Thursday, 21 March 2019

The Saxon Wolves by Penny Ingham #BlogTour

historical fiction

 Many years ago, when I studied English literature at the University, I wrote my thesis on Mary Stewart's historical trilogy about Merlin. I've recently revisited the Dark Ages in Britannia after the fall of the Roman Empire, while reading an absorbing novel set in 455AD.

The Saxon Wolves by Penny Ingham is a gripping blend of history and mythology.
Penny Ingham is a master storyteller who weaves a tapestry of historical facts with fiction and myths.
Her retelling of the stories first narrated by Bede, Nennius and Geoffrey of Monmouth is vivid and striking. You feel transported back to the Dark Ages.

The Saxon Wolves is set in Britain 455AD, after the fall of the Roman Empire.
Anya is the daughter of a Saxon king who's been trained as a healer and a priestess since an early age. Compassionate and sensitive, she attends to the wounds of the prisoners with the same care she treats her younger sister (who appears to have a condition like autism, though obviously it is not mentioned in the book).
She is also a visionary, haunted by chilling dreams which she is not able to interpret.
Her life of privilege comes to an abrupt end when she dares to confront the high priest against the merciless human sacrifice.
Banished from Germania as a punishment, Anya travels to Britannia with her older brothers, Hengist and Horsa. Two brothers are completely different. While Hengist is a revengeful brute with no consideration for human life, Horsa just wants to settle down with his beautiful bride.

Britannia is in chaos. There are still lots of signs of the Roman empire, but the country is torn and left unprotected, as the rival kingdoms vie for power.

Vortigern was possibly one of the most infamous warlords of Britain. The historians do contest his existence but the Father of English History Bede the Venerable writes about the proud tyrant who invited the Saxons, under Hengist and his brother Horsa into Britain as mercenaries to help fight the Scots and Picts.

Vortigern, of course, features quite extensively in the Arthurian legends and fiction. The classic sources mention that Vortigern got smitten by Hengist's daughter Rowena, and offered a big part of his kingdom to the Saxons in exchange for Rowena's hand.

In Penny Ingham's novel he becomes obsessed with spirited Anya. Her elder brother Hengist is happy to secure his position in Britannia by offering Anya to Vortigern.

On the way to Aquae Sulis, Anya and her guards are ambushed by the Irish slave raiders. She is captured to be sold to the highest bidder. On the way to Ireland, their ship is destroyed by a storm. Anya is the only survivor of the shipwreck, finding herself on the shores outside Tintagel (another important landmark of the Arthurian legends).

Anya must learn how to survive among the people who treat her with suspicion and mistrust.
Will she be able to find a new home in Britannia?

The Saxon Wolves is thronged with drama, political intrigues of the times and historical period detail. Penny Ingham brings alive a remote historical epoch. Not to be missed by the fans of historical fiction.

Due to the nature of the historical background this book might contain possible triggers like human sacrifice (a distressing scene with quite graphic details), murder (including of children) etc.

Author's Bio:
Penny's father, a journalist, instilled her with a love of history from an early age. Family holidays invariably included an invigorating walk up an Iron Age hill-fort whilst listening to his stirring stories of the Roman attack and the valiant defence by the Britons. Consequently, Penny has a degree in Classics and a passion for history and archaeology. She has enjoyed a varied career, including BBC production assistant, theatre, PR and journalism, but her ambition was always to write historical fiction. Her first novel, The Kind's Daughter, was awarded Editor's Choice by the Historical Novel Society. Penny has worked on many archaeological excavations, and these digs and their evocative finds often provide the inspiration of her books.
Penny's research also takes her to the many spectacular historical sites featured in this novel, including Hadrian's Wall and Tintagel.

You can find more about the author checking out these links:
@pennyingham on Twitter

This review is part of the blog tour.

