Saturday, 29 June 2019

Photo diary: week 26, project 365

It's the hottest day of the year so far, and it's not very pleasant outside. It feels like walking in a warm milk. We planned to go to Oxford with the boys, but didn't fancy being stuck on a bus, surrounded by sweating grumpy passengers and melting in the heat.

Last Sunday was quite uneventful, I think, but today's heat has put my brain in the sleep mode, so I cannot quite remember what we did.
Eddie practiced his guitar. He's back to learning an extended version of Hedwig's theme.

On Monday Eddie's class went on a school trip to Cotswolds wildlife park. They were lucky with the weather. It wasn't as hot as today, but warm, and the next day it was raining almost non-stop.

I was trying to finish the recipe post, taking lots of photos of the vegan panna cotta made with almond milk.

Once the post went live, I sighed with relief, as I struggled with the recipe. The first attempt was a total flop.
And then someone "kindly" mentioned that the panna cotta looks like a boob on a plate. Now I cannot unsee it.

On Tuesday I visited several charity and vintage shops, searching for some steampunk props for the photo shooting but couldn't find anything at a reasonable price.
I like this little teapot, it looks like the Aladdin's lamp (I didn't buy it).

We pass this house, which we call the ghost house every day. I have never seen its inhabitants. The windows are totally overgrown. It must be so dark indoors. I'd love to have a tour of the house.

The poor mannequin, looking forlorn, with the legs stacked nearby.

It was a National Cream tea day yesterday, and of course, I had to bake some scones. I love scones, but bake them maybe once a year.
I always look forward to the end of our trip to Cornwall, as every time we arrive to the cottage we rent, there is a welcoming tray with homebaked scones and jam, with milk and clotted cream in the fridge.
We've been with Aspects Holidays for many years, and stayed in several different cottages.
Amusingly enough, the cheapest cottage had the best welcoming basket, with a bottle of prosecco and posh jam. The most expensive cottage where we stayed last year (looking at you, Captain's Haven in Sennen Cove) had a measly offer of a supermarket packet of 4 scones and tiny hospitality jam portions. No clotted cream in sight. That was so disappointing.

scones and tea

Today we did a bit of shop-hopping with Eddie, returning a pair of super skinny jeans which were too small, and buying shorts in M&S.
I tried to take a photo of Eddie with all the labyrinth of reflections in changing rooms, but my hands got in the way.

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Friday, 28 June 2019

Dreaming of big adventures with Trunki

suitcases for kids

What is that suitcase,
So stylish and funky?
It's one and only
Bright-coloured Trunki.

What rhymes with Trunki? Monkey, funky, chunky, "bananki"... Eddie and I enjoy playing word games, like rhyming etc, especially when we are out and about. While taking photos for this post, we tried to think what words would rhyme with Trunki.

Even if you're not a frequent traveller, you must have spotted on your trips - in the airports and train stations - children walking with or sitting on Trunki. These pull-along, ride-on mini-suitcases on wheels have a unique, immediately recognisable design and stand out in a crowd.

travelling with kids

Whether going away for a weekend, or travelling abroad, these suitcases are "designed to beat the boredom suffered by travelling tots".
They are made in the UK, are hand-luggage approved and have a spacious 18-litre capacity.

suitcases on wheels for kids

My son Eddie was super excited, when we were offered a Trunki for reviewing, he's wanted one for a long time.
Ordering online is very easy. You can choose one of the designer models like Una the Unicorn, Flossy the Flamingo, Boris the Bus, Pedro the Pirate Ship, Gruffalo etc.

Or design your own - just go to a Trunki customiser and choose the colours and design. Look at the paint palette and pick up a colour of the body, nose, stripe, horns, handle hub caps, wheels, cotton bag, shoulder strap and internal strap.

It was Eddie's job to choose, and he was playing with different colour schemes. Here is a collage of screenshots to give you an idea.

colours of Trunki

After a careful considerations of pros and cons of different colours, he has opted for his favourite colour - red - no surprises here.
Trunki aim to build and deliver a suitcase of your choice within 10 working days. All orders can be tracked via SMS or email. You will get an update when to expect your order.

