BLOG TOUR: Madame Picasso by Anne Girard (aka Diane Haegar)

9780778316350.inddTitle: Madame Picasso
Author: Anne Girard (aka Diane Haegar)
ISBN: 978-0778316350
Publisher: Mira Books
First Published: 26th August 2014 (paperback / audio) / 1st September 2014 (Kindle)

Rating: Like a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heaven

Synopsis (from Amazon):

The mesmerizing and untold story of Eva Gouel, the unforgettable woman who stole the heart of the greatest artist of our time.

When Eva Gouel moves to Paris from the countryside, she is full of ambition and dreams of stardom. Though young and inexperienced, she manages to find work as a costumer at the famous Moulin Rouge, and it is here that she first catches the attention of Pablo Picasso, a rising star in the art world. A brilliant but eccentric artist, Picasso sets his sights on Eva, and Eva can’t help but be drawn into his web. But what starts as a torrid affair soon evolves into what will become the first great love of Picasso’s life.

With sparkling insight and passion, Madame Picasso introduces us to a dazzling heroine, taking us from the salon of Gertrude Stein to the glamorous Moulin Rouge and inside the studio and heart of one of the most enigmatic and iconic artists of the 20th century.

Girard paints her canvas as bright as any Picasso work of art, infusing the story of Eva Gouel with the sights, sounds and smells of Paris and the scandalous folk involved in the cubist art movement in the early 20th century. It’s a fascinating and touching glimpse of the life of a muse that directly affected one of the greatest and most famous artists of his age; one whose legacy will live on forever, remembered as one of the forefathers of cubism.

Eva’s story is a poignant one which is, ultimately, tinged with sadness, but she lived her life to the full, and inspired many of Picasso’s artworks, and Girard presents her as a very real and very credible source of inspiration; a complicated woman from a traditional background who broke tradition at every turn with her unconventional (for the times) relationship with a man who was a known womaniser. Yet it seems Picasso really did adore her, and it is easy to see why.

Through Girard’s masterful strokes emerges a life less ordinary; the life of the extraordinary; a woman who deserves to be remembered and celebrated every bit as much as her larger-than-life artist lover. Read it, and find yourself plunged headfirst into a swirling palette of vibrant, colourful characters, and passions that burn so bright they cannot possibly last.

Happy birthday, Tadpole!

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I can’t believe my eldest baby is six years old today!

Time has flown, and he has so quickly gone from a chubby little baby, to a willowy, lanky little lad who runs like the wind. These days he looks so grown up, but when he’s sleeping, I still get a tiny glimpse of the baby he once was, with his long lashes brushing down over his downy cheeks.

I’m so proud of my sweet, funny, kind, smart, energetic, beautiful, thoughtful Big Boy!

Happy birthday, my darling Tadpole – I hope all your birthday wishes come true!

A birthday party with a twist

It’s Tadpole’s 6th birthday next week, and we were looking for something a little different for his party. He’s an outdoorsy kind of kid, but with an autumn birthday, you can’t always guarantee the weather. So, what to do? Choose an indoor activity? Or choose something outdoorsy, where it doesn’t matter if you get wet?

Of course, we went for the latter.

One of the local attractions we love visiting is St. Mary’s Lighthouse It sits on a little island which you reach by a causeway that gets covered at high tide, and the rockpools are teeming with sea creatures. When I saw a flyer about parties on our last visit there, I knew I’d found the perfect party for Tadpole and immediately booked the closest date to his birthday that the tides would allow.

The kids all arrived and were taken up to climb the inside of the lighthouse – right to the very top. When they came back down, they all went outside with their guide, Sam, took them rock pooling (along with all the adults!). They caught several star fish, crabs and fish, and were daring enough to hold some of them!

