Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Merry Christmas!

Here's wishing you all a very 
Merry Christmas!

Don't forget the carrots for Rudolph and a mince pie (or two) for Santa.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Book Review No. 26: Sins and Needles by Monica Ferris

It was two Monica Ferris cosy crimes on the bounce for me recently. I was just in that sort of mood. As I said just a couple of posts ago this cosy crime series, set in a needlecraft shop in Minnesota, is my favourite of all the many cosies I've read so far. Although now I've written that it's just reminded me of another series that I've probably also said is my favourite (the one set in a coffee shop in New York - my favourite kind of place in my favourite city, so what's not to love?); they can be joint favourites then.

Since I've discussed the previous book from this series already, you don't really need all the background, so here's a brief synopsis. A visitor from Texas comes into Betsy's needlecraft shop and Betsy notices that the visitor bears a remarkable resemblance to one of her regular customers. The look-alikes, Texan Lucille and local Jan, are introduced and it turns out that Lucille was adopted as a baby and has returned to Minnesota in search of her real family. But soon there's a death in Jan's family - her wealthy great-aunt is stabbed with just the sort of tiny knitting needle that Jan favours and Betsy is called in to help clear Jan's name.

Along the way, Betsy discovers a very old cushion lined with an embroidered map of the area which leads to a long-buried secret being uncovered and, eventually, the killer being unmasked.

The main thing to strike me about this book was how much darker it is than any of the others I've read in this series; I honestly thought it could have been written by a different author. And that's not a criticism, I found it a refreshing change. At over 300 pages, this book is L-O-N-G by cosy standards - most come in at around 200 pages. The extra pages in this one mean that the author was able to take a lot more time than usual building up the background to the story, introducing the characters in some depth and providing a much more intense reading experience. There was one section of the book, when the family are looking round the elderly aunt's home after her death, which goes on a bit too long (the editor should have done some culling here), but other than that I have few criticisms of this book. Enjoyable and recommended, if you happen to be a cosy fan. Even if you're not, this might not be a bad place to start.

And, did you notice? This is book review no. 26 of the year. Remember back in the midsts of time (January 8th - see the post here) when I set myself a challenge to read more books in 2013 than I had in 2012? Well, in 2012 I read 24 books and so far this year I've read 28, and I'm part way through no. 29. Might I even make it to 30???? Watch this space.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Nativity and Other Village Christmas-ness

Christmas is alive and well in our lovely village. The village shop is decorated with paintings by the Reception year children at the village school, including this masterpiece by a certain artist who goes by the moniker 'DC'.
Lights have been strung from many houses.
There are plenty more to be seen but I keep forgetting to take photos of them.
The church was floodlight for the carol service.
And some very lovely children performed their school nativity play.
Here's DC modelling his 'star' costume.

The church made a lovely setting.

And DC discovered that deely boppers can be used to channel super powers into the audience, whilst all the other children remained in character.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Deck the Halls; and the Other Rooms, and Anything That Stands Still Too Long

It's that time of year when what seems like every blank space (as well as many that aren't blank) in the Family W household gets the Christmas treatment. We LUUUUURRRRRVE Christmas, and like to start our decorating on the 1st of December every year. What luck that this year it fell on a weekend, making tree shopping a much less stressful prospect.

Here's hubby having a look if the one right at the back is worth having.
And here's DC suggesting that we just go with the one at the front; and that's exactly what we did.
After a bit of furniture moving, the tree was brought in
and de-netted. Quite a looker, don't you think?
After a couple of hours primping, she was ready for her big moment.
Ta daaaah.
Some close ups of just a few of the many, many, many decorations.
I made this one a couple of weeks ago using a wooden star template with a Christmas paper napkin decoupaged on top; it was the first time I'd ever done anything like it and I'm rather pleased with how it turned out.
Lots of our tree decorations have been bought overseas; whenever we go on holiday we try to find a decoration so that when we open the boxes at the beginning of December we are transported back to many and varied destinations such as:
New York

Hungary (left) and Latvia (right)
And then there's the disappointment of managing to break the lovely bauble I'd bought to mark DC's first Christmas. Darn.
But back to the decorations that remain in tact (for the time being at least.)
DC came home with this fabulous sleigh that he'd made at school. It's being driven by a Fisher Price pilot, with a rather worried looking Father Christmas as a passenger. And the best bit about this? I made the Father Christmas at school when I was about the same age that DC is now. I think it's probably earned the name 'Vintage Father Christmas'.
Over on one of the shelves we have a laser-cut wooden tree (which I think we bought in Krakow), along with a bark reindeer from New York and a lovely old green glass bottle with the words 'F. Christmas & Co' across the middle (hubby gave me that a couple of birthdays ago.)

On another shelf is a little sorpresa (which translates as 'surprise') which we bought in El Salvador.
The surprise being that when you lift up the tree, there's a tiny nativity scene hidden inside.
Other shelves house a variety of decorations including a wooden moose wearing a jumper, which we bought at the Eden Project, a Merry Christmas garland which came from Monsoon when I worked there, and a wooden advent calendar in the shape of a house.
One of the windowsills in the living area is home to a selection of glittery decorations.
While the mantle is adorned with sparkly lights and a Father Christmas who is just counting the days.
Out in the hallway my branches are decked in tiny baubles from Florida.
And a robin and snowman add to the festivities.
On the other side of the hallway is tree number two. An artificial one here, wearing matching baubles and coloured lights, because we like to have a tree that can be seen twinkling away when you walk up the path to the house.
And the final tree, here in the snug, the Starbucks tree. It's a sad but true fact that we have so many Starbucks decorations that they need their own tree. So shoot me.
And it's not just decorations that abound; 
just look in the mug cupboard - Christmas is everywhere in this house.
And the little wooden shelves haven't escaped either.
After all that, it's time for a well-earned Christmas drink. 
Snowball anyone? Bottoms up.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Book Review No. 25: Embroidered Truths by Monica Ferris (another cosy)

This cosy crime series written by Monica Ferris is probably my favourite of all the many, many cosy series I have read/plan to read. If I cast my mind back, I think it was one from this series that was the first ever cosy I read; if I remember rightly I picked up a copy of Crewel World when hubby and I were travelling, back in 2008. Although it's possible that I'd read some of the Agatha Raisin series before then (written by British author MC Beaton), Crewel World really introduced me to the US cosy crime genre.Odd then that I haven't read any from this series since the end of 2012.

