Sunday 28 June 2015

Summing up Sunday 28 June 2015

One Molly Tunnel anniversary and the first potatoes from the garden (the Molly Tunnel is our polytunnel put up by J and little M last year. It has housed sheep, hay and tomatoes so far and was decorated with flags as thanks on its birthday, the 22nd.) 

Two birthdays remembered (Cand R share the same birthday - we just managed to get in the post their gifts, garden twine for R and 'The Miniaturist' for C) 

Three unexpected days at Glastonbury (because of an ill RSPCA vet J was offered a place at the very last minute)

Five friends met to Wivvie walk around Pitminster ending up at the Queens Arms (wonderful walk through fields and wet grassed lanes with some beautiful Charolais cattle watching us)

Six bunches of sweet peas picked and given during the week (amazing tower of sweet peas in full flood sown in January and planted out in March. It's great having flowers you have to pick to keep them coming...) 

A moderate amount of rain (at last!)

Seventeen bunting flags made for a new baby (the baby is not here yet but he or she has some great duck bunting to go to her mum S next week) 

Millions of flowers on the Rose tree (a cutting of Cedric Morris, taken by Mickey in Suffolk in 1997, now taller than the house and completely covering an old ornamental crab in white and yellow centred sweet blossom. An amazing sight.) 

Saturday 27 June 2015

In Praise of Mr B's

As some of you may know, today marks the end of Independent Booksellers Week. It's great to see support for independent shops, as so many people (I'm guilty too!) will opt for the easiest way out, and just buy something from Amazon. And even in terms of bookshops, Waterstones and Blackwells have a pretty good monopoly of the market...

HOWEVER. The independent booksellers are biting back! There may not be thousands of them, but I'm sure you'll agree with me that there is absolutely nothing like a small bookshop. The level of service, the intimate feeling of being with books, the personal recommendations, that feeling you get that you're in on a wonderful secret...

Well, I'll share my 'secret.'

I've talked plenty about Mr B's already, but I just want to sing their praises again. They are a wonderful independent bookshop in Wells, tucked away but quite near the centre. It's deceptively big! There are just so many books inside! Two stories, floor to wall with books. I have done a Reading Year with Mr B's (see all my reviews!), and I did a Reading Spa this year. I am slowly-slowly making my way through these books - I'm eking them out as much as my patience will allow me too, as the thought of not having them is too painful to consider!

A Reading Spa means paying to have a 'bibliotherapist' sit down and talk to you (tea and cake available!) for half and hour or so, and then they go off and find books they'll think you'll like. It's magical! And a Reading Year is most definitely the best present I have ever had. You get to know your bibliotherapist, and then they will send you - beautifully hand wrapped in brown paper and string, with Mr B's seal - a book through the post every month. It is so exciting!

My bibliotherapist is Emma, and she has been fantastic. We've continued to correspond intermittently, and it's just amazing to have someone in tune with my reading tastes.

Mr B's also host talks and signings from authors!! I haven't been lucky enough to go to one, but they have sounded exciting; they're even going to have Louis de Berniere later in the summer, as well as Justin Cartwright! So, some really big names.

Here is a little Q&A from Emma, the best bibliotherapist out there!

How long have you been working with Mr B's? Just over two years now!

What's the best thing about working there? Getting to talk about books all day and meeting such wonderful book-loving people. I particularly love being a ‘bibliotherapist’ and doing the Reading Spas with people, or choosing books each month to post out to people as part of the Mr B’s Reading Year. Both are great ways of introducing people to books and authors they may never have come across before.

What books are you looking forward to this summer? So many and it’s hard to narrow it down. I will cherry-pick a few for you: ‘The Last Pilot’ by Benjamin Johncock, ‘The Seed Collector’s by Scarlett Thomas, ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara, and of course ‘Three Moments of an Explosion’ by China Mieville!

Top 5 books of the year so far? Oooo…again there have been quite a few already! In no particular order: ‘The Honours’ by Tim Clare, ‘The Gracekeepers’ by Kirsty Logan, ‘Villa America’ by Liza Klaussmann, ‘The Buried Giant’ by Kazuo Ishiguro, and ‘Weathering’ by Lucy Wood.  

I would just like to celebrate Mr B's and all other bookshops like them. (Particularly them. But I'm biased.) Think about where you shop.

(I wasn't asked to write this post - I did it spontaneously because I love them so much!)

Some of my favourite Mr B's books:
Prep by Curtis Sittenfield
The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon 
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent <= Best one!

