Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

Foundryside follows, Sancia, a former slave turned thief with some unusual abilities, when she’s hired to steal an ancient artifact for a life-changing sum of money. The magic system of scriving – a system of commands that objects are compelled to obey which can alter reality – is also fairly unique, though there’s a lot of exposition describing how it works, and what is and isn’t possible throughout the story.

The narrative switches between Sancia, Gregor Dandolo who happens to be the founder and leader of the city law enforcement, and Orso, a mad-scientist scriver – who became a surprise favourite character. I can’t say too much about him without spoiling the story, but Clef, a sentient scrived object, was also a brilliant character, and his bantering dialogue with Sancia and their friendship was one of the highlights of the story.

Foundryside is a fun fantasy heist with some clever ideas, plenty of twists that kept me guessing and lots of humour, though it was somewhat weighed down by exposition about the magic system. Foundryside is the first book in the trilogy and I’m looking forward to reading the next installment. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Midwinter Moments

January has been full of cold, crisp days and subzero temperatures with the sun casting a golden glow over everything it touches but barely warm enough to thaw the frost. I started the month feeling at a low ebb with rising infection rates and increased lockdown restrictions, but there have been some lovely, little moments that have lifted my mood along the way.

We’ve continued to take daily walks, and we visited the Botanics on a very frosty day, our first visit there since March. A turn around the Botanic Gardens used to be one of our regular walks when we lived nearby, and it was lovely to spend some time wandering the familiar paths after so long, feeding the grey squirrels and spotting witch hazel flowers that always remind me of party streamers. I did take an embarrassing tumble on the ice but luckily my bum provided a padded landing.

Walking has become a part of our daily routine and our main form of exercise over the last year. I’m not at all sporty but I’ve always been fairly active, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised that I’ve managed to lose the baby weight just walking a few miles every day – though I reckon crawling around and chasing after my 11-month-old daughter probably burns off a few calories too. I’m missing my old yoga class though, which I’d attended almost every week for the last five years and right through my pregnancy. Lately, I’ve noticed tension, stiffness and aches creeping into my body, and I’m determined to get back to my yoga class even if it’s only on zoom for the next wee while.

A couple of weeks ago, we woke up to find an inch of snow had fallen overnight, and skipped an afternoon walk for some time playing in the garden instead. Our daughter was delighted to be crawling around in it, pulling herself up to lean on the raised beds, tugging off her mittens so she could feel the snow and giggling at the strange transformation of our garden.

I’ve been making more effort to read books instead of doom-scrolling through the news, and there have been lots of cosy evenings spent snuggled up with our cat Mara and books. On the coldest nights she burrows under the duvet with me, which is like having a furry, purring hot water bottle.

On so-called “blue Monday” I attended the NHS Louisa Jordan for my first dose of the Covid19 vaccine, and my husband received his first dose a few days later. We’re incredibly fortunate that we’ll both receive the vaccine through our work. Seeing the SECC where I’ve watched concerts, attended wedding fayres and other events transformed into a field hospital and a steady flow of people receiving their vaccinations was a heartening insight into the extraordinary, collaborative efforts that are being undertaken to save lives and bring the pandemic under control.

We also had an exciting visitor in the garden this week, a sparrowhawk. It’s only the second time we’ve seen a sparrowhawk in the garden, but it sat on our fence opposite the kitchen window just long enough for my husband to snap a photo.

Despite the pandemic and lockdown, we’ve had a pleasant start to 2021 full of wrapped up walks, golden sunshine, glittering frosts, powdery snow and little midwinter moments. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I’ve been finding a lot of comfort in fiction lately and decided to re-read The Night Circus when I was in the mood for something whimsical and romantic. I first read The Night Circus back in 2013 but I’d forgotten almost everything about it and felt like I was discovering it all over again.

The story follows two young illusionists, Celia and Marco, bound together in a competition between the two rival magicians who trained them. The Night Circus or ‘La Cirque des Reves‘ becomes their battleground as they seek to find out who can create the most stunning illusions.

