel, The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis (reviewed here) and decided mysteries are a genre that I’d like to explore more, and where better to start than with the so-called Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie.

Hercule Poirot, the retired Belgian detective, is travelling to London on the Orient Express when the train is delayed by a snow-drift in Yugoslavia, during which one of the passengers is murdered, but fortunately Poirot is on hand to investigate.

I’ve often been deterred by the gruesome and ghastly aspects of the crime genre, but I found this so easy to read, and without any of the blood and violence that I find so off-putting. Murder on the Orient Express is hardly an action-packed thriller, as the main body of the story consists of Poirot methodically interviewing the other passengers to distinguish the witnesses from potential suspects, but it’s still a page turner as Agatha Christie knows exactly when to drop in another clue or twist, and I had a lot of fun puzzling over the evidence and piecing together the clues to work out who the murderer was. It’s also an interesting story morally as the victim is neither innocent or sympathetic, and it raises some questions about justice, vengeance and vigilantism, yet I still found the resolution satisfying.

Murder on the Orient Express was a delight to read, full of humour, twists, misdirection and a very clever resolution, it was a great mystery to start with, but one I’d love to read again. Have a lovely week. X

Three Bookish Things Tag

I don’t normally do these types of posts but I had fun thinking up the answers for this one, thanks to Hundreds & Thousands of Books for nominating me. I can’t find a comprehensive list of rules or the original prompt creator so I’ll just press on. Feel free to have a go!

Three Bookish Goals for 2021:

Read 50 Books (22/50)

Read at least 5 Non-Fiction books (1/5)

Read What I Own (Failing miserably at this one, my TBR is already an avalanche risk, and I keep adding to it)

Three Favourite Authors:

Leigh Bardugo

Emily Bronte

Daphne du Maurier

Three Characters I Love:

Inej Ghafa (Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom) – I love that Inej is a survivor who overcomes some really traumatic experiences and finds a new purpose. I also love that she expects her love interest to try to overcome his own traumas if he wants to be with her, and she’s willing to walk away rather than settle.

Father Chains (the Gentleman Bastards series) – this mysterious figure adopts orphans (including Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen) in order to educate and train them into becoming the most cunning con artists, he also appears to know everyone worth knowing and everyone from the nobility to criminals respects him. Father Chains is only shown in flashbacks in the series, but I’d love to read more about him.

Irene Winters (The Invisible Library series) – Irene is such a lovable and relatable heroine, a member of a Secret Society of Librarians travelling around alternate worlds collecting rare books, she’s resourceful, brave, principled and self-deprecating.

Three Weirdest Things I’ve Used for Bookmarks:

Receipts, tickets and a pressed leaf.

Three Favourite Covers:

Three Titles I’ve Watched But Not Read:

The Lord of the Rings

The Umbrella Academy

The Never Ending Story (this was my favourite film as a child and it’s a short book so I really don’t have any excuses)

Three Series I’ve Binged:

The Chronicles of Narnia

The Hunger Games

Shadow and Bone

Three Unpopular Bookish Opinions:

It might be because I worked in a bookshop for years but rainbow shelves, and worse, books with the spines hidden and pages facing out, make my fingers itch, sure it looks good but how on Earth do you find anything?!

I’m a paperback reader and while I appreciate the aesthetic value of a special edition hardback, it really annoys me that hardbacks and ebooks are usually released at the same time but the paperback comes out a year later, grrr.

I’m put off by long-running series. There are obviously exceptions, but I much prefer a concise little trilogy, duology or even a standalone novel to a series that goes on and on. I think stories should leave you wanting more, not wondering if the author will finish the series before they die. ☠️

Three Nominations:

Laura at Freedom and Flour

Jess at Beyond the Front Cover

Nicole at Nicole’s Book Thoughts

Have a lovely weekend! X

Spring in the garden and beyond

This time last year we were still adjusting to life under the very first lockdown, and it’s such a contrast to have the world opening up after another three month lockdown and nature waking up after a long, cold winter. We’ve spent a lovely Easter bank holiday weekend strolling through parks, playing in the garden and visiting family.

It’s been a while since I’ve written about our garden, but we’ve continued working on it right through the winter months, replacing the fence separating our garden from our neighbours’, constructing more pemanent raised beds and building a summerhouse. We’ve already enjoyed morning coffees and evening meals in the summerhouse, and it’s such a lovely spot of shade in our sun-trap garden.

The daffodils I planted last autumn have begun to flower, providing a burst of yellow sunshine under the window, and it won’t be long until they’re joined by the tulips. As the daylight lengthens and the weather improves we’re spending more and more time outside, and our daughter has taken to bringing us her shoes and coat whenever she wants to toddle around the garden, play hide-and-seek in the summerhouse or fly on her swing.

We’re still regular visitors at our local parks, and the cycling seasons is obvious there too as the Greylag geese that spent winter in the pond have flown North again, and the bare trees have burst into blossom.

Yesterday, we took a trip slightly further afield to Rouken Glen and combined a walk around the park with our first trip to a garden centre this year, where we bought a plum tree and I went a bit wild stocking up on seeds.

We’ve had a strange combination of sunshine and low temperatures over the past few weeks but despite the cold, spring has definitely sprung and I’m so grateful for the changes in nature and the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

First Quarter of 2021 in Books

Spending winter under lockdown has helped get my reading off to a great start, and I’ve somehow powered through 19 books in the first three months of 2021, and thought I’d share a little round-up of short reviews here.