You have to be sure about the colours you choose. Since it's a customised bespoke product, you cannot update the design, once the order has been placed.

Eddie was quite impatient, counting the days until his Trunki would arrive.

suitcases on wheels for kids

The bright red Trunki arrived with a Trunki birth certificate, i.e. a note which explains who made the model and when. It also comes with a free 5-year guarantee.

Its features include: Locking catches, 2-in-1 carry/tow strap, stuff pocket, teddybear seatbelts, horn grips, ID label and 18-litre capacity.

It is light (1.7kg) and easy to carry.

suitcase on wheels for children

You can pull it behind you, holding onto a strap...

suitcases for children

Or you can carry it over your shoulder... The strap is adjustable, you can make it longer or shorter.

suitcases for children

It is made from the same lightweight yet durable plastic as adult suitcases.
And when you're tired, it makes a comfy seat. Maximum weight for a rider is 50kg (110lb).

suitcases on wheels for kids

Horn grips are there for stability.

travelling with kids

suitcases for kids

We haven't had a chance to take our Trunki on a proper trip yet, but we're dreaming of big adventures and planning our future journeys.
Eddie's father is planning a surprise trip to Legoland, when they will stay in one of Windsor hotels overnight to be able to get to the park first thing in the morning. And then Eddie will have a chance to take all the necessities with him.
We are also going later this summer to Cornwall, and Eddie is eager to take the Trunki with us, packing his favourite games and books for a rainy day (there is always a rainy day or seven when we go to Cornwall).

Is your child a proud owner of a Trunki suitcase?

suitcases on wheels for children

Disclosure: We received an online code to place a customised order with Trunki for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

A Feast of Serendib by Mary Anne Mohanraj #BlogTour an exclusive recipe from the book & giveaway

Sri Lankan cook book, Sri Lankan recipes

I'm a little bit embarrassed to say just how many cook books I have. Let's just say, enough to stock a small library.
Yet a new cook book is always a cause of excitement.

A Feast of Serendib by Mary Anne Mohanraj is a type of cook book I enjoy to read, as it's not just a selection of recipes, but a story of the author's ethnic background and family history including old photos and lovely snippets of personal stories related to recipes. You get to know the author, as she describes her favourite food and her family history.

Sri Lankan cook book, Sri Lankan curry recipes

Dark roasted curry powder, a fine attention to the balance of salty-sour-sweet, wholesome red rice and toasted curry leaves, plenty of coconut milk and chili heat. These are the flavors of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka was a cross roads in the sea routes of the East. Three waves of colonization - Portuguese, Dutch and British - and the Chinese laborers who came with them, left their culinary imprint on Sri Lankan food. Sri Lankan cooking with is many vegetarian dishes gives testimony to the presence of a multi-ethic and multi-religious population.

Everyday classics like beef smoore and Jaffna crab curry are joined by luxurious feast dishes, such as nargisi kofta and green mango curry, once served to King Kasyapa in his 5th century sky place of Sigiriya.

Vegetable dishes include cashew curry, jackfruit curry, asparagus poriyal, tempered lentils, broccoli varai and lime-masala mushrooms. There are appetizers of chili-mango cashews, prawn lentil patties, fried mutton rolls, and ribbon tea sandwiches. Deviled chili eggs bring the heat, yet ginger-garlic chicken is mild enough for a small child. Desserts include Sri Lankan favourites: love cake, mango fluff, milk toffee and vattalappam, a richly spiced coconut custard.

In A Feast of Serendib, Mary Anne Mohanraj introduces her mother's cooking and her own Americanizations, providing a wonderful introduction to Sril Lankan American cooking, straightforward enough for a beginner, and nuanced enough to capture the flavor of Sri Lankan cooking.

Mary Anne started writing a Sri Lankan cook book as a present for her Mum, writing down some of her recipes. Her mother had had to make many adaptations when she came to the States in 1973, for example, using a tomato ketchup instead of coconut milk. Then Mary Anne herself kept changing the recipes further, adapting them to her tastes.
As Mary Anne says in the Introduction: "But I try to accept the truth, that I will likely never cook exactly how homeland Sri Lankans would. My adaptations of my mother's adaptations are still tasty".

