Autumn Moments

It seemed like autumn was slow to start this year with the leaves clinging to the trees and remaining stubbornly green until mid-October when they seemed to skip all the shades of red and began to create a carpet of muted oranges, yellows and browns on the ground.

We’re an outdoorsy family, but it’s been too wet to play in the park most days so instead we’ve been kicking our way through fallen leaves, splashing in puddles and collecting pine cones with our toddling daughter. We’ve also had plenty of fun inside with homemade playdough, baking cakes (the little one takes her job stirring the ingredients very seriously) and reading stories together.

There’s also been playdates in the park with my friend and her daughter, watching the girls throw handfuls of leaves and chasing each other around while we chatted. Last weekend, we followed a little pumpkin trail at my husband’s cousin’s farmstead where all the kids ignored the pumpkins in favour of feeding the hens, grazing at the buffet table and generally running amok.

This weekend we’ve enjoyed some Halloween fun, our daughter has had fancy dress parties at nursery and her toddler sensory group, and carving a pumpkin lantern at home – though my imagination always exceeds my ability.

The weather this month has been wet and wild, but we haven’t let it dampen our spirits and have embraced so many simple and seasonal pleasures inside and out. Happy Halloween and have a lovely week. X

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

I read and loved the Six of Crows duology (reviewed here and here) last year, and I was curious about Leigh Bardugo’s first adult novel set outside of her Grishaverse series. Ninth House is about the eight most powerful secret societies at Yale and how each one specialises in a different type of arcana. Into this world of wealth, privilege and the occult, comes high school drop out and stoner Alex Stern who is admitted for one single reason: she can see ghosts. Alex is invited to join the Ninth House which oversees the rituals of all the other houses. Haunted by both the ghosts she can see on campus but also the mysteries of her past as the sole survivor of a gruesome multiple homicide, she finds herself investigating the murder of a girl on campus and unravelling a more sinister conspiracy in the process.

The narrative switches between Alex and her mentor, Darlington, which was a little confusing at first because Darlington’s narrative is all set in the past while Alex’s runs from the past to the present. This is incredibly well plotted and there are several different mysteries running through the story, the murder on campus, her mentor’s disappearence, the night Alex survived a multiple homicide that she has no memory of, and another related to one of the ghosts haunting New Haven that Alex accidentally befriends, yet the story has a very clever resolution and still sets itself up for a sequel too.

I loved the setting, the descriptions of Yale and New Haven, and the awkward juxtaposition of student life and frat parties with ghosts (or grays as they’re called in the story) and the occult practices of the secret societies. I also adored the characters from Alex who is just trying to survive and make the best of the second chance she’s been given, Darlington the gentleman scholar, and Dawes, the reticent PhD student who works as the Ninth House’s housekeeper to Turner the straight laced detective who is Yale’s liaison with the local police department and the ghost of a local murderer who wants to clear his own name.

I enjoyed Ninth House so much that I tracked down a second copy in hardbook to survive rereads and because I will definitely be buying the second part in the series in hardback as soon as it comes out rather than waiting for the paperback like I normally do. Ninth House was thrilling, original, addictive and delightfully macabre, it’s a story to keep you up reading late into the night but one that might give you a few nightmares too, and a perfect read for Halloween or a dark and stormy night. Have a lovely week. X

3rd Quarter in Books

Evenings have been cold, dark and dreary lately in our part of the world, good for nothing except curling up under a blanket with a cup of something warm to drink and a book to read. Earlier this month, I hit my reading target for the year ahead of schedule and thought I’d share a round up of some of the books I read between July and September.

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

I’ll preface this review by saying that I loved Practical Magic, it was one of my favourite books last year, and at the end I wanted to know more about the aunts that raised Sally and Gillian, and more about their parents, which is exactly what The Rules of Magic is about. Unfortunately, this had a very different mood and atmosphere from Practical Magic, and I found it quite heavy as the aunts, Franny and Jet, and their brother, Vincent, try to navigate the family curse that love leads to ruin against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. I was disappointed by this prequel which lacked the charm and suspense of Practical Magic.

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

Set on board a steamboat cruising the Nile, this murder mystery seems like a simple crime of passion with the jilted ex-lover murdering the rich, beautiful and charming rival who stole her man, except that the most obvious suspect also has the most solid alibi and the victim had other enemies among the passengers. One by one the murderer picks off the witnesses before they can expose them, but the retired Detective Hercule Poirot is there to investigate. I thoroughly enjoyed this clever mystery that kept me guessing until the end with plenty of clues and misdirection.

This Poison Heart by Kaylynn Bayron

A young adult fantasy about a girl with the ability to grow plants and a natural immunity to almost all poisons finds herself caught up in a family legacy to prevent a very rare plant falling into the hands of people who would use it for their own nefarious purposes. This Poison Heart was like a cross between The Secret Garden and Poison Ivy and a dollop of Greek mythology thrown in too, I enjoyed the mystery but found it too slow paced and I probably won’t read the sequel.

Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko

Raybearer is very likely to be one of my Top 10 favourite reads this year, and I read the sequel as soon as it came out to find out if Tarisai succeeded in annointing her own council as the first Empress Raybearer and survived her journey through the underworld to end the sacrifice of hundreds of children to appease the spirits who threaten to bring war, disease and chaos to their lands if they don’t. I found Redemptor a little bit too meandering in places and I missed some of the supporting characters from Raybearer who drop in and out of the sequel, although I enjoyed getting to know a few new characters too. Tarisai’s journey through the underworld was the highlight of the story, a true physical, mental and spiritual challenge with sacrifices and betrayals that me gripped up to the very satisfying conclusion.

