I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

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I Am Malala is one of those books that I’ve been meaning to read forever and I ended up borrowing a copy from the local library. In many ways, Malala comes across as a very ordinary teenager who bickers with her little brothers and worries about her exams, and I really enjoyed her vivid descriptions of her life in Pakistan, playing with the little girl next door, listening to her father and his friends chat about politics, visiting relatives in the mountain village where her parents came from, the sense of family and community, and her dawning awareness of living in a patriarchal society.

Malala recalls being vaguely aware of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in neighbouring Afghanistan but – as I’m sure many people reading can relate – that was something happening somewhere else, until their influence slowly started spreading. Malala describes how a militant group of fundamentalists seized upon the chaos and destruction created by a devastating earthquake to extend their influence and occupy North West Pakistan where she lived, bringing terror, torture, murder and civil war to her home.

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The day that Malala was shot by a Taliban terrorist was just another day up until that event, and she recalls the confusion and disorientation of waking up in an unfamiliar place with no memory of what happened and feeling desperately worried about her family. Malala clearly expresses her humility and gratitude at being alive, reunited with her family and their new life in the U.K. with all the freedom and safety it provides, but it is also tinged with homesickness for Pakistan and all her friends there.

Malala comes across as a young woman shaped by her circumstances, she recognizes how fortunate she was that her parents supported and encouraged her education, and how her family were ordinary people caught up in the conflict between the Pakistani government and terrorists, yet instead of being cowed and frightened into submission, Malala developed a sense of purpose and her determination and courageousness shine throughout this biography. I Am Malala is every bit as powerful and thought-provoking as I expected, and ultimately Malala chooses to define herself not as the girl who was shot by the Taliban but as an advocate for education. Have a lovely week! X

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May Day Gardening

Tulips

Just tapping out a quick post at the end of another hectic week, but no matter what else is going on in our lives, we always try to find time to spend in the garden. April is usually when we sow the first seeds outside, which means the garden is at an awkward stage in early May when the first intrepid little seedlings start to peek above the soil, but there’s still too much bare earth for my liking – though the tulips are providing a lovely splash of colour.

Back Garden

One of my gardening regrets is that I didn’t take more photos of the garden when we first moved here, though in my defence there wasn’t much to photograph except for four towering, dark fir trees along the back fence, a washing line and a mossy lawn. Since then we’ve cut down the fir trees, built raised beds for vegetables and flowers, planted two little apple trees, clumping bamboo, roses and various perennials.

Seedling shelf

I recently rescued a rickety, old bookcase that has changed hands between various family members more times than I can remember but now resides in our front porch, which has become a makeshift green house to start off some of our tender plants. This year, I’m growing three different varieties of chilli (Banana, Poblano and Cayenne), but only one variety of squash called Honey Bear. My spouse has started off some Sweet Aperitif cherry tomatoes, and I’ve planted a pot of Lollo Rosso lettuce because we had surprise success with it last summer and appreciated being able to snip off a few leaves whenever we wanted to make a fresh salad. Have a lovely week! X

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman

Convenience Store Woman is narrated by Keiko Furukara and right from the start it’s clear that she’s a little bit odd and doesn’t fit in, but Keiko is frequently as baffled by other people as they are by her. At times Keiko is hard to relate to as she questions her humanity and there are moments when her lack of empathy and violent impulses add a sinister edge to the story.

As a university student Keiko takes a part-time job in a convenience store, where she finds a reassuring sense of routine, predictability and purpose, and she finally starts to feel like an ordinary, productive member of society. Eighteen years later, at the age of 36, Keiko is single, childless and still working part-time at the convenience store, and feeling pressure to conform as she realises that concerned family members and peers view her with a combination of curiosity and pity because they can’t imagine how she could be content when she’s deviated from the path of career, marriage and children that everyone else followed.

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Then, into Keiko’s orderly and predictable workplace, comes a new employee, Shiraha, a mid-30s slacker with a victim mentality who looks down on both the work and the other workers, but who is on the hunt for a marriage partner to support him. Shiraha is an interesting foil for Keiko, and he becomes the catalyst that pushes Keiko to choose between pretending to be normal and conforming to social expectations, or accepting herself for who she is and doing what makes her happy.

Convenience Store Woman is a short book and easy to read, but also a thought-provoking and powerful exploration of self-acceptance, conformity and societal pressure. Have a lovely week! X

A Garden in Progress

Tulip Ballerina

Winter often seems like the longest season in our part of the world, and it always feels like such a relief to see leaves on the trees again, and tulips and daffodils in full bloom in April. The Easter Bank Holiday coincided with a spell of warm, sunny weather and we’ve spent most of our long weekend in the garden. April is always a busy time of year in the garden, heralding a period of growth and change, but we’ve also enjoyed just sitting out in the sunshine taking it all in and anticipating the growing season ahead.

As much as I enjoy visiting public gardens and flower shows, I often find more inspiration from my fellow garden bloggers and I love seeing real gardens with washing lines, water butts and compost bins, as these are all signs of use and life often missing from landscaped and designed gardens. Our washing line cuts across the garden, and I’m hoping that when our garden is more established it will be less obvious, but in the meantime I’ve create little miniature flowerbeds around the base of the poles. I’ve planted tete-a-tete daffodils that I bought reduced at a local garden center in them, and I’m also hoping to train sweet peas up the trellis.

