It’s been a bit quiet on the blog recently – a silence most of you will need no explanation for. Much as I always approach the summer holidays with a memory of how busy they’ve been in the past, I still get to this point and wonder how it could have been as busy as it actually ended up being.
We’ve been away a couple of times, which was lovely, exploring different parts of the UK and even enjoying some good weather for a change. There’s not a whole load of reading time on holidays once kids come along, but I was fortunate to grab a few moments this summer to read The Gardener’s Daughter by K.A. Hitchins.
The story is told from the perspective of 19-year-old Ava Gage. Having had a comfortable childhood, raised by brilliant botanist Theo Gage, and his long-term housekeeper/nanny Paloma, a chance discovery leads her to realise that Theo is, in fact, not her biological father.
Fuming at having been lied to for so long, Ava runs away, determined to find out who her father is. But her innocence is about to be destroyed, as she gets a job at the holiday park her deceased mother worked at, and finds herself ensconced in some pretty dark goings-on.
The plot gets thicker and thicker, and with the police in on the deception, there seems to be no way that Ava and her new detective-friend Zavier can break the cycle and see justice come about for those guilty of abuse and mistreatment.
I can’t say too much without giving away the plot – the book’s so good you’ll have to read it yourself! But allow me to say that the ending is very satisfying, and will leave you wanting more.
It’s not a genre I usually read, but I was thoroughly hooked by a host of very believable characters, as well as the highly evocative setting. Hitchins writes in a very meticulous and precise style, which took me a couple of chapters to get used to, but eventually grew to love, as the scene she painted became so alive in my mind.
The book has scarce mention of God, but the whole story is a Christian allegory, based on The Prodigal Son. This parable is a fabulous story, timeless, and appealing to those of all faiths and none, but I did feel that occasionally more could have been gained in The Gardener’s Daughter from not feeling so constrained by the parable – the allegory, I felt, still could have been very clear even with a few different aspects.
Another thing which slightly jarred was the mention of Facebook and ‘selfies’ – the book is set in 2003, when neither of these existed!
Still, none of these niggles were enough to kill my enjoyment of the book. I warmed to the characters, got wrapped up in the fictional town and locations described, laughed along at the humorous scenes, and was on the edge of my seat for several chapters towards the end, as the plot thickened and the climax approached.
The Gardener’s Daughter was fabulous summer reading for me, and will be fabulous Autumn reading for you! Simply click hereto order a copy for yourself or a friend (why not get an easy Christmas present under your belt for a friend or family member who loves to read?). It would make superb book club material too, as there would be plenty to discuss.
BUT – before you do – publisher Instant Apostle has given me a free copy to give away. To enter, simply join my mailing list here – or, if you’re already on, leave a comment below. Deadline this Saturday 1st September, 9pm BST.
Giveaway now closed – congratulations to Jenni who won!
Disclaimers: I was given a free copy of this book to review, but never publish reviews of anything I don’t enjoy, so you can be confident I’m telling the truth, and that this is in fact an excellent book! This blog post contains affiliate links – if you click through and make a purchase, I make a small commission at no extra cost to yourself, helping me to keep providing free articles on this blog. Thanks for your support!
Welcome to my monthly round-up! If you weren’t already aware, I share plenty of this stuff through the month on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Do check them out if you haven’t already – oh, and don’t forget to sign up to my mailing list if you’re not already on there…I promise not to spam you!
OK, don’t judge me, but this month I have mainly been reading about sex.
Before you judge (ha! I knew you were going to!), let me tell you just how great this book is. Sheila Wray Gregoire, the author, starts with the principle that, despite our culture telling us that the way to sexual fulfilment is to have multiple partners, the best sex is actually found in monogamous relationships, where two people have committed to each other for life.
That’s not the end of the story, though, is it? We all know that we live in a fallen world, and marriages aren’t always brilliant. So what I love about A Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex is that the author deals head-on with many of the problems that married couples might be dealing with, which could adversely affect their sex life: pornography, health problems, affairs, sexual activity before marriage, lack of friendship/socialising outside of the bedroom, and plenty more.
The author is very, VERY blunt in this book – and that’s actually what I really appreciated! Yes, she’s writing from a Biblical perspective, but she has none of the shame/taboo/embarrassment which, sadly, often arises from the church’s teaching on sex. She calls things for what they are, and encourages all of us to work on three sides of our sexual relationships: the physical side, the friendship side, and the spiritual side, with plenty of practical tips along the way.
Serving Without Sinking is an absolutely fab book to read if you’re feeling, or have ever felt, burnt out by Christian service. It’s full of grace and wise words, and helped me to realign my priorities and rethink why I’m doing what I’m doing. Find out more in this short video clip.
I’ve also been enjoying several of my downloads from the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle (which, I’m pleased to announce, will be on sale again in November – hurrah!). A few which have stood out for me: Choose Rest (a really great online course in Biblical self-care), Clutter: Sorted (a helpful and practical guide to decluttering), and DD and I are working through the 15 Minute Marriage Makeover (a short task to do each evening for a month, although realistically it will probably take us three…).
