The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

My husband and a close friend have been nagging me to read The Priory of the Orange Tree for ages, but I kept putting it off because of the length, over 800 pages is quite a commitment when I usually only have time to read during my daughter’s naps and for an hour or two before bed. It’s been a while since I read epic, high fantasy but I was hooked from the start and found myself reading past my bedtime most nights.

In the West, wyrms are feared and hated for bringing death and destruction, while the East worship dragons as noble and wise. Yet both have a common enemy in the most hated of all the dragons, The Nameless One, who is waking after 1000 years asleep. The Priory of the Orange Tree is set in an incredibly detailed world with its history, mythology and religions woven throughout the story.

The plot follows four characters spread across the world: Ead is a member of the clandestine Priory of the Orange Tree who has been assigned to infiltrate the court of Queen Sabran and protect her from harm; meanwhile Sabran’s childhood friend, Loth has been exiled and sent to find out what happened to Sabran’s missing father; Tane is training to become a dragon rider in the East; and the exiled alchemist, Roos, is scheming about how to exonerate and avenge himself. It’s also worth noting that I found the supporting and secondary characters every bit as nuanced and interesting as the protagonists from the witches, pirates and privateers to the knights and courtiers. The Priory of the Orange Tree is full of political intrigues, betrayals and conspiracies, but also romance, friendship and loyalty. The plot trots along before breaking into gallop in the second half where most of the action takes place as it hurtles towards the conclusion.

The Priory of the Orange Tree is a brilliant epic fantasy that I thoroughly enjoyed reading and discussing afterwards. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Autumn Scenes

The colder months of the year are always a mix of tugging on boots and coats for walks outside, and cosy evenings at home in front of the fire. We’re back under lockdown again and confined to our local area, however, we’re fortunate to live within walking distance of two large parks. We’ve become regular visitors at both – enjoying the late flowering roses, the autumnal trees, feeding the ducks and swans, pushing our daughter on the swings, and even meeting friends and their little ones for playdates.

Now nine months old, our daughter is a little livewire, crawling, babbling, waving and clapping, growing, learning and just so curious about the world. In September, I started taking her to Baby Sensory classes where we sang, bounced, signed, played and shook rattles, albeit at a safe distance from the other parents and infants. The activities are not dissimilar from what we’ve been doing at home, but she was fascinated seeing other babies, bouncing with excitement, smiling and shouting to get their attention. Unfortunately, in-person classes have been suspended and moved online for the duration of the lockdown, but I hope we’ll be able to return in the not too distant future.

Halloween was quiet this year, the little one had a fancy dress party at Baby Sensory, I carved a pumpkin lantern for her at home, and once she was in bed, I had a Halloween quiz with friends over Zoom – that was as educational as it was fun.

We’ve started eating lunch and dinner together around the dining table, enjoying homemade macaroni cheese, comforting casseroles, spicy bean enchiladas and smoky chillis, with the odd takeaway to support our favourite restaurants. Our daughter has taken to baby-led-weaning with great enthusiasm, chubby hands grabbing fistfuls from her bowl and happily gumming and sooking almost everything we serve her, and even our cat Mara joins us in case anything tasty falls over the edge of the high chair.

The mood in my city has been somewhat subdued this week, the move to Tier 4 and a return to lockdown was not unexepected but leaves many of us facing a long, dark and potentially lonely winter. This has been such a strange year, so different from any other we’ve experienced, yet I’ve tried to make the most of it and embrace a simpler, slower way of life – and this autumn has been one of little joys, chasing butterflies around the garden, rambling family walks, splashing in puddles, playdates at the park and making happy memories together. Take care and have a lovely week. X

The Missing of Clairdelune by Christelle Dabos

It’s been a cold, dark and rainy month, and I’ve been seeking cosy, comfort reads. A Winter’s Promise (reviewed here) was a complete delight, and I couldn’t wait to return to the Mirror Visitor series to find out what the eccentric characters were up to in the second installment.

The Missing of Clairdelune starts shortly after the events of the first book; when Ophelia starts receiving anonymous, threatening letters and the other people who received similar letters begin disappearing, she and her fiance, Thorn, begin investigating. After a slow start, it turns into a gripping mystery as Ophelia and Thorn race against the clock to rescue the missing persons and discover who’s behind the letters, and find themselves caught up in an even bigger conspiracy that spans the rupture of the world, creation of the Arcs and the history of the family spirits.

Ophelia is such an unusual heroine – she’s clumsy, mumbling and absent-minded but also brave, resourceful and determined. Meanwhile, Thorn is completely inscrutable, and their developing relationship is fascinating to follow.

There are some pacing issues as almost all the action takes place in the second half of the story, but it’s a genuinely delightful, gripping and unexpecedly thrilling sequel with some clever twists. The third book is one of my most eagerly anticipated reads because I’m so enjoying this original and quirky series. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Autumn in Big Tree Country

We’d planned to have a little getaway to Perthshire in October, our first with the baby. However, between our cat’s sudden illness in September and rapidly changing travel guidance around Coronavirus, we decided it would be safer and less stressful to cancel our reservations and have a little day trip there instead.

Travelling north on the A9 is always a bit nostalgic for me, as it was the route to Aberdeen back in my undergraduate university days, but more recently because of our annual trip to the Enchanted Forest. We managed to time our journey around the little one’s naps so she slept most of the way there (and back).

Our first stop was at Pitlochry, and no trip there is complete without calling in at the Christmas Emporium to choose a few new decorations and the independent sweet shop, Love Your Sweets, to treat ourselves to some rosy apples and soor plums.

We decided to bypass Faskally Woods where the Enchanted Forest takes place, and visited the Hermitage at Dunkeld just a few miles south of Pitlochry instead.

We followed the muddy paths along the River Braan to the charming Hermitage Bridge admiring the roaring Brack Linn Falls, stopping to investigate the so-called Wishing Trees (fallen trees and stumps that have coins hammered into them over the last few years) and taking a peak in Ossian’s Cave before looping back on ourselves, and heading back to the car and home again.

This wasn’t the trip we expected to take but it was a lovely one regardless, and as travel restrictions have tightened it’s likely to be our last trip for a while. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

I watched the film adaptation of Practical Magic starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman many years ago, but picked the book up from the library recently when I was in the mood for something witchy to read in October.

Practical Magic follows sisters Sally and Gillian Owens, raised by their aunts who practice witchcraft. Sally and Gillian are as different as could be, sensible to a fault, Sally just wants to be normal, while Gillian is a free-spirited drifter, but both are trying to escape the Owens’ legacy and the family curse of doomed romances.

After nearly two decades apart, Gillian turns up at Sally’s door with her dead boyfriend in the car, and the plot revolves around what happens when he continues to haunt them after they bury him in the backyard.

I really appreciated that it captured the complexity and intensity of female relationships between sisters, mothers and daughters, and even aunts and neices, the love and loyalty, the rivalry and jealousy, and even the sense of duty and obligation that characterises so many familial bonds.

I was hooked from the first page, the prose is descriptive and atmospheric, and the story wrapped itself around me like a blanket. Practical Magic is a tale of love, heartbreak, family, superstition and witchcraft, and it was a perfect choice for October and Halloween reading. Take care, and have a lovely week. X