As I’ve just finished the busiest period of the year for birthdays in my family, I thought I’d take a look back at the second busiest month – January. And I’m going way back, back when Covid was just something on the news that would probably just blow over (yeah right…). So we’ll travel back to early 2020, to my oldest son’s fourth birthday, when the only thing he had any interest in was Frozen.
Absolutely everything was Frozen. Frozen bouncy castle, Frozen decorations, Frozen dressed, and of course a Frozen Cake. My son lived in the Elsa dress he’d gotten for Christmas, and with his friends coming dressed up too, we had Elsas everywhere!
As a Frozen cake had been requested, I set about coming up with ways I could make the cake look icy. In the end I went with the geode cake, using sugar crystals and food colouring to create the frozen look. I must admit I wasn’t completely sure what to do about the top of the cake, and the candle arrangement always makes me think of the Iron Throne, perhaps if the Night King claims it.
My son talks non-stop about the idea of having another birthday party. This year we were able to blow out candles with the family over Zoom, so we’ll have to wait and see what next year brings. He’s moved on from his Frozen phase, but if his current likes are anything to go by, I’ll be making either a rainbow cake, unicorn cake, She-Ra cake, or a cake that encompasses all three!
As a new feature on the blog, I’ve decided to add reviews of all the books I’ve read in the month. I need to give myself a kick up the bum to remember to leave reviews, and hopefully this’ll also help me to get better at writing them. The amount of books I read each month will not doubt be varied. I listen to audiobooks while working the day job (artworking greeting cards and designing book covers), but don’t tend to read at all while I’m writing. There may be months where I’ve nothing to review, and there may be months like this one, where there’s a whole bunch of them!
The Omehi people have been fighting an unwinnable fight for almost two hundred years. Their society has been built around war and only war. The lucky ones are born gifted. One in every two thousand women has the power to call down dragons. One in every hundred men is able to magically transform himself into a bigger, stronger, faster killing machine.
Everyone else is fodder, destined to fight and die in the endless war. Young, gift-less Tau knows all this, but he has a plan of escape. He’s going to get himself injured, get out early, and settle down to marriage, children, and land. Only, he doesn’t get the chance. Those closest to him are brutally murdered, and his grief swiftly turns to anger. Fixated on revenge, Tau dedicates himself to an unthinkable path. He’ll become the greatest swordsman to ever live, a man willing to die a hundred thousand times for the chance to kill the three who betrayed him.
I wanted to start reading this one after watching an interview with author Evan Winter. The story sounded right up my street, and it didn’t disappoint in the slightest. Tau is a character driven by his own selfish reasons, who would likely let the world burn as long as he got his vengeance in the process. I found myself often comparing it to The Poppy War, with the main character joining the military, being overtaken by war, and being hell bent on their quest. Even when Tau made decisions so terrible I shouted at my phone (listening via Audiobook), I understood exactly where he was coming from. I couldn’t get enough of this book, which is why I immediately started the sequel.
It’s also worth noting that while this book is now published by Orbit, it was originally self-published. This book is a shining example of just how good self-published books can be.
Desperate to delay an impending attack by the indigenous people of Xidda, Tau and his queen craft a dangerous plan. If Tau succeeds, the queen will have the time she needs to assemble her forces and launch an all-out assault on her own capital city, where her sister is being propped up as the ‘true’ Queen of the Omehi.
If the city can be taken, if Tsiora can reclaim her throne and reunite her people, then the Omehi might have a chance to survive the coming onslaught.
A fab sequel, just as strong as its predecessor. I loved the direction the story took, especially getting to know the rest of Tau’s troop. I’m also a bit of a sucker for a romantic subplot, and just as with the last book, this one was very well done. I’m now impatiently awaiting the third in the series!
The greatest empire of them all began with a road.
The Circle – a thousand miles of perilous forests and warring clans. No one has ever tamed such treacherous territory before, but ex-soldier Teyr Amondsen, veteran of a hundred battles, is determined to try.
