Saturday 31 March 2012

Tides of War by Stella Tillyard

Tides of War is a historical novel set in the 1800s (which I think of as the Jane Austen time period) and focuses on the Peninsular war against Napoleon.  Newlywed Harriet Raven is left behind by her husband Captain James Raven as he joins Lord Wellington's troops and we see the action from both perspectives - James in the thick of it and Harriet left behind, but with more freedom.  There are many characters and plot arcs in Tides of War, but the main theme is the changing effect war has on all whose lives are touched by it, and how things can never really go back to how they were.  I chose to read it as I'm aiming to read as many books as possible from the 2012 Orange Prize Longlist.

Tides of War was well written and mainly enjoyable. It's easy to see that Tillyard is a historian as well as a fiction writer as there was a wealth of historical detail.  I appreciated this in the sections about London and the new 'illumination science' but not so much in the sections about the war.  Military history isn't really my thing and it was hard for me to keep straight the actions of the French, British and Spanish partisans when I had no background knowledge of the war.  When I read historical fiction, I tend not to read war fiction.

Consequently, the parts I really enjoyed were the parts about Harriet.  Left behind in London, she soon finds that she has more freedom with her husband away than with him at home and her life begins to expand.  She attends lectures, makes new friends and falls in love with a foreign scientist.  This was true of all the women too - they got a taste of independent living that meant that their relationships with their husbands when they returned were permanently changed. 

Most of the criticisms of this book I have seen focus on the fact that there is a large cast of characters.  This is true - it's an ensemble cast like a HBO TV show, but this didn't bother me at all.  Tillyard wrote all of the characters distinctively so I had no trouble keeping tabs on them all.  The large cast also meant she could introduce some interesting characters that wouldn't have any focus if the book was all about Harriet and James.  My favourite 'minor' character was James' servant Thomas, who gets swept up in the heat of war to commit an unspeakable act that effects him deeply for the rest of the novel.

Despite the high quality writing and interesting plot, the book fell a bit flat for me.  I liked it whilst I was reading it but never really felt a strong urge to pick it up again.  Perhaps it was the time period, perhaps it was the military history, but for whatever reason I didn't love this book.  Other historical fiction fans might.

Source: Library (reserved)
First Published: 2011
Score: 3.5 out of 5

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Spending a Waterstone's Voucher

Almost a month ago, it was my birthday.  One of Tom's friend and his partner got me a £20 Waterstone's voucher, which I had been saving up for a time when I felt an irrepressible urge to buy some books.  That time came on Monday, one day in to the last week of the term, when I was feeling exhausted and in need of some cheering up.  Here are my purchases:

Mornings In Jenin by Susan Abulhawa.

This promises to be a multi-generational epic about a Palestinian family after 1948.  Whilst I was at university completing my psychology degree, I took a module in International Politics with an inspirational professor and have been interested in the Israel-Palestine conflict ever since.  Plus, this comes recommended by Michael Palin, which is always a bonus!

Minaret by Leila Aboulela

I've heard good things about Aboulela's writing and have decided to start with Minaret, the story of Najwa, a cleaner in London who was once part of a wealthy family in the Sudan.   I have high hopes for this one, it promises to deal with the immigrant experience, romance and religious awakening.

The House of The Mosque by Kader Abdolah

This novel starts in Iran in 1950 and follows the life of an ordinary family in a country that is on the verge of revolution.  I must admit that my knowledge of the Iranian revolution is based mainly on Persepolis, so I'm hoping that this book will give me another perspective.

The Novel In The Viola by Natasha Solomons

And now for something completely different - the story of a Jewish refugee in 1930s London who becomes a maid and falls in love with the owner of the grand country house she works in.  I've bought this one purely based on the similarity of the plot with Eva Ibbotson's The Secret Countess, which I adored.  I'm hoping this will be a lovely escapist reading experience.
I believe it's published as something else in America, something Tyneford?

Once I finish my backlog of library books, I'm looking forward to cracking the spine on a few of these!  I think my spending choices reflect the fact that I'm itching for travel at the moment.  We've decided not to go away this year so we can save more money in our house deposit-fund, but that doesn't stop me dreaming.  My top two choices would be Marrakech or Istanbul, both destinations I've wanted to go to for years.

What books are your favourites for armchair travelling?

