Book Review: Katherine of Aragon

Katherine of Aragon

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen – Alison Weir
Published by Hachette New Zealand

History tells us how she died. This captivating novel shows us how she lived.

I’m a sucker for historical fiction, and have been fascinated by British royal history since my last year of high school. I can still hear my history teacher’s voice reciting, “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived” to help us remember the fates of each of Henry VIII’s wives. I loved the historically inaccurate but wonderfully compelling The Tudors (starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII), and devoured books such as The Other Boleyn Girl. My husband laughed at me when I returned from a visit to Windsor Castle with a fridge magnet timeline of the Kings and Queens of England, but I love it, and it’s a bit of a talking point in my kitchen.

This meant I began reading Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen with a very good idea of what would happen…but even then I wasn’t prepared for how much I enjoyed this novel. Alison Weir has published numerous history books, and she knows more than most about British royal history. She describes various palaces and characters in such astonishing and evocative detail, and it’s obvious that this detail is all derived from fact. To be able to subtly write about a certain item of furniture or decoration or item of jewellery without it sounding like a recitation of facts is a talent of Weir’s.

She portrays Katherine as devout, but also devoted to her husband and to her daughter, Mary. She allows us to experience each and every miscarriage, stillbirth and death of her babies that Katherine experienced, as well as each illness and heartbreak. Where fans of Henry VIII would have us believe that Katherine was barren, grim and hard-hearted in her faith, Weir has created a much softer character; she reminds us that Katherine was shipped to a foreign country with no knowledge of the language or customs, and that she was a daughter, a mother, and a betrayed wife.

There are five more novels to come in the Six Tudor Queens series, and I’m simply bursting to read the next installment. The names of Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr all pop up at various points during the novel, which gives the reader an idea of how all the queens are involved in the king’s court somehow. I thought it was very clever how Anne Boleyn is brought into the story, but the novel remains Katherine’s – it could easily have switched to become more about Henry’s second wife, but Weir keeps to her account of Katherine’s life.

Well-written, captivating and compelling, Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen is a fascinating new look at a very old and well-documented subject, and I highly recommend it to fans of historical novels, or those who think they might like a wee taste of this genre.

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Book Review: That’s (Not) Mine

That's (Not) Mine

That’s (Not) Mine – Christopher Weyant and Anna Kang
Published by Hachette New Zealand – July 2016

When I saw that super-talented husband-and-wife team Weyant and Kang had produced a new story featuring our favourite fuzzy creatures, I knew my boys would flip for their own copy.

That’s (Not) Mine had a lot to live up, following on from the hugely successful You Are (Not) Small, but fear not – it’s every bit as good as the first.

I can’t decide whether it’s the hilarious illustrations or the straight-to-the-point text that makes these books work so well…I think it’s the combination of the two, with each element lending humour to the other. Whatever it is, Weyant and Kang have developed their own winning formula, and my kids love it.

The illustrations are bold and bright, and Kang has the ability to put a great amount of emotion into her drawings. Oh, how we laugh at the facial expressions of the fuzzy creatures!

In That’s (Not) Mine, the two fuzzy creatures argue over a chair, using all sorts of tricks to claim ownership. Eventually, they realise that sharing is much nicer than fighting, and they are back to being buddies.

Currently in our household, our four-year-old loves to play with his big brother but it doesn’t always go his way; this book arrived at the perfect time, as we’ve been able to use it as a subtle reminder that sharing is cool, and that sometimes, you have to play by someone else’s rules before they will play by yours. This is a great tool for teaching kids the intricacies of sharing and compromise, all without them realising what you’re doing!

Thank you to Hachette NZ for providing our review copy.

Family Fun: Monarch Cruise

If you ever visit Dunedin, you should book a cruise on the Monarch.

We were lucky enough to win a one-hour family voucher at a quiz night, and we had an amazing afternoon cruising the Otago Harbour, looking out for seals and albatross.

As you can see, those big, beautiful sea birds are great flirts.

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Book Review: Smoke

Smoke

Smoke – Dan Vyleta
Published by Hachette New Zealand

If sin were visible and you could see people’s anger, their lust and cravings, what would the world be like?

Set in Victorian England, Smoke is the story of an alternative human history, in which one’s “sinful” actions and thoughts are manifested in wisps – or eruptions – of smoke. It’s a fascinating concept, with the potential to be rather thought-provoking.

