Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Victoria to Vikings The Circle of Blood by Trisha Hughes #BlogTour

best historical non-fiction, books about Queen Victoria

In the foreword to Victoria to Vikings: The Circle of Blood Trisha Hughes writes: "Interest in the British Monarchy has ebbed and flowed over the centuries depending on the reigning monarch and the controversy surrounding said monarch... My tale is a conglomerate of accumulated facts together with my imagination, backed up by plausibility in the quicksand of history."

Victoria to Vikings - The Circle of Blood by Trisha Hughes
At the heart of our present are the stories of our past. In ages gone by, many monarchs died while they were still young. There were battles and diseases and many were simply overthrown. But the days of regal engagement in hand-to-hand combat are over and the line of succession has a good ageing prospect these days.
One of the most famous monarchs in history is Queen Victoria and her passing brought an end to an amazing era. She could be demanding, rude and she frequently fled public duties for the solitude of Scotland. But she loved fiercely, and her people loved her fiercely in return. Under her reign, England achieved greatness it had never known before.
Victoria to Vikings - The Circle of Blood spans from this great queen to another one: Queen Elizabeth II. Ours is the era of the longest living monarch in history and her ancestry is incredible. But walking two steps behind her, stalwart and loyal, stands Prince Philip, the strawberry to her champagne, and with him comes his own amazing Viking heritage.

I thought I knew pretty much about Victoria and her disfunctional family, as I've read extensively on the subject in the past, both fiction and non-fiction.

Victoria to Vikings is an amalgam of history and biography. It's a compelling reading for anyone interested in the European history.
It spans the lives of six British monarchs, starting with Queen Victoria, but also dabs into the world of the Romanovs and the German Emperor's family.

Victoria had surpassed autocracy and had become the role model for all future successful constitutional monarchs, as well as a beloved figurehead... Her legacy was enormous: an empire, nine children, forty two grandchildren and the second longest-reigning monarch in English history.
Her story was one of a tiny, strong woman at the heart of an empire...

From hobnobbing with the academics for most of my married life, I know that they dread their books to be described or quoted as "reads as a novel", so I won't be using this expression, even if Trisha Hughes is not an academic.

On her website Trisha says: "I'm not a historian but I love everything history and I've enjoyed the intense research involved for a complicated subject as this."

Hughes is a masterful storyteller, she has a great talent for putting a lot of data and information together in a very enticing, entertaining way. There are lots of facts on every page, but the narrative is never boring.
The narrative is vastly engaging but never dumbed down. It's a refreshing interpretation of the popular history, it's fast-moving, enlightening and enthralling.

Victoria to Vikings is a wonderful panorama of a book.
As a historical book, it is enormously entertaining, but...
There are some factual things that might be argued - for example, Queen Victoria is described as the longest-reigning monarch in English history to date. While it might have been true, when the book was being written, this should have been amended, especially that there are references in the book to Prince Harry and Megan's wedding.
And there were other minor details that should have been double-checked.

I also missed the illustrations. Photos of all the main protagonists would have been a great addition. As it happened, I kept checking out the Wikipedia for photos. Victoria's family tree is vast, with so much inbreeding and people with the same names, that you might get easily confused. Having a visual backing to all the members would be helpful to remind who is who.

Author Bio:
I am an Australian author born in Brisbane, Queensland, now living in Hong Kong. My writing career began 18 years ago with my best-selling autobiography "Daughters of Nazareth" published by Pan MacMillan Australia. Over the past 8 years, I have been researching and writing a historical fiction trilogy based on British Monarchy throughout the ages beginning with the Vikings. Originally meant to be a single book, as facts accumulated the material gradually filled three books. I call this series my V2V trilogy.

Social Media Links
Facebook Trisha Hughes Author and Twitter @TrishaHughes_

This post is a part of blog tour, please check out the other stops:

non-fiction books about Queen Victoria

Disclosure: Many thanks to Trisha Hughes, The Book Guild and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book, which I received for the purposes of reading and reviewing. All opinions are my own.

non-fiction books on the British Monarchy

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Words & Pictures Preschool Books

books for babies, preschool books

Podgy little hands clutching bright-coloured board books, and excited smiles all along - how many parents have these fond memories of sitting together and sharing a book with their little ones.
When our son Sash was a baby, we lived in the States, and I had subscribed to a monthly book box for his age group, which was usually a good mix of board books and cloth books. His love of books started then, and hasn't faded.
Then it was Eddie's turn to discover the world of books. And though we said Good bye to board books long time ago, reading in the evening at bedtime is our special time (Right now we're reading a Victorian steampunk adventure called Cogheart. I wonder sometimes, when Eddie will consider himself too "grown-up" to listen to his mother reading to him?! When this moment comes, I will most likely feel sad).