Disclosure: Thank you to Nerthus Publishing and Rachel's Random Resources for a free ecopy of the book.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Photo diary: week 11, project 365

We spent most of the last week at home, as Eddie got poorly, with a fever and bad cough which kept him awake at night. He's been off school for several days, and I realised that I haven't taken any photos on Wednesday. Hence two images for Sunday.
The weather was a mixed bunch, changing in one half hour to another from a clear blue sky to a torrential rain and even sleet, then back to sunshine.

The Moon on Sunday was a beautiful bright crescent, but you could still see the whole shape.

crescent Moon

Earlier on Sunday Eddie went to his friend's birthday party, which was a Laser tag. Al the boys including the birthday boy are 1-2 years older than Eddie. He was very excited about the party, and was happy to join in the game. Alas, one of the older kids decided it was a great fun to punch my son in the face, as well as keep pushing him.
He was upset, and I took him outside, asking if he wanted to leave the party earlier and go home by taxi. Ed's friend went to talk to the bully, but the latter shrugged it off by saying it was just a game. Of course, it was, that's what all bullies say. He chose to pick up on the youngest. I didn't want to ruin the party, but I was fuming. These days, of course, you are not allowed to say anything to the other people's children, even if they behave like total shites, or you will be the one in trouble.

Monday morning was all blue skies and blossom. I walked by the old woolen mill, spotted the postie crossing the road, and liked the contrast of red against the grey, white and blue background.

More rain on Tuesday. It was the last swimming lesson for Eddie this year, and I suspect he didn't dry properly after the lesson, and then they walked through a bucketing rain back to school. He was already coughing in the morning, but by the evening his cough has got really bad.

No pics on Wednesday.
In a typical "poorly child"-fashion he was coughing and having a fever one moment, then feeling better and jumping around after the meds lowered the temperature.
Sasha was away overnight in his respite centre, but as Eddie was unwell, we didn't do anything except ordering a pizza and watching a movie. We snuggled up in a duvet and just had a quiet evening.

More rain... I walked in the garden, taking photos of the hyacinths my Mum planted last year, to show her what they look like.

We're at home today, as my husband is away. Eddie is still coughing, though less than the previous days, I hope he'll get better by Monday.

On Tuesday I popped into the local Waterstone's and asked one of our lovely ladies there to recommend me something mindless, preferably crime and not too graphic.
She suggested a couple of books, and for a few days I've been engrossed in If I die before I wake by Emily Koch. It is a story narrated by a young man in a locked-in syndrome, while everyone else believes he's in coma and debate whether to withdraw his life support.
It is an original and heart-breaking story, and the end made be blubber like a baby.
It is a psychological thriller, not graphic (though not mindless at all, in fact very deep and moving).
I finished it yesterday evening, and took a photo today, as I plan to write a review, once I have a chance.
Have you read this book?

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Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Sweet and sour peppers (agrodolce di peperoni)

vegetarian side dish

I was planning a meat-free menu for our Italian guests last weekend and browsing online for ideas for side dishes that would go with the main which was a baked risotto layered cake. I wanted to cook a dish with sweet peppers, and needed something hassle-free as the main was rather time-consuming.

Gennaro Contaldo's Agrodolce di peperoni on Good Food Channel looked easy and simple. Actually the Russians cook something similar with sweet peppers, only without anchovies. The Southern Russian cuisine is an amalgam of its southern and western neighbours, with the flavour influences from Moldova, Romania, Ukraine, and of course the Greek and Jewish communities from the Crimea.