Sunday 25 March 2012

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue

On with the Orange Prize long-list!  The Sealed Letter is a work of historical fiction based around the real-life sensational divorce trial between Admiral and Helen Codrington in 1864.  When Helen's affair with Colonel Anderson comes to light, Henry initiates divorce proceedings, setting off a chain of accusations and counter-accusations.  Caught in the middle of all of this is Helen's close friend, Emily 'Fido' Faithfull, an unconventional woman at the heart of the fight for women's rights in Victorian times.

I haven't read Donoghue's most famous book, Room, but I know enough about it to know that The Sealed Letter is a very different kind of novel.  It's rich with historical detail, slow burning and requires a fair amount of uninterrupted reading time.  The first section of the book, leading up to the start of the trial, is very slow paced indeed and contains a lot of background information about Fido's role in the struggle for women's rights and Helen's marriage in Malta.   It was all interesting stuff, and the characters were distinct and well-written, but I was impatient for the main action to start.

The sections of the novel involving the trial itself were delightful reading.  I think everyone can relate to how love can be twisted into hate and how easy it is to get caught up in cycles of accusations.  Donoghue shows how slanted the whole proceedings were in favour of men and how the public lapped up any hint of scandal, meaning that neither Helen or the Admiral could come out unscathed.  I also enjoyed watching the lawyers at work, twisting everything to suit their interpretation of the marriage and prodding their respective clients into ever more serious accusations - rape, lesbianism, violence.

Even though Helen was clearly the 'bad guy' and in the wrong in her actions, I couldn't help but feel sorry for her.  The terms of her marriage meant that if her husband was granted a divorce, she would be penniless (wives had no property rights) and would additionally be unable to see her two children ever again.  In those circumstances, who wouldn't fight with everything in them, even if it meant stretching the truth? Helen was a bit of a Madam Bovary character, she was listless and led easily by her emotions without thinking of the consequences.  She was also the most honest character in the book, in her own way.

The revelations on the final page were partly a shock to me (I had guessed about the sealed letter, but not the other) and made me look at the book in a different light.  Fido's motivations suddenly became a lot clearer, so all credit to Donoghue for pulling that off.

The Sealed Letter was an enjoyable piece of historical fiction that did suffer a bit from a slow pace at the beginning of the novel.  I would say it has a decent chance of being short-listed, but would be surprised if it won the prize.

Source: Library
First Published: 2008 (Canada), 2011 (UK)
Score: 4 out of 5

Friday 23 March 2012

Poorly Joseph

You might have noticed that things have been a bit quiet here on the reading, reviewing and commenting front, it's because our cat Joseph has been a bit poorly and needing lots of TLC.  He came in from the garden about a week ago with what can only be described as a gash on his back leg - a large open wound that was clearly infected.  We think he caught it on a nail out somewhere as another cat couldn't make a wound like that, his muscle was exposed.

Anyway, this week has been busy with vet trips.  Unfortunately he couldn't have his wound stitched with such an infection so for the first part of the week he was on a very strong dose of painkillers and antibiotics and we had to clean the wound constantly, something he obviously did not enjoy!  Like all cats, he hates the cone he has to wear.  The first one we had to take back as he could still get at his injury and the second one (larger) means that he can't eat unaided and he even managed to loosen it enough to get it off whilst I was at work yesterday.

At the moment he has staples in the wound in the hope that it will heal.  I have a check up at the vets in the morning but I doubt it has healed enough to have the staples removed.    Fingers crossed it starts to heal properly soon as he is getting very frustrated with not being allowed out, relying on us to eat and not being able to clean himself.  He also can't stand us cleaning his wound and cries constantly when we do it, something that makes me feel horrible! As I type this, he is sulking by the back door!

It's really horrible when your pets are sick, isn't it?  It's not as though you can sit them down and explain why all the nasty stuff has to happen in order to make them better in the long-run.  I'm hoping that by the end of next week he will be healed enough to go back to his normal routine.

Do you have any pets?

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Half The Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn

When I first saw Half The Sky mentioned on Eva's blog, A Striped Armchair, I knew it would be something I would want to read as soon as possible.  It's a non-fiction examination of problems facing women in the developing world and includes issues such as sex trafficking, female genital mutilation, honor killings, maternal health and rape.  The examination of these topics is enhanced by individual accounts of the women Kristof and Wudunn met and also success stories of organisations working at the front line improving lives for women across the world.

