Vegan Beckles – A New Food Place!

This is just a quick post to let you know that all of my vegan and food related posts will now be over at Vegan Beckles.

I’m doing this just to make it easier on you guys so you can follow whichever blog you’re interested in without getting all of the extra stuff!

Writing Beckles will now primarily be for my book reviews and writing whereas Vegan Beckles will have my weekly food updates, cook book reviews and vegan rants.

There may be some crossover but hopefully it will make things a bit simpler!

I also would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to everybody who reads my blog. I love you all and it makes my day when you leave me comments so thank you!

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Review – Splintered by A.G. Howard


This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.
When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own”

This is one of those rare books that I immediately went out and bought and that was not in my to-read pile for long! I discovered this novel when I was looking at my top ten 2013 debuts that I was looking forward to. Everything attracted me to it! The cover is of course beautiful and I am definitely a sucker for a good book cover. Alice in Wonderland has always been one of my favourite stories and I was very excited when the Tim Burton film came out. I’ve also always been attracted to retellings of fairy tales so this book definitely ticked all the boxes!

The premise for this novel is a brilliant one. Alyssa Gardner is descended from Alice Liddell, the little girl who first inspired Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland tale. Madness has been diagnosed in all of the women in her family who all get to a certain age before they start rambling about teacups and rabbits. Alice spends her life dreading her fate while visiting her mother in a mental institute every week. She is an immediately likeable character who every misfit will relate to. Her quirky fashion sense and alternative art make her the perfect teenage heroine and link her unknowingly to the creatures of Wonderland. Jeb is also a brilliant character and the love triangle was an excellent addition to the story. My favourite character in the novel however was Morpheus. The descriptions of him sound breathtaking and he is such a multi-layered character.

Wonderland itself is very Burton-esque and Howard mentions how she was inspired by Tim Burton in the acknowledgements at the end of the book. Every character from the Mad Hatter (Hattington) to the Cheshire Cat (Chessie) and the White Rabbit (Rabid) has had a dark makeover which leaves you wanting more. The landscape sounds brilliant and Wonderland is full of gothic magic. It’s all much better than I imagined when I first heard of this book and I’m now desperate for a sequel! (Please!). I’m not into spoilers on this blog but during the last few chapters I could not put this book down. It was full of surprises and twists and did not end in the way I was expecting.

I’ll leave it there before I give anything away! If you’re a fan of retellings, Tim Burton, Wonderland or any one of those three things I urge you to give this book a try. You’ll love it.

Have you read Splintered or is it on your to-read list?

Book Review – Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris

 

“Beyond the main street of Les Laveuses runs the Loire, smooth and brown as a sunning snake – but hiding a deadly undertow beneath its moving surface. This is where Framboise, a secretive widow named after a raspberry liquer, plies her culinary trade at the creperie – and lets memory play strange games.

Into this world comes the threat of revelation as Framboise’s nephew – a profiteering Parisian – attempts to exploit the growing success of the country recipes she has inherited from her mother, a woman remembered with contempt by the villagers of Les Laveuses. As the spilt blood of a tragic wartime childhood flows again, exposure beckons for Framboise, the widow with an invented past.”

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Joanne Harris I’ve always considered as a hit and miss author. Now I realise there is a pattern to the books I liked that were written by her. The first book I read by Joanne Harris was Chocolat and I fell in love with it. It was probably the first novel I’d read that was set in a different country to the UK and I loved the idea of a little french village. I then read Blackberry Wine which I loved for similar reasons. I was therefore quite surprised when I tried Holy Fools and got bored. I then realised what it was that made me love the first two books. Joanne Harris has a remarkable talent for portraying the emotions and family ties caused by food. It’s the one thing that always manages to bring people together. I therefore tried Five Quarters of the Orange and it turns out I was right, I loved it.

This novel switches from the present day Framboise to when she was a child. This confused me at first but it was a brilliant  way of writing and creating suspense as I desperately tried to get to the end to find out what it was that made the adult Framboise so ashamed of her childhood.

The chapters that were based on the younger Framboise were my favourites. As a child she grew up on a french farm and spend most of her time tending crops and making food such as jam. It always sounds like such a wonderful life! I’d missed the bit about the war when I read the back of this book which is lucky because it usually puts me off. However this was a very interesting angle on the war, there were little or no bombings and the terror of wartime childhood wasn’t portrayed at all. This might because Framboise and her siblings grew up on a village farm where the threats were lower. The german soldiers buying information from the children was really interesting to me as I’d never heard of it before. I’ll stop there because I don’t want to give to much away!

The older Framboise’s story didn’t grip me quite as much but it served as a teaser and kept me reading because I wanted to find out what had happened in her childhood. I liked the idea of her little creperie though and the scrapbook left by her mother was a beautiful addition. I love the idea of a recipe scrapbook slash diary and it just adds to what I was saying before about food and emotions.