Let's look at the list of contents:
Appetizers and Snacks
Eggs, Poultry and Meat contents
Fish and Seafood

There is a good selection of recipes for meat eaters and vegetarians. I had a quick look at the section with Vegetable dishes (22 recipes), and most of them include coconut milk, and no dairy, so are suitable for vegans as well.

There are a couple of recipes in this section which include a Maldive fish as one of the optional ingredients. It is a staple of the Sri Lankan cuisine, but obviously that would change the recipes from vegetarian to pescatarian. I have tried to google for the vegetarian/vegan substitute for the Maldive fish, and it looks like a dark miso might be a possible candidate, but don't take my word for it. I haven't tried Maldive fish, so am not an expert on its taste or alternatives.

This book celebrates the best of the Sri Lankan cuisine.

I have bookmarked several recipes to try, like Milk toffee with cashews, Golden rice pilaf, green mango curry, mango pickle and others.

So far I have tried only one recipe from the book - Cashew Curry, which is a rich vegetarian/vegan dish. It would be great as part of a curry night, with several different curry dishes to mix and match.

Sri Lankan vegan curry

I'm looking forward to expanding my curry repertoire. The recipes in the book seem easy to follow, and there are lots of little tips on the possible alternatives, if you cannot source the right ingredients.

This is a book for everyone who would like to be able to cook real Sri Lankan food. It includes a comprehensive and fascinating collection of mouthwatering recipes. Lovingly compiled, this cook book will appeal to both amateurs and committed foodies.

My only slight niggle is that I would have liked more photos in the book, as for me they are often the first thing which draws me to a recipe.
Another thing to keep in mind: as the cook book is written by an American author, the measurements are also American (i.e. cups, stick etc).


I have an exclusive recipe for Ginger Garlic Chicken from the book.

Ginger-Garlic Chicken (recipe reproduced with permission from the publisher)
(30-90 minutes, serves 6-8)

The timing on this is so variable because you can either do it the long way described below, the way my mother recommends, which is definitely a bit tastier - or you can do a much faster version, where you mix the spices with the chicken, skip the marinating, and then just sauté the chicken in the pan on medium-high until cooked through and serve. I use both methods, mostly depending on how much of a hurry I'm in. Regardless of which method you use, this dish is best served fresh; if it sits, the chicken will tend to dry up and not be as tasty.
NOTE: This is my daughter's favourite chicken dish, and one she always greets with delight; she started eating it when she was about five, with no added chili powder. Over time, I've added a little more chilli powder when feeding it to both kids, serving with milk to help them along, you can also use black pepper if you'd prefer.

Sri Lankan recipes
Photo credits: Mary Anne Mohanraj

1 heaping tsp ginger powder
1 heaping tsp garlic powder
1 heaping tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
12 chicken thighs, about 2 lbs, deboned and cut bite-size
vegetable oil for frying
1/2 to 2 heaping tsp red chili powder (to taste, optional)

1. Mix first four spices in a large bowl, add chicken pieces and rub with your hands until well coated. Marinate 1/2 hour.
2. Heat oil on high; add chili powder (if using) and cook 15 seconds, stirring.
3. Add chicken and sear on high, turning to brown all sides.
4. Reduce heat to low and cover; cook approximately 15-20 minutes, until meat is cooked through.
5. Uncover and cook until all the liquid is gone.
6. Tilt pan and push chicken pieces to one side; allow excess oil to drain to one side for 5 minutes. Remove chicken to dish and serve hot.

NOTE: If reheating a day or two later, I recommend reheating in a pan with a little coconut milk; just simmer 5-10 minutes, enough for the milk to thicken with the spices into a nice sauce. Or serve dry chicken with a nice coconut-milky vegetable curry, like carrot or beetroot curry.

