Is Plitvice Lakes National Park worth visiting?

What is it?

16 turquoise lakes interconnected by lots of different waterfalls, covering over 70,000 acres. The park received UNESCO world heritage status in 1979 and it is… BEAUTIFUL.

Where is it?

In Croatia on the coast between Zagreb and Zadar. We drove there for a day trip from Pula, which was a very long drive, but you can also stay overnight nearby.

Is the park worth visiting?

Yes. Words cannot describe how stunningly beautiful this place is. People are banned from swimming in the lakes which has helped preserve its crystal clear waters and thriving plant-life. I lost count of the number of waterfalls that are scattered through the park (it’s a good game trying to spot them all!) and they are all so different from each other. The tallest waterfall, Veliki Slap, is 70m tall and the smallest, Labudovac, is 20m.

You will take so many pictures… and yet none will quite do the park justice…

Does it get busy?

It sure does, be sure to book your tickets online in advance to avoid disappointment. We visited the park in June and it felt busy but, according to the guide we had, the park is only seeing a small percentage of the numbers it used to see pre-Covid. There are lots of little wooden walkways and thin paths round and over the lakes so be prepared to walk a little slower than you normally would and have to stop for others. But, I mean, you might as well take your time and soak up all the lovely views while you are there!

How much does it cost?

Parts of the park are open all year round and the ticket prices change according to the season (it’s cheaper in winter and more expensive during the busy summer period). The money from the tickets go towards the upkeep of the park. There are also guided tours available, which you can book at an additional cost, to help you get the most out of your visit. We joined one and I definitely recommend it.

We went in the summer and it was hot and beautiful, but I would love to go back in autumn when it is a little cooler and the leaves are turning burnt orange and rusty red.

How long will it take me to walk round?

There are different walking routes through the park (ranging from 3km to 18km), and so you can choose a route that takes between a couple of hours and a full day, depending on how much you want to do. I really recommend getting there early, so you can spend a full day exploring, and taking a route that includes a boat trip.

Anything else?

The woodland is also home to wild boars, deer and wolves.

Don’t forget to take a bottle of water and sun tan lotion but there is a gift shop that sells refreshments and ice creams in the middle of the park (which also has facilities).

What to do with 24 hours in Dublin

Dublin is a compact city that buzzes with energy and life. Have a stroll, have a pint, have some fun.

Breakfast – Slatterys Bar, 129 Capel Street

Start the day with the Irish breakfast that was approved by Anthony Bourdain. Slatterys is a very traditional and authentic Dublin pub with a huge mahogany bar with empty whiskey bottles adorning the windowsills for decoration. They have newspaper cuttings and photos up on the walls of the late-great chef and TV personality. If you’re a fan, like me, it’s a must.

First stop after breakfast: the National Leprechaun Museum of Ireland (Jervis Street). Do not let the name of this museum put you off. It’s about the history of Irish story-telling and mythology. It’s a guided tour through different rooms each with a different theme (over-sized furniture in one, stools around a camp fire in another, you walk under the rainbow at one point), it’s a fun and sweet exploration of traditional folklore. We had a great guide who really brought the stories, and the art of storytelling, to life.

From the museum, walk towards the River Liffey and see the Ha’penny bridge: famous because it was the first iron pedestrian bridge built in Ireland. Named so because it used to cost a ha’penny to cross. It is a pretty and ornate little bridge – cross here and make your way past the Molly Malone statue on Suffolk Street, to Trinity College and the Book of Kells.

You can have a pleasant walk round the College campus but for book-lovers the Long Room and Old Library is a must. Book in advance, but still expect a queue – it’s popular!

From there walk to Dublin Castle (Dame Street). Don’t pay to go into the castle, just wander around outside and take in the information boards. Then come out and head to the gardens opposite to enjoy the colours and sculptures there.

Lunch – Sano Pizza, 1-2 Exchange Street Upper

So close to the Castle, Sano serves traditional Neapolitan pizza that is SO good.

After lunch, head to the Chester Beatty Library which houses rare and antique books, maps, scrolls and parchments, from around the world. It’s fascinating, colourful, and free.

Then spend the rest of the afternoon taking a leisurely stroll to the Guinness Storehouse. No trip to Dublin is complete without a visit to the Storehouse. I know and yes it is touristy, but it’s also a huge part of Irish heritage and something they are proud of. The Storehouse is a bit of a walk from the city centre (you can get a bus there), but we enjoyed the walk as we saw some other parts of Dublin that felt a little more lived in.

The Storehouse lives up the hype. It’s huge, it’s full of information, fun and interactive to walk round. You start off walking through exhibits about the ingredients – where and how they are grown or sourced, the method in which they are prepared (you really get to appreciate the science that has gone into this drink). There is a tasting room which only takes around ten minutes but teaches you how to properly drink and taste a Guinness (who knew that there’s a specific way!).

There was also a great exhibit on how the barrels were made, including grainy black and white footage – what a tough process that looked to be! For me, the most fun part of the tour was the section on advertising – there are some classic Guinness adverts that they project onto a huge screen. But also, at regular interviews the Storehouse would fill up with the sound of live music, as a brass band would do regular circuits. When we got up to the bar there was Irish dancing and a DJ. It has some great views of the city (and there are other drinks on offer, not just Guinness). I think it was well worth a visit – be sure to book in advance because tickets do sell out.

Tea – Dollard Market

Dollard market has a variety of vendors all under one roof (so lots of options for the whole team, including burgers, pizza, Thai). It’s fun, it’s lively, it’s got a bar and encourages a social atmosphere.

Go there, make some friends and then head to Temple Bar, find pub you can squeeze into with some live music and dance. It’s legendary for a reason.

Have you been to Dublin? What do you recommend seeing?

Trip Review: Bear Watching and Castle Hopping in Romania (Part 3)

Are you thinking about booking the ‘Bear Watching and Castle Hopping in Romania’ tour with Much Better Adventures or Truly Romania, but want further detail from someone who’s done it? Or are you just curious as to what this trip is all about? Love reading about travel? Then this is the post for you as I will be going through how I found the trip and what you can expect on each day!

This three-day trip was a short-and-sweet introduction to Romania: on the itinerary was a walking tour of Bucharest, two castle visits and two opportunities to try and see some of Romania’s bear population. We stayed one night in Bucharest and another night in Braşov. The trip was led by a company called Truly Romania and I booked