Anyway, back to it. Embroidered Truths is the ninth in the series following amateur sleuth Betsy Devonshire as she solves crimes in and around her adoptive town of Excelsior, Minnesota while also running a needlework shop (the imaginatively named Crewel World.) In this book, Betsy's shop assistant Godwin returns from a holiday in Mexico City, has a huge row with his boyfriend and ends up sleeping in Betsy's spare room. A few days later and Godwin's ex, John, is found dead in his home and Godwin is arrested for the murder. As Betsy sets out to prove Godwin's innocence she uncovers a web of intrigue centred on the law firm where John worked. Turns out that some people (John included) were making lots of money through dodgy dealings. I thought the visit to Mexico City was going to play a much bigger part in the who- and why-dunnit aspect of the mystery, but I was wrong; the red herrings there certainly had me fooled, although perhaps the story could have benefited if the Mexico storyline had been followed up a little more.

What I enjoyed about this book:
  • Godwin's character is developed much more in this book than in any other in the series so far; we find out a lot about his relationship with John, although it doesn't always make for pleasant reading - I found the homophobia displayed by some of the characters rather unpleasant. 
  • the references to Mexico City were interesting (I wonder if the author had recently taken a break there, or if the research was done via the wonder of the t'interweb)
  • the descriptions of  the locations within the story; you do get a true sense of what it must be like to live in Minnesota when you read this series
  • the references to needlework (especially cross stitch) are a nice touch
  • the continuing cast of (background) characters who feature throughout the series; sometimes they play a large part, sometimes it's a fleeting glimpse, but it gives a feeling of continuation
  • the fact that it's a cosy; enough said
What I disliked about this book
  • the story didn't feel quite right; I can't put my figure on the 'whos', 'whats' and 'whys' that meant that it didn't quite work for me, but it just didn't. Aren't I a good reviewer?!?
Overall I enjoyed the book but, as is often the way with cosies, I didn't love it. I guess when you are churning out book after book in a series, there will always be great books, good books, mediocre books and poor books. I think I'd rate this one somewhere between mediocre and good; if it happened to be the first one of this series you ever read, you probably wouldn't rush to read more, but if, like me, you happen to have been totally suckered in to the whole Crewel World thing, then it probably wouldn't put you off reading more.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Birthday Celebrations

Last month I celebrated my birthday - hoooooray, I do love me a good old birthday celebration. Or two. Or three. In fact, this year I decided I was pretty much having a birthday fortnight.

Things started exceptionally well when my dear friend Rachel (she of Lazyhill Gallery fame) took me for afternoon tea at the very lovely Coombe House Hotel  just outside Honiton.

On my actual birthday I decided a trip to my second home was in order: the mall at Cribbs Causeway in Bristol and, most importantly, John Lewis. They'd even decorated in my honour...

I may have done a *little* shopping.
When I got home, darling hubby presented me with a homemade Red Velvet birthday cake. As luck would have it, no one else seems to like Red Velvet, so I've had the entire beast of a cake to myself. Ho hum, what's a girl to do?

In the evening, hubby surprised me with a visit to a very lovely pub (The Tytherleigh Arms, near Axminster) for dinner.
My starter of Lyme Bay scallops was devoured before I even thought to take a photo.
This is my main course: pheasant and trimmings.
And it was sticky toffee pudding for dessert. DE.LI.CIOUS.
I was also lucky enough to receive some lovely gifts including a White Company diffuser (in the sumblime Winter scent), a flying duck to add to my collection, some edible goodies, some money to put towards having my eyeballs lasered into submission, tickets to see Billy Bragg in concert, and tickets for another special treat which you can read more about later on down the page...
And my dear Mum also supplied me with lots of smellies and chocolate.
The following week hubby and I made our way to Frome to see Billy Bragg in concert at the Cheese and Grain. At how many other concert venues can you buy a cake
and a hot chocolate (with cream and marshmallows)?! Perfect.
And, yes, that's Billy Bragg. 
I'm quite the accomplished photographer, wouldn't you agree?
The following morning, with 'Sexuality' and 'New England' still ringing in our ears, we were up and out and on the road by 8am in order to reach our destination by 9.30am.
Can you guess where it is yet?
Ta daaaaah.
Downton Abbey.
Or, to give it it's official name - Highclere Castle.
Dearest hubby had secured us tickets to visit a Christmas Fair there.

Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside. But, suffice to say, it's every bit as lovely as it appears on screen. We walked through the main hallway and several of the downstairs rooms that are featured on the TV show, including the dining room and library. We even had the opportunity to walk down the beautiful main staircase, as well as peering into Lady Grantham and Lady Sybil's bedrooms.
And we took a selfie. Natch.

After the delights of Downton/Highclere, we found ourselves back in the real world with a couple of hours of our day out to spare. Where better to head than lovely Frome.
The shops and cafes looked (and indeed were) very inviting, all bright and cosy against the cold, wintery day.

Just a couple of photos. And then it was time to head home.
And there endeth my birthday fortnight! Thank you to everyone who made it so enjoyable.