Reading aloud to young children creates a special bond. It's never too early to start reading, which helps babies develop language skills as well as a communication know-how.
When you read together and look at the pictures, tots observe and learn - starting with the basic concepts of turning the pages and following the text, pointing and exploring.

Board books provide a perfect opportunity for children to understand the world around them.

Today I invite you to look at the latest preschool books from Words & Pictures with me.
They cover a variety of preschool learning topics. Each book has clear guidelines for parents on the back of the cover, indicating the benefits for learning, i.e. helping build cognitive skills, developing hand-eye coordination etc.
These beautiful books will keep children entertained for hours.

Let's begin with Tales from Nature - a captivating series of books for preschool learning.
Bee and Ladybird by Magali Attiogbe provide the perfect first introduction to nature for young children.

best board books for preschoolers

New in the successful Tales from Nature series, join Ladybird and Bee as they go about their day.
These board books are bright, sweet and engaging. Each follows a simple story, with basic facts about insects. For example, the Bee says: "I have two wings, two antennae and lots of fuzzy hair. I am a bee!" As the bee works, collecting the nectar, you follow her to the beehive and learn facts about the queen and the hive.
Each page features bright, bold illustrations and includes a window or a flap to encourage children to read on and discover what happens next.

board books for preschoolers

The Parents' Guide on the cover explains that each book from the series:
- Inspires a deeper knowledge of the world,
- Helps build cognitive skills,
- Encourages hand-eye coordination.

Tales from Nature: Ladybird takes your little ones on another adventure into the wildlife. It also gives some basic facts about ladybirds: their appearance, food preferences, life cycle.

best board books for preschoolers

Both of my boys loved bath books, when they were tiny tots. I remember how delighted Eddie was with one of his bath books which also was squeaking when squeezed.

First Concept Bath Books - Shapes and Colours (£8.99 each) - are light colourful books.
Illustrations by Ana Seixas are whimsical, playful and amusing.
Your babies and toddlers will be entertained while in the bath.
This brand new series of bold, graphic bath books is all about exploring first concepts, like shapes and colours.

bath books for babies

These squeezable, touchable, foam-filled books are full of fantastic colour which helps to develop children's sensory awareness.
They are very light, and absolutely adorable. Shapes have lovely friendly faces and do acrobatics on each page. Colours have smiley images which remind me of Hey Duggee.
These two books will appeal to babies and preschoolers, who learn their colours and shapes.

bath books for babies

bath books for babies

Peep Through First Concepts Books by Jane Ormes
First Words and Count 123 (£7.99) are delightful board books, which combine preschool concepts with the original art illustrations. The interactive format is great fun.

best books for preschoolers

All pages come with the peep through holes/windows onto the next page. Learn to count with birds, animals and plants.

best board books for preschoolers and babies

The books encourage children to peep through each hole onto the next page. The sturdy pages are great for little hands, and help practice coordination and develop motor skills.
Both parents and children will interact, looking at the exquisite illustrations with clever die-cut shapes.

best books for motor skills

The pictures are beautiful, crisp and clear. These are stylised images, in vibrant colours and patterned textures.
First Words will improve your child's vocabulary with animals and objects from everyday life.

best board books for babies

I loved the illustrations in these two books so much, that I had to find out more about the artist Jane Ormes. Check out her website JaneOrmes.com and have a look at the shop (there is a gorgeous print of a Mr Smoulder, a Cornish cat, a Poldark of the cat world).
Jane's illustrations are a fabulous introduction to art. I can easily see these designs as framed prints, or used as patterns for fabrics and stationery.

best books for babies

"The Words & Pictures preschool range specialises in high quality novelty and interactive learning books, encapsulating laughter and imagination, because opening a book should also open a child's mind to possibilities; innovation, because children should be encouraged to create, not imitate; inspiration, because good books should make children want more - more books, more information, more of life. Our books represent a powerful and positive opportunity to open children's minds to a world of discovery, striving to be the very best, in the same way that we all wish for children to be the very best they can be."
Words & Pictures is part of The Quarto Group.
Check out Quarto Kids on Facebook and Quarto Knows on Twitter.