Sri Lankan cook book

About the Author:
Mary Anne Mohanraj is the author of Bodies in Motion (HarperCollins), The Stars Change (Circlet Press) and 13 other titles. Bodies in Motion was a finalist for the Asian American Book Awards, a USA Today Notable Book, and has been translated into six languages. The Stars Change was a finalist for the Lambda, Rainbow, and Bisexual Book Awards.
Monhanraj founded the Hugo-nominated and World Fantasy Award-winning speculative literature magazine, Strange Horizons, and also founded Jaggery, as S.Asian & S.Asian diaspora literary journal.
She received a Breaking Barriers Award from the Chicago Foundation for Women for her work in Asian American art organizing, won and Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Prose, and was Guest of Honour at WisCon. She serves as Director of two literary organisations, DesiLit and The Speculative Literature Foundation. She serves on the futurist boards of the Xprize and Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry.

Mohanraj is Clinical Associate Professor of English at the University of Illinois in Chicago, and lives in a creaky old Victorian in Oak Park, just outside Chicago, with her husband, their two small children, and a sweet dog. Recent publications include stories for George R.R. Martin's Wild Cards series, stories at ClarkesworldAsimov's, and Lightspeed, and an essay in Roxane Gay's Unruly Bodies. 2017-18 titles include Survivor (a SF/F anthology), Perennial, Invisible 3 (co-edited with Jim C. Hines), and Vegan Serendib.

Social Media Links
Facebook - Mary A. Mohanraj
Twitter - @mamohanraj
Instagram - @maryannemohanraj
Website: and

Disclosure: Many thanks to Mary Anne Mohanraj, Serendib Press and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book!

This post is part of the blog tour, you can discover more recipes from the book here, for example, a recipe for a vegetarian Beet curry on ShortBookandScribes:

Sri Lankan cook books

If you enjoy exploring the world cuisines and love the sound of this book, the lovely people from Serendib Press have offered an e-copy of A Feast of Serendib as a giveaway prize for my blog readers.

1. The giveaway is open internationally.
2. Giveaway ends on 3 July 2019 (midnight).
3. To be in with a chance of winning, please leave a comment, answering a question:
Have you tried Sri Lankan food, and what is your favourite Sri Lankan dish? (If you haven't tried, which dish would you like to try first?)
4. If you are leaving a comment as Anon, make sure there is your name or username so that I can get in touch with you. If you have a Twitter name, that's the easiest way to contact you if you win.
5. I will contact the winner regarding their email address after the closing date. If they do not reply within 7 days, the prize will be allocated to another person.

Good luck!

Monday, 24 June 2019

Almond milk panna cotta + Valsoia at Ciao Gusto

vegan Italian-sty;e desserts, plant-based milk

I was in Italy when I've tried a panna cotta for the very first time, and it was quite a revelation. I understand why the Italians are so much in raptures over this dish. As Carluccio said in one of his books, "One of the main reasons for its popularity is its simplicity, and another is the sheer pleasure of eating it".

Valsoia almond milk, vegan panna cotta, vegan dessert

This delightful Italian dessert is traditionally made with sweetened cream, set with gelatine and flavoured with vanilla, coffee, pistachio etc. It is a very rich dessert, and if ordering it in a restaurant, I find that sometimes I struggle to finish it. You also need a sharp note to accompany it, like a lemon zest sauce or lime and basil jelly.

As a foodie, I'm always fascinated by new foods and ideas. Recently I was asked to come up with an idea of a recipe, using a Valsoia plant-based milk (almond or oat). And though I'm not planning to turn a vegan any time soon, I'm happy to test vegan-friendly foods and drinks.

plant-based milk alternatives

About Valsoia:
Valsoia has been Italy's premier health food company since its foundation in 1990, leading the market for quality, product innovation and choice.
Utilising the finest ingredients, its wholly plant-based, GMO-free foods are produced with all the expertise of Italian food traditions and perfectly balance great flavour with healthy ingredients.
Valsoia's products enjoyed by millions of Italian families and the company is listed on the country's stock exchange.

Valsoia Longlife Almond Milk Alternative (£2 for 1L) is a plant-based alternative to dairy milk, enriched with calcium, vitamins B2, B12, D2 and E. It's high in fibre, gluten free and naturally lactose free, and is suitable for vegans.
This is a slightly sweetened almond milk. Nutritional info: 25kcal and 3g sugar per 100ml.