I have slightly adapted the recipe, changing the method - cooking in the oven rather than fried - but the changes are minor (for a full recipe see the link above)

Sweet and sour peppers
4tbsp olive oil (2 +2)
3 sweet peppers (red, orange and yellow), deseeded and cut into big slices
2 anchovies
1 clove of garlic
a handful of olives stuffed with garlic
1tbsp salted capers, rinsed
1tbsp caster sugar
2tbsp apple cider vinegar

Slice the peppers in half, deseed them and then slice each half into 3-4 pieces. Place the pepper in a deep ceramic dish or tray, drizzle with 2 tbsp of oil and place the dish in the oven preheated to 180C for about 25 minutes.
Heat 2tbsp of the olive oil in a frying pan, add the anchovies and garlic, and fry the garlic for about 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Add the sliced olives, capers, sugar and vinegar and mix into the peppers which should be cooked through by now. Leave the peppers in the oven, which has been turned off.
You can eat these peppers warm or cold. They make a tasty side dish, or a snack to go with cheese and bread.

You don't need salt, as the anchovies give it a salty taste. For a vegetarian version, omit the anchovies. I have searched online what's the best substitute for anchovies in vegetarian dishes, and there is a product called an umeboshi paste. I haven't used it myself, so cannot say what it tastes like, but apparently chefs use it in vegetarian recipes. I'll see if I can find it locally.
Does anyone use it, and would you recommend it?

I used the remains of Willy's Apple Cider Vinegar, which was one of the products in the January Degustabox. It's a tasty vinegar from the Herefordshire countryside.
It adds a lovely sour note to the peppers.
If you don't have this vinegar, any good apple cider vinegar will work well.

vegetable side dish

Since I've finished the vinegar, I'm adding this recipe to #KitchenClearout linky run by Cheryl at Madhouse Family Reviews.

The Cornish Lady by Nicola Pryce #BlogTour

historical novels set in Cornwall

Every year we go to Cornwall to spend a week by the sea. We usually stay in a small village of Perranuthnoe. Walking in the opposite direction from the village you see St Michael's Mount, with its formidable castle which was home to St Aubyn's family for several centuries. We visited it a few times, the castle is quite compact inside, and wandering through the halls and rooms makes me think what stories those walls could tell.
I love Cornwall, and have a special fondness for books set in Cornwall.

The Cornish Lady by Nicola Pryce is set against the thrilling backdrop of the 18C Cornwall.

Don't be deceived by a demure innocent-looking young lady on the cover.
There is a love story running through the book, but there is so much more, as you get a sense of time and place.

Angelica Lilly is educated and beautiful. As her best friend's mother tells her: "Your beauty, your extreme beauty, coupled with the fact that you're a very rich woman, poses serious competition".
Angelica is invited to spend a summer in high society. She is accepted everywhere and attracts attention, but she doesn't feel like she belongs to the high society.
Her late mother was an actress, and her father is a prosperous merchant. Angelica feels like a fish out of water among the aristocrats of Cornwall.

Lord Entworth is offering her everything - position, wealth, high standing in society, as well as his love. He's been married before, it was an arranged marriage, where the relationship was strained. His late wife was polite to him in public, but rarely spoke to him in private. He is looking now for a woman who would love him back. Any young lady among his circles would be delighted to become his wife. But there is a dark side to him...

Angelica's younger brother Edgar returns home from Oxford, very ill and in the clutches of opium. He is also under the influence of an extremely unpleasant wastrel named Jacob Boswell. This arrogant impoverished aristocrat has attached himself to Edgar like a leech.
Jacob's mother - on the other hand - has set her cap at Angelica's father. Like mother, like son, they are both parasites with voracious appetites for other people's money.

Edgar and Jake arrive to the Lilly's house in Truro in a coach driven by the handsome coachman Henry Trevelyan. He is softly spoken and reads poetry. Angelica soon finds out that this was all a disguise, and Henry is on a mission to find robbers who attack the coaches.
He is educated and attractive, and there is a definite spark between the two. That is, until Henry seemingly betrays Angelica and her family.

Set against the dramatic coastline of Cornwall, this novel will thrill the fans of the Poldark series. The parallels and comparisons are inevitable, since the historic period described in the books is nearly the same.