Half The Sky is a shocking book.  Even though I knew about most of these issues individually, it was still a shock to read such a comprehensive account of all of them together; when I closed the book I was very grateful to be a British woman living comfortably in the Western world.  The statistics on rape were the ones that really got to me - in the Congo over 90% of women past the age of puberty had been raped, often brutally in a way that meant their health was forever ruined.  I can't even get my head round that statistic.

Kristof and Wudunn make it clear that lots of these problems are easily overcome, that it's an issue around the way women are perceived around the world.  Young girls in families are more likely to be malnourished because what food there is goes to boys.  Women given treatment to prevent them passing on HIV to their newborn children often refuse to use the powdered milk because that's 'not how it's done in their village'.  Improved maternal health is relatively easy to provide, it's just not a priority because women are not seen as a priority.

But despite all of this, Half The Sky isn't all doom and gloom.  There are many stories of women who have overcome terrible situations (one story about a young girl trafficked into being a prostitute and then infected with HIV really got to me) but who have gone on to lead positive lives.  As well as this, there are organisational success stories of normal people saying 'enough is enough' and actually doing something to make the situation better.

Interestingly, Kristof and Wudunn seem to be against traditional aid agencies.  Whilst recognising that they can do a lot of good, the emphasis is on grassroots organisations and the ways that the West can support without 'going in there to sort it all out'.  There are links provided to organisations in the appendix and it's easy for the reader to find ways to support them (I am now offering a microloan through kiva and would recommend it to others).

This kind of book isn't really about the writing but it's clear, accessible and easy to read.  I would recommend this to everyone, male and female as it's something that is worth investing time in.  These issues aren't just women's issues, they are issues facing humanity as a whole.

Verdict: Powerful read about the role of women in the developing world.
Source: Library
First Published: 2010
Score: 4.5 out of 5

Saturday 17 March 2012

The Translation Of The Bones by Francesca Kay

The Translation of the Bones is the first of the books from the Orange Prize long-list for 2012 that I have read, although I plan to read many more.  The story centres around Mary-Margaret O'Reilly, a woman with learning difficulties who claims to see blood on a statue of Jesus whilst she is cleaning her local church in Battersea, London.  Despite Father Diamond's best efforts, this 'miracle' becomes a bit of a sensation and it sets off a spiral of events that will have devastating effects for the residents of the parish, including MP's wife Stella, Mary-Margaret's housebound mother Fidelma, and Alice, whose son is serving a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

The Translation of the Bones is largely a quiet, understated book.  The central themes are the many varieties of religious belief (the mircale is left intentionally ambiguous) and the power and devastation of motherhood.  The main characters are introduced in ways that make it easy to gain insight into their lives without Kay writing too many words about each.  Then about fifty pages from the end the tone completely changes as the book becomes much darker and the reader can see the effect on the characters that have been built up so cleverly throughout the preceding sections.  I couldn't put this book down whilst reading the end.

My favourite character from the cast was the priest, Father Diamond.  When we meet him at the beginning of the novel he is worn down by his inner-city parish and on the verge of a crisis of faith.  When something terrible happens in his church, it seems as if his belief will be gone forever, but instead he finds a way back to his faith.  His story and quiet belief provides an interesting contrast to the fanatical belief and conviction of Mary-Margaret.

The Translation of the Bones is a very British book.  Although the main themes can be easily understood by everyone, there are a lot of cultural references that I think would only make sense to Brits - MP expenses scandals, Tony Blair's "we don't do God" comment, the rise of the Conservative party and boarding school culture.  The explanations of religion too make sense in the British context and wouldn't be as powerful to readers in more religious countries where faith is openly discussed,

All in all I was impressed with The Translation of the Bones, but it didn't blow me away.  It might be short-listed, but I don't think this is going to be the winner.

Verdict: Quiet, understated read about faith and family.
Source: Library (reserved)
First Published: 2011
Score: 4 out of 5

Thursday 15 March 2012

Homeland by Barbara Kingsolver

I tend to only read short story collections if I am already a fan of the author through reading their novels.  I've read and enjoyed both The Poisonwood Bible and The Lacuna by Kingsolver, so I was excited to see this collection available at the library.  It contains twelve stories, all very different from each other but all united by their strong sense of place. 