Valsoia Longlife Oat Milk Alternative (£2 for 1L) is another plant-based alternative to dairy milk. Enriched with calcium, vitamins B2, B12 and D2, it has no added sugar, it's high in fibre, low in fat and naturally lactose free.

I have tried both varieties with tea and coffee, and think they work better with coffee. I'm not a big fan of milk in tea anyway, and find that the plant-based milk disguises the flavour of tea, while it enhances the flavour of coffee.

As you can see from the photo below, the oat milk frothes well, if you're making a latte. And while you cannot mistake it for a dairy milk, as an alternative, it's pleasant on the palate. It's silky in texture, and slightly thicker than the dairy milk. It also has quite an oaty aftertaste.

plant-based alternative to dairy milk, vegan latte

Of the two Valsoia plant-based milk alternatives I prefer the almond milk, as it has a nutty flavour, which goes well with porridge or cereal.

Almond milk is, of course, not a recent invention. It's been a staple in many world cuisines for centuries, and was very popular as an alternative to milk during the Lent in the Middle Ages. In the Tsarist Russia there was a sweet drink called Orshad (Orgeat) made with almond milk and rose water. Yelena Molokhovets - the Russian equivalent of Mrs Beeton - has a fine recipe for this sweet dish.

To celebrate the Italian origins of Valsoia, I wanted to use its products as a base of an Italian-inspired recipe, and a panna cotta was a natural choice.

vegan panna cotta, vegan dessert, almond milk-based dessert

I must confess that my first attempt at making a panna cotta with almond milk was a disaster. I went shopping to Waitrose, but couldn't find any vegetarian gelatine. The assistant suggested using a pectin. I haven't used pectin recently, but in the past added it to jams. Though I followed all the advice I found online (and there are recipes for panna cotta with pectin), it just didn't work for me. I was left with a sweet gloopy mess.

Back to square 1. I found a Dr Oetker Vege-gel in Sainsbury's, and have made a new batch. This time the panna cotta has set beautifully.
If you are not concerned about the recipe being vegetarian or vegan, you can use a standard gelatine in this dish.

Italian vegan dessert, plant-based milk, almond milk

Almond Milk Panna Cotta (serves 4-5)
400ml Valsoia almond milk alternative
80g caster sugar
1 sachet of Vege-Gel or another vegetarian alternative to gelatine
170g coconut yogurt (for example, Waitrose Vegan Coconut yogurt)
1tsp vanilla essence
a punnet of raspberries (to make coulis)

Heat up half of the almond milk in a small pan, add the sugar, and stir until dissolved. Take off the heat.
In a separate small pan or cup beat in vege-gel in cold milk (first add milk, then vege-gel). It has to dissolve completely.
Pour the dissolved vege-gel into the warm milk into the pan, add the remaining milk and yogurt, vanilla essence and stir well.
Pour the panna cotta into lightly oiled cups or containers. Let it set for several hours, preferably overnight, in the fridge.
You will have 4-5 servings, depending on the size of cups you use.

vegan dessert
I used different sized cups & containers

almond milk dessert
The panna cotta is beautifully set after a night in the fridge

To serve, overturn the cup onto a small dish and spoon the raspberry coulis over.

Tip: Place a cup with pannacotta into a pan of hot water for a few seconds, then the pannacotta will slide out easily.

To make a raspberry coulis, just blend the raspberries and then press through a fine-mesh strainer. You can add a squeeze of lemon or lime to loosen it a bit. I didn't add any sugar, as the main dish is sweet enough.

vegan dessert, Italian vegan dessert

You can also serve it just in a bowl or cup, just pour the raspberry coulis over, or place some chopped mango with a squeeze of lime juice.

vegan panna cotta

If you would like to try Valsoia, you can find it in Ocado. In July these products will be offered as part of a special promotion - buy 2, get 25% off.

dairy milk alternatives

I've been shopping online with Ocado for a year, and have discovered so many delicious European products which I haven't seen or tried before. Their Italian range is very impressive. I always sneak in a bag or two of Mulino Bianco biscuits with every online order. My husband is very partial to San Pellegrino soft drinks, so they are part of a regular delivery as well.