After they’d returned their catches to the rock pools, they all came back inside for sea-themed party food:

  • Sand-wiches (cheese, ham, egg and tuna)
  • Scallops (marshmallows covered with white chocolate)
  • Shark fins (tortilla chips) and drift wood (carrot sticks) with dips
  • Jelly fish (lemon and lime jelly with little fish carved out of melon swimming in it)
  • Fish cakes (cupcakes decorated with fish, complete with little silver bubbles)
  • Sea bubbles (green grapes)
  • Rocky islands (chocolate crispy cakes)
  • Fish and chips (little crackers – salt and vinegar flavoured)
  • Pebbles (actual chocolate sweets shaped like pebbles)

The birthday cake looked like an island (it was a giant chocolate cupcake) and I covered it with chocolate pebbles and seashells to fit the theme.

As they ate, our specially compiled CD with sea-themed tunes played in the background (hell, any excuse to play Rock Lobster by The B52s, and Hoist the Jolly Roger by Adam and the Ants is good enough for me!).

After that, it was time to go home, and we packed the kids off with little goodie bags which had a badge reading “I climbed the Lighthouse on St Mary’s Island”, a novelty pencil sharpener shaped like a fish, and some bubbles, as well as a little bag of sweeties.

Tadpole had a wonderful time, and I think his friends did too (as well as the adults!). He went straight to sleep when he went to bed, completely exhausted from his birthday party activities. I’m willing to bet most of his friends did the same. They’l probably all be having dreams of being under the sea…

Blyth Battery WWII Re-enactment Day

Today was a WWII re-enactment day at one of our local attractions, the Blyth Battery. And for the first time in eleven years, I performed in front of a live audience, singing a couple of wartime songs. I was absolutely terrified, but I enjoyed it, and I was received very well – a great round of applause, and many compliments on my singing, so that certainly bolstered my confidence for next time. And there will be a next time, as Ive been asked to sing at the Battery Xmas Dance.

So, anyway, I sang my heart out – Chattanooga Choo Choo and We’ll Meet Again – and I enjoyed it, even if I did shake like a leaf the whole time and for about an hour afterwards!

My greatest compliment came from Tadpole, who said he though I should do that all the time and that he wished I had done more songs.

I wasn’t the only one dressed up (yes, I was all doled up, 40s style) – Tadpole decided to don his soldier gear and smartly salute every person he saw dressed up in a military uniform. For his efforts, he was gifted an official Airborne badge to have sewn onto his kit – his smile on receiving it from one of the officials almost split his little face in half!

It was interesting checking out the view form the observation point, and having a good look at the room decked out like a 1940s living room. Of course, there was also the battery itself with all its weaponry on display, and also a pyrotechnic display which made some very loud noises and had Tadpole full of the gleefuls again.

All in all, a good day was had – and when I asked Tadpole what his favourite part of the day was, he told me it was watching me perform, so I cannot get higher praise than that!

All the fun of the fair…

Today was a free music festival at the quayside. We got there early, before any of the music started (which is weird, because we arrived half an hour after the advertised start time!), but there was a funfair and craft stalls, so we had a little wander round and had some fun.

Tadpole made a beeline for the carousel – he loves any kind of vehicle, and this time he was delighted to drive Mater round and round, pressing all the buttons that made incredibly loud noises!

Then he spotted the swings and decided, for the first time, that he really wanted to ride them this time. In the past, he’s always been too afraid to go on them, but this time, he was very excited about it, and went straight over. As you can see from this little video, he loved it!

Next, he went and had a look at the fire engine that was parked nearby. he was absolutely beside himself with joy when the firemen let him clamber aboard and try on one of the helmets. Then he got to see all the equipment housed in the side panels, including the pump and the jaws of life – he was very impressed!

It as a shame we missed the music, as we had somewhere to be after lunch, but we had fun at the fair anyway, and little Choochie looked like he wanted to to the rides too – he’s way to small at the moment, but his turn will come!


9-11-Never-ForgetSo, it’s the thirteenth anniversary.

