Monday, August 29, 2011

Spring into Happiness...

 [Newly planted carnation, aster & alyssum]

With the glorious, sun-shiny weather we are having at the moment, it probably comes as no surprise that I spent a fair portion of my weekend outdoors, tending the garden.

[Left: Armeria, daffodils, golden daisies, blue marguerite daisies, and irises in the flowerbed.
Right: First buds on the apricot tree.]

It was so wonderful to be outside, to feel the warming sun on my skin, to hear the bees buzzing and watch the birds with their young, to admire the flowers in bloom and to watch the garden come back to life after a short but frosty winter.

[Strawberries, out of reach of the lizards!]

I pulled weeds, removed dead shrubs, pruned, fertilised, and planted carnation, aster, alyssum, and geranium in the new flowerbed to accompany the roses, along with strawberries in hanging baskets.

[Top: First rosebud; Bottom: Golden daisies.]

Bailey-dog and I visited the in-laws and came home with cuttings of succulents and lavender, which are now in pots readying themselves for a transfer to the garden beds at a later date.

If this wonderfully wonderful weather continues into next weekend I hope to start planting in the veggie patch, although having said that the raised beds are still a work in progress (SJ may well have a busy week in the garden himself!).

"Spring makes its own statement, so loud and clear that the gardener seems to be only one of the instruments, not the composer." ~Geoffrey B. Charlesworth

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sunrise of Avalon by Anna Elliott

Sunrise of AvalonSunrise of Avalon by Anna Elliott

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Whether she was here because she’d known, somehow, that he would be coming, or whether this was some mission of the king’s council. It didn’t matter. She’d have walked straight into any den of wolves, without flinching, without hesitation, if that was what had to be done."
- Sunrise of Avalon

Sunrise of Avalon is the third novel in Anna Elliott's Trystan and Isolde trilogy.

The novel begins where Dark Moon of Avalon left us: Britain is still in need of powerful allies to fight back against the threat of the traitor King Marche and his alliance with the Saxon king, Octa of Kent. Trystan has left Isolde in the relative safety of the abbey of Saint Eucherius whilst he attempts to rescue his friend Fidach, who is being held prisoner by the nasty Octa of Kent.

However, a new, more dangerous threat has risen from within the British alliance that must first be quelled in order for them to stand a chance against the combined armies of Marche and Octa. Trystan continues to be plagued by his past and his fear that he will never be good enough for the lovely Isolde, whilst Isolde holds a secret that could put them in even greater danger than what they already are. Miles apart yet seemingly always together, Trystan and Isolde once again risk their lives and their happiness for the greater good: The freedom of Britain and its people.

The legend of Trystan and Isolde has always been a story of love unfulfilled, and Sunrise of Avalon is, at the heart of it, a true love story. Anna Elliott has brilliantly fused the history of Britain with Arthurian legend and created, in my opinion, one of the greatest love stories ever told: At the root of it all - of everything Trystan and Isolde do and are forced to suffer - is an unrelenting desire to be together.

As with all of Elliott's work, Sunrise of Avalon is a beautifully written, well-researched novel that breathes new life into the Arthurian legend of Trystan and Isolde. The ending is so wonderfully poetic it brought tears to my eyes, and makes this novel my favourite of the three.

I highly recommend this trilogy to anyone who enjoys a perfectly constructed story, but especially to those who like historical fiction, fantasy and romance.

(Thanks to the publisher, Simon & Schuster, for allowing me to read and review this novel prior to publication date).

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Farewell to Winter Wednesday...

[The Spencer Gulf on this warm and sunny August day]

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.
~ Henry Van Dyke

August is drawing quickly to a close, and so is winter, most definitely!
August always can surprise with some truly beautiful - what some may even term perfect - weather, and this week so far has been just that: Clear blue skies, a slight breeze, and a warming sun.

I'm annoyed that I'm unable to get outdoors and truly enjoy this weather. I could be out in the garden, but alas! I'm stuck in the office instead.

No doubt this weather won't last for long: Soon it will be September and windy!

Winter Wednesday has been hosted by Hazel Dene.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pickle Monster's Sleeping Spot.

Our poor, sweet Bailey-dog (aka the Pickle Monster) has another ear infection, which we are now convinced - more than ever - is being caused by allergies (we just haven't yet narrowed down the culprit).
Today SJ is taking him to the vet to get some doggie antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.
Until he starts feeling better this is where we'll find him: Fast asleep in a tight little ball on our bed (isn't he just adorable?).