The stand out piece of the collection was the title story, Homeland.  Gloria's Great-Grandmother is dying and her parents become convinced that Great Mam would like nothing more than to visit Cherokee as she is a Native American who once belonged to the Bird Clan.  But when they get there, the commercialism and misrepresentation of the culture breaks Great Mam's heart and Gloria can't bear to watch.  Other stories that I appreciated were Rose-Johnny, about prejudice towards those associated with mixed race families, Stone Dreams, about having the courage to move on in your life if you need to, and Blueprints, about loneliness within marriage.

In fact, all of the stories in this collection were well written and Kingsolver was able to hook me into each one very quickly, something essential for short story writing.  But the best thing about the stories was the vivid backdrop that the setting for each provided.  From the desert to hippie trailer parks to the deep South to St Lucia, Kingsolver bought each place alive and made it as much of a character as the actual humans in her stories.  Thinking about it, this is exactly what I loved about The Poisonwood Bible and The Lacuna too - that experience of being transported to somewhere new. 

As with any short story collection, there were some stories that weren't as strong as the others.  Occasionally the female characters felt a bit too introspective and a bit too similar to each other but as a collection as a whole it's one of the strongest I've read.  Recommended especially for armchair travellers.

Source: Library
First Published: 1989
Score: 3.5 out of 5

Monday 12 March 2012

Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

I've been a fan of Tracy Chevalier ever since reading Remarkable Creatures in 2010 (my review), but I hadn't yet read her most famous book, Girl With A Pearl Earring.  Set in Delft, the Netherlands, in the 1600s, it's the story of Griet, a tile painter's daughter who must become a maid for the artist Vermeer when her father becomes blind and loses his livelihood.  Gifted with a natural appreciation for and understanding of art, Griet lives for the moments in her day when she can help Vermeer with his work by grinding colours or assisting with composition.  But both her work and her feelings start to blur the line between servant and master and Griet must soon make some hard choices.

There is lots to like about Girl With A Pearl Earring.  One of the reasons I enjoy reading historical fiction is that I get to be transported to different times and places and Chevalier pulled off this aspect of the story well.  I knew nothing about the Netherlands in the seventeenth century before reading this book but the atmosphere of the meat market and Papists corner and the canals jumped off the page and pulled me in.  The religious element of the distrust between Protestants and Catholics was sensitively handled and engrossing.

The story was good too.  I am not a big fan of art, but I found the descriptions of how to make different colours fascinating and the explanation of how Vermeer slowly layered his paintings to create the final effect was interesting.   I  also appreciated that the romance was subtly done in a showing but not telling kind of way.

But despite all of that I did have a problem with this book and that problem was Griet herself - I just couldn't connect with her as a narrator.  She was very distant and matter of fact in her explanations of her thoughts and  feelings, which robbed the book of any emotional impact or immediacy.  Even when Grief was talking of bereavement I felt as though Chevalier failed to show us how she was really feeling in a way that would make the reader sympathetic to her situation.  And because I didn't feel this connection with the main character, I wasn't so caught up in the story and didn't feel strongly what happened to Griet at the end.  I connected with other characters, especially Vermeer's wife Catharina, but not Griet herself.

Verdict: Interesting piece of historical fiction set in 17th century Netherlands, unfortunately with a distant main character.
Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1999
Score: 3.5 out of 5

Sunday 11 March 2012

Thoughts on the Orange Prize Long-List 2012

So the long-list for the Orange Prize has been announced.  The Orange Prize celebrates excellence in fiction written by women and it's the only prize that I follow properly.  Every year when the short-list comes out I try to read as many books from it as I can and I've discovered some great books this way (Half of a Yellow Sun, Small Island, We Need To Talk About Kevin etc).  I've not yet met an Orange prize book that I haven't enjoyed.

This year, I've decided to step up my reading for the Orange Prize and I'm hoping to read most of the books from the long-list.  Some I already own but the rest I've placed holds on at the library.  Here are my selections from the long-list:

Island Of Wings by Karin Altenberg

This is the one I am most excited to read.  It's set in 1830 and is about a minister and his wife settling in the Hebrides.   Neil is evangelical and hopes to fight the pagan ways of the islanders, whilst Lizzie just wants an adventure.  But soon their marriage is in trouble and there are rumours of hauntings on the cliff-tops.  This book is supposed to have a Wuthering Heights-esque atmosphere, one of the main reasons I can't wait to read it.