Like most people over the age of around 20 or so, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing at the moment it all went down. It’s my generation’s JFK, really (I am way too young to know what I was doing when JFK was shot – not even born yet!), and 13 years on, whenever I think about those moments, it still catches in the back of my throat and makes my eyes prick a little. It was terrifying and horrifying and it changed the whole world forever.

It was lunchtime here in the UK, and I was an evening worker, so I was at home. Hubby (who was still only my Boyfriend at the time), was at work, and I was was making use of the time to get caught up on all the stuff I needed to do on the computer, as I knew full well that as soon as he got home, he’d want to use it. In the background, a movie was playing on the television. I have no idea what film it was – I wasn’t paying attention – it was on to keep me company.

At some point, I became aware that the film was no longer on the screen. Perhaps it had finished without me noticing, but it looked like it had been replaced with a disaster movie set in New York.

Then I realised. This was no movie. This was a news bulletin that had broken through the scheduled viewing. This was something that was happening in real life. Right now.

My eyes were glued to the screen as I saw smoke billowing out of one of the World Trade Centre towers. I was still motionless and staring at the screen when the second plane hit. I was still watching when the towers started crumbling and falling.

At some point, I became aware that my face was wet. I’d been crying and hadn’t even noticed. I was so horrified that there was no sound coming from me – I was just silently crying.

Then I desperately tried to call Hubby at work, to see if he knew this was happening. They usually had the radio on at work, so surely he would know.

Of course, he did. Everyone knew. People all over the world were turning on TV sets and radios and logging online, alerted by friends and family that something unprecedented was happening. America was under attack and the Twin Towers had been hit. The Pentagon had been hit. The bloody Pentagon, for crying out loud! The Pentagon had a bloody great hole in its side instead of just the one in the top. Someone had crashed a plane right into it. There was another plane coming down. People were leaping from the Twin Towers, trying to escape the only way they could, even though there was no way they could possibly survive the fall – all sense of rationality erased by the horror surrounding them. Nobody knew exactly what was happening. It was utterly incomprehensible.

It still is.

Thirteen years since the “War on Terror” began – and there’s still no end in sight. We still have suicide bombers from all walks of life, and people being killed left, right, and centre, and countries constantly having “alerts” to imminent threats.

It’s like the towers are still falling.

It seems like they’ll never stop.

BLOG TOUR: Guest post by Anna Belfrage

Lost in time – of those that came before

Time, they say, is relative. It is also the single thing that all of us have as much of – or as little of – as out next door neighbour. Not that everyone agrees with that statement, as it is obvious even to a blind hen that some of us (read “me”) work much more than others (read “you”). In actual fact, though, we are all free to deploy the usage of our time as we please – but we must be prepared to take the consequences. So, if person A finds his/her time well-invested by spending it on the sofa watching TV all day long, chances are person A will soon find himself/herself without either sofa or TV.

Time – or rather the passing of time – is also something of an anxiety attack. As we get older, we become painfully aware of the fact that time is running out, and those endless years that stretched before us when we were sixteen and naïve, seem depressingly finite once we have passed the fifty year mark. This is when bucket lists get written, when previously agnostic people start considering the afterlife, carefully circling the thought that maybe God exists – if nothing else because if He does exist, maybe things won’t end when we draw that last, final breath.

Some become concerned not so much with afterlife but with afterword. What will be said of us once we are dead? Will we have left an indelible impression on this world? Probably not. After all, most of us will pass into the annals of history as the merest of footnotes – as have most of our ancestors before us.

History is not made up of the famous. It isn’t the kings and the queens, it is the rank and file, the people who broke their backs over meagre fields, who span and wove, who cooked and baked, fought and died. People like us, a sea of humanity stretching back into time, most of whom had no ambition beyond surviving and leaving enough of a legacy behind for their children to be slightly better off than they were.

One of my favourite pastimes is to visit old churches. Not the fancy, huge cathedrals, but rather the small, dilapidated churches that so generously dot our continent. The gate to the graveyard might squeak, headstones stand in ordered rows that degenerate to a jumble of fallen, broken stones the further back in time we go. If the inscriptions are decipherable, there will be moments of quiet contemplation as I consider the fate of the poor woman who gave birth seven times and buried six of her boys – all of them named William in one combination or another – before they reached the age of one. Did she curse God? Did she blame herself for not being pious enough, good enough?