I wanted to showcase these lovely books, even if we don't have babies in the family any longer (my boys are 17 and 8 now). We agreed with the publisher's PR that the books will be passed onto a special needs nursery in town, and I know that children will love them.

Disclosure: I received a selection of books for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are my own.

best books for babies and toddlers

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Photo diary: week 24, project 365

It's mid-June, but it doesn't feel like summer at all. It's been raining pretty much non-stop in the last week, including a day when we received a month's full of rain. The school run which is literally a run, as we sprint across town to school under the pissing constant rain.
Last Monday when I was reading with one of Eddie's class mates (I volunteer once a week), we both turned around to look outside, as the rain fell like a wall.

During one of a few quiet minus-rain moments I met this ducky couple.

Walking through The Leys to the Royal Mail depot to pick up a packet, I spotted this aeroplane. They are always flying pretty low above the town.

On Tuesday we had to go to the Annual review at Sash's school. I wanted to take a photo of the famous Headington shark (if you're not a local, it's a rooftop sculpture of a shark diving into the roof), but the bus moved too fast for me to capture it properly, and it was also raining.
The Annual review went quite well, it looks like Sash's settled in, which is a great relief, as he was very aggrieved at the start of the year, missing his old school.

I saw this pretty plant outside M&S. I wasn't sure if it's a buddleia, but googled it and it is called a Buddleia Globosa. I have a more common purple buddleia in the garden, which has cone-shaped clusters of blooms.

The weather in the last week was pretty abysmal. I've read that some of the SE areas were put on the yellow alert, but the Windrush hasn't flooded, which is a relief.

Yesterday evening, while his father was at the college dinner, Eddie was drawing a Father's day card.

Today we went out together to find a gift for his Dad, we've been to a few shops and got him a nice gift (well, we think it's nice) from both boys. We also had a quick lunch at M&S.

Hope you are having a better weather than we have.

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Sunday, 9 June 2019

Brunch & Afternoon tea (May 2019) Degustabox

Afternoon tea is one of the finest British traditions, while brunch, which has originated in England in the 19C, is more associated with the States. The combination of two makes you think of long meals without a hassle, chats with family and friends and tasty food.

Brunch & Afternoon Tea is the theme of the latest Degustabox.

This monthly food and drink subscription box is an excellent way to discover products which have only just appeared in the shops or those which might have been around for while, but you haven't had a chance to try them yet.
Thanks to Degustabox, I have found new favourites to add to our shopping list, including some products which I probably wouldn't have tried otherwise.

Each time the box arrives, it's a total surprise. You get a good selection of foods and drinks.
If you haven't tried Degustabox subscription box yet and would like to have a go, I have a whopping £7 off discount from your first box (and you can unsubscribe any time) - just use a code 8EVI8 when you place an order.

What did we receive in the May'19 Degustabox? Let's have a look.

food box subscriptions

Indie Bay Snacks Spelt Pretzel Bites with Rock Salt (£1) got thumbs up from all of us.
Indie Bay Snacks have reinvented the classic pretzel, using new ingredients and processes to create a snack with benefits.

vegan savoury snacks

These crunchy savoury snacks are very moreish, and are a source of protein and fibre, with less than 100kcal per portion. They are vegan too.
All natural ingredients, made with alternative flours (49% spelt flour) & GMO and preservative free.
You should receive two packs in your box.

There is a recipe for Rockie Road Bites with Rock Salt Indie Bay enclosed with the food box, but I'm afraid these tasty mini pretzels never made it into the Rockie Road. They disappeared fast as they are.

savoury vegan snacks

Bravura Foods Free From Fellows (£1.99) are made without sugar, gluten, gelatine and dairy, and thus are vegan friendly. They are also egg free, soy free, GMO free, nut free and free from artificial flavours and colours.

They taste very much like the original midget gems, if I remember correctly, as I haven't bought them recently. My sons both liked the vegan midget gems.

vegan sweets

I used some of midget gems as decorations for Coconut semolina cake. The rest was finished by my boys.

what to make with semolina

Milkybar Mix Ups (£0.65 for 32.5g bag) are an appealing mix of Milkybar white chocolate buttons with a cocoa filling and milk chocolate buttons with a milky filling. They are available in bags of different sizes.
You should receive two in your box.

chocolate snacks

They contain no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives. Nutritional information: 81kcal and 9g if sugar per 6 pieces.

small sized chocolate snacks

Daelmans Duo Stroopwafels (£1.29) are an authentic Dutch product. Daelmans stroopwafels have a long history, and their production goes back to 1909.
These tasty waffles have a caramel filling, made from the finest ingredients. They are lovely with tea or coffee.

