Happy Birthday to my sweet boy, Zeph (or Zephilicious as we call him). October 7 is his eighth birthday. I can’t believe he is eight – seems like just the other day he was a puppy.

Zeph absolutely LOVES his new home here in the Far North. Every day, it’s a day for running around paddocks, barking at cows and sheep, sniffing around the house construction site. This is in between sunbaking, of course.

El Hubs has purposely designed large front windows so the Z Team can sit on their pet beds, and enjoy the sun streaming through.

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I gave up sugar ages ago. Ice-cream, chocolate, cakes. I read labels – anything with less than 5mg of added sugar is okay. So I rarely eat sweet things these days, but I will admit sometimes I get the craving. This week I’ve gone off the rails a teeny bit. My Aussie mate is visiting and we’ve popped into a few of the many great cafes we have here. On the menu of a cafe I have not been to before was a coffee cake. Couldn’t resist, but I did take a snap to show you before I scoffed it. How thoughtful of me!

My great Aussie mate and my God-niece are visiting this week from Australia. So it’s been a busy round of sightseeing and eating at all the great cafes and restaurants we have here.

We also went on a parrot safari at the nearby bird park. There are over 300 birds in this park and you can enter an aviary where the parrots literally zoom over your head or sit on your shoulder.

I’m very partial to macaws and there were a few there, but the African Grey parrot stole my heart. I took a ton of photos. Enjoy!

Not all that much to see here, folks. But I managed to duck onto the construction site, and zoom inside the house to get some photos to show you. Just a few – but you’ll get the idea.

The insulation has now gone in; as has the ducted aircon and heating system. The plumber has been here most days, and there’s a ton of wires in the laundry area.

The large front windows in the dining/living space really give us a great view. I know the Z Team will love to sit on their pet beds and catch the morning rays.

El Hubs seems to think we are about 60-70% there, but it all depends on when people are available to come and do their bit. So, for example, we had to wait for the aircon guy and the plumber.

I’ve told El Hubs I will never do a house build again. He laughs because he seems to be enjoying it immensely. But for me, it’s too much bashing, clanging, dust. A hot mess basically.

Windows in living room area.
You can see the aircon/heating system on the ceiling. Also, the front windows – they are intentionally different. It’s a design thing that, according to El Hubs, gives the whole house a balanced look overall.
Looking towards the open plan kitchen area. There is a walk-in pantry, but it’s not in the photo. There’s also a walk-in wardrobe in the master bedroom, oh yeah!!
Aircon/heating in master bedroom + windows and door to what will be an outside patio area.

Getting towards the end of the month, so here we go with more books I’ve read throughout September. There have been some good ones, I must say!

Meet Me At The Museum by Anne Youngson. Published 2018, debut novel (and I believe the author is around 70 years of age, so bravo to her). This was a wonderful read. Not my usual cup of tea, but I enjoyed it immensely. The story is told through an exchange of letters between Professor Anders Larsen, a museum curator at Silkeborg museum in Denmark, and Tina Hopgood, the wife of a farmer in East Anglia.

Larsen has lost his wife, and Tina wonders whether she is trapped in a loveless marriage and has wasted her life.

There is a depth to this epistolary novel I wasn’t expecting, and a confident writing style – this could be due to the author’s age. The exchange of letters begins when Tina writes to the museum for information about Tollund Man, an Iron Age man who was found preserved in a Danish bog in the 1950s. Since a young age (Tina is now over 60), she has wanted to see the Tollund Man. Larsen suggests she should visit, and so begins an unlikely exchange of letters in which they both reveal what they regret in their lives, familial obligations, what hopes they have for the future and that of their families.

I really enjoyed Tina’s reflections on the natural world (she looks after chickens, farm animals and the farm itself). It contrasted so very well with Larsen’s academic life where everything is orderly and categorised.

As a reader, you begin to wonder how things will unfold between the two. Will the relationship remain a beautiful, long-distance friendship or evolve into something else?

I think Youngson did extremely well with detailed characterisation, and slow but steady pace (that allowed the reader to reflect on the characters’ views). Hers is a minimalist writing style that allowed the story to shine. I wouldn’t use words such as charming or endearing or delightful to describe this book, because they imply it’s a light-hearted read or some bodice-wripping romance. It’s not – it’s a special book that provides a meditative examination of all the things that occupy our minds as humans. Does Tina ever visit Denmark and meet Larsen? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller. Published 2018. Well, this was a confident novel with shades of Daphne du Maurier, Shirley Jackson and Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger.

It’s a Gothic horror tale of obsession, voyeurism, loneliness, and lies. Frances Jellico is pushing forty, she’s frumpy and unmarried. For the last ten years, she has devoted herself to her controlling and ill mother, who has now died. Frances is commissioned by the new American owner of the crumbling British estate, Lyntons. Her task is to catalogue the garden architecture and confirm if a bridge is Palladian.

Also at Lyntons is Peter and Cara. Peter has been hired to catalogue the inside of the house and Cara is his glamorous, Italian-speaking partner. Frances becomes enthralled with them both, and falls in love with Peter.

There’s a sinister aspect to this novel – is Lyntons haunted or is Frances imagining things? Why do dead birds and a mouse appear in Frances’ room? Who carved out the eyes of the peacocks on the wallpaper in the drawing room?

Frances is on her death-bed (quite literally) when the story starts, and she relives the hedonistic summer she spent with Peter and Cara, twenty years earlier in 1969. Frances has led a repressed life, smothered by her mother, but with Peter and Cara she lives the summer of love – drinking too much, overindulging in food, and listening to Cara’s ever-changing stories of her childhood in Ireland (lots of  Irish superstitions pop up). The three of them become a disturbing love triangle.