We can't bring ourselves to move him (he looks so comfortable and content), so it's a good thing he had a haircut and a wash on the weekend!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Dark Moon of Avalon by Anna Elliott.

Dark Moon of Avalon (Twilight of Avalon, #2)Dark Moon of Avalon by Anna Elliott

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"You train for it - day in, day out, snow or sleet or pouring rain. How to fight with a sword. Handle a shield. Throw a knife. Ride a horse into battle. You practice every day until you can barely stand up you're so tired at the end of it all. But you keep going. You get better. Better able to aim a spear, wield a sword. And then you actually fight a battle one day. And you realize that all of it - your whole life - has been directed at just one thing: teaching you how to kill. And that's all you know. How to fight to the death and win." - Dark Moon of Avalon by Anna Elliott

Dark Moon of Avalon is the second book in Anna Elliott's trilogy based on the legend of Trystan and Isolde.

Free from her forced marriage to the nasty King Marche, Isolde once again takes up the role of healer in the infirmary at Dinas Emrys, under the watchful eye of new High King Madoc and the Council. Skirmishes are taking place daily between Britain and the Saxons, and with British Kings having turned their coats to side with the enemy, Britain is in desperate need of reliable allies.

Isolde decides that their only hope of beating the Saxon forces lies in King Cerdic, a Saxon king who was once allied with her long-deceased father, Modred. Enlisting Trystan as her guide and guard, she persuades King Madoc to let her make the dangerous treck through Saxon territory in order to meet with King Cerdic.

In love with Isolde but haunted by past battles and time spent as a slave, Trystan believes himself unworthy of her, although to the reader it is clear that Isolde feels the same way about him as he does of her. However, Isolde carries deep scars from her marriage to Marche, and fears that events in her past would diminish any affection that Trystan might hold for her. The journey they take together to find King Cerdic and secure his support for their cause becomes a journey of righting past wrongs and learning how to mend old wounds so they can start to face a possible future together.

Aside from a little repetition, Dark Moon of Avalon is an otherwise well-researched and beautifully written story that the author pieces together almost perfectly. Elliott's characters are wonderfully developed and impeccably brought to life, so much so that my favourite happens to be Cabal the war hound. For me these characters became so familiar that I needed to spend every waking hour with them, and then when I slept they joined me in my dreams. By the time I'd finished the book I felt I knew them inside-out, as if they were old friends! It was impossible not to dive straight into the final book...

The authors passion for her characters and the story being told is evident, and to quote my review of Twilight of Avalon - an opinion I wholeheartedly share for Dark Moon...: "Anna Elliott has pulled Trystan and Isolde out of the depths of legend and placed them in an historical context that makes the characters and events of this story appear real, tangible and believable, weaving through it just enough magic to maintain the element of mystique and intrigue that brought about the legend in the first place".

I highly recommend this book, but please note that it should only be read in its correct order (after Twilight of Avalon and before Sunrise of Avalon), otherwise it will likely end up being confusing and the emotional effect of the story as a whole will be lost.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Winter Wednesday: Red Sky at Morning.

“Like a red morn that ever yet betokened,
Wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field,
Sorrow to the shepherds, woe unto the birds,
Gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds.”
~ William Shakespeare (Venus & Adonis)

A red sunrise Tuesday morning proved to be the calm before the storm.
Last night there was thunder, lightning, rain and gale-force winds.
Windows rattled, loose iron clanged, and bins were upturned, sending wayward recyclables tumbling down the street.
Behind it has followed a cold, wet and windy Wednesday, in true mid-winter form.
(Don't know where spring has scampered off to).

Winter Wednesday is hosted by Hazel Dene.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Freddie Watson, haunted by the death of his brother, is travelling through the south of France in the winter of 1928, when he crashes his car in the Pyrenees during a snowstorm. Alone and freezing, Freddie wanders through the mountain forest until he arrives in Nulle, a quiet village grieving its own losses.