Dutch waffles

The two-waffle pack will be attached to a piece of paper. Don't throw it before entering the competition. Scratch and try to win one of the prizes, from a gift package worth £250 to real Dutch wooden shoes.
Alas, our code was not a winner. We got a 10% discount to buy products from their website, which we are not going to use.
I have been buying Stroopwafels before, but I didn't know that to enjoy the best flavour, you are supposed to put a waffle on top of your cup of tea or coffee. The hot drink will soften and warm the waffle, and that's a traditional Dutch way of enjoying a stroopwafle. I suppose, it's similar to the British tradition of dunking biscuits in a cuppa, only with less soggy bits floating in the cup.

Dutch waffles, how to enjoy a stroopwafel

SPLENDA Sweet Minis (£1.50) is a well-known alternative to sugar. It's made with sucralose, a low-calorie sweetener derived from sucrose.
Each SPLENDA mini has the same equivalent of sweetness as a teaspoon of sugar, but doesn't contain the calories.

alternative to sugar

Oteas Black Tea & Apricot (£3.75) is Degustabox's product of the month. This black tea will appeal to fans of flavoured teas. It makes a delicious, fruity brew, with a sweet and light apricot flavour.
Using only high quality black tea and apricot pieces responsibly sourced, it comes in a biodegradable bag.
Available online at www.o-teas.com Use code OTEAS15OFF for a 15% discount (expires 30/09/19).

best flavoured teas UK

Koko Dairy Free SUPER milk (£1.99) is enriched with 9 key vitamins and minerals, offering a specially boosted nutrition for all ages. It provides more nutrients than any regular plant or dairy milk.
Let me mention first that I am not a fan of products with added vitamins. I believe it's better to get vitamins from a variety of foods. I don't want an orange juice with an added omega-3, or sliced bread with a Mendeleev's table of elements in it.
I do buy Koko Original, whenever I fancy it, and quite enjoy the flavour, but I was disappointed by Koko Dairy Free SUPER milk. There was something strange about the viscosity of the liquid, it felt heavy and oily. I didn't like it in coffee, in fact, it curdled. It was OK in porridge, and would probably be OK in baking, but it's not a product for me.

vegan milk, dairy free milk

Another vegan product in the current box is Hellmann's Vegan Mayo (£2.25).
I was pleasantly surprised at how creamy and tasty it is.
It's definitely a perfect alternative to a dairy-based mayo. It's gluten free, suitable for vegans and is a source of Omega 3.
I made a potato salad with it, and it was very tasty.

dairy free mayo

Now, as a blogger I received products for both alcoholic and non-alcoholic box choices, so if you receive a monthly box, you won't find all the products mentioned here in your box.

Kühne whiskey cornichons are crunchy and delicious. A lovely treat for all fans of pickles. I haven't tried them before, but I bought a jar of Kühne gin cornichons recently in Ocado. Both flavours are great. Any dull cheese sandwich will benefit from this tasty addition.

pickles with alcohol

Shore Seaweed Puffs (£1.19) are super healthy seaweed snacks. They are crunchy, umami filled savoury snacks, under 100kcal per bag.
You will receive one of 4 flavours. We tried Sea salt & balsamic. I love seaweed snacks, but my guys were less enthusiastic.

vegan savoury snacks

Fruity Beauties Organic & Fairtrade Snack Bars (£1.50) are high in fibre and contain one of your 5 a day.
Positively juicy, these bars are traceable farm to fork and promote sustainability. A lovely snack for when you're feeling peckish, and a nice addition to a lunchbox.

Fairtrade snack bars

Real Good Smokey BBQ Ketchup (£2.49) is the latest addition to the Real Good Ketchup range of no added sugar table sauces.
Made with natural Hickory & Oak smoked water from Tennessee, this condiment is great with French fries and as a cooking ingredient. It's 80% less sugar than regular sauces.

no added sugar table sauce

Real Good Ketchup will appear in the non-alcoholic choice of the food box, while if you opted for the box with alcohol, you might receive La Gioiosa Prosecco Brut DOC Treviso (£3.49).
Family-owned La Gioiosa is one of Italy's leading Prosecco producers.
Based in Treviso in the heart of "Prosecco country", it produces quality wines.
Its name pays tribute to the old definition of the Treviso province, "Marca gioiosa et amorosa" (Joyous and amorous March), underlining the sociable Italian way of life.