Picking up all your favourite authentic Italian food and drink has never been easier with the Ciao Gusto Italian Deli at Ocado.

As Ciao Gusto explains: "For the first time, a simple tab brings together over 30 of Italy's most popular brands, so you can find exactly what you're looking for - and discover new and exciting ingredients - in just one click.
There's more information about our brands too - many of which are still owned and run by the same families who established them - some as far back as in the 1800s".

You'll be familiar with many products, such as Riso Gallo, Filippo Berio, Giovanni Rana and Cirio who are joined by products less well known in the UK such as Valsoia dairy free ice cream, Auricchio cheeses and Negroni charcuterie - everything you'll find at the Ciao Gusto Italian Deli has been specially selected for its reputation as an authentic Italian favourite.

Here is a full list of the Italian brands you'll discover at the Ciao Gusto Italian Deli:
Pasta - Barilla, Rana
Rice - Riso Gallo
Flours - Polenta Valsugana
Tomato and Vegetable Conserves - Cirio
Cheese and Dairy - Auricchio, Parmareggio
Fish - Delicius, Medusa
Herbs and Spices - Cannamela
Tuna - Rio Mare
Cured Meats - Negroni
Soya and Rice Products - Valsoia
Olive Oil - Filippo Berio
Vinegar - PontiDried fruits - Noberasco
Jams - Santa Rosa
Coffee - Lavazza
Herbal teas - Bonomelli
Water and Fruit Juices - San Benedetto, Santal
Wine - Zonin, Santa Margherita
Spirits - Vecchia Romagna
Cherries and Syrups - Fabbri

As you can see, it's an excellent list of Italian products, some of them are well-known and much-loved, some are waiting to be discovered by the British foodies. I'm delighted to see some of the foods which we buy when we stay in Italy, it's lovely to be able to buy them here as well.

Disclosure: I received a small budget to spend on the products necessary to write a recipe post, including Valsoia. All opinions are our own.

Italian desserts for vegans

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Photo diary: week 25, project 365

Walking into town today, I was talking to Eddie and asked him if he remembered how different the weather was just a week ago. Then we got soaked, getting caught in the rain and running into the Whittards' shop to hide from the worst of the rain. Today, the sky is blue, with pristine white fluffy clouds, it's not too hot, overall, rather lovely.

Last Sunday we finally managed to have a quick photo shoot with Trunki. In fact it rained earlier that day but by late afternoon, the sun was out and I asked my son to help me with the photos. He has graciously obliged.

travelling with kids

Monday was a busy day for me, and I only managed a couple of photos for the next day blog tour of Victoria to Vikings. These two antique china cups and saucers were one of our wedding gifts from a friend who knows me so well. I love those cups and treasure them. The golden necklace was passed on to me from my husband's grandmother (who was a Marquise/Marchioness), for some reason the Italian lady had a Victorian coin made into a necklace.

On Tuesday I was catching up on some TV films I missed earlier, and watched the latest two-episode series of Inspector Montalbano. The LEGO minifigures kept me company.

My father-in-law is very interested in Napoleonic wars, and has an extensive library on the subject. When I spotted these porcelain figures in the Blue Cross charity shop, I mentioned them to my husband, asking if he thinks his father would like one of them. Off he goes and buys three of them.
They will eventually move to Italy, but so far are brightening the book shelves in the entrance hall.
I don't think they are antique, more vintage, probably 1950s?! I tried to google, but there are no marks at the base to help finding them. Does anyone know their origins and also what nationality these hussards can be?

Napoleonic hussards figures

My dragon doodles, inspired by Space Dragons, which Eddie and I have been reading.

Weeding behind the greenhouse (the nettles were as high as me, eek!), I saw this mini-alpinarium in the stone wall. It's self-planted, but lovely, I'm going to keep it.

The last couple of days are sunny. I even put a freshly washed duvet outside to dry in the sun. It's still not entirely dry, as it's a very thick winter duvet, but hopefully by the end of today I can take it in and fold away for the colder nights. No pictures of our duvet, but these little dianthus blooms. They have a lovely sweet scent.

summer flowers in garden

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Space Dragons by Robin Bennett #BlogTour + giveaway

YA books about dragons, books about space travel

The whole universe:
every planet, star, black hole and life form
started with a single atom
exploding into a great void of nothing.

