My little blog turns five!

Taking some time at the end of a busy weekend full of birthday celebrations, a trip to the beach and my daughter’s first toddler sensory class to write a quick post as this weekend also coincides with the fifth anniversary of my little blog. A quick tally reveals that since I nervously hit publish on that very first (and slightly cringesome) post, I’ve shared over 220 posts including 19 recipes and almost 100 book reviews. More than anything else though, my blog has always been a record of life and I’ve written about my family and cat, our home and garden, the places and events we’ve visited.

I don’t share everything that goes on but I also don’t feel the pressure to pretend my life is perfect as I’ve found that it’s often the frustrations and sorrows, the challenges and changes that give me a sense of perspective for how much I still have to be grateful for.

When I first started blogging, I had no idea I’d still be writing it five years later or how my life would change in that time. I love being part of the blogging community, I’ve found so many inspiring and entertaining bloggers writing about so many different topics that I’m still slightly surprised that others are interested in reading what I write, but I’m always thankful to everyone who takes the time to like and comment on my posts. Thank you for reading, and wishing you all a lovely week. X

Returning to the Japanese Gardens

We’re in the midst of a summer heatwave at the moment, and while we’ve been spending most of our time in the garden splashing in the paddling pool and enjoying the shade of the summerhouse, we’ve enjoyed a few daytrips out of the city as well. We recently combined a long overdue family reunion with a visit to the Japanese Gardens at Cowden Estate in Clackmannanshire. My husband and I visited the The Japanese Gardens in 2018, and it was lovely to return with our toddler in tow to see how it’s grown and changed since our first visit.

The main path follows the edge of the lake with two bridges, one arched and the other zig-zagging allowing visitors to cross from one side to the other. There’s also a dry-garden with patterns raked into the stones, a moss garden, and stone lanterns scattered around. The gardens are elegant, tranquil and wonderfully combine the Japanese aesthetic with the surrounding Scottish landscape.

After exploring the gardens, we treated ourselves to coffee and freshly baked scones from the cafe. The Japanese Gardens are a little of the beaten path, but well worth a visit. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never read Pride and Prejudice given how enduringly popular it is, probably even more suprising is that despite vague memories of the BBC adaptation starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, I knew very little about the story before reading it. The premise is that the five Bennet sisters are seeking to marry well in order to avoid destitution when their father dies as his home is due to be inherited by the nearest male relative in line.

It’s hard not to like the older sisters, Jane and Elizabeth; Jane is kind, forgiving and thinks the best of everyone, while Lizzie is lively, opinionated and I admired her refusal to settle for a loveless marriage (though at times I was also convinced she’d end up homeless and penniless because of it!), and how I cringed for them every time their mother or younger sisters embarrassed them in public.

There’s quite a large cast of characters, some of them comical and some of them downright scheming as they attempt to secure their own marriages and fortunes, but far from being a historical rom-com, it impressed upon me how few options women without means had during the Regency-era. There’s a fair amount of meddling, misunderstandings and personal pride and prejudices to overcome before any of them can live happily ever after.

Although slower-paced and very different from the novels I usually read, I was swept along by this delightful story. Even knowing the ending, there were times when I genuinely wondered how the characters would ever find their way there as they navigated all the obstacles in their way. I don’t read many classics but Pride and Prejudice is such an absorbing, witty and comforting story that it’s not at all hard to see why it’s such an enduring favourite and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. Have a lovely week! X

A Glimpse Under the Sea at the Aquarium

I suspect the rest of the U.K. is watching the Euro 2020 final, while I’m enjoying a bit of a peace and quiet at the end of a busy weekend and tapping out a quick post about our recent family excursions to the SeaLife Aquarium at Loch Lomond Shores now that lockdown and travel restrictions have finally ended in Scotland.

One personal change the pandemic has brought about is that I used to book events well in advance (I always like to have something to look forward to) but after so many cancelled events and travel restrictions, I’m trying to be more spontaneous, so when one rainy Saturday my husband saw there were tickets available for the SeaLife Aquarium, we decided to seize the day as it had been on our list of things to do for a while. It’s not fully open yet due to refurbishments and certain areas are still closed where social distancing isn’t possible but there was plenty to see and more than enough to keep us and our inquisitive, energetic toddler entertained from clownfish (“Hello Nemo!”) to piranhas and sharks. Even though it’s relatively close (a half hour drive for us), the SeaLife Aquarium is not somewhere we’ve visited before but we had a lovely time and would definitely return. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Mid Year Reading Roundup

Halfway through 2021 and I’ve read more books in the first half of this year than I managed to read in the whole of 2020. Sharing a little roundup of shorter reviews for the books I’ve read during the second quarter of the year.

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown

The story follows Princess Karina, last surviving member of the Royal Family, who wishes to resurrect her recently murdered mother, and Malik, a refugee whose sister is captured by a vengeful spirit, who agrees to kill the princess in order to free his sister. I didn’t particularly like either of the protagonists at first, though I was more invested in Malik’s dilemma about whether he could kill the woman he’s fallen in love with in order to free his sister than Karina’s, but both characters go through some significant development and a few clever twists kept me interested until the end.

Incendiary by Zoraida Cordova

Renata is one of the Moria, a race of people with magical abilities – though her ability to steal memories makes her an outcast among her own – and she joins the resistance who are fighting against the humans who persecute them. When her unit’s commander is captured, she agrees to become a spy in the heart of the enemy’s stronghold in order to rescue him. This had a slow start, but it really picks up in the second half, which is full of angst, twists and betrayals, and had me eager to get my hands on the concluding part of the duology.