The historical background feels authentic, with the social norms and groups described accurately. The topic of the role of women in the 18C society runs through the novel.
Angelica, for example, is expected to marry into the aristocratic family, thus fulfilling her mission. Her father doesn't want her to learn about his business.
On the opposite side, there are the Foxes who share the same office and run business together. Then there's the Carews, where Lady Clarissa appears to be the boss of the family. Her daughter Amelia, a friend and confidante of Angelica, grows an apothecary garden and knows a lot about botany and medicinal herbs. Having lost her fiancé, she is heartbroken. Untypical of that age and social norms, she is not coerced by her family to move on and marry someone else. In fact, she is resigned to live her life as a spinster, surrounded by her family.

This historical novel provides the grand sweep of the society. The social injustice is prevalent, the rift between rich and poor is wide.
While poor people are starving, and there are riots in towns, the Carews think nothing of spending a fortune on buying cherry plants from the Russian tsarina's court.

Will Angelica find a true love? And will she be able to save her brother Edgar who's implicated in a terrible plot?

Vastly engaging, The Cornish Lady is a fast-moving, enjoyable read.

novels set in Cornwall

Author Bio:
Nicola Pryce came to writing after a career in nursing. She lives in the Blackdown Hills in Somerset and when she isn't writing, she's probably gardening or scrubbing the decks.
She and her husband love sailing and for the last twenty years they have sailed in and out of the romantic harbours of the south coast of Cornwall in search of adventure: it is there where she sets her books.

The Cornish Lady is her fourth book. The others are Pengelly's Daughter, The Captain's Girl and The Cornish Dressmaker.

Nicola is a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association and The Historical Writers Association.

Social Media Links:

This review is part of The Cornish Lady blog tour. You can check out all the stops of the tour, looking at this schedule.

Disclosure: Many thanks to Corvus Books and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Gardening World - Spring 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger

best jigsaw puzzles

"Sometimes since I've been in the garden I've looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something was pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast. Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all round us. In this garden - in all the places."
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

I grew up in a big city. We always lived in flats, so having a garden of our own was out of question. Until I was 14 we lived in a ground floor apartment, with a big yard and a front garden shared by all the flats. My Mum used to plant flowers and shrubs under our windows. I loved the smell of lilac in late spring, wafting in my room, when I was sitting by the window, doing homework.
My Mum has green fingers, and always grows lots of flowers and vegetables on her balcony. And now that we live in a house with a big garden, she loves to visit and work in our garden.
Right now my garden is full of hyacinths of all colours, as planted by Mum last autumn when she stayed with us.

Our garden is beautiful, but not as tidy and orderly as the one in Gardening World - Spring 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger.
This garden is immaculate.

best jigsaw puzzles

The garden scene in the puzzle is truly idyllic. A couple are working in unison, tending to the vegetable patch. (If only my vegetable patch was as neat. And I'd love that cold frame too!)

The dog is watching its owners with great interest.

The garden around the vegetable garden is full of trees in bloom and flowers.

The birds are busily working on the bird feeder.

The round pergola would provide a good cover against the strong sun and the rain. Imagine having tea and enjoying a book there, listening to the bird song and smelling all the scents of the garden.

best jigsaw puzzles

The attention to detail in this puzzle is striking.

best jigsaw puzzles

This beautiful puzzle measures 70x50cm when complete, and is suitable for ages 12+.

gardening jigsaw puzzles

Like all Ravensburger puzzles, this jigsaw puzzle is made from strong premium grade cardboard, with linen finish to minimise glare on puzzle image.

gardening jigsaw puzzles

This colourful puzzle will make a lovely gift to a garden loving friend or family member. If there's a lady in your life, who enjoys puzzles, this could be a wonderful gift for Mother's Day.

Disclosure: I received the puzzle for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are my own.

best garden-themed puzzles

Photo diary: week 10, project 365

March has been a busy month so far. I'm running around a lot and trying to do so much that having a double to split the chores would be helpful.
I'm just back from taking Eddie to a birthday party, and I have a splitting headache from all the screaming party animals.