Then there’s the church itself. Old pews are worn shiny with use, there’s a tang of dust and candle wax, and in the furthest right hand corner there are remnants of the medieval frescoes that illustrated the Bible stories – frescoes that were whitewashed during the Reformation, proclaimed as unnecessary now that common man could read the Bible for himself. Except that often he couldn’t, because despite the Bible being translated into the vernacular, analphabetism was rife in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. I guess the people missed the frescoes, if nothing else as a feature to fix their eyes on during the increasingly long sermons.

I like sitting down for a while, all alone with the dust motes that dance in the sunlight that falls through the high church windows. Sometimes it seems to me those shimmering particles come together, forming outlines of people. There’s the soft, hushed sound of prayers, in Latin, in the languages of today. Sweeping kirtles, men in gowns and hose, here and there a serving wench with her hair severely tucked out of sight – people from all ages, an endless line of devout believers that clasp their hands and pray. For what? A safe birth? Deliverance from the Black Death? The return of their man, presently fighting at Naseby? There’s weeping and laughter, and once in a while it is as if the whole church hums with this collective prayer from the preceding generations. What did they wish for? Dream of? Probably the same things we wish for; a good life, health, future for our kids.

Recently I have developed a new fascination – old stone walls. It struck me one day as I was admiring the walls that encircle our country house, that these beautiful seventeenth century constructions are the result of very much work. Extremely hard labour, in fact. Since then, I see walls everywhere, features I had previously never taken any notice of. Each and every stone in those long, straight walls is a stone picked from a field, a little piece of rock lifted aside before it broke the precious plough. Until the field was rid of stones, it couldn’t be cultivated, and clearly this was land riddled with stone. Lucky me, I think as I caress my precious walls, and out of the corner of my eye I see a boy in ragged breeches and a filthy linen shirt, and he is crying because his back is hurting something awful, but the master will belt him if he stops shifting the rocks. He looks straight at me, wipes at his snotty nose and fades away. I wonder if the moss-covered stone presently under my hand is one he placed here.

Everywhere we look, we find the traces of the people who lived before us – in the churches and graveyards, in the ruined castle and the rotting barn. Had we met them, I think we would have been struck by how alike we are – well, once over the superficial differences. We live in a brave new world filled with technological wonders the people from long ago couldn’t even begin to imagine. But they started it, with every rock torn out of the ground to give way to cultivated land, with every spire raised to praise the glory of God – and the inventiveness of man.

Ultimately we’re all the same; we’re born, we live, we die. Some of us build cathedrals, some of us make do with a simple little wall. But somehow we all leave a trace, an ephemeral imprint that will dance like glittering fogs over the lands that once were ours.


Anna Belfrage is the author of six published books, all part of The Graham Saga. Set in the 17th century, the books tell the story of two people who should never have met. Matthew Graham is a devout Presbyterian, a veteran of the Commonwealth armies and a man who, initially at least, has a tendency to see the world as black and white. Alex Lind is an opinionated modern woman who has the misfortune (or not) of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, thereby being dragged three centuries back in time to land concussed and badly singed at an astounded Matthew’s feet.

Anna can be found on amazon and on her website or her blog!

BLOG TOUR: Revenge and Retribution by Anna Belfrage – Review

02_Revenge-RetributionTitle: Revenge and Retribution (Graham Saga #6)
Author: Anna Belfrage
ISBN: 978-1781321751
Publisher: Silverwood Books
First Published: 29th June 2014 (Kindle) / 1st Jul 2014 (paperback)

Rating: Like a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heaven

Synopsis (from Amazon):
‘Revenge & Retribution’ is the sixth book in Anna Belfrage’s time slip series featuring time traveller Alexandra Lind and her seventeenth century husband, Matthew Graham.