Thursday 25 June 2015

Goodbye Kittens

A and E have been visiting a beautiful litter of kittens in the last month or so. The mother, Lacey, was found heavily pregnant as a stray. Now, kittens need socialising with at least four people within the first six weeks of their lives - so we were actually doing a good deed! (Honest!) Lacey had six kittens, but since she was so emaciated to begin with there was worry she wouldn't be able to feed such a large litter. She did marvellously: the little kits were as fat as butter! Lacey, unfortunately, lost some weight, so had to go back early from her foster home to the RSPCA. But now, she is doing very well - just waiting for someone to take her to her forever home.

All the kittens have been adopted now, and off to wonderful homes. This is great news, but it is very hard to see them go. Fallen in love, I have to say! I was able to name them, which is a great privilege - I wonder whether their new owners will keep the names? I'll never know.

So here we say goodbye to them all.

Alder, Fennel, Huckleberry, Juniper, Chicory and Cally (Calendula). Hoping for happy forever homes.

The RSPCA are a wonderful charity, and need supporting. There are so many cats that are unwanted or strays for one reason or another, and the staff work tirelessly to help them, along with a huge number of volunteers. As a punter, you don't see all the work behind the scenes! Before these kits even got to the RSPCA, they spent six weeks in a wonderful volunteer's house, gradually growing used to the world without the stress of other cats.

There are still many cats all over the country (including Lacey!) that need homes. Even if you don't want a cat yourself, there are many ways to help: donations, cat cuddling (!), foster homes, socialising, cleaning... Without the RSPCA, there would be many more distressed felines in our streets. 

Anyway, good bye to my little kits (I know they're not mine really). I will never forget you all.

Sunday 21 June 2015

Summing up Sunday week 6

Best outings...
J and A's cycle ride along the strawberry line to Axbridge and the Lamb for supper on Saturday evening.
A and E's visit to see Lacey at Brent knoll RSPCA cattery, though sad she hasn't yet been re-homed.

Achievements ...
16 pieces of Raku pottery sitting on the windowsill glinting in the sunshine.
Singing in a Joyful spirit concert with A in an octet on 'I heard the voice.' 

Most exciting happening..
A badger visited in the night and dug a small hole at the side of the drive to find and eat a wasps nest. The debris, and the poor old wasps were scattered across the driveway first thing in the morning. 
Sue and David came to train game - great fun! 

Best thing in the garden...
The wonderful sweet peas and the night scented stocks. Come and see more over here!

And something we want to remember...
Sarah Raven's seed range of flower seeds for cutting -looks fantastic so we are disappointed we didn't discover them a few weeks ago, but there is always next year.

And the score in the guardian quiz was ... 4 out of 15. Did you know that Mick Jagger had six children, and yet none of them had silly names?

Happy June x

Saturday 20 June 2015

Blog Tour: Ash to Steele, Karen-Anne Stewart

This is a stop on the 'blog tour' of Ash to Steele - go and check out the reviews on other sites if you
would like some more opinions!


   His confession knocks the air out of me just as ruthlessly as if he punched me in the stomach.  I gasp, desperately trying to fill my lungs with air, “I am yours. You’ve always had me; even when I hated you, you had me.” 
   All coherent thoughts disintegrate when Breck grabs my shoulders, pulling me against him.  The heat of his body radiates through my skin as his hand runs behind my head, sliding up my neck until his fingers are tangled in my hair, pulling it until my mouth is almost touching his.  The intensity of his gaze weakens me.  Steel blue phases into a stormy gray as his mouth collides with mine. 
   My head spins. My knees go weak as I collapse against him, my body not able to handle the intensity of the sensations exploding inside of me.  Breck’s lips claim mine with such power, for one second, I am afraid.  I know the danger of losing myself in him, but then the fear is gone; there is no one else I would rather lose myself to. 
   His hand fists my hair as his kiss deepens, his tongue pushing, probing, demanding access.  Opening my mouth, I kiss him back.  The feel of his lips conquering me, the taste of his tongue as it slides over mine, colliding, taming, plundering, sends the sweetest shivers down my spine.  His teeth graze my bottom lip, nipping and lavishing as his tongue tastes my lips, then plunges inside again, breaking me to his will.  I need him with such desperation, I cringe at my weakness but allow him to tame me.

This isn't my 'typical' genre of go-to book, but I was glad to be offered the opportunity to read and review it. It's really great to read something that's a great romance, after a lot of really philosophical stuff lately. Karen-Anne has offered me the perfect antidote! 

From Ashe to Steele is an adult book, recommended only for readers 18+ due its strong language, mature scenes, and some instances of violence. A big change from my beloved YA and literary books!