But Peter and Cara are not what they claim to be, and all hell breaks loose LOL

Fuller is a very accomplished writer. Her descriptions of the food that Cara prepares and the dusty, mouldy Lyntons estate are atmospheric, draw you right in. I liked the writing style, even though it was a tad heavy at times, but I wonder about the twist that came at around the 80% mark. It felt predictable to be honest. I would have preferred Fuller to keep the focus on Frances and how she copes with her obsession. There was also a bit of a busy sub-plot going on, but it was well-controlled by Fuller.

The Sound of Butterflies by Rachael King. NZ author, historical fiction and published in 2006. I reviewed King’s second novel, Magpie Hall, here. I enjoyed that novel, but far preferred this one – her debut novel.

Thomas Edgar is an amateur naturalist who collects butterflies. He is invited to join an expedition to Brazil in the early 1900s, and leaves England and his young wife, Sophie. He is after an elusive butterfly that is rumoured to exist in the rainforests.

A Portuguese rubber baron, Jose Santos, is bankrolling the expedition, and there’s a lot more to him than Edgar and his fellow collectors realise. He’s quite the shady character. People disappear and bodies pile up, as we learn about the exploitative and brutal nature of the rubber trade in the early 20th century.

Edgar returns to England in 1904 and cannot or will not speak. What traumatic events has he witnessed? Why won’t he talk about what happened?

King has a very good ability to build a character (in this case, Thomas) who is essentially flawed or weak, and yet the reader cannot help but be engaged and empathetic. I certainly wondered what I would do had I witnessed what Thomas sees happening in Brazil.

It’s not a fast-paced read, but it doesn’t need to be because Thomas’ understanding of the situation blooms slowly.  And so the story unfolds as it should. I liked the third person omniscient point of view (I’m very partial to it TBH) and I thought King captured the Amazonian rainforest brilliantly – the dripping jungle, howling monkeys, spiders as big as dinner plates.

There were touches of A.S. Byatt in this novel for me. I did feel the ending was a tad rushed and perhaps not as strong as the story itself. However, I like King’s writing style so much I’m off to the library to take out her third novel called Red Rocks. She’s a wonderful storyteller.

The Gate of Air by James Buchan. Scottish author and published in 2008.  I think the publishers weren’t quite sure how to market this book. It has the subtitle of A Ghost Story and the inside cover blurb says it’s a fireside spine-chiller of Victorian vigour and conviction.

In no way is this novel your run-of-the-mill ghost story. It is so much more and I loved every minute of it, although it’s not an easy read. It’s a book I’m going to want to read again.

Jim Smith is the emotionally-bland MC and he moves to the English countryside after he is ousted from the software company he founded. He buys the remote Paradise Farm, and inherits a surly character in John Walker, who helps Jim manage the farm and who also sells him a dog called Argos.

But it seems Paradise Farm might be haunted and Jim dreams of Jeanie Thinne, a celebrity model who vanished in 1967, along with her dog. At times I thought this novel read as though it was located in the Edwardian era, so I had to constantly remind myself that nope, it’s a contemporary setting.

Jeanie was the first wife of business tycoon Charles Lampard, and they lived at Paradise Farm until the day she disappeared. Jim attends a dinner party at the Lampard’s estate, meets the second wife and a cast of intriguing characters. He sees an apparition, which he believes is the ghost of Jeanie and there’s a feeling of malevolence about her. Jim suffers ill fortune on his farm – twelve lambs are stillborn; bees swarm and  leave their hives; glass windows shatter; crops wither.

John Walker – who seems to know more than he tells – thinks Jim has brought bad luck with him.

This is the basic story, but there’s a whole lot happening in this novel on a philosophical and mythological level. Buchan reflects on the loss of the English countryside way of life; he hints at an older, far more sinister world or dimension, in which ancient Gods have tremendous powers (in fact, Jeanie might be the manifestation of an old Roman goddess); ancient spirits perhaps roam the forests and fields; he ponders whether the past resembles the present.

I enjoyed Jim’s character and his relationship with Argos, as they set out to unravel the mystery of what happened to Jeanie. There’s a wonderful sense of foreboding in this novel and the ending is (I think) pretty breathtaking.

I didn’t like Buchan’s writing style at first – too wordy, too many metaphors – but his poetic ability to paint a landscape for the reader, or describe a change in the air as a ghostly presence glides past, won me over.

Buchan has won the Whitbread First Novel award and the Guardian Fiction Prize, and he is also the grandson of John Buchan, the Scottish novelist. Serious writing chops!




Zeph and Zsa Zsa give me amazing photo opportunities every single day. Both of them are very photogenic, but them I’m biased.

It’s Zeph’s 8th birthday soon, so he asked me to take a dog portrait. Zsa Zsa wanted one, too.

Enjoy!

Flowers and plants are growing overnight! I remember down South we would wait and wait for flowers to bloom or veges to grow. The cherry blossom would faithfully unfurl its beauty every October, but we didn’t have great success growing things.  

But in the Far North, you turn your back on a plant or flower and it doubles in size. I exaggerate, of course, but you get the idea.  

We are busy landscaping around the new house. Possibly a stupid thing to do considering we are still building, but the planting areas are a reasonable distance from the construction work.  

We have planted a whole lot of natives, as well as lavender (I’m a bit obsessed with lavender). And I have some daisies and geraniums in pots.  

Already the bees are buzzing around!IMG_E7524