Right after that, came the Dragons.

When we were offered a chance to review Space Dragons by Robin Bennett, we immediately replied Yes!!!
A. We love books and films about dragons,
B. It's set in Oxfordshire (what could be more cool than having dragons in the neighbourhood?!)
C. We were smitten with the previous book by Robin Bennett, The Hairy Hand.
D. The publisher, Monster Books, is a local one, and we actively support local authors and publishers.
E. Did I say we love dragons?!

Stan Pollux lives with his parents and younger sister Poppy in a really old house on the edge of the village. Like most younger siblings, Poppy wants to explore her brother's room which is a forbidden territory for her. While sneakily stealing a crystal from his rock collection, she topples his most valuable possession - a super-expensive telescope - and breaks it. Understandably, Stan is extremely upset with her, while the mother takes Poppy's side.
In the evening, trying to set the telescope back up, Stan feels nervous. Everything feels creepy.
When he peers in, there is nothing but deep blackness - "it almost felt as if he was staring into a hole in Space, and as if, from the end of this long, dark tunnel, something was hiding. And waiting."
He looks again, and "an evil-looking eye, from the depths of Space, sprang open and stared back."

Prepare yourself for an adventure of a lifetime, as Stan gets kidnapped by the Planet Dragon Mercury. Suddenly the school bullies and Poppy's misdemeanour seem rather small and less significant.
Stan finds himself in an alternative universe, populated by the Space Dragons.
As Mercury tells Stan, at the beginning of humankind the dragons - Venus, Saturn, Mars, Mercury etc - were worshipped as gods. Until the day when the Titans came back from the far reaches of the universe, and the fight began over the prize in the Solar system, the only planet with its own life, the jewel of the system, Eden - Earth.
Now, thousands of years later, the Earth and humankind are under threat again. And Stan's sister Poppy is missing. She's been kidnapped by Pluto (Hades) as unknowingly to herself, she's got the most coveted prize of all - the Particle of Light. Stan is determined to save his sister and prevent the destruction of the Solar System.
Will Stan be able to rescue his sister and save the world?!

We were glued to the story from start to finish. What a terrifying sci-fi adventure with an unusual but very likable super-hero!

You will need to know your Greek & Roman myths pretty well to appreciate all the nuances of the story and the references to the ancient myths. It would help if you know who the Titans, Hades, Cerberus, Hercules etc are. Thankfully, we've been recently reading a book of Greek myths after watching Atlantis and Olympus. Even Stan's family name Pollux is an allusion to the Dioscuri brothers Castor and Pollux.

Just like The Hairy Hand, Space Dragons' book design deserves a special mention.
The sturdy cover with a striking image of a fiery eye grabs your attention immediately. There is a tiny metal pendant on the spine, which is a great detail.
The illustrations in the book are an eclectic mix of styles and help carry the storyline organically, adding all in all to the other-worldly atmosphere.

A magical and thrilling story, highly original, Space Dragons is a compelling read. This part fantasy, part mythical adventure, conjures up the deep bond between the past and the present.

About Robin Bennett:
Robin Bennett is an author and entrepreneur who has written several books for children, adults and everything in between. Listed in the Who's Who of British Business Excellence at 29, his 2016 documentary "Fantastic Britain", about the British obsession with fantasy and folklore, won best foreign feature at the Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards, and his first book for young adults, Picus the Thief, won the Writers' News Indie Published Book of the Year Award in 2012. Robin is also a director at Firefly Press.

Many thanks to Robin Bennett, Monster Books and Rachel's Random Resources for our copy of the book!

This blog review is part of the blog tour, you can check out the other reviews here:

books about dragons for children

If you like the sound of this book, you have a chance of winning one of 10 hardcover copies of Space Dragons by Robin Bennett.
The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.
It might be run on several blogs, i.e. it's not exclusive to Chez Maximka blog, and I have no responsibility for the selection of the winner or dispatch and delivery of the prize.
Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.
The winner will be selected via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter, and/or email.
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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