Karen-Anne Stewart is an American novelist who I haven't come across before; her debut novel was Saving Rain, which went on to become a trilogy and nominated for two awards! According to Stewart herself, she 'enjoys spending time with [her] family and friends, hiking, and visiting new places.' Now that sounds up my street!

She certainly does not shy away from sensitive and potentially difficult issues. There are two point-of-view characters: Breck and Emma. Emma, a preacher's daughter, moves away from home, escaping from a difficult relationship to launch her career as an artist. Breck already lives in Boston, and is more enigmatic. He's broody and good-looking and the kind of guy that you know means trouble... They begin an odd sort of friendship, but both know from the start that it could develop into something much more. And then it gets complicated...

It was part romance, part drama. The characters were good fun; I particularly liked Emma's best friend Jess and another friend called Gavin (awesome bouncer, who was the right mix of funny and caring). I think Karen-Anne is going to be writing some more about Gavin, so watch this space! The interaction between the characters was great, and Karen-Anne's use of dialogue is superb. The point of view switches between characters: mostly Breck and Emma, but occasionally some of the more minor characters too. I liked the two main protagonist' perspectives, but I found it slightly more confusing when the other characters got a look in too! However, as I continued through the novel, it
was no longer a problem.

Ash to Steele builds to a huge climax, that leaves the reader screaming at all the characters: 'Why didn't you all say this earlier?!' (Or maybe that was just me.) It was certainly a very exhilarating roller-coaster ride to the finish!

One thing I'd love would be able to see Emma's artwork! How cool would that be? I know it's not really possible, but it would be amazing to have a collaborative artist willing to knock up some of her pictures. Maybe a thought...?

I'd like to personally thank Karen-Anne Stewart for giving me the chance to read this book - it was fast paced and exhilarating, and great to get out of my comfort zone a bit! Thank you so much.


Author Bio: 

Author of New Adult Romance who doesn't shy away from writing about sensitive issues and hot heroes.

Karen-Anne Stewart has always adored reading and has now fallen in love with writing. Her written works are The Rain Trilogy: Saving Rain, Healing Rain, and After the Rain, Ash to Steele, and her newly released paranormal romance novel, Feel. Her debut novel, Saving Rain: The First Novel in The Rain Trilogy, was a nominee for the Book Junkie’s Choice Awards, and Saving Rain and After the Rain were nominees for the 2014 RONE Awards.

When Karen-Anne isn’t writing, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, hiking, and visiting new places. She fuels her addiction of creating new stories by her only other addiction, caffeine, and listening to a myriad of musical genres. Tucked away near the Blue Ridge Mountains, Karen-Anne lives with her husband, daughter, three dogs, and their cat. She plans on writing new adult romance as long as her fingers maintain dexterity.





Sunday 14 June 2015

Summing up Sunday: Week 5

We've been growing: borage, love-in-a-mist, squash pumpkin things, polyanthus tuberosa pearls (came free with the dahlias, which are doing well!), and remaindered carrots and sweetcorn plants from 'Sandra's' World - pretty good stuff! Most things doing well, although lots of aphids on the broad beans...

We've been reading: 'Life After Life,' Kate Atkinson (A - enjoyable after a few false starts), 'Ancillary Justice' and 'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk' (J - both very good, particularly AJ), bits and bobs (E): 'The Sandman,' (good), 'Stolen' (mediocre), started 'The Darkest Part of the Forest' (great fun.)

We've been going: busy week! Visiting kittens at the RSPCA (saying goodbye as they went to their forever homes yesterday...), drive to Uphill Beach (lovely, breezy and quiet), concert at Bristol Cathedral (not a great programme, but a good experience), J's trip to Devon to see a cousin, and Raku Pottery Take Two at The Walled Garden, including a slightly chilly picnic.

We've been doing: reroofing the garage! (J), practising spinning (A&E), finishing making a peg loom (J&E), sewing a present for a friend (A&E), charity shopping (A)...

Best part of the week: having T and H for the weekend, a real treat!


Craft Catch-Up

We haven't been doing any writing about craft on the blog for... about a year?!? Seems unlikely, but there we are! So, here is a very quick catch-up of some of the things we've been doing. There were quite a few more, but we didn't take photos of everything....

Hanging for friends' wedding (made on Tilly with some hand stitching)

T and H's 10 year anniversary was last September (!) so this was their celebration quilt.

Scarf for H's Christmas present (modelled by J).

The leftover wool which was made into socks for T's Christmas (no photo).