Firefly Drinks Lemon, Lime & Ginger (£1.55) is a revitalising botanical drink, expertly crafted from still water, fruit juice and active botanicals for the perfect blend of flavour and refreshment.
All Firefly drinks contain only naturally occurring sugars, no colours or preservatives and are vegan friendly.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Photo diary: week 23, project 365

Do you get irrationally annoyed by petty things sometimes? I was reading The Guardian Feast earlier today, when I came across a page of Russian picnic recipes.
One of them is for a Russian summer soup called okroshka, which is traditionally made with kvass (bread-fermented drink) or kefir. But then my hackles were raised when I saw that chickpeas were one of the ingredients used. Now, I'm all for twists and experimentation but chickpeas have not even been known in Russia until recent years.
I grew up in Russia and travelled a lot, and never heard of it. OK, now you can buy anything in Russia, money permitting, but it doesn't make it a Russian ingredient.
It's like adding a Marmite or a curry powder to Ragu Bolognese and claiming it to be an Italian recipe. Savages!!!
And I know I'm being irrational to be so ruffled, like who really cares?
But I am irked, so please tell me to calm down and have a glass of G&T, as it's supposed to be a World Gin Day today.

Last week's weather can't seem to decide, whether to be rainy or sunny, so we had sunny spells after a rain, and then back to sun again, to be followed by rain, and thus, ad infinitum.

June flowers

On Monday it was back to school for Eddie, while Sasha's school had an Inset day.
We went to his favourite cafe Nero, then the library and the book shop, and he seemed to be pretty content. It was also his respite night, so I waved Sash good bye before collecting Eddie from school.
We had a quiet evening, ordering Domino's pizza and watching Johnny English Strikes Back (again! and we still found it quite amusing).

Eddie did this drawing of Snorlax for the competition in Pokemon magazine a while ago, but I have completely forgotten to post his entry, so emailed them the image at the last moment.

A walk through the flood fields on the way home...

We were recently asked if we wanted to review Trunki. Eddie was super excited and picked his design carefully, after playing with the colour gadget and choosing many options. The Trunki finally arrived yesterday, and Eddie was thrilled to see it after school.

Eddie was practicing playing Believe and Hedwig's theme on his guitar today.

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Friday, 7 June 2019

Sleep by C.L.Taylor

thrillers set in remote isolated locations, thrillers set in Scotland

If you enjoy thrillers and dark mysteries set in country/manor houses, hotels or cottages, cut off by a bad weather and circumstances from the rest of the world, then Sleep by C.L.Taylor is just the right book for you.

The story begins with a startling letter written by Anna, acting manager of  Bay View Hotel:
"If you're reading this then I am no longer alive. Someone has been stalking me for the last three months and, if I am dead, it wasn't an accident. Tell the police to speak to my ex-boyfriend Alex Carter about what happened in London. That's where all this started."

Then the narrative goes back in time, to the events happening three months earlier, when Anna is driving a car with three of her colleagues. They are returning from the team-building weekend.
Anna is angry and upset, having eavesdropped to her drunken colleagues' conversation which she was not supposed to hear. They make fun of her ambition to apply for a marketing director job, a position, which they feel, is way beyond her abilities.
On the way to London the car is hit by a lorry. Two of Anne's colleagues die, while the third one is left paralised. Anna blames herself for the accident.

And then the horror of being watched and stalked begins for Anna. Guilt-ridden, she hardly sleeps, and someone is taunting her with threatening messages "You will sleep".
Trying to escape it all, Anna applies for a job as far away from London as possible. But her relief is short-lived. Someone has followed her and is playing sadistic mind games.

And then the first death in the hotel occurs. Anna is panic-stricken: ""I feel like death's trailed me from London to Rum, throwing guilt, pain and regret at me, shaking the ground beneath my feet as it waits for me to crumple..."

Set in an isolated hotel on a small Scottish island of Rum, Sleep promises classic premises for the creepy mind games played by the killer.
There is a small group of characters, all of whom act suspiciously.
The guests at the hotel don't enjoy each other's company, but by the force of circumstances, they have to socialise and ultimately survive.

The cut-off hotel, with its remote location, and no way of getting in touch with anyone on the isle or beyond, works perfectly as a mystery vehicle to intensify the claustrophobic tension and drama.

This tense thriller is a true page-turner, the story absorbs you completely, and the twist at the end will chill your bones.

thrillers set in remote locations