Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Book Update: Cosy Crime + Holiday Reads

We've been on our summer holidays! That will have to wait for another post, because right now I'm all ready to talk about the books I've managed to get under my belt in the ongoing quest to meet the target I set myself of 25 for the year. Things hadn't been going too well in the first part of the year, mostly due to the cross-stitch that took up a lot of my time, but in the two-and-a-bit weeks that we were away on holiday (plus the few days that we've been back), I've managed to add a whopping five to the total, bringing me up to 17 for the year so far. Just eight to go to meet my target...

Let's kick off with back-to-back cosies. Secrets on Saturday by Ann Purser is the sixth in the Lois Meade mystery series, featuring (of course) Lois Meade who solves crimes while running a cleaning business. I generally enjoy the books in this series which are a little grittier than the average cozy, but this one was pretty dire. The story didn't make much sense, the subplots were odd and pointless, it wasn't engaging, the subject matter was unpleasant (badger baiting), the characters were also mostly unpleasant and not very well drawn. All in all a rather disappointing read considering how much I have enjoyed the previous books in the series; I'll still read the next one, but I really hope it's better!

Thank goodness the next book (the first of my holiday reads) was a better choice. Blackwork by Monica Ferris, the 13th in the needlecraft series set in small-town Minnesota. Again, this is a series that I very much enjoy, it's had the odd duff moment, but generally my reviews would be positive. This was the series that started my love of cozy crime so I tend to feel like I'm treating myself when I read another tome featuring Betsy Devonshire, Godwin et al. Sad but true. This book has a Halloween theme, but it's not scary, gruesome or spooky (not that cozies ever are.) The method of killing was mostly easy to figure out (it must have been, if I managed it!) and I even had an inkling of 'whodunnit', so the massive suspending of disbelief that the police never seem to figure out the mystery before the amateur sleuth is necessary once more. But I can usually forgive the author of this series most things as long as the story is well written and in this case it was an enjoyable read that trotted along at a good pace, the usual characters made an appearance and were fleshed out and new characters were introduced. All in all, another thumbs up.

Now, on to the 'holiday reading'; as I've said many times before, I tend to take books on holiday that I think I won't mind leaving behind. First on the list was Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella (probably best know for her Shopaholic series); as a holiday read it was just right. Yes, it was chick-lit, yes it was ridiculous, but it was still enjoyable and I looked forward to getting on with reading it at every opportunity (and there were plenty since we were on holiday). I'd certainly recommend this as a holiday book, or if you're looking for a light and easy read. It features Lexi (can't remember her surname) who wakes after a car accident to find she is successful, beautiful and married  - none of which she was pre-accident, as far as she can remember. The book follows her struggle to fit in with the new life she doesn't know at all - new house, new husband, new career, new friends; will she manage, will she remember anything? 
Holiday read number two: The Secrets Between Us by Louise Douglas. This was a stonker of a read for the first 450 pages, but I felt that the last 100 or so pages really let it down. It was a gripping psychological-ish thriller, quite creepy in parts and not what I was expecting at all from the cover or the blurb on the back, and actually that was a pleasant surprise as it wasn't a chick-lit, rom-com kind of read. Apparently, the book has been likened to Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, but I must shamefully admit I've never read it so I can't say whether or not it's true.
Sarah meets Alex while on holiday in Italy and agrees to become his housekeeper and nanny to his son. When she moves in to his home she discovers his beautiful, talented (of course) wife has recently disappeared without trace. And so begins the mix of romance (ish), suspense, mystery, possible ghostliness which kept me guessing and second guessing as to what was actually going on and who-dunnit, if indeed anyone had done anything. As I said, I really was gripped for the majority of the book but I felt the end let it down very badly; that said, I would definitely read another book by this author and I would still recommend this as an interesting read.
The last book I fully finished on holiday was The Real Katie Lavender by Erica James. This had echoes of Remember Me? in that it was about a girl whose identity isn't quite what she thought it was - Katie receives a letter from beyond the grave from her mother to say that the man she thought was her father, actually wasn't. And so begins the task of tracking down her real father and getting to know him and her new family. It's not a bad read, but I'm not sure it would make me rush to get hold of anything else by this author, except perhaps as another holiday read. Possibly my least favourite of the books in this bunch, not terrible, but underwhelming.