With a merchant caravan protected by a crew of skilled mercenaries, Amondsen embarks on a dangerous mission to forge a road across the untamed wilderness that was once her home. But a warlord rises in the wilds of the Circle, uniting its clans and terrorising its people. Teyr’s battles may not be over yet . . .
All roads lead back to war.
Not an easy one to read, with certain scenes requiring me to make an effort towards emotional distance to get through them. I shall avoid spoilers, but if you can’t read books where children are killed, this one may not be for you. Still, despite that, this book did something I really appreciated. I’ve read a few books recently where it seemed that part of what made the strong female lead so strong was a refusal to have children. Sometimes it’s because of society, sometimes it’s because they’ll get in the way of the quest, but it grates on me. I don’t think it should be the case that when I try to name strong females in fantasy that are also mothers, only the likes of Cersei Lannister come to mind… So this book, with a lead who could be both badass and care for her adopted children, was much needed. All in all the book is brutal and heart wrenching, but worth it.
The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.
Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.
Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.
In this book, I found the magic more interesting than the characters (at least until about half way in). The book follows four story lines, and I must admit I was only particularly interested in one of them (Jovis), until another character’s story joined his. Main character Lin has lost her memories, and once I pieced together the mystery surrounding this one I found myself far more interested in the book, which I found to end on a stronger note than it started. I’m still intrigued by the story enough to be interested in a sequel, but in a month of strong reads, this one became forgettable.
A mother and daughter with a shared talent for healing—and for the conjuring of curses—are at the heart of this dazzling first novel
Conjure Women is a sweeping story that brings the world of the South before and after the Civil War vividly to life. Spanning eras and generations, it tells of the lives of three unforgettable women: Miss May Belle, a wise healing woman; her precocious and observant daughter Rue, who is reluctant to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a midwife; and their master’s daughter Varina. The secrets and bonds among these women and their community come to a head at the beginning of a war and at the birth of an accursed child, who sets the townspeople alight with fear and a spreading superstition that threatens their newly won, tenuous freedom.
Magnificently written, brilliantly researched, richly imagined, Conjure Women moves back and forth in time to tell the haunting story of Rue, Varina, and May Belle, their passions and friendships, and the lengths they will go to save themselves and those they love.
I found this book while going through the Fantasy section on BorrowBox, which definitely led me to believe this book was something it wasn’t. That isn’t a bad thing, the story was great, but where I had expected a story of essentially mother and daughter witches with the American Civil War as a backdrop, this was an in-depth story of a mother and daughter struggling through slavery and ‘freedom time’. Another difficult read which including many dying children. After one such death around the middle of the book, I considered whether or not to stop reading, but I persevered and it was well worth it. It’s harrowing and cuts deep in a way history book can’t. I picked this one up mistakenly, and I’m glad I did.
Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best — the meanest, dirtiest, most feared crew of mercenaries this side of the Heartwyld.
Their glory days long past, the mercs have grown apart and grown old, fat, drunk – or a combination of the three. Then an ex-bandmate turns up at Clay’s door with a plea for help. His daughter Rose is trapped in a city besieged by an enemy one hundred thousand strong and hungry for blood. Rescuing Rose is the kind of mission that only the very brave or the very stupid would sign up for.
It’s time to get the band back together for one last tour across the Wyld.
Given that my previous read had been a tough one, this book was well needed. So many laugh out loud moments (especially the scene involving an erectile disfunction potion thrown mid battle). The humour is just as juvenile as I am, and I’m giggling in nearly every scene. My other half is a musician, so I’ve been recommending this one to all his fantasy loving bandmates. This book skirts the edges of grimdark with its characters, but unlike many others that are great but harrowing, this is just so much fun, and sometimes that’s all you need in a book.
On my actual birthday, my other half decided I shouldn’t have to make my own birthday cake, and so he and my boys chose one from the local supermarket. In my humble opinion, it was a tad dry, but I shan’t hold that against them. My youngest helped blow out the candles (he’s a little obsessed with that) and managed not to spit across the whole thing. Bonus.