During his stay in Nulle, Freddie meets a young woman by the name of Fabrissa, the two sharing their respective stories of loss over the course of an evening. The following morning Freddie finds he has taken ill and is tended to by the gentle Madame Galy whilst he recovers. Unable to erase Fabrissa from his mind, he is bewildered when no one in the tiny village knows who she is or where she might be found. Adamant that her existence (and their subsequent acquaintance) is not the product of his fevered mind, Freddie takes it upon himself to search for the elusive Fabrissa, drawing him deep into the mountains and the heartbreaking history of the Cathars.

The Winter Ghosts is a reworking of Mosse's earlier novella, The Cave, and fits between her full length novels, Labyrinth and Sepulchre. Mosse's passion for her subject matter is evident, expertly connecting the histories of the Great War and the Cathars, and brilliantly describing Freddie and Fabrissa's pain of losing their loved ones so tragically.

The novel as a whole is deep, dark and brooding, emanating a distinct gothic feel that at times reminded me of works by Edgar Allen Poe and the Bronte sisters.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Winter Wednesday...No, really.

[Weather forecast from Willy Weather]

No, it's not a mistake! Even though we're officially still in the middle of winter, it is expected to reach 29 degrees Celsius today:
It would appear that Winter has gone on vacation, and Spring is temping in its place.

Winter Wednesday is hosted by Hazel Dene.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Dawn of Avalon & The Witch Queen's Secret by Anna Elliott.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Anna Elliott's novella Dawn of Avalon is set at the beginning of Arthurian legend, and tells the story of Morgan first meeting Merlin, and of Merlin first meeting the future King Arthur.

The narrator of this tale is a young Morgan Le Fay, half-sister to Arthur, who holds the power of The Sight (an ability to see the future). Dressed as a boy and under the guise of an assistant to the Druid Bron, Morgan is sent into Dinas Emrys to spy on Vortigen, enemy of her father, Uther. Whilst at Dinas Emrys, her abilities as a healer are required to tend to the wounds of a young Merlin, captured by Vortigen, and tortured endlessly for information that Merlin either cannot or will not divulge.

Merlin cannot remember his past, but like Morgan, he too can see the future, and as such they are both aware of the roles they will play in the life and death of their future king, Arthur. Together they set in motion the events that will bring about the defeat of Vortigen, and give birth to what is known today as the Arthurian legend.

Elliott has made Morgan Le Fay an innocent, likeable character, aware of what she will become but knowing she is powerless to stop it. Merlin is represented as a young man with no past, perfect to be moulded into the legendary wizard. The manner in which Elliott brings these two characters together feels as though it was the will of the Gods, who have carefully steered each onto the other's life path.

Even though Morgan and Merlin play important roles in Arthurian legend, it was refreshing to read a story where Arthur himself plays a minor part: It may be Arthur who becomes the focus of the myth, but it was the people around him that made it happen.

For me, Morgan Le Fay has always been one of the most intriguing characters of King Arthur's court, and I love that she is the narrator of this story. Elliott's passion for Arthurian legend is evident in this novella, which is well-researched, brilliantly written and easy to read. Elliott brings these characters out of myth and legend and makes them feel like real people.

The only disappointment was that this wasn't a full-length novel: Since having finished it, I find myself often thinking of this story, and of Elliott's Morgan and Merlin, who have clearly left a lasting impression. I harbour not-so-secret hopes that Elliott re-works this as a novel, or uses it as the beginning of another Arthurian-based series, told from the perspective of these two characters.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Witch Queen's Secret is a mini-novella that squeezes itself between the first two novels (Twilight of Avalon and Dark Moon of Avalon) of the author's Trystan and Isolde series.

It tells the story of Dera, a minor character in Twilight of Avalon, who has returned to Dinas Emrys to seek aid from the Lady Isolde when her son, Jory, falls ill. During her time spent at Dinas Emrys, she and Isolde learn of a treasonous plot, and Dera decides to risk her life and become a spy for the Lady Isolde in an attempt uncover the truth.

As with all of Elliott's work, The Witch Queen's Secret is well-written and researched, yet I found myself unable to enjoy this story as much as her others, even though Dera is an inherently likeable character: Down on her luck after her husband dies and with a young son to feed she is forced to become an army harlot just to survive, and after such a hard road travelled it is impossible not to want her story to end well. However, The Witch Queen's Secret ends so suddenly that Dera and Jory don't receive the solid conclusion and happy ending that I so badly wanted them to have, and which I feel they both deserved.

I would have liked more - another chapter or two at least! I can't help but feel that it was over just as it was starting to develop and take shape.

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