Decoupaged tea-light holders for Christmas presents.

Sock monkey for Little M's birthday.

Two different latch-hook kits (here's one) - an autumnal tree and a puppy.

Leaving presents for staff I had lived and worked with for 8 months or so - painted and then fired at a local-to-there pottery shop. (PS. Yes, those are shoes. And yes, she does like shoes.)

A gardening book for cousin B's birthday.


Decoupaged tray for J's birthday - a new in tray.

And that's all we took pictures of! Fairly sure that there must have been a lot more bits and bobs throughout the year (plus lots of cards etc) but this is everything we have evidence of.

What crafts have all you readers been up to?

Monday 8 June 2015

Midnight Garden Review: A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L'Engle

I read this for The Midnight Garden's MG read for April - a fantastic way to be exposed to middle grade reads that I have missed in the past. Go and check it out here. A huge thank you to the girls there - Wendy, Kim and Layla - for their fantastic blog, and particularly to Wendy who sent me a lovely package a while ago.

It’s taken me a little while to actually process this book. It certainly wasn’t what I expected. When I read the back, I was pretty disappointed with the selection; it sounded as though it was going to be a very shallow love triangle (square?) type of novel, aimed at mid teens. Why is this a classic? I wondered. Also was disappointed that it was number four in a series – why not set the first one? I wondered whether it was such a classic, that I was assumed to have read the others or something. I’ll admit, I wasn’t originally happy with the selection!

Well. It was unexpected. I’ve never read anything like it, that’s for sure. It was a very curious mix of seemingly shallow teenage things (boys etc), dolphins, and very, very deep and philosophical thought processes. When I finished, I needed a while to just sit quietly. For an MG read, it is saturated in death. The book seems to be about the line between life and death, and the very many forms of death around us – Vicky’s grandfather, Leo’s father, Jed’s family, the baby dolphin, the swallows, Zachary’s attitude, Binnie. It is SO heavy. I didn’t read this as a teenager, but I imagine teens might find it just too hard.

I found the characters’ ages in general very difficult. I know Vicky was supposed to be a mature fifteen year old, but it didn’t feel real to me: she was so much older. Her thought processes, beliefs, feelings of responsibility – these are not those of a fifteen year old. Then, the age gap with Adam was creepy; I thinkVicky should have just been seventeen or eighteen and it would have made everything so much better! I related to her, but actually on a mostly adult level. Her confidence in her sexual self with the three boys was incredibly impressive.

More on the romances. They didn’t seem to be all that important to me, actually. There was so much else packed into this novel, that they seemed sort of superfluous. Does anyone else experience that? Leo barely got a look in, so why bother including him? We already had a connection to his family through his mother nursing Grandfather. Adam and Vicky’s relationship would have worked better on a platonic level, and Zacahary… well. I didn’t ‘get’ him. (Nor did I like him very much). I wouldn’t have minded if he’d been axed. The level of maturity in all of them just didn’t feel real; having so much independence, going
swimming, to posh meals, out in boats, in planes, on bikes. Very different to my own childhood, but that might be circumstantial. Anyway, I think I would have preferred this book without the romances (although Adam is so lovely!), hope this isn't too unpopular to say!

So. Dolphins. I have heard this aspect referred to as sci-fi; that made it sit easier for me. But, apart from the communication, it was purely wonderful! Who can complain about lovely descriptions of beautiful and intelligent creatures in their home environment? Sighs. Very nice. Wish I could swim with dolphins/be a marine biologist/live on an island/live my life again to have these things. Ah well.

I didn’t find the religious aspect at all preach-y and I’m a devout atheist, usually quite sensitive to that sort of thing. I just loved the Austin family. Reading en masse: Shakespeare and the metaphysical poets, singing, meals together. What a wonderful family! And I loved Grandfather’s ‘sermon’ (if you want to call it that) about only bearing one’s own crosses. It’s true. Take out the religious connotation and it is universally applicable.

Still not sure what I make of it as a whole. (Don’t hate me!) The mix of romance, growing up, death, and sci-fi dolphins was so unexpected and strange, and I’m not 100% sure it worked. However, a very very thought provoking read. As I said, I couldn’t move after the ending. It was deeply affecting for me, whether I thought it was an overall ‘good’ book or not.