The Memory of Babel by Christelle Dabos

This was one of my most eagerly anticipated books of the year, but I’m not sure it lived up to my expectations. Set a couple of years after the events of the previous book (reviewed here), following Thorn’s mysterious disappearance, Ophelia remains determined to find him and unravel the mysteries of the creator and their shattered world. None of these books are action-packed but this one was particularly slow-paced, and there are a lot of disparate threads that I’m hoping the fourth and final part of the series will tie together. Ophelia and Thorn remain an odd couple, but their stop-start romance was the highlight of this book for me.

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

A huntress and an assassin are sent on a quest to return magic to their dying land. This was probably one of my biggest disappointments and at times I wondered if I was reading a first draft because it’s full of interesting ideas but there’s little suspense, action or mystery, and it’s full of cliches, tropes and deus ex machina. As I don’t like writing wholly negative reviews, I’ll say that one of the supporting characters, Altair, turned out to be far more interesting and nuanced than I expected, and it was engaging and readable enough that I didn’t DNF.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Nora Seed is living her most mediocre life in Bedford, riddled with regrets about the opportunities she’s squandered through her life, but when she decides to end her life, she finds herself in the Midnight Library where she has the chance to explore all the other possible lives she could’ve lived. This is a story about regrets, philosophy, quantum physics, family dynamics, swimming, music and polar bears. The Midnight Library is an easy, life-affirming story, full of wisdom and humour.

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

I was apprehensive about reading this as it has pretty much every trigger warning from self-harm (in the first chapter) to genocide, but it was incredibly absorbing. The Poppy War is the first book in a fantasy trilogy inspired by the Sino-Japanese War that took place between 1937 and 1945. The story follows Rin, an orphan from a previous war, raised by her opium dealing aunt and uncle who plan to marry her off to a man three times her age for their own profit. In desperation, she studies for the national exams and secures a place at the elite military academy. It’s a fascinating character study as Rin makes friends and enemies, finds mentors, and starts to consider what and who she’s willing to sacrifice for power. I tend to prefer adventures and heists to grimdark fantasy but even as harrowing and disturbing as this is (and Chapter 21 detailing the atrocities and massacre of a city deserves a trigger warning all to itself), the characterisation and world building are brilliant.

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

This is an original and quirky young adult fantasy about Sierra who discovers that her family have the ability to animate art and murals with the spirits of the dead when an evil anthropologist steals their knowledge and starts picking off the other artists one by one. I really liked the sassy, streetwise characters, and enjoyed the social commentary about race, ethnicity, immigration and the gentrification of Latinx and Black neighbourhoods in New York.

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

The sequel to An Ember in the Ashes (reviewed here) had a bit of a slow start and took me a while to get into. The narrative switches between Laia, Elias and his best friend, Helene, who has become the new Emperor’s Blood Shrike. Elias and Laia attempt to break into prison where Laia’s brother is being held, while Helene has been tasked with tracking Elias down and executing him as a traitor. Despite a slow start, there were enough twists, turns and betrayals to keep me interested and eager to find out what happens next in this thrilling Young Adult Fantasy series.

Have a lovely week. X

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes is the first part in the young adult, fantasy ‘The Ember Quartet’, and although it’s been all over bookstagram and blogs for the last few years, it was my husband’s recommendation that prompted me to finally read it. The story switches between two protagonists, Elias, a Martial soldier competing in trials to become the new Emperor, and Laia, a girl from the oppressed Scholars whose family were murdered by Martials. In desperation Laia agrees to spy on the ruthless Martial Commandant for the Scholar resistance in exchange for their help in rescuing her brother who has been captured and imprisoned by Martials.

While I found Laia the more sympathetic of the two protagonists, Elias faces the more interesting moral dilemmas as a soldier in training. The Martial Empire is one so brutal and bloody that the lives of their own student soldiers are worth little more than those of the slaves they keep. There are Martials who revel in their power and superiority over others, while some may not agree with everything the Empire does but accept life as it is, and Elias recognises the injustices and brutality but feels trapped and powerless to change anything.

I’ve always been drawn to stories about underdogs standing up to oppression and tyranny, but I really liked that Laia isn’t a daring, devoted resistance fighter, she’s a frightened young woman desperately trying to survive long enough in a brutal environment to save her brother.

An Ember in the Ashes was full of suspense, kept me hooked and wanting to read just one more page, then another, up to the heart-pounding end, and I’m really looking forward to reading the next part in the quartet. Have a lovely week. X

Nine Lives

I’d planned to share a post about some of our recent travels now that restrictions have been lifted, but sharing an update about our cat Mara instead. It’s been a stressful week in our household as Mara suddenly became unwell last weekend and had to spend a couple of nights at the vet’s while they tried to find the cause of her fever and bring her temperature back down to normal.

One of the benefits of keeping a house-cat is that we’re really familiar with all of Mara’s routines and we’re always able to tell when she goes off her food, starts becoming lethargic or anti-social – all clear sights that she’s feeling unwell – and we’re quick to react when something’s not right, which I’m pretty sure has saved her life on more than one occasion.

This is unfortunately her second mystery illness in less than twelve months. All the x-rays, scans, blood and urine tests have come back normal, which should be good news but doesn’t feel like it when we can’t figure out what’s wrong with her. The sad reality is that most of us will outlive our pets, and there are never any guarantees about how long they will live. My husband and I are both cat people, having grown up with them as family pets, but my husband had just one cat adopted as a kitten who passed away one month before her 22nd birthday, while my family had three rescued kittens who lived until two, four and sixteen years respectively. We always knew that adopting an adult cat meant that Mara might not be with us for very long, and yet she has been such a lovely companion that I feel so grateful for every moment we’ve spent together.

After a week of nursing her back to health, she seems to be recovering well, and the vet is happy with all her vitals. I don’t know how many of her nine lives Mara has left but I’m relieved and thankful that she’s still with us. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

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