I was captivated from the very first page, drawn into a world full of illusionists, contortionists, acrobats, fortune tellers, costume designers, architects and clockmakers, and it’s full of sumptious descriptions of the costumes, food, perfomances and, of course, the illusions that Marco and Celia create. The plot is meandering but not uneventful or lacking in suspense or twists. I was enchanted by circus life, the competition and courtship between the protagonists, and I really didn’t want it to end.

The Night Circus is a delightful, whimsical and romantic story, and given that most of the story takes place at night is a perfect cosy, comfort read for long, dark winter evenings. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

2020 in Books

A combination of sleep deprivation from caring for a newborn and too much time spent watching news of the pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests and the US Election unfold meant whole weeks passed with me barely managing to read a single page. Having said that, I was much less concerned with quantity than quality in 2020, and although I only managed to read 28 books (and shared 24 reviews with a little backlog still to post), I’ve loved so many of them and discovered some new favourite books and writers. The vast majority were fiction, and almost half of those were fantasy, though magical realism was also well represented. I also read my first mystery novel, and that’s a genre I plan to explore this year.

I enjoyed so many of the books that I read in 2020 that it’s genuinely hard to pick my top five, but Crooked Kingdom, The Vanished Bride, The Lollipop Shoes, The Night Circus (a re-read) and A Conjuring of Light were the highlights.

On the flipside, I’m of the opinion that there are too many books in the world to force myself to read something I’m not enjoying. I have a 100 page rule but after that I give myself permission to give up without feeling guilty, and there were three books that I didn’t finish in 2020. I had high hopes of a Latin-American inspired fantasy with Nocturna, but I found it too derivitive of the Shades of Magic trilogy and lacking in the Latinx mythology and setting I was looking for, I gave up on page 154 of 471. I loved the Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, but I’ve been underwhelmed by the rest of the trilogy and the third book just didn’t hold my interest so I gave up on page 369 of 724. The Architect’s Apprentice was a bit different from the stories I normally read, and I left it on page 195 of 452 because I found it too slow-paced and couldn’t sympathise with the protagonist.

I’ve set myself a reading challenge but beyond the numbers I’d like to read at least five non-fiction books, and I’m hoping to finish or catch-up on a few series that I’ve started (The Invisible Library series, The Daevabad trilogy, The Bronte Mysteries and the Broken Earth Trilogy to name a few) before starting any more. I never stick to book-buying bans but would like to prioritise reading what I already own, though there are a few books that I’m eagerly anticipating coming out in paperback that I know I won’t be able to resist; there are also a few old favourites I’d like to re-read, something I typically don’t do because there are so many new books to read.

I’d love to know what your favourite reads of 2020 were, and have you set any reading goals for 2021? Take care, and have a lovely week. X

New Year Greetings

I always like to take some time at the end of one year and the start of another to reflect on the wins and losses, the lessons and changes of the year just passed. 2020 was an emotional roller-coaster of love, joy, gratitude, sorrow, fear and frustration as a pandemic interrupted our lives and turned the world upside down.

My personal low-point of the year was when my nanna passed away in February, though in retrospect it seems like a blessing in disguise because she was spared the confusion, anxiety and loneliness of months under lockdown in a care home, but I still miss her and think of her often.

Our daughter’s birth – also in February – was easily the highlight of our year, and though we’ve had to find our way without any of the supports and services that most other new parents can rely on, it’s been such a delight getting to know our little girl and watching her grow from a sleepy, squirming newborn to a strong-willed, curious and boisterous 11-month-old.

I received a further piece of good news in July when 13 months after experiencing temporary blindness in my left eye (which has never fully recovered), I was invited for an MRI of my brain, neck, shoulders and spine to check for signs of a neurological disorder. It was such a relief when the results came back normal which gives me low odds of developing M.S.; the neurologist was as surprised as I was – I don’t think he gets to give good news often.

We had a scare in September when our cat, Mara, suddenly became the most unwell we’ve ever seen her, she has thankfully recovered but I’m very aware that she’s getting older, and we’re so lucky she’s still with us.

We ended the year by celebrating Christmas with close family, and it meant the world to us to have some time together after months of distance and separation, but like millions of others across the UK we woke up under another lockdown on Boxing Day. It feels like we’re stuck in limbo until the vaccination program takes effect, but for now I’m just trying to focus on the day ahead of me and count my blessings. Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year. X