Life in the Colony of Maryland is no sinecure – as Alex and Matthew Graham well know. But nothing in their previous life has prepared them for the mayhem that is about to be unleashed upon them.

Being labelled a witch is not a good thing in 1684, so it is no wonder Alex Graham is aghast at having such insinuations thrown at her. Even worse, it’s Matthew’s brother-in-law, Simon Melville, who points finger at her.

Not that the ensuing hearing is her main concern, because nowadays Alex’s entire life is tainted by the fear of what Philip Burley will do to them once he gets hold of them. On a sunny May afternoon, Philip finally achieves his aim and over the course of the coming days Alex sees her whole life unravelling, leaving her family permanently maimed.

As if all this wasn’t enough, Alex also has to cope with the loss of one of her sons. Forcibly adopted by the former Susquehannock, Samuel is dragged from Alex’s arms to begin a new life in the wilderness.

How is Alex to survive all this? And will she be able to put her damaged family back together?

Just when you think Anna Belfrage’s Graham Saga can’t get any better, she releases a sixth title in the series and knocks your socks off all over again!

I came to the series at the fourth book, and was instantly hooked. Ever since then, I’ve been champing at the bit to get at the next book, and the next book, and the next book. This sixth installment definitely satisfied my seemingly insatiable appetite for continuance of this family’s story. The characters we already know and love, as well as those we love to hate, are all here, but as ever, nobody is safe – as with any good author, we live in constant dread of losing one of our favourites, so that my fingernails were continually bitten down to the quick as I turned the pages.

There’s always the risk, with an ongoing series, that things will go a little stale, that readers will become bored with the constant drama thrown at the characters, but that is not the case here – I honestly feel that Belfrage is incapable of disappointing with this series as it just seems to keep on giving in terms of plot, character and writing. The witchcraft accusation, coming at a time when to be found guilty of being a witch was to be put to death, is a natural progression and adds some incredibly tense moments, which, when coupled with everything else that is going on at Graham’s Garden, make for a life that is still fraught with danger from all angles, even in a land of opportunity.

This is an unmissable chapter in the saga which will please the fans no end. It’s rare that I give top marks to a book, but in this case, I couldn’t give it anything less.

52 things in 52 weeks – August Update

52 things in 52 weeksOK, it’s been a while. A few months in fact. I’ve been keeping tabs on my challenge progress, but sometimes I just didn’t manage to find the time to make the monthly post about it, so here is one big catch-up to keep you up to date with where I’m up to on the challenges. Quite a few are now completed, which is great, and some are still in progress.

Here’s how things are going:

Food challenges (30 days each):
17. 30 days of green smoothies – July (20 / 30)

Again, I didn’t manage the full 30 days, but I had a smoothie most days and will still take part in the October challenge.

Other food challenges:
19. Take the kids blackberry picking

We got a large enough haul for a crumble, but not enough for jam as yet. I plan on grabbing some more blackberries over the next couple of weeks and hopefully we’ll get enough to make a small batch of jam at least!

Financial challenges:
23. Put £20 into Tadpole’s savings every month (£160 / £240)

24. Put £20 into Button’s savings every month (£160 / £240)
25. Split all my coppers between Tadpole’s and Button’s piggy banks each week (35/52)
26. Put £1 for each day of every month into savings (£243/ £365)
27. Put £1 for each challenge completed into the Xmas fund (£30 / £52)
28. Save all £2 coins into the Xmas fund each week (35/52)
29. Save all silver up to the value of 20p into the Xmas fund each week (35/52)
These all continue as usual. The totals are totting up nicely and our individual piggy banks are looking a bit healthier!

Entertainment challenges:
30. Read 52 books in 52 weeks (17/52)

Still not caught up to where I should be with this challenge, but as I have a 10 month old baby who never sleeps and clings to me like bindweed, I think I can be forgiven for not being able to find so many quiet moments alone to read. you can get links to all the reviews HERE.
33. Visit six local attractions (6 / 6)
We’ve now been to LOADS of places locally. You can see which ones on my list HERE.