Sunday 7 June 2015

Summing Up Sunday: Week 4

Best bits: 
Journey poems in our first poetry club meeting in the  book lined sitting room
Buttercups hiding the sheep
A new add-on to The Train Game with warehouses and more competition...
T and A doing a pottery course at The Walled Garden in Wrington with Bill
Seeing the dahlias coming up

Best bananagram words: Prerequisites, Nubian, Rodent, Whinged

Top film of the week: Boyhood, gently enjoyable

Guardian Quiz Score: 7/15, pretty good with the help of T and Si J

Most exciting purchase of the week: new roofing tiles and a beautiful meditation stool

What we've been reading: Life After Life (A, still getting into it), Ancillary Justice (J, very satisfactorily surprising) and Atlas Shrugged (E, finally finished on Weds, started a few new things)

Friday 5 June 2015

Book Review: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie

E: I've read Adichie's 'Purple Hibiscus,' but her second novel has been on my vague 'to-read' list for far too long. This, her third, being set as May's book put me into action!

Americanah is an engaging and deeply fascinating book. I really wanted her blog to be real - there are some nuances to being black in America then I ever realised. She has written a blog, but it isn't like the blog in the novel. I would also love to know if the same experience would be found living in the UK. I would assume that it's different, but I would like to know how. Am I blind to the racial details that go on in my own country? I didn't know what WASPs, ABs and NABs work. Am I the only one? It is far more complicated than I realised.

For example, it is very important to know how long you have been in Africa if you are a NAB (non-American black). The longer the time, the higher your prestige. You may speak differently with fellow black people, and have a 'White Person is Watching Us voice.' The differences between ABs (American blacks) and NABs is huge. Barely comparable. To most white people, it would not be important; but to black people it defines your identity. 

I had the opportunity to listen to parts of 'Americanah' on whisper sync, and I would advocate everyone doing this if possible. It was amazing. Brilliantly read; you can hear the differences between the characters and which country they originated from. The moment I heard Ifemulu's voice, it was as though I was listening to a support worker called Netsai, that I worked with about five years ago. It transported me right back; she was Netsai, she was my total experience of Nigeria, and I can vouch for that within my limited experience.

I was very interested in how much of 'Americanah' was autobiographical, so I went in search of Adichie on the web, and stumbled across a number of her Ted Talks. I would urge anyone to go and listen to them: she is a fantastic speaker, and also fascinating. I particularly enjoyed 'The Danger of a Single Story', as well as the more renowned 'We Should all be Feminists.'

But, I digress. The novel. She has a wonderful turn of phrase, much of the novel is an extended in people watching - which I love. ' wearing a scratchy sweater in the cold: she longed to yank it off but she was afraid what would happen if she did...' What a brilliant way to describe that horrifically uncomfortable sensation of indecision. 

It was very interesting that mental illnesses weren't believed by immigrants; if it is not in the vocabulary, then how can it exist? There is no word for depression, what is self harm? Does something exist unless it is named? This is particularly poignant, thinking of the prevalence of mental illnesses in the first world countries. Another thing that struck a chord was the idea of 'returning to our roots', wanting to recreate the 'good ole' days.' This a luxury only afforded to the privileged: 'Third Worlders are forward looking... in the West their best is already in the past and so they have to make a fetish of that past.'

There were so many interesting factors to this novel; like the fact that Ifemelu actively choosesto give up her acquired American accent. Throwing off something that is supposed to be a real pinnacle to achieve, but she relinquishes it; her return to Nigeria; the attitudes surrounding Obama's inaugural election...

My one criticism is that it could have ended about one hundred pages earlier. This may sound an odd thing to say when I have just expounded the many interesting things it offered me; the extraneous part was the romance. It just felt unnecessary. I suppose a huge number of stories centre on romance; is this why Adichie included it? I feel that she is a more self assured writer to succumb to this. So, it leaves me wondering. There were two novels in this book: Ifemelu's experience with America, and her love interest. Couldn't we just have one?

J: Splendid! The third of Adichie's I've read, and the first to listen to as an audiobook more than reading (using whispersync, which was only partially successful in terms of synching). 

What was it about? Lots! Primarily the difficult moral world we all live in, and the many ways we deal
with it. Taking place in Nigeria, the US and London from the late eighties to about 2010, and seen mostly through the eyes of Ifemelu, who is a mid teenager when we first meet her, and Obinze, her contemporary and soul-mate (though I don't think that phrase is ever used). It is also very good on the complex subject of race and racism in modern America. 

That all sounds rather dry, and I didn't find it so at all. There are lots of lovely characters who I cared about (maybe too many) and I feel as if I learned a lot about places and ways of life I know nothing of through the lives I'm shown.

And although whispersync was a bit graunchy, it was read by a wonderful voice who did all the accents, adding tremendously to my enjoyment.