Status:  On hold at the the library, #2 in the queue.

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

I've been meaning to read this since it was short-listed for the Booker so now I have the perfect opportunity.   Set in Berlin in 1939, it's about black jazz player who is arrested despite being a German citizen.   He is never heard from again, but what really happened?

Status: On hold at the library, #1 in queue (so I could receive this any time between tomorrow and three weeks from now).

The Translation of the Bones by Francesca Kay

I love a religious slant to my literary fiction, so this novel about the mania that descends on an ordinary church after Mary-Margaret witnesses a miracle should be perfect for me.   It looks like there are lots of wonderful side-lines too - sons fighting in Afghanistan, living in tower blocks, links to Ireland.

Status: On hold at the library, #1 in queue (I love getting in ahead of all the other readers!)

Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding

Painter of Silence is about Romania in 1948, the new Communist regime and the danger and horror it bought.  I'm hoping it will be powerful but in a beautiful way too, along the lines of The Cellist of Sarajevo.

Status: On hold at the library, #3 in the queue

Tides of War by Stella Tillyard.

The straightest historical fiction on the list, Tides of War is about a war I know little about, the Peninsular War of 1812-1815.  It's about a couple, Harriet and James, as James leaves to join the Duke of Wellington's troops and Harriet gets a taste of the freedom available for women left behind.

Status: On hold at the library, #1 in queue

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue

I know, I know, I really need to read Room.  And I will - I already own it but in the meantime The Sealed Letter actually has caught my attention more.  It's based on a scandalous court case of divorce in Victorian times with accusations of rape, adultery and secrets.  I just know I'm going to love it.

Status: On hold at the library, #1 in queue (I expect to receive this one first as unlike the others, there are multiple copies available in the system).

The Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller

I've seen many positive reviews of this book on other blogs so even though it's not the kind of book I would usually give up, I've decided to give it a try.  It's a retelling of the Trojan war, so I'm hoping to learn a lot about Ancient Greece as I read it.

Status: On hold at the library, #1 in queue.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

I'm sure this book doesn't need any introduction, given that it has been surrounded by the hype monster for quite some time!  I actually received this one for Christmas, but was planning to wait until all the hype died down before reading it.  I really hope it lives up to all of my expectations.

Status: owned (physical copy)

State Of Wonder by Ann Patchett.

State of Wonder will be my first Patchett, and I'm very much looking forward to it.  I love the sound of the Amazon rainforest setting and the medical premise.  I got this one on a kindle daily deal for the bargain price of just 99p so it's good that I will finally have the push to get it read.

Status: Owned (kindle).

So as you can see, I will be quite busy with my reading over the coming weeks!  It does feel good to get in with the library holds before the books become very popular though :)

Will you be following the Orange prize?
Which of the books I have highlighted are you most interested in?

Saturday 10 March 2012

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

My first introduction to Wilkie Collins was through his most famous novel, The Woman In White, which I read and loved in my pre-blogging days.  I enjoyed it so much I promised myself I would read another Collins novel before too long, but it's only now, years later, that I've picked up The Moonstone.  And I'm pleased to report that it was worth the wait.

The Moonstone is about a cursed Indian yellow diamond, plundered from a sacred site by Englishman John Herncastle.  On his death he bequeaths the stone to his niece, heiress Rachel Verinder, as an act of spite towards her mother, in full knowledge that Rachel will now become the target of plots and murderous Hindu priests.  Rachel receives the stone on her birthday but it is stolen on the very same night.  With relatives, servants and Hindu priests in the frame, who stole the diamond and what happened to it?

Collins is one of those authors I recommend to people who think that classic novels are slow, boring, pretentious and stuffy.  Both The Woman In White and The Moonstone are fast-paced, sensational and completely unputdownable.  In The Moonstone, there is suicide, murder, disguise, sinister intentions and cursed jewels.  It's an adventure-mystery that was a blockbuster on publication and remains a gripping read to this day;

"If he was right, here was our quiet English house suddenly invaded by a devilish Indian Diamond - bringing after it a conspiracy of living rogues, set loose on us by the vengeance of a dead man." (p33)

It goes without saying that the book was well written and like The Woman In White, it's written from the viewpoint of several witnesses, on the behest of a relative of Rachel's who is attempting to clear his own name.  I very much enjoyed this writing style as Collins had made each of the narrators distinct from each other; it felt like many people were telling the story, not just the author.  My favourite narrator was Rachel's relative Miss Clack, an evangelical Christian who was bent on converting everyone around her.