I started this book while we were away and finished it when we got home. It's another cozy, the fifth in the Knitting Mystery series set in Colorado. I keep on with this series because I do quite like it, even though I'm expecting (and discovering) each offering to be quite poor; in a sad-but-true way, I feel at home when I start reading anything in this series probably because I like the characters and the location. Only for fans of cozies, and even that might be stretching it a bit, so I won't bother going in to detail. It's only a 5/10 but I know I'll read the next in the series!

I must try and knuckle down to blogging more often, but I just don't know where the time goes at the moment. At least I've managed to finish this post!

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Village Fete and Show

You may not know this, but I'm rather competitive. I even find it hard not to do my best to beat DC at Snakes & Ladders. Last year there was a Village Show at the village fete and I entered a few categories. I was lucky enough to win the photograph category (for which I received a silver cup), and I came second in the 'handmade item for the home' category with a cross stitch. The combined points from these two successes meant I also won a silver rose bowl. I was pretty chuffed, to say the least.

So, this year I needed to pull out all the stops to try and retain that silverware! I decided another cross stitch was in order for the handmade category, and I worked on this particular item for months. I'm not kidding, it took for eeeeever. I started it in March...

Worked on it through April


Took it to Spain in June
 Realised I was never going to get the entire thing finished in time for the fete
So decided to work on the left side, and finally got it done at about 1.30am the night before the fete - arrrggghhh! Apologies for the awful photo, but it was late and my eyes had pretty much crossed themselves by then.

There were lots of entries for the baked categories.
 And quite a few for the floral exhibits.
 And, I'm pleased to say, I actually managed to be placed in a few categories; here's a third place
And another
 Second place for my Coconut and Lime Slice (in the 'Cake for Afternoon Tea' category)

Second prize in the 'Knitted item' category

Third prize in the 'Somerset Life' photo category

 And.....FIRST PRIZE for the cross stitch! All those hours were worth it!

The points I accrued in the photo, knitted and handmade categories meant I won the rose bowl for the second year in a row - and I was rather pleased!

 The weather did it's best to put a dampener on the day of the fete, but we battled on nonetheless and a jolly time was had by all.
 Drumming workshops

 Pimm's Tent
 Sumo wrestling
 Teddies zip-wiring from the church tower

All in all, a lovely day. Now, I need to get stitching ready for next year...

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Can I Bake You a Cake?

I'm not running the tearoom anymore. I didn't talk about it much on here when I was running it, in fact I didn't blog very much at all, as it took up so much of my time. But now I have my life back and can spend time doing other things. Except those other things seem to involve a lot of baking (and eating), so no change there. Although, at the moment I'm at least baking to my own schedule and baking what I want to, rather than having to bake for the tearoom.

But, that could all change as I've now decided to start a little business (in the loosest sense of the word; if there's anything that running the tearoom taught me, it's that I'm not a natural businesswoman.) The business is called Can I Bake You a Cake?, and you can probably work out what that involves. I have a FaceBook page, if you'd like to search for it and give a 'like' that would be fabulous, although that's about as far as I've got in terms of advertising. I have plans for fliers and posters, but those plans are just in my head at the moment; one day I'll get round to printing them. In the meantime, would you like to have a look at some of the yumminess I can bake? Probably best not to look if you're hungry though...

Dotty Cake - choc sponge, choc buttercream and giant choc buttons

All-butter shortbread

Bakewell Tart

Treacle Tart

Millionaire's Shortbread

Choc Chip Shortbread Cookies

Chelsea Buns
Just a few of the scrumptious things on offer!

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Stonehenge; yes or no?

As we drove along the A303 to the London a couple of weekends ago, we pointed Stonehenge out to DC. We've driven past plenty of times, but on this occasion something must have made his brain cells touch together and he actually took an interest and asked whether we could visit. Well, it's the summer holidays and we're always looking for things to keep the dear child occupied, so what better than to go somewhere he actually wants to go. And so I give you


Since hubby and I last visited (2012), a road has been blocked off, a swanky new visitor centre (of which I completely forgot to take any photos) has been constructed, and buses now take you to the stone circle. DC was pleased to be there, although slightly disappointed to find that you can't get up close and personal to the stones.
DC with Granny and George Bear

We were lucky enough to visit on a dry day (there have been few enough of those so far this 'summer'), but it was still a bit chilly and fairly blustery. It's quite an exposed spot in the middle of the plain, and the sky and clouds seemed mighty big.