Barbecue season continued, although we ran out of steam a little after the World Cup, it has to be said.
It was our anniversary, and DD and I visited The Ivy, which opened in York last year. We were generously gifted a voucher for Christmas, so finally got round to using it!
The food was good, although we were quite surprised how ‘non-foody’ it was! We were expecting fine dining, and were presented with food which you might find on a gastropub menu. I tried to choose the most quirky items on the menu: a crispy duck salad for starters, followed by a monkfish and prawn Keralan curry, with a delicious chocolate bomb (and hot butterscotch sauce to melt it) for dessert.
It certainly didn’t disappoint in quality, but as folk who like more surprise and innovation when they eat out, we probably wouldn’t return.
We went to see James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt and – oh my goodness – it was one of my top five gigs ever! OK, so we were around 30 years younger than most of the audience, but I argue that these are the BEST sorts of gigs, because all the best songwriters are from the 1970s anyway!
Raitt has an incredible voice, and expert guitar skills, and I pondered how I might switch Missy’s allegiance over from Little Mix. It seems to me that a 70-year-old, fully-clothed woman who knows how to ROCK is a much stronger feminist influence for my daughter than four pitch-corrected young ladies who can barely put together one outfit between the four of them.
(Sorry, no offence, LM – your songs are catchy – but you’re not exactly the Bangles.)
James Taylor – well, what can I say? WOW. He’s still got it – the voice, the guitar, the humour – and he played ALL my favourite songs. You’ve got a friend, Something in the way she moves, Fire and rain, Carolina in my mind…they were all there.
AND I nearly died when he performed Carole King’s ‘Up on the Roof’, as this is actually her song, on which he duetted with her a few years ago, so I wasn’t expecting that he’d do it without her. But he did! And it was all kinds of spine-shiveringly fantastic!
(I shared the YouTube clip of their duet a little while back, but it’s so good that here it is again!)
ŪTaylor’s band were F.A.N.T.A.S.T.I.C. – all 11 of them! They couldn’t have complemented his songs any better – when you have a Brazilian samba percussionist, an incredible violinist and some stonkin’ brass players augmenting an already fabulous keys/guitars/drums outfit, could life actually get any better?
Stage and Screen
I went to see Hairspray with some friends and totally loved it! Despite only recognising a couple of the songs, they were all really singable and catchy, and the choreography was brilliant. A totally fun show which anyone can enjoy, even if you don’t know anything about it in advance.
Missy and I also went to see The Greatest Showman. Yeah, I know, we’re about 6 months behind everyone else, but cut us some slack – we spend our days managing chaos. What a brilliant film! Of course we knew most of the songs already (thank you YouTube and an obsessed 6 year old), and they’re great, but also the plot, the costumes, the acting, the dancing. Fabulous.
We saw it at the relaunch of our local community cinema which I’d never taken much notice of, but it was so lovely and I’m definitely going back! A bunch of film-mad volunteers have set this up, and it has such a lovely atmosphere. They even have an interval (with ice creams, yes), and a raffle – what’s not to love?! If you’re local, do check it out.
I guest-blogged for To Love, Honor and Vacuum (the blog of Sheila Wray Gregoire, see ‘Books’ above) Ten Ways to Enjoy Awesome Vacations – Even with Young Kids. I am hugely grateful to Sheila for giving me these opportunities to blog on her site and reach a Canadian/American audience! She’s worked so hard for so many years to build her blogging/writing/speaking ministry, and yet she is so generous in sharing her space with not just me, but many aspiring writers.
Writing What the Church needs to Know about Single Adopters for Home for Good was an informative and humbling experience. Please read it – it has the seal of approval from the many single adopters who contributed. This really is what they want the Church to know!
In order to research my piece on single adopters, I found this Christian adopter’s Open Letter to her Church incredibly articulate and incisive.
This piece, on Sheila’s blog, about Vashti – upholding her as a strong feminist icon in the Bible – is just brilliant. It had crossed my mind before that Vashti had been unfairly treated, but I hadn’t given her much more thought to be honest, so I loved the way Sheila totally unpacked this.
*This stands for ‘In Real Life’, and I am so cool that I’ve only just realised it. I’ve decided to henceforth adopt it for this section of the ‘What I’m Into’ posts, and probably overuse it other blog posts. You’ve been warned.
* We had nits. Again. Urgh.
* PTA stuff stayed busy, with our end-of-term disco, plus three ‘Freeze Fridays’, where the lollies and ice creams we sold went down very well in July’s hot weather. We had a new committee member join us, and our Treasurer stepped down. Highs and lows, but looking forward to a new year with excitement! (I’m planning to blog about my PTA experiences soon – would this be of interest to anyone? If any of you are PTA people, please wave a flag in my direction – it would be great to know!)
* Mister went to camp for five days without us. In case you didn’t quite get the enormity of that: I am old enough to have a child who can go to camp for five days without us. This is HUGE. He had an amazing time, went abseiling and kayaking, made new friends, remembered to change his underwear most days, and didn’t want to come home. I, on the other hand, felt like a piece of me was missing for five days, and wept like I’d lost him in battle. Save me, Jesus.