Sunday: Eddie's practicing the guitar for the next day's class...

There's a tree in town, which I pass by when I plan to visit the Polish deli and a couple of charity shops. It reminds me of a grumpy witch's profile, with a hooked nose.

Tuesday was a Pancake day. In the morning I had a dental appointment - thanks goodness, the last one for the time being.
I wasn't overly enthusiastic about making pancakes for breakfast from scratch and bought a tub of M&S fresh batter. OMG, how vile was that. The pancakes were greasy and tasted truly awful. Never again.
To remedy the morning disaster I made a fresh batch from scratch in the afternoon after school.
Now we're talking!

Walking through the garden to pick up a few things from the summerhouse which is now officially my storage for crisps and ice cream, I spotted a lost marble under the cyclamen leaves.

Thursday was the World Book Day, and Eddie went to school in a t-shirt, showing one of his favourite book characters - Edgar the raven from The Raven Mysteries. I drew it the day before with fabric pens on a plain white t-shirt.

A friend was visiting us on Friday, and I have opened a box of French mini eclairs. You need to defrost them for 3 hours. They were just the right size. The pastry wasn't as good as the freshly baked one, but quite edible, and the fillings were varied and tasty.

Saturday was a crazy day. We had guests coming over for dinner, so I've been cleaning the house and cooking most of the day.
I've spotted the first ladybird of the season. She was very businesslike, running around the flower pot.

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Thursday, 7 March 2019

Edgar the Raven t-shirt for World Book Day

World Book Day costume ideas

You couldn't possibly miss the World Book Day: if you were out at the school run hour today, you've seen children in all kinds of outlandish, brightly coloured outfits.
Eddie's school is taking part in this annual event by inviting children to come to school dressed up as their favourite book characters.
Some of the costumes we've seen this morning were wonderfully imaginative.
On the way home from school Eddie was telling me about the school assembly, where the teachers were trying to sort them out into groups. Apparently half of the kids were dressed up in Harry Potter outfits, there were plenty of Hermiones and one Ron Weasley too.

Last year Eddie went to school as Greg Heffley from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I made a t-shirt for him and a mask.
This year we were torn between The Raven Mysteries by Marcus Sedgwick and How to Train Your Dragon.
I was happy to draw either of the main characters on a t-shirt.
Raven won. Not surprising really, as he's called Edgar. How could we resist?!

World Book Day costume ideas

Just like last year, I used fabric pens and a white shirt. You will need to place a piece of paper inside the tshirt while you're drawing, so as not to mark the other half.

Edgar is the Raven who resides at Castle Otherhand. The Otherhands are a literary version of the Addams family, with Lord Otherhand, his wife Minty, Solstice, Cudweed, twins Fizz and Buzz and the monkey named Fellah.

World Book Day costume ideas

"Castle Otherhand is home to all sorts of oddballs, lunatics and fruitcakes. It's just as well for all of them that they have a secret weapon: he's called Edgar."

The Raven Mysteries are Gothic novels for children. We love the illustrations by Pete Williamson, they complement the story perfectly.

World Book Day costume ideas

I tweeted the photo to Marcus Sedgwick this morning, and was thrilled when he retweeted it to his followers. That's our five minutes of fame.

What did you child(ren) go to school as? Did you make your own costume?

World Book Day costume ideas

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Degusta and Chill (February'19 Degustabox)

February brings lighter nights and a promise of a new spring.
If you've been carrying on from Veganuary, the latest Degustabox has a few new products for you to try. If Veganuary has never been your thing, there are cracking new foods for you to discover as well. As always, Degustabox is full of foodie surprises.