All in all I really enjoyed this novel. I didn’t speed through it like I do with the novels that really grip me but I did want to keep reading. It definitely restored my faith in Joanne Harris but from now on I’ll look for titles with food in them!

Have you read this book? What do you think of novels based on the emotional aspects of food and family life?

The Passing of an Old Friend and Some New Arrivals

Firstly let me apologise for me going AWOL for the last seven days! It’s been one weird week!

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I’m sad to announce that our black furry friend Wicca was put to sleep last week after a brave fight with Lymphoma. Wicca had been with us for 7 years. He first came to us as a tiny bundle of black fluff with sky blue eyes (that later changed colour). He was extremely shy when we first got him but came out of his shell and became a valued member of our family. He was often described as a bit over domesticated as he was an extremely spoilt house cat! He had some amazingly human mannerisms and we often had conversations! Wicca became ill in December 2012 and was diagnosed with acute kidney failure. He fought very bravely though and the vet was extremely surprised when we took him in on Christmas eve to find that he’d improved a lot. Sadly two weeks ago we were told that the cause was likely to be lymphoma and although he fought on for another week we had to take him to the vet last Thursday. He will be sadly missed.

R.I.P. Wicca Vlad McWilliams

01/07/2005 – 14/03/2013

However, not one for sad endings I have some new additions to the family to introduce to you!

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Meet Simba and Mylo!

Simba (on the left) is 6 months old and Mylo is 10 months. These two lovely boys were adopted from a lady who couldn’t keep them anymore due to a dog in the house. They came to us only yesterday and have already caused havoc! Simba is a lovely playful and mischievous kitten, we suspect that he is the boss of the pair. Mylo seems to have just reached maturity and has what my mum refers to as “teenage angst”. This means that poor Simba is having a bit of a rough time of it as Mylo tries his hardest to mate with him! They’re booked in to be neutered so hopefully the problem will soon be solved. They’re a beautiful pair though and spend a lot of time playing together, bathing each other and sleeping on each other (as can be seen in the photo above!). I’m sure you’ll be seeing more of these kittens as time goes on!

Top Ten Tuesday – Ten Books To Read In Spring

toptentuesdayTop Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme held over at The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme is the top ten books I want to read in Spring. I want to get through quite a few books that I already have on my shelves rather than buying new ones but there are some I need to get!

New Books

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The Art of Wishing – Lindsay Ribar

I’m not sure I’ve ever read a novel about a genie. Vampires yes, werewolves yes. Genies? I’m fascinated!

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Phantom – Laura DeLuca

This looks amazing. It comes out at the end of this month and I need to acquire a copy ASAP!

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Broken – A.E. Rought

I want this one for similar reasons as Phantom. This is based on Frankenstein and looks amazing.

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Cinder – Marissa Meyer

It seems that everyone is reading this one. I know it’s either going to be amazing or I’ll hate it. I think it’s the cyborg aspect that puts me off a bit but I need to try it.

Already On My TBR Shelf

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Splintered – A.G. Howard

I now have a copy of this so I think it will be my next read! I love anything Wonderland and this has received a lot of good reviews!

 

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The Understudy – David Nicholls

I loved One Day and Starter For Ten so this is next on my TBR list.

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The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe – Douglas Adams

I read A Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy a few months ago and loved it. It’s definitely time to read the next in the series!

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Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

Another book that everyone seems to be reading! I’ve had this on my TBR shelf for a while and love the look of it.

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What On Earth Evolved? 100 Species That Changed The World – Christopher Lloyd

I started this last year and it’s a fascinating read. I seem to pick it up every so often and then put it back again so I really want to finish it.

Something to Re-Read

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Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

I’m desperate to read this again. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this book. It’s my favourite novel of all time and sometimes I just need to read it!

What are you reading this season?

 

Happy International Women’s Day

Inequality between men and women is still more common than you would think, even in this country. In the UK one in four women are paid less than £7 an hour which is double the number of men in the same situation. Women’s median hourly pay is 21% less than men’s despite the fact that girls are more likely to enter higher education than boys. In other countries the problem is also serious. Out of all of the people living in poverty in the world , the majority are women. There are many reasons for this including lack of education, discrimination and domestic violence.

This is why International Women’s Day is as important as it ever was. Use today to celebrate the women in your life. Use it to think of those less fortunate than you are. Use it to argue against the inequalities that still exist in the 21st century even in developed countries.

I urge you to find your local event and join in. You can make a difference.

(figures from Oxfam)

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Series I Want To Read!

toptentuesdayTop Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme held over at The Broke and the Bookish. This week the theme is top ten series that I want to read but haven’t yet. My list contains some series that I’ve started and some that I haven’t got around to yet!

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1) A Song of Ice and Fire – George R.R. Martin

Everyone raves about this series so I think I should at least give the first one a try!

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2) The Dark Tower Series – Stephen King

Another one that every other Stephen King fan has read but me. I actually have these books on my shelves so I’ve got no excuse!