Family-related challenges:
34. Continue breastfeeding Choochie to the age of 6 months (10 April)

35. Continue breastfeeding Choochie to the age of 9 months (10 July)
Another two milestones crossed off here, and Choochie continues to be a total boob moster. He’s coming up on 11 months now and it doesn’t look like he’ll change any time soon!
38. Share a photo of my kids and me each month (8 / 12)
I’ve been sharing them, some on here, but mostly on my Facebook page, where, granted, you’ll not be able to see them, but they’re being shared. Here are a few recent ones though!

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41. Take the kids to the library once a month (8 / 12)
We continue to make our monthly visits to the library. Tadpole loves stopping in to check out the books.

Personal challenges:
47.  Get a new job

Technically, I got my old job back, as I managed to secure a transfer to my local branch after my maternity leave ended. Unfortunately, I was then forced to quit because I wasn’t able to cover the shifts they wanted me to work due to childcare difficulties and the fact that they wanted me to work full days when I was only supposed to be part time. So, for the time being, I am being a Stay-At-Home-Mum, but I shall be looking for another job to see if I can find something that will fit in with our family needs.
49. Make twelve Xmas gifts /decorations (1 / 12)
I’ve now gathered craft pretties to make more Xmas gifts, so this section will shortly be completed as I get my crafting hat on and my fingers get busy!
50. Release twelve new cross stitch charts (12 / 12)
Completed! I’ve actually have another eight that will be released over the remainder of the year as well, so this one is well and truly smashed!
51. Post a monthly update (8 / 12)
OK, so I haven’t technically given monthly updates here, but I have made regular posts which have kept the blog up to date and everyone abreast of all kinds of goings-on, so I’m choosing to count those here and renewing my resolve to keep up monthly challenge updates from now on!

Books I read in July and August

book-club-clipart-bookAs I only finished one book in July, I thought I’d lump July and August together. I still didn’t read as much as I would have liked, but I am starting to get a little bit of reading time occasionally. Usually it’s when Hubby runs me a nice, hot bubble bath and takes Choochie off my hands for an hour, so I can soak and completely submerge myself in whatever I’m reading.

I’ve read some pretty good books lately, so here’s the info and what I thought of them…

longbournJo Baker – Longbourn Like a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heaven
ISBN: 978-0552779517
448 pages
If you enjoyed Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, then this is a must-read for you! It looks at the characters we don’t really notice, the ones who live below stairs and do all the work. They’re the ones fetching the ribbons and scrubbing Elizabeth Bennet’s muddy petticoats after she’s trekked across the fields; they’re the servants who silently observe, but who have their own lives, loves, trials and tribulations without the notice of their employers. There are knowing nods to the events of Austen’s novel, and some insight to some of her original characters who now populate this new and very original novel.

02_Revenge-RetributionAnna Belfrage – Revenge and Retribution (Graham Saga #6) Like a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heaven
ISBN: 978-1781321751
390 pages
Just when you think Anna Belfrage’s Graham Saga can’t get any better, she releases a sixth title in the series and knocks your socks off all over again! Read my full review HERE as part of the blog tour.

jane austen's first loveSyrie James – Jane Austen’s First Love Like a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heaven
ISBN: 978-0425271353
400 pages
An interesting look at the headstrong young Jane Austen, finding love for the first time.
Reviewed for publisher. See my full review HERE.

kingfisher clubGenevieve Valentine – The Girls at the Kingfisher Club Like a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heaven
ISBN: 978-1476739083
288 pages
This slick reimagining of the fairytale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses.
Reviewed for publisher. See my full review HERE.


  • Roald Dahl – James and the Giant Peach
    I’m reading this one to Tadpole at the moment and we shouldn’t be too much longer finishing it.
  • Anne Girard – Madame Picasso
    Reviewing for the publisher.