 DC asked if he could take some photos with my phone and I think it's fair to say he did a good job (much better than my mum who managed to chop our heads off and not get any of Stonehenge in the background, so I deleted her efforts...)

There's a glimpse of the visitor centre in the background of this shot. DC is testing his strength trying to move a sarcen stone. There's also a small group of reconstructed houses from the time that Stonehenge was built, each containing a few items such as pots, skins, tools, etc, but with absolutely no information on what anything was, who might have lived in the houses, how the space would have been used, etc. The visitor centre contains an exhibition space with a display of items found at Stonehenge - bones, pots, weapons - plus information on how the stone circle was built, how it was used, etc, a very nice cafe and a large shop. We probably spent more time in there than up at the stones, but then we are rather partial to a nice cafe.

Luckily we are National Trust members which means we can visit for free. English Heritage members get the same privileges; the stones are managed by EH while the NT manages the surrounding land. Otherwise it costs £15.50 for an adult and £9.30 for a child, which strikes me as being quite pricey. On top of that there's an extra charge of £2 for an audio tour and more again for a guide book. I'm pretty sure the audio tour used to be included in the ticket price. You can, however, download the audio tour for free via an app onto your mobile photo (although it's quite awkward to use if you also want to take photos with your phone as you have to keep coming out of the app and then going back into it - I gave up listening to it quite quickly because of this.) I'm glad we didn't have to pay the entrance fee as I do feel it is quite high, especially when you consider that really all you're looking at is a bunch of old stones (call me a heathen); comparing the entrance fee to say, Hampton Court where for £16.50 (£8.25 child) you get to see the palace, maze and gardens plus the audio guide is included, there are costumed historical re-enactments, children's activities and more. Stonehenge could do with offering more interactive 'stuff', alongside the sarcen stone and the reconstructed houses and perhaps a few members of staff around and about who could answer questions or demonstrate things. And the other thing to consider is the timing of your visit; in the summer Stonehenge is open from 9am til 8pm (last entry is at 6pm) and you have to book tickets in advance for a timed slot, although some walk-up tickets are also available. We got there just after 10am and there were no queues AT ALL (our timed tickets were actually for 10.30am but we were allowed through early with no issues). When we got back to the visitor centre at about 11.30am after visiting the stones, the queues were VERY LONG - I would estimate at least 100 people/groups in each queue, and they stayed that way right up until we left at 2pm.

Don't let me put you off visiting Stonehenge as it probably is one of those 'Bucket List' kind of places, but it's definitely worth considering the cost, the timing of your visit, and also the weather!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

2015: Books So Far (Warning - They're Mostly Cozy!)

Here we are more than half way through the year and I'm somewhat behind on my reading target for 2015. I put it down to the hours, and hours, and hours, that I spent completing a cross-stitch to enter into the Village Show which took place a couple of weekends ago. All those valuable hours that would have been given over to reading were spent going cross-eyed over the cross-stitch.

Still, looking on the bright side, at least I've read 11 books so far and have made a start on no.12. If I can get back in to the reading groove and make the most of our upcoming holiday, perhaps I can get back on track. I read 24 books in 2014 and I'd love to beat that figure for 2015, but that does mean really getting a reading wiggle on for the remainder of the year. In 2013 I read 27 books, could I possibly beat that total? Last year's numbers were down because of my eye operation which rendered me incapable of seeing the (quite large) TV let alone focusing on teeny tiny print in a book. And this year's numbers are down because of the cross-stitch; however, now that I'm no longer running the tea room (more on that another time), I do have a lot more time to myself so perhaps I can get back on it.

So, these are the books I've read so far, along with a VERY brief review for each one.

1) Styx and Stones - Carola Dunn. British cozy series featuring Daisy Dalrymple and set in the 1920s; I really enjoyed this, the seventh in the series, it was quite possibly my favourite so far, involving poison pen letters and a gruesome death by falling statue in graveyard scenario.