Vyleta has created a very believable history and social commentary. The upper class never smoke, while the lower class smoke ceaselessly. The upper class have found a way to control and contain their sin, and in doing so, have found a way to control and contain the lower class. This class distinction and oppression is a thread woven throughout the story.

The reader is given various views on the substance of the smoke. The scientific view is that the smoke is disease, while the religious view is that smoke is sin. There’s also the view that smoke is purely a way for the elite to oppress the lower classes, or that smoke is passion, animal instinct.

With all that, you’d think I’d be shouting “Wow!” from the rooftops, but…Smoke was good, but not great. It’s a well-crafted story, written evocatively and oft poetically…but it just lacked a bit of substance for me. It felt like Vyleta compromised on the tangible in favour of the philosophical; some readers will relish that, but by the end, I was left feeling a bit…empty.

Smoke includes all the aspects you’d expect from YA fiction: it is up to the teenagers to save the day, not all the adults are as trustworthy as they seem, and there is a girl torn between two boys (one kind, sweet, caring, the other bold and abrupt, the “bad boy”). Perhaps with this in mind, Smoke is more suited to the younger audience than a wizened old lady* like myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy reading this book, but it just fell short of the mark for me and so I can’t wax lyrical about it as much as I’d like to. Vyleta is a very good writer, but he just couldn’t capture me with Smoke.

Thanks heaps to Hachette New Zealand for my review copy.

 *not quite, but some days it feels like it!

Book Review: Yours Sincerely, Giraffe

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Yours Sincerely, Giraffe – Megumi Iwasa
To be published by Gecko Press in August 2016

Giraffe is bored, as usual. He’d love a friend to share things with. So he writes a letter and sends it as far as possible across the other side of the horizon. There he finds a pen pal called Penguin.

Oh my. I don’t even know how to begin describing this brilliant book, so I’m going to use the words Gecko Press have used in their press release: Yours Sincerely, Giraffe is “absurd and endearing”. Perfect.

The day our review copy arrived, I sat down with my biggest and asked if he wanted me to read him a chapter. He was busy building something from Lego (surprise, surprise), and agreed to one chapter. One chapter only. As I read, he crept closer and closer, and soon he was reading with me, urging me to keep turning the pages.

He loved it. He loved the simple line drawings on each page, and the handwritten letters that the pen pals exchanged. He thought Pelican, the postman, was hilarious, and that Whale, the professor, wasn’t really as smart as he made out. He thought Giraffe and Penguin were appropriate pen pals, and we talked a lot about why Giraffe might not know what Penguin looked like. He was fascinated by this concept, and after we’d finished reading, spent a lot of time talking about how else Giraffe could have interpreted Penguin’s description of himself.

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe is so clever, and its humour is perfect for schoolkids. It’s a fun story, and the illustrations are great and very appealing.

Thank you to Gecko Press for our review copy – my six-year-old thinks it’s awesome!

My Baby is FOUR

A Birthday Interview with PICKLE – age 4

Who is your favourite person in the whole world? Jack

What is your favourite colour? Red

What is your favourite dinner? Lasagna

What is your favourite thing to wear?  My knight’s costume

What is your favourite sport? Cricket! (Daddy was so proud!)

What is your favourite song? Bonkers (Dizzee Rascal; making Daddy proud again!)

What is your favourite cereal? Weet-Bix

Who is your best friend? All my friends.Finn, Graci, Max, Isla, Chloe…and Jack

What do you want to be when you grow up? An adult! (bahahahahaha) I’d like to cook dinners. (Me: do you mean like a chef?) I’d love to be a chef!

What is your favourite book? Tickle My Ears

What are your really good at? Playing board games

Where is your favourite place to go on holiday? Wanaka

What is your favourite memory? Going to Nana and Pops’ farm

If you had $1000, what would you buy? I’d go to the Toy [and Transport] Museum (in Wanaka) and buy a Playmobil knight with a dragon

What is your favourite vegetable? Cucumber

If you had one wish, what would you wish for? For Hulk to have a sword!

What is your favourite ice cream flavour? Chocolate chip

Who is your biggest hero? Hulk (ha – literally)

What do you like to do with your friends? Play

What is your favourite animal? Lion!