Compared to last year’s birthday in a full lockdown, this year my birthday fell the week restrictions were lifted and I ate inside a restaurant for the first time in over a year! Quite the surreal experience. I should also have been able to have 30 in the garden, with a BBQ planned, but I didn’t get so lucky with the weather. Blooming rain. but these cupcakes were made with such things in mind, as I figured cupcakes could more easily be given away at the door or saved for another day. My oldest is rainbow and unicorn mad, and seeing as he has a winter birthday, I made this tower with him in mind–something for him while the rest in the family all do our birthday’s within one star sign.
I also can’t resist showing off all the books I have piling up to read, along with a few other pressies. These days most of my reading is done via audiobook, whether through Audible or BorrowBox, but come Birthdays and Christmases I put a little list together to get a few physical books. I’m also enjoying my nerdy T-shirts. I’m sure most can recognise Grogu (or at least Baby Yoda), but for reference, the other is the Wanderer from Shadow of the Colossus (so I got two Shadow of the something presents!), which I may or may not have played through 4 times in a month….
So in conclusion, Happy Birthday me. I’ve got lots of reading to do now!
Here’s to another working week over and another Saturday Cake Day. This week I want to be a little sentimental with the cake I show off. Pandemic aside, it’s been a tough few years for my family. First, we lost my mother-in-law, then just as she passed her husband was also diagnosed with leukemia. Sadly, he lost his battle with cancer a year later (almost to the day), just as the UK went into lockdown. We’ve still not been able to have a funeral. Then, as if on cue, my father was diagnosed with bowel cancer. At first it was all very treatable, he had surgery and chemotherapy, but this January we found out it was terminal. Luckily, he has passed the year marker and has broken the cycle my family seemed to be stuck in. Though there are a lot of ups and downs, lots of hospital visits, he’s still going strong.
Now I’ve started this somewhat miserable Saturday Cake Day with a few negatives, so you can see why I choose to focus on the positives! After about fifteen years of being engaged, my dad and his fiancee decided to finally tie the knot. So I went into full wedding mode!
With pandemic restrictions we weren’t allowed to attend the wedding, but we got dressed up to join the ceremony and speeches online (I even taught my Grandma how to use Facebook video calls so she could see her son getting married). The (very loose) theme of the day was navy and rose gold, so I made a foil lined prosecco cake. I would normally stuff that sort of cake with berries, but as it had to travel and be kept fresh for a week before the wedding, I decided to avoid this as I wasn’t certain how well the fruit would freeze.
Even though the wedding had four in-person guests with the reception being held in my dad and step-mum’s living room, I still made them place names, a cake topper, and with the boys we made cans to attached to car (personalising each can from different family members).
The wedding went well, though was a little hard to hear and my grandma couldn’t work out how to mute or stop commenting throughout the ceremony! We had guests from Spain, Greece, and Australia, the sort of worldwide wedding only the pandemic can create.
Congratulations to my dad and Tracy, married 11th March 2021!
And no, this isn’t the Leaning Tower of Wedding Cake, you’ll need to be patient for that one!
I know it’s been a while since my last cake day. In my defence there has been a pandemic, a flour shortage, and–closer to home–building work taking my kitchen out of action for a while. But it’s back and ready to get your appetites going. As well as my recent exploits, I’ll add those I’ve created previously (do look out for ‘The Leaning Tower of Wedding Cake!).
Kicking off Saturday Cake Day will be a fault line dinosaur cake! Fault line cakes are often sparkly creations, but I took the love idea and turned it into digging for bones! The bones were created using white modelling chocolate, and given that it was a very hot day, it was sticky business. But it had the desired effect, as my boys enjoyed finding and eating the dino skeleton.