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3) The Vampire Chronicles – Anne Rice

I am a huge fan of vampire novels but I still haven’t read these yet! I started Interview with the Vampire when I was a lot younger and got bored but I’m definitely going to try it again.

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4) The Chocolat Series – Joanne Harris

I loved Chocolat but it has been a while since I read it. I recently bought the sequel to this (The Lollipop Shoes) and apparently there is a third one coming! I need to catch up!

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5) Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy – Douglas Adams

I’ve only read the first novel of this series but I loved it. Again, I’ve got the whole series on my shelf so no excuse!

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6) Discworld Series – Terry Pratchett

I think I’ve mentioned this before but I’m totally confused about where I’m up to in this series! I think I need to reread from the beginning!

Are there any series you need to read?

Old Poetry – Destiny

Autumn seems like so long ago now that spring is popping up everywhere! This poem was written in November last year after I was inspired by the crunching leaves under my feet. I got thinking about the circle of life and this is what I came up with.

 

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Brown, burgundy and gold.

These are the leaves of old.

Played the part they had to play,

They have now been tossed away.

What a sad life it must be,

Clinging fearlessly to the tree

Tree Felling at Ainsdale Pine Woods – Is it Necessary?

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As you may have noticed from the photos posted on Wednesday, one of my favourite places to visit is the pine woods that stretch from Formby to Ainsdale, along the Sefton coast. The woods and sand dunes combined support a number of endangered species including the Natterjack Toad (Epidalea calamita), Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis) and, most famously, the Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris). They are also the home to many other species including birds and rabbits.

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(L-R) Natterjack Toad, Sand Lizard and Red Squirrel

Recently when I’ve gone past the woods I’ve noticed huge piles of timber next to the pathways. It wasn’t until I ventured into the woods that I noticed the damage. Huge chunks of trees have been chopped down leaving open spaces and lots of debris on the floor. The floor itself had been churned up by the wheels of heavy vehicles such as tractors or JCB’s. I was reminded of this photo which I saw on Facebook last week.

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It got me thinking about whether it could be for any good reason that the trees were being cut down. I thought about the pros and cons and then decided to do some research into tree felling in general and the management of the pine woods.

One of my main worries was that the biodiversity would be affected due to a reduced number of trees causing a loss of habitat or loss of food. I also worried that by churning up the woodland floor with heavy machinery (as can be seen below), the habitats of invertebrates and small shrubs and plants would be destroyed.

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 Surprisingly all conifer woodland in Britain was planted rather than growing naturally. They therefore support a much smaller number of species than broadleaved woodlands (such as oak) as British fauna did not evolve to eat the pine cones from these mostly American trees. The biodiversity of the Ainsdale Pine Woods is therefore relatively low to begin with.

Although the majority of trees in the woods are pine (Corsican, Austrian and Scot) there are also small numbers of oak and beech trees present. These need to be kept to a minimum as not only are they invasive themselves, they support invasive animals such as the Grey Squirrel which can outcompete the Red Squirrel. Although this does decrease the biodiversity of the woods it also protects the habitat of the endangered Red Squirrel which is ultimately the goal.

Large empty spaces in the woods can be detrimental to invertebrates that feed on dead wood and fungi species. A lack of naturally fallen trees is also bad for these species. However in this case it is not something worth worrying about as pine trees support a very small number of invertebrates anyway. In addition to this, many bird species prefer open ground and the increased sunlight means that woodland flowers and shrubs can flourish.

A huge threat to the pine woods is the disease Dothistroma pini. One way to decrease the likelihood of any trees becoming infected is to keep the density of trees low so there is increased airflow through the woods which stops any damp. It is also best to use a variety of different species of tree in the forest so that species specific diseases do not develop.

After trees are removed from the woods the law says that new trees must be planted. As you walk through Ainsdale pine woods you find young trees at various levels of growth. The species of tree chosen for this purpose always depends on what is best for the animals living in the woods. Red Squirrels favour pines and larches so these are always chosen first.

A problem that I have not found an answer to is that tree felling does not allow the woodland to naturally come to its own structure and composition. As many of the trees are introduced species though, it may be better if the woodland is controlled so that native and invasive species cannot take over.

In conclusion I cannot think of the tree felling as a negative process but one that needs to be done. It does look miserable when you see large piles of timber next to the woods and large empty spaces inside but it seems it is the best thing for both the trees and the animals that live in the habitat. The only thing I am left wondering about is whether the churning up of the forest floor has any negative impacts. It seems to me that any plants that are just starting to grow will be uprooted and any invertebrates or small animals disturbed.

What do you think? Is tree felling a necessary process or should woodlands be left to evolve and develop in their own way?

 If you’d like to visit the pine woods along the Sefton coast, they can be easily reached from Formby, Freshfield or Ainsdale train stations. For more information on the woods please have a look at their website.

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