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

I’ve been a fan of Brene Brown since watching her TED talk on shame several years ago, and have been working my way through her books ever since. Daring Greatly is a book about how to recognise and overcome shame, and practice vulnerability in different spheres of our lives in order to cultivate connection, creativity and integrity. I didn’t think this is one of her best works, and it didn’t have the profound effect on me that I Thought It Was Just Me or Rising Strong did but I did appreciate the blend of research and personal experience, and how Brene practises and models vulnerability, courage and empathy for her children and in her family were the highlights for me.

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Spin the Dawn is the most charming and captivating story about a young woman, Maia, who pretends to be her brother in order to become the Emperor’s new tailor – a role forbidden to women. At court, Maia finds herself drawn into the political intrigues between the young Emperor, the Lord Enchanter and the Warlord’s daughter reluctantly betrothed to the Emperor in order to restore peace between the North and South following the Five Winters War. With the gift of her grandmother’s enchanted scissors, Maia embarks on the Warlord’s daughter’s seemingly impossible challenge to create three wedding dresses made from the laughter of the Sun, the tears of the Moon and the blood of the Stars. I simply adored this story that is as much a romance as a coming-of-age quest, though unfortunately I didn’t find the sequel, Unravel the Dusk, as charming or gripping.

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Inheritance Games is a fast paced and gripping YA mystery about a seemingly ordinary girl, Avery, grieving her mum and trying to get the money and grades to get into a good college whose life is turned upside down when Tobias Hawthorne – a billionaire she’s never met – disowns his entire family and leaves his fortune and estate to her instead. This reminded me of Knives Out and Rebecca as Avery tries to solve the mystery of why Tobias Hawthorne chose her and finds herself caught up in the scheming Hawthorne family, working with and against Tobias’ four charming and clever grandsons to solve an elaborate treasure hunt with a few assassination attempts along the way. The only thing that let this story down for me was the fairly predictable love triangle between Avery and two of the Hawthorne brothers, but this was a fun mystery with plenty of suspense and I’ll definitely be reading the rest of the trilogy.

Have a lovely week. X

Happy 6th Anniversary to Mara

Our family has been enjoying a little celebration this evening as it was six years ago today we adopted our cat, Mara. As she was an adult when we adopted her, we know almost nothing about her life before she came to live with us, we don’t know when her birthday is or even her age, but I always like to mark the anniversary.

My husband and I had just returned from our honeymoon when we decided to ask our then landlord for permission to add a pet to our household. Both having grown up with cats, there was never really any doubt what animal we’d choose, and as I’d only had rescue cats (some quite literally rescued from a sack abandoned on a building site) I was determined to give a cat a second chance to have a safe and loving home. As it happened, Mara’s previous owner had just passed away and she’d only been in the rehoming centre for a week, but she was so happy when we brought her home and every bit as eager to bond with us as we were to get to know her. It feels like we’ve been through a lot together in the last six years, we’ve moved out of our little rented flat and into our own house, Mara’s survived cancer and our daughter’s birth to mention just a few of the biggest changes, but Mara’s adjusted to everything without any fuss, seemingly content as long as we’re all together.

I often feel very lucky that we found Mara before anyone else claimed her, she’s always been the most affectionate, gentle and playful companion, who follows us around the house curious to see what we’re doing, keeps me company when I’m working from home (often waltzing across the screen while I’m on videocalls), snaffling for scraps at dinnertime and loves to snuggle up while I’m reading in the evening before curling up at the bottom of our bed to sleep every night. Yet I also realise how lucky Mara was that we adopted her as we found the cancerous lump on her tail so early that none of the vets who treated her had seen one at that stage before, and we’ve always been quick to notice and react when she seems out of sorts. I’m relieved that Mara appears to be back to her normal, happy and hungry self after her mystery illness a few months ago.

This evening has been spent at home spoiling Mara with treats, and appreciating all the love, affection and fun she’s brought to our family. Have a lovely week. X

Autumn in the Garden

Blogging has fallen by the wayside over the last few weeks as we’ve all been off but not really enjoying much of a rest or holiday as our daughter caught hand, foot and mouth at nursery, and we’ve spent the last wee while taking care of her and pottering around the home and garden.

We’ve not managed to do much gardening this year as it was turned into a temporary building site while we were doing some home improvements. Nevertheless, it’s not looking too bad for this time of year. We’ve trimmed the bamboo, which has “clumped” since we planted it three years ago, and the climbing rose Crown Princess Margaret has been providing beautiful bouquets of peachy roses all summer. Hardy perennials like Crocosmia, Scabiosa, Asters and Geraniums are all still providing bursts of colour in the main flower bed.

The only thing I grew from seed this year is Crown Prince Pumpkins, which I trained to grow up over a frame my husband made to save space and protect them from slugs. This week I harvested three blue-ish pumpkins, the smallest weighing just over 2kg and the largest 5.1kg.

We’ve always enjoyed the wildlife that inhabits and visits our garden (with the exception of the slugs) but the upheaval and extra human presences during our renovations caused a temporary exodus, but over the last couple of months, the sparrows, blue tits and great tits have all returned. We’ve also had some bold grey squirrels coming right up to the window demanding nuts – much to our daughter’s delight. At the end of the summer, we also had a hedgehog wombling around the garden in the evenings.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I love light shows and I’ve added a few solar lights to enchant our little garden (though my husband thinks I’m at risk of causing pollution if I add anymore). As daylight fades and the city begins to quiet, the lights flicker on one by one, and the garden starts to feel more peaceful and mysterious.

No sooner had our daughter started to recover than the tell-tale spots and blisters appeared on my hands and feet, but I’m hoping I’ll recover quickly so we can all get back into our routine and out for some autumnal adventures. Have a lovely weekend. X