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 February'19 Degustabox? Let's have a look.

food box

Appy Kids Co Whole Milk (£1) is produced using Red Tractor approved milk to enforce excellent standards of farming and preparation, the range is 100% traceable and packed in British factories for the freshest taste and longer shelf life.
Available at Morrisons stores nationwide. You should receive two packs in your box.
Useful for lunch boxes, if your child drinks milk. It comes in packaging with Paw Patrol characters.
My sons don't drink milk as such, the younger one would occasionally ask for a hot milk with honey at bedtime. As it is a long life milk, I will be using it for my own coffee and with cereals.

milk for children

Orangina Original (£1.30) is one of our elder son's favourite drinks.
With its unmistakable orange flavour, sparkle and real citrus pulp, they come in distinctively shaped bottles.
Drink them on their own, straight from the fridge, with ice or without, or use as a base for cocktails and mocktails.

soft drinks UK

Clearspring Organic Seaveg Crispies Turmeric Multi-pack (£2.59) will thrill the lovers of seaweed crisps. They are light, tasty toasted nori sea vegetable snack, made with just four simple ingredients.

seaweed snacks

They are baked just for a few seconds to create their unique and moreish flavour.
Gluten free, vegan, high in fibre and contain only 18kcal per bag.
I can easily gobble up the whole multi-pack, as they are very addictive.

seaweed crispies

Deli Kitchen Folded Brioche Flatbreads (£1.25) are a range inspired by breads from around the world. Deli Kitchen wants to encoruage us to rethink traditional sliced bread sandwiches and use different breads.
This brioche folded flatbread is a tasty receptacle for any kind of filling. Put it under a grill with cheese inside, or warm up and serve with hummus and falafel.
This is a fresh product, which you can put in the freezer for eating at a later date.


I served it with an aubergine, sweet pepper and tomato appetizer which I cook quite often.

Explore Cuisine Organic Chickpea Fusilli (£3) is a pasta made from plant-based protein and fibre.
It is organic, vegan and naturally gluten free. This pasta is made in Italy.
Ingredients include organic chickpea flour, brown rice flour, tapioca starch and pea protein powder.
Nutritional information - 361kcal per 100g, which is surprisingly much higher than the standard Italian durum wheat fusilli (160kcal per 100g).

vegan pasta

Sacla' Reduced Fat Basil Pesto (£2.50) is a new product from Sacla' which has 30% less fat than Classic pesto, and no added sugar or salt.
The cheese is replaced with tofu, and thus is suitable for vegans.
We haven't tried this pesto yet. I am not a fan of tofu. I will give it a go, but to be honest, pesto with tofu doesn't sound authentic.
My worry is that the brands are trying too hard to appear trendy. Don't. Classic and traditional products should be protected.

vegan foods

Whether you receive Degustabox or just bought the new pesto, don't forget to enter an Instagram competition to win a hamper full of pesto, pasta sauces and antipasti.
You will need to follow Sacla's  account on Insta - @sacla_uk
and upload your best pictures using the Sacla' Reduced Fat with the hashtag #DegustaSacla
Competition runs until 18/03/2019.
Good luck!

Snaffling Pig Pork Crackling Low & Slow BBQ/Perfectly Salted (£0.75) is a treat for pork crackling fans. Winners of 9 Great Taste Awards, premium cuts of pork are double-cooked and bursting full of flavour.

pork crackling

You should receive both flavours in your box.

meaty snacks

Choc Chick Quinoa Pops and Plantain Bites (£1.85) are vegan treats, which combine wholegrain goodness of quinoa and tropical flavours of plantain with the finest Ecuadorian single origin organic cacao.
Dairy and gluten free, with 50% less sugar than average chocolates, these sweet bites sound very healthy.

Bebeto Watermelon Jelly Gums (£0.50) are Bebeto's biggest selling pack in the UK, with over 3m sold in 2018. They are sweet, made with real fruit juice and watermelon-flavoured.
For obvious reasons they are very high in sugar (46g per 100g).
These sweets are not suitable for vegetarians as they include beef gelatine.

popular sweets

What's your favourite product from the latest Degustabox?