Fed up battling against the challenging conditions in the border under the hedge, we decided to move part of the L-shaped flowerbed turning it into a T-shape, it’s still in full-sun but plants won’t have to compete with the hedge roots now, and as a bonus we can trim the hedge without all the branches and leaves falling on the bed below.

Our garden will never win any awards, but it’s an eclectic patchwork of our experiments and whimsies, and it brings us an enormous amount of pleasure and fulfillment. Happy Easter and have a lovely week! X

The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman

I haven’t had much time to read or blog over the last few months as real life events (including caring for a family member and adjusting to a new role at work) have taken up most of my time and attention, but I’ve missed reading and I’ve always found something incredibly comforting about slipping into a story whenever real life feels overwhelming.

One of the best books I read last year was The Invisible Library (reviewed here), and the sequel picks up just a few months after the events in the first book as the resourceful and self-deprecating librarian, Irene, is caught up once again in the eternal battle between chaos and order when her assistant Kai is kidnapped. In The Masked City Irene races to rescue Kai and prevent a war between the fae and dragons that could destroy countless innocent worlds caught between them.

I really love the locations in these stories, and while the first book was set in a Victorian London with werewolves and other supernatural elements, the sequel mostly takes place in renaissance Venice. I also really appreciated the reversal of the damsel saving the prince for a change, but I missed the interplay between the characters who were separated for most of the story, and the villains just weren’t quite as dynamic or threatening as Alberich.

Although I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as the first book, these stories are so easy to read with a perfect blend of humour, action and suspense that I’m eager to see how the series develops. Have a lovely week! X

Gluten-Free Broccoli Quiche

Broccoli Quiche slice

Ingredients:

200g gluten-free plain flour
1 tsp of xantham gum
100g of butter
6 eggs
300ml of whole/full-fat milk
1 small broccoli (approx 100g) chopped into small florets
1 small leek, finely diced
1 medium onion, finely diced
150g of grated cheese (we use 75g of medium cheddar and 75g of hard goat’s cheese)

Broccoli Quiche

Method:

Add gluten-free flour and xantham gum to a bowl, then rub in the butter until it resembles the consistency of breadcrumbs.

Add up to 3 tablespoons of cold water and splash of olive oil to the pastry and combine until it starts to resemble a firm, moist dough, then set aside.

Heat a splash of oil in a medium sized frying pan, then add the onion and leek and cook for 3 minutes or until they start to turn translucent.

Mix in the broccoli florets to the frying pan and cook for a further 3-5 minutes or until it starts to soften. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In another bowl or jug combine the eggs and milk, season with salt and pepper and whisk until thoroughly combined.

Put the pastry between two sheets of grease-proof paper and roll out flat until it is the size of an oven-proof pie or quiche dish. It should be no more than 1/2 centimeter thick. For best results, transfer it to the pie dish and blind bake the pastry, then remove from the oven.

Add half the vegetables into the pastry, sprinkle with half the cheese, add the remaining vegetables and then pour in the mixed eggs and milk. Gently shake the pie dish to allow the liquid to cover all the other ingredients and seep between the gaps. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on the top.

Cook the quiche in the oven for 20-25 minutes at 200 degrees or until a skewer or knife can be inserted into the quiche and comes out clean. This will rise in the oven like a souffle but will sink down once it has been removed from the heat.

Allow the quiche to cool completely before cutting into it, but it can be eaten hot or cold.

Have a lovely week! X

The Jewel Garden by Monty & Sarah Don

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March is an unpredictable and changeable month in our part of the world, today we’ve had snow, sunshine and hail stones, and it’ll be a while yet until we can risk sowing any seeds in the garden, but a good friend and fellow urban gardener gave me a copy of this to read to tide me over.

Perhaps because I’ve only relatively recently fallen in love with gardening, I didn’t really know much about Monty (or Montagu as he prefers) Don, and found this to be a fascinating insight into his life. The Jewel Garden¬†initially follows a fairly typical rags-to-riches trajectory as Monty and Sarah describe being newly married and desperately poor when they decide to start a jewellery making business together in 1981; coinciding with the glamour and extravagance of the 1980s, their jewellery became an international success. Yet by 1989, their good fortune seemed to have run out as the business was struggling, they were on the verge of bankruptcy, Sarah had a slipped disc and Monty was sinking into a depression.

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Monty writes openly and honestly about this period in their life, the apathy and lethargy, fatigue and restlessness, and the overwhelming sense of hopelessness he felt. Although Monty recognises the role that anti-depressants and a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy played in his recovery, he also extols the virtues of gardening which combines fresh air and natural light with gentle exercise, a sense of purpose and productivity.

The second half of the book focuses on the design and cultivation of the gardens at their current home, Longmeadow, including the stunning Jewel Garden, which was a reminder of their past but also symbolized rebirth and change. Their writing beautifully captures all the excitement of creating a border or garden from scratch, and all the creativity and experimentation that goes on behind the scenes. My only real criticism is that the gardens are vividly described but I’d have liked to see more photos, and at times it read like a list of every flower and plant in their garden.

I found The Jewel Garden to be an inspiring, moving and thoroughly entertaining read that left me itching to get back out into my own little garden. Have a lovely week! X