2) The Shop on Blossom Street - Debbie Macomber. The first in a series about a yarn shop and the women who own and frequent it. Very light, fairly predictable, but sometimes you just need a bit of fluff to read.

3) Rattle His Bones - Carola Dunn. Nearly went back-to-back on the Daisy Dalrymple series after enjoying Styx and Stones so much. This one was very enjoyable too, although more an 8/10 than a 9/10. I'd definitely recommend this series if you're looking for a UK-based, historical cozy series.

4) Agath Raisin: Something Borrowed, Someone Dead - MC Beaton. It's like a terrible addiction - you know it's bad for you, but you keep doing it. That's how I feel about the Agatha Raisin books; I loved them so much in the beginning, but now they're just awful and yet I still keep reading them. Go figure.

5) The Christie Curse - Victoria Abbott. First in a series about a lady who tracks down tomes for an avid book collector. I can barely remember anything about the story, which isn't exactly a glowing recommendation. I didn't dislike the book, but I probably won't rush out and get the next in the series.

6) The Shooting in the Shop - Simon Brett. Number 11 in the Fethering series. I love this series; a slightly darker modern-day English cozy. Actually, probably edging more towards murder mystery than cozy, but definitely on the light side. Perfect for an easy read.

7) A Killer Plot - Ellery Adams. First in the Books by the Bay series. Not sure I liked the main character very much, but I will give the next book a try because I already own it...

8) Murder on the Half Shelf - Lorna Barrett. Booktown Mystery number 6. Yet another series that I really enjoy; it seems I'm quite easy to please when it comes to cozy crime books. I'd recommend this series if you are a cozy fan and you haven't yet given it a try.

9) The Mummy Case - Elizabeth Peters. Third in the Amelia Peabody series. This series, set in the 1920s and 30s, follows the archaeological adventures and mishaps of Amelia Peabody, her husband and son, mostly in Egypt. I remember very much enjoying the first book in this series and then being rather disappointed by the second. This third book also finds me in the disappointed camp; the story was confusing and I'm not sure there was a plot. Will I bother with the fourth? Probably since lots of people do rave about this series so perhaps it will get better again.

10) Espresso Shot - Cleo Coyle. Coffeehouse Mystery number 7. Possibly my favourite cozy series: set in New York and based around a coffee shop - what's not to love? Another good read.

11) The Gallery of Vanished Husbands - Natasha Solomons. Moving away from the cozy crime and on to my 'non-cozy unread' bookcase, I decided to give this one a try. It's about a Jewish woman whose husband leaves her and her life thereafter as she becomes a successful art gallery owner. I didn't love it, it took quite a while to get through - like swimming through treacle - but at the same time I didn't dislike it, it was just *shrugs shoulders*, if you know what I mean.

 So, there we have it, my books so far for 2015. Very heavy on the cozy, but that's what I enjoy and what's the point of reading books you don't enjoy? Especially when you've got as many unread books to get through as I have!

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Sunny Spain, May/June 2015

Changes have been afoot around these parts, changes in a good way though which hopefully mean I will now have lots more time to get back into the blogging swing of things. Although it is now the school holidays so time may not be on my side quite so much until September. Still, while the small boy watches TV (bad mother...), I can get a little back-blogging done.

During the Spring half term holiday we made our usual excursion to Spain - San Feliu de Guixols on the Costa Brava, to be precise. We are very fortunate that hubby's parents own an apartment there, so it's an easy and relatively cost-effective break. And we can fly from Bristol airport which is only an hour away, which is a definite bonus.

Happy to be heading to the sun!
We headed to the nearby beach at San Pol on our first full day; the sea is such a glorious colour along this coast.

And every evening we would head in to the town of San Feliu for an ice lolly.

 We made our annual trip to Girona. Such a beautiful old town to explore, especially walking along the old ramparts.

 For the last four years hubby and DS have stood on the same spot during this same week to have their photo taken. It's a great way to see how much DS has grown.

This is our favourite spot along the coast - the picturesque town of Calella de Palafrugell; glorious coastal views, a sweet little beach and a wonderful restaurant. We can easily while away several hours at a time here.

my coffee companion while the boys had a swim

We enjoyed it so much that we decided to come back the next day; this time I took my cross-stitch...

 All too soon it was time to head home; but we'll be back again next year!