I was fairly convinced I’d get the fault line wrong and it would all go to pot, but in the end it turned out the hardest bit was trying to get handfuls of sprinkles to stick to the buttercream icing (curse you gravity!). I made have cheated and used toy dinosaurs as the cake toppers, but there were well appreciated, regardless. ‘Lophus’ (Parasaurolophus to the rest of us) was a particular favourite of the birthday boy.
Hope you’ve enjoyed the Saturday Cake Day update! Keep and eye out for more 🙂
I read an early version of Learning to Fly and loved it. I’ve also read all the previous Spinner’s Game books, but this isn’t necessary and first time readers can easily jump in here.
I’ve always considered myself a history nerd, but Cripsina Kemp puts me to shame. Her love of the subject matter is clear in every word she writes and makes the reader care for it just as much. You don’t need to have knowledge of William the Conqueror’s era to get into this book (though it helps), but even those who know that story will be fascinated by all the behind the scenes details weaved into this book.
Main character Neve’s struggle is very relatable as is her difficult relationship with Asar Raesan. He was a character both lovable and hatable at different times in the Spinner’s Game, and he doesn’t disappoint here. Sometimes I wanted to give him a hug, other times I wanted to throw my iPad across the room in the hopes he might feel it!
The story jumps between our time and the 11th Century, with both stories so compelling you’re never bored.
All in all, this is a great continuation to the Spinner’s Game, and definitely worth a read (especially if you love history!)
Who remembers last week’s cake? The spectacular beauty that was the Spider Spunk Cake? It turns out I made double the amount of low sugar buttercream for that one, and I hate waste. I was faced with two options: I could eat buttercream icing from a piping bag till I vomited or I could bake something else to use it for. As I’ve not yet had a heart attack brought on from consuming a brick’s worth of butter, it’s fair to assume I baked more cakes. And I had the perfect occasion for it. Here they are, my red velvet cupcakes.
My sister-in-law had organised a couple of her bridesmaids a hair trial (myself included), which was to be hosted at my house. So with the help of my son Dara, who loves weddings and baking, we made cupcakes for the occasion. I gave decorative icing a good old try and for the most part, they looked okay.
This cake was named by husband Alex. After letting my three-year-old decorate it, Alex remarked it looked like Spider-man had bust a nut over it… Beautiful.
For todays’s cake I finally made the perfect buttercream: it didn’t take me ages and was perfectly white. I fudged the recipe and I whipped the butter for a full ten minutes. Delicious! And I’ve enough of it left over to make cupcakes! You’ll be seeing those next week no doubt.
At my brother’s request, ’twas his birthday, it is a chocolate cake with peanut butter filling. I wanted to put Reese’s Pieces in it, but couldn’t find any in my local Sainsbury’s. Huh. So never mind.
I used icing left over from the Marble Whale Cake. It had gone a bit hard in the fridge, but I microwaved it and chopped off the bad bits. I wouldn’t do that normally, but I don’t like waste and thought my brother would appreciate how grim it looked. And he did. Before three-year-old Dara piped icing over it, it looked like some sort of weird alien tomb.
And then Dara decorated it and it looked like the aftermath of a good night in for Spider-man. And we all enjoyed eating it!!!
So who’s excited for another Saturday Cake Day? My tastebuds a salivating at the thought.
Today’s one is a special cake, but one that comes with all my usual whoopsies and kerfuffles. So to begin, I’ll set the scene.
Way way waaaay back in 2011, I married Alex. And being the economical skinflints that we are, we had a team of friends help throughout the day with tasks such as photography and the band. Enter Alex’s friend Gary on the drums. And Alex’s sister (also my bridesmaid) Gabby had a falling out with her plus one a day or two before the wedding, so instead she brought best friend Claire. After a touch of meddling from Gabby and I, a relationship began and in December 2018 the pair were married! They’re now expecting their first baby in November.
Following the new trend of a Baby Gender Reveal (I’m sure this wasn’t a thing when I was pregnant–last year!) Claire asked me to make them a cake that would either be pink or blue when they cut it open, revealing the sex of their baby. Is this a thing to everyone’s tastes? I don’t know, I suppose I was sceptical when I saw hints of this trend appearing on the internet, but actually it was lovely. The perfect excuse to gather all your family together and celebrate the coming of a new baby. With delicious cake!