The mystery was well thought out too, on several occasions I thought I had worked out who had stolen the stone only for events to completely change my mind.  The resolution when it came was a surprise, mainly because it was so rooted in Victorian sensibilities.  In fact, that's my only criticism of this book; the big reveal is something that I think could only be appreciated by Victorian readers as 'science' has changed so much now, so this part of the novel felt a little dated. 

I must also say how much I enjoyed the edition I read (Oxford World's Classics).  The notes were informative and the introduction was a good example of a well written essay on the book.  Once I finished the story, I went back and read the introduction and notes (this turned out to be the right way round to do things as there were spoilers) and felt like I gained a lot of knowledge about the author and how the book was written.  I was aware that Collins was friends with Dickens but didn't know how much they influenced each other or how addicted Collins was to opium, a fact which explained quite a lot about The Moonstone.  So if you are looking to purchase this book, I'd recommend the Oxford edition.

Verdict: Gripping read about the sensational theft of a cursed Indian diamond.
Source: Library
First Published: 1868
Score: 4.5 out of 5

Monday 5 March 2012

Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Published in 1872, Carmilla was one of the first vampire books written, preceding Dracula by a good twenty-five years. It's about Laura, who lives in a gothic castle in Styria, Austria with her father.  One day they witness a carriage accident near their home and offer to shelter a young woman whilst she recovers. Laura's loneliness is answered by Carmilla's friendship and the two become close, although this coincidences with a rapid decline in Laura's health....

I loved this little book.  At only 95 pages, it can be read in one sitting but somehow still manages to contain all of my favourite elements of both gothic and vampire/horror fiction.  There's the wonderful setting of the dark woods and deserted castle, the leisurely writing pace, the creepy sense of foreboding but above all, the atmosphere.  From the moment I picked this book up and started to read I felt as though I had been transported into the author's imagination and could practically see the mist rising over the moon and hear the tree branches creaking ominously.

Of course, Carmilla isn't really scary to modern readers.  When you read it, you have to bear in mind that readers at the time of publication weren't familiar with the vampire myth.  So blindingly obvious 'VAMPIRE - RUN AWAY!' clues go undetected by Laura (pale skin? sharp teeth?..what could it possibly mean??) and the horror is largely only hinted it.  It's like an old fashioned horror film where things are suggested rather than just gore being shown.  It might send a little shiver down your spine, but all the real fun is in the gothic writing style and atmosphere.

Dracula is one of my favourite books and reading Carmilla, it's easy to see that Stoker was massively influenced by it.  The setting is practically identical, and both books contain a vampire hunter (Baron Vordenburg and Van Helsing) and an innocent female victim.  Normally it would bother me to think that a book I like so much isn't completely original, but as I like both books equally, I will instead just put Carmilla where it belongs next to Dracula on my shelf.

Verdict: A must-read for gothic or horror fans.
Source: Library (got lucky whilst browsing)
First Published: 1872
Score: 5 out of 5

Sunday 4 March 2012

Sunday Salon: My Birthday

Not much in the way of reading, reviewing or blogging in general has happened this week as things have been busy both at work and in my personal life.  Leaving aside work, Thursday was my 26th birthday!  I had a quiet evening in with my family - we ordered take-out and relaxed, perfect.  This weekend I've been out and about a bit more; one of my presents from my sister was a cupcake decorating course as she knows that I love to bake.

The course itself was a lot of fun.  I enjoy making cakes but up until now have been terrible at the decoration, my buttercream always goes too runny and my cakes end up looking like a slodgy mess.  It was good to learn how to do it properly although I don't think I will be creating sugarcraft blossoms or bows again any time soon!

And then this morning, I've been reflecting on life in general (am I the only one that does that near birthdays?) and taking some time to think.  All in all, I'm very content with how life is going at the moment. I have a job that I enjoy, I'm newly married and I enjoy living where I do.  2012 is a bit of a breather year for us - in 2011 we planned our wedding and in 2013 we hope to buy our first house.  At the moment we are just relaxing at home, saving all the money we can towards our deposit and enjoying being married before we get into all the house buying stuff that will come later.  I like to think of it as a year long holiday from major life events.

How has your week been this week?