IMG_8224Happy, happy fourth birthday to our baby, our cuddly little Bear. You make us laugh countless times each day, with your infectious smile and the way you move to the beat of your own drum. You completed our family four years ago, and we love you a trillion!
xxxxx

Book Review & GIVEAWAY: Edmonds Best of Baking

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My nana was an atrocious cook but an utterly amazing baker. Her cream sponges and Neenish tarts were phenomenal, and she made the best griddle scones in the history of the world. I can remember her battered, tattered, splattered old copy of the Edmonds Cookbook, and the way she only used it to check that her memory of the recipes was right.

Hokey Pokey Biscuits

When asked if I’d like to review the new Edmonds Best of Baking, it was a no-brainer: I’ve grown up baking with Edmonds, and I knew that it would contain a variety of simple yet delicious, decadent, beautiful recipes that would appeal to my children, and to me. Recipes that wouldn’t need fancy, expensive or hard-to-find ingredients; recipes that would contain copious amounts of those current evils, butter and sugar, and would therefore taste amazing.

Choosing a recipe to try was difficult, purely because I bookmarked at least eleven on my first flick through. Once I’d narrowed it down, I still couldn’t choose between the finalists, so I didn’t: I made them all.

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First up were the Hokey Pokey Biscuits, which I remember my mum making when I was little. There really can’t be an easier or faster biscuit recipe than this – these tasty cookies were ready for eatin’ within half an hour of the decision to bake. My boys (including the adult one) loved them, and they didn’t last long; we like a chewy cookie so I cooked them for the shortest recommended time, and they were perfect. These have now made it to top spot on my “Help! I’m out of baking for the lunchboxes” list, due to the speed with which they’re ready, and the fact that I will always have all the ingredients in my pantry.

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Next I decided to try the lemon version of the Basic Biscuits. Again, these were super-easy and I had everything I needed, and the addition of the lemon zest made these wee cookies something special. They were buttery and a little like shortbread, zingy with lemon but not overpoweringly so. I turned these babies into spider cookies for my babiest one’s fourth birthday party, and unsurprisingly, there were none left! I’m keen to give the spice version a go soon.

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Lastly, on a bit of a whim, I made Chocolate Eclairs (also for the party table). Except I made chocolate puffs (piping the mixture as Cream Puffs, as suggested), filled with a white chocolate custard. I don’t know why people are scared of making eclairs and puffs, as they are incredibly easy; the Edmonds recipe was very straightforward and these puppies turned out brilliantly, despite the fact that I accidentally turned the power to the oven off during the second stage of cooking.

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There are many, many appealing recipes in Edmonds Best of Baking, some of which will be very familiar to those of us who’ve grown up in New Zealand. Each recipe is accompanied by beautiful photography which will have you drooling from page to page. It is said that we feast with our eyes first, and for me, a winning recipe book is one that features pictures of each dish, on which Edmonds Best of Baking definitely delivers. Based on the photos alone, I want to try making the Warm Gingerbread Date Cake (I KNOW!! Sounds amaaaaaazing, right?!), and the Honey Tea Buns next!

And guess what? You might get the chance to try them too, because the kind folks at Hachette New Zealand have given me an extra copy of Edmonds Best of Baking to give away to one lucky reader!

Simply comment below with your favourite item to bake, and you’re in the draw!

Competition closes on Friday 24 June, at 8pm (NZ time). Open worldwide.

5 Years of Blogging | GIVEAWAY |

| WINNER | @neo_crazybugs

On June 1st, 2011, I published my very first blog post. Then I sat back and hoped that someone, anyone, would read it.

Five years on, and I’m still going, grateful for all the someones who read that first post, for the friendships I’ve made through the mummy and New Zealand blogging communities, and for the moments in time captured in each post.

To celebrate Tall, Short, Tiny & a Pickle turning FIVE, I’ve put together a wee prize pack for one lucky reader.

5yearcompPRIZE DETAILS:  All Good colouring book | Coral Colours Eyeshadow Quartet in Mallee Spice | knitted-by-me ear warmer in teal (brighter than photo suggests) |  Essano Rosehip Gentle Facial Exfoliator | 3 pairs of made-by-me Rose stud earrings (black, salmon & aqua) | Whittakers Marlborough Sea Salt and Caramel Brittle chocolate |

TO ENTER: simply leave a comment below! For extra entries, visit me on Instagram and Facebook. Giveaway closes at 8pm on Thursday 16 June, 2016.

Please note: due to posting restrictions, this giveaway is open to NZ Residents (18+ years old) only.