So here’s my fun journey…
If you read my previous cake blog–the Practice Cake–you’ll have seen that my first venture into cake dying wasn’t the best. This time I bought super powerful dye, the kind so strong I can confirm it will change the colour of your poop. Had my baby, who’d had a few cake offcuts to much that morning, decided to soil himself mid party, guests would probably have had a fairly good indication as to the mystery colour inside the cake. So, yeah, this dye worked.
This cake was to be two layers, the biggest I’ve made yet. To give some indication of the size, I used 1kg of flour and 16 eggs. And it turns out this may have been too much, as I had a little mishap in the oven…
So I wanged a baking tray under it and snacked on what spilled out! Oh and that little cake tin is what I scraped off the spoon after Alex told me he was hungry!
As a topper for the cake I decided to try dying four white roses (two pink and two blue). How hard could that be? I’d watched loads of youtube tutorials… Well, after ordering the flowers, apparently rain and a bank holiday in Holland meant my roses didn’t arrive. But luckily the florists were really helpful. Advised me on nice white flowers for a cake topper and I came home and put them in coloured water for 24 hours.
(Side note, last time I used this florist when making the bouquet for Gabby’s wedding, the woman I dealt with there was really unhelpful. Quite grumpy and did not even act sympathetic when I explained the reasons for a last minute wedding. Maybe she was cheesed I’d decided to make the bouquet myself? Either way, I’m glad I gave them a second chance. The different woman this time was so nice.)
But they remained white. Worse things have happened.
Icing this cake I went back to the Culpitt brand icing I used on the Pink Marble Cake. I figured it had creased because I was inexperienced, and as my second cake–the Marble Whale–had been a success I decided to revert to the cheap stuff. Mistake. It really creased. Luckily the design I used was forgiving and I was able to hide the cock ups.
And so here’s the cake…
Inside, the cake was Victoria sponge with my less sweet buttercream and white oreo cookies (because cakes aren’t cakes without biscuits stuffed inside them!). I keep modifying tough cookies buttercream recipe to see if I can get it working for me. Still not completely successful. I decided to do it as accurate to the recipe as possible… well that 12 minute recipe took me two hours… something’s not working. And to top it off, even using the exact same amounts as the Marble Whale Cake, which resulted in me throwing away half the mix, I almost didn’t have enough. No idea what happened there.
Claire and Gary did an amazing job of decorating the party. My boys were pretty wild with the amount of sugar they got at, especially the three-year-old who was at prime height to reach up to the counter and steal cakes and biscuits!
And for those who want to see, here’s a video of the happy couple cutting a slice!
Today’s book cover reveal is The Pole that Threads by Crispina Kemp. I always find my eyes drawn to this cover, perhaps because I love star gazing. And coincidence of coincidences, whilst working on this cover who should fly past my window and land on the neighbour’s roof? A huge heron! Probably ensuring I’d captured her in right light. Read the book and you’ll understand the pressure that put me under!
Kerrid, a shamanic wise-woman, has discovered the Asars are banished divines. Now to gain their divine world, she seeks the Pole that Threads the Worlds, for in that high place resides the demon Neka, which the Spinner has tasked her to eradicate.
No longer with her wed-man in this third book of The Spinner’s Game, Kerrid ventures alone on this quest, a journey that takes her to the western shore of the Boundless Sea and into the frozen wastes of the north. Along the way, she encounters those who want to waylay her,hinder her, and kill her. She has much to learn, including how to be open to love.
The Spinner’s Game
Set in the between-time, when hunter-gatherers turned to settled agriculture, when spirits and demons morphed to gods, the five books of The Spinner’s Game takes Kerrid’s story across continents and weaves through ages fraught with floods and droughts to become the prototype of our most ancient myths.