A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos

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A Winter’s Promise is the first in ‘The Mirror Visitor Quartet’ and follows Ophelia, a member of the Animist clan who is betrothed against her wishes to Thorn, a stranger from another clan on a different Arc (one of the floating islands featured on the cover). No sooner does Ophelia arrive on Thorn’s Arc than she finds herself caught in the midst of political intrigues between feuding clans, with her future in-laws proving to be every bit as devious and vicious as their enemies.

Ophelia has the unusual abilities of being able to read the history of an object by touching it and to travel through mirrors. Despite her abilities, Ophelia is such an unlikely heroine, a mumbling, clumsy and socially awkward slip of a girl, but she proves to be brave, determined, resourceful and honest, and I’m looking forward to seeing how she develops through the series.

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This was originally written in French, and the translation is generally very smooth with a few exceptions where the author used terms like trompe l’oeil that don’t have a clear translation and remain in French, which felt slightly jarring.

A Winter’s Promise is such a strange and whimsical story that it’s hard to describe; it’s not typical fantasy, there aren’t any great battles or epic quests, yet the plot trots along and there were enough twists to keep me hooked until the end. This quirky story is populated with such eccentric and scheming characters that it reminded me of a cross between Jane Austen and Gormenghast. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I thoroughly enjoyed A Winter’s Promise and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what happens next. Have a lovely week. X

Stories, Music and Swans

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As lockdown restrictions are being relaxed here in Scotland, I’ve been reflecting on how I’ve spent my maternity leave so far. My days still mostly revolve around my daughter’s feeds and naps but she’s always been very curious and animated, never content to just watch the world from her pram or playmat, and it’s been a fun challenge keeping her entertained without the usual range of playgroups that many parents rely on (though I have signed up for baby massage classes on Zoom).

Unable to go to the library or bookshops during lockdown, I feel like I’ve kept Waterstones in business ordering books for the three of us. My husband and I try to read at least one story to our daughter every day, and we’ve discovered some really lovely picture books (that I’ll review at some point!). Our little bookworm also has a few scrunchy, cloth books that she can gnaw the corners and practise turning the pages.

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I’ve always wanted to learn to play piano and started teaching myself last year, but it fell by the wayside and so far all I can play is a passable version of Jingle Bells. As we’ve not been able to join any of the local baby music groups, instead my daughter and I have been plunking away on the piano, and shaking rattles or clapping along to nursery rhymes at home. My husband and I also sing to our daughter (Jason Mraz and Sara Bareilles are favourites in our household at the moment), and bounce her on our knees to the William Tell Overture, Orpheus in the Underworld (the Can Can music) and other jaunty classical pieces.

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Our little girl loves getting out for walks and starts grinning as soon as she sees the baby carrier. We avoided parks during the lockdown, but wandered round our local park for the first time in months when it seemed quiet recently, and our daughter saw the resident swans, cygnets and coots in the pond for the first time.

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I’ve tried to make the best of it over the last few months, but at times I’ve struggled with loneliness and self-doubt. I’m very aware of all the ordinary experiences our daughter has missed out on, but fortunately she’s too young to understand how strange this year has been and for the most part she’s a lively, cuddly girl who keeps me busy and we have a lot of fun together.

As restrictions are lifted, I’m looking forward to taking our daughter further afield, sharing new experiences together and seeing the world through her bright eyes. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Following the Black Lives Matter protests around the world, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race was widely recommended, and I was drawn to it because it offers a British perspective on race relations.

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The book starts with history, describing the British role in the slave trade, the whitewashing of the World Wars, decades of police brutality and racial profiling, the election of the first black MPs in 1987 (including Diane Abbot), the Brixton riots and many other significant events leading up to the present day. It’s as fascinating as it is disturbing, British history is often ugly and violent but necessary to understanding racism and discrimination in the U.K.

Eddo-Lodge argues that racism is more insidious than abusive language or flag waving nationalist mobs marching, it’s the influence of people (predominantly white male) in positions of power to impact the life chances and circumstances of others. Very few white people will openly admit to being racist, yet many become defensive when confronted with evidence of white privilege.

It’s uncomfortable reading in places, the way that readers and viewers assume fictional characters are white unless otherwise described (as the furore caused when a black actress was cast as Hermoine Granger in the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, or when there was a rumour that a black actor was being considered as the new James Bond demonstrate), the backlash against intersectional feminism (black women are doubly discriminated against by being both black and female), how racism and class intersect with the idea that “white working class” are a marginalised minority that deserve support and special consideration, and how many white people ignore or accept discrimination and racism instead of challenging it.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is well-researched, thought-provoking, and a great place to start learning about systemic racism and how to be actively anti-racist. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Summer Walks, Slugs and Sprinkles

Just sharing a quick update as I worry my posts have become a bit repetitive of late, though I still want to document this period of our lives and to remind myself that there’s much to be grateful for.

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Our daily walks have often been the highlight of my day since lockdown began. Being confined to a five mile radius has enoucouraged us to explore the local area more thoroughly than we would have when we were more likely to go to a park or drive to a forest or beach. We recently stumbled across a network of hidden lanes and have spent the last week exploring them. On one of our walks we spotted one of my husband’s favourite plants, Himalayan Honeysuckle, growing wild and I couldn’t resist taking a cutting for our garden along with a handful of Honesty seed pods.

Walks

We’ve been growing pea shoots on the kitchen window sill for a quick-growing and tasty addition to salads and stir-fries. Unfortunately, cool weather and rain has encouraged an army of slugs and snails to invade the garden, and they’ve been devouring my squash and courgette plants one by one. However, the brassica bed is doing well, and I spotted the first head of broccoli developing.

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve celebrated both my husband and father-in-law’s birthdays. Ordinarily, I would take my husband out to dinner but as that wasn’t possible this year, instead we treated ourselves to takeaway from one of our favourite Japanese restaurants, which was delicious. We also had socially distanced coffee and birthday cake in the garden with the in-laws – though my mother-in-law went a bit overboard with the sprinkles!

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We’ve had intermittent sunshine and showers here, but hoping now that travel restrictions are being relaxed, we’ll be able to have a few summer adventures soon whatever the weather. Take care and have a lovely week. X