The House with the Chicken Legs and The Castle of Tangled Magic by Sophie Anderson

Twelve year old Marinka lives in a house with chicken legs along with her grandmother, Baba Yaga, a Guardian who guides spirits of the dead through the gate from our world to the Afterlife. Marinka is training to become a Guardian, but she feels lonely and trapped, longing to choose her own destiny. I adored this original and poignant story about growing up, full of big themes and big emotions from grief, regret and loneliness to family, friendship and home.

I was disappointed by the spiritual sequel which follows Olia as she tries to save her beloved home from tangled magic leaking out from another world. It’s a fairly straightforward hero quest, but I felt most obstacles were too easily overcome, and I was disappointed that Marinka’s adventures ended when marriage and motherhood began, though I did like some of the supporting characters, Cascadia and the spirit of the Castle, Feliks.

Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou

My first non-fiction read of the year was a re-read of this collection of short essays, anecdotes and poems on a variety of topics from charity and philanthropy, gratitude, travel, parents and children, faith and religion to rape, grief, racism and segregation. It’s a short but thought-provoking and inspiring read.

The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie

The narrative switches between Poirot, the victim’s father, husband and lover, as well as another passenger on the train, Katherine Grey, who is drawn into the murder investigation and the theft of the victim’s rubies. The clues are carefully placed, there’s some clever misdirection and even a bit of romance, and I was pleased I solved part of the mystery before Poirot’s reveal at the end.

The Secret Chapter by Genevieve Cogman

In the 6th instalment of The Invisible Library series, the mysterious, Mr Nemo, hires Irene and a team consisting of thief, thug, gambler, hacker and getaway driver to steal a painting with significance far greater than its value. I love a good heist, but it was after the theft when the team starts double crossing each other that things really start getting interesting and the suspense ratcheted up when Irene has to choose between saving one world she cares about and preventing a war that could destroy countless other worlds.

The Diabolical Bones by Bella Ellis

The Bronte sisters are investigating the mystery of a child’s bones interred in the wall of a local landowner’s home. I found this slower paced and lacking the steady stream of clues, suspects and suspicious circumstances that made The Vanished Bride so riveting. However, the siblings’ interpersonal dynamics are almost as fascinating as the mystery they’re trying to solve, and there’s a good mix of humour, eerie and thrilling moments in this sequel.

City of Ghosts and Tunnel of Bones by V.E. Schwab

Twelve year old Cassidy Blake is the daughter of professional ghost hunters recording a TV show about the world’s most haunted cities, unbeknownst to her parents, however, is the fact that following her own near-death experience, Cassidy has the ability to see ghosts, including her “corporeally challenged” best friend, Jacob. City of Ghosts is set in Edinburgh and I loved seeing somewhere familiar from a different perspective.

The sequel takes place in Paris, where Cassidy has drawn the attention of a poltergeist whose behaviour quickly turns from mischievous to malevolent. Cassidy and Jacob’s friendship is the emotional touchstone of the story, and I really enjoyed learning more about Jacob’s life and death in this spooky and moving follow-up.

Take care, and have a lovely week. X

The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale

I was looking for something a little bit whimsical and magical to help me through the winter lockdown and picked up this because of comparisons to one of my favourites, The Night Circus (reviewed here).

The story of The Toymakers spans almost fifty years, starting in 1906 when sixteen year old Cathy runs away from home, answering an ad in the newspaper for a job in exchange for bed and board at Papa Jack’s Toy Emporium. Cathy finds a new home and family with Papa Jack and his sons, Kaspar and Emil, at the Toy Emporium until 1917 when the war intrudes on their safe, little world.

I loved the complexity of Kaspar and Emil’s relationship as the brothers compete for their father’s attention, praise and ultimately to become his successor, and there are parallels with the story of Cain and Abel here. I also appreciated the contrast between the magic, wonder and innocence of toys and the Emporium with the horror, suffering, violence and death of the Russian Katorga (penal labour camps) and the first World War. One of the brothers goes to war a charming, brilliant, young man but returns a shellshocked shadow of the toymaker, husband, father, son and brother he was. Yet even after the end of the Great War, the brothers’ own conflict continues right up to a bittersweet ending.

The Toymakers is an enchanting but haunting story of love, grief, family, secrets, toys and war. Have a lovely week. X

Sculpture Trail at Cairnhill Woods

Last week was a busy one for our family as I started my phased return back to work after almost 14 months off on maternity leave, and our 13 month old daughter had her taster sessions and first full day at nursery. It’s a big transition for all of us but one that I’m feeling positive about as our daughter will get to play and socialise with other toddlers during her three days at nursery, something she’s missed out on through national and local lockdowns over the last twelve months. I couldn’t be prouder or more relieved about how quickly she’s settled into nursery, and I’ve so enjoyed getting photos and little updates about her snacks, lunch, naps and activities through the day from the nursery staff, and she brought home her first stamped artwork for Mother’s Day much to my delight.

As we adjust to our new routines, I feel we’ve got a good balance between work, nursery and family time, and despite the lockdown we’re still enjoying little adventures together.

We recently took a wander around Cairnhill Woods for a change of scene from our local parks. Even on a cold, grey day with the trees still bare and the paths muddy, it was a pleasant place to explore and I was delighted to see so many signs of spring in the forest from frog spawn in the little pond to daffodils, crocuses and primroses lining the paths. The highlight of the trip though was finding all the wonderful wooden sculptures hidden around the forest, from toadstools and fairies to the Green Man and various animals, and as Cairnhill Woods is near Bearsden we also spotted lots of bear sculptures.

It was a short walk but one we all enjoyed, and somewhere I look forward to visiting again when it’ll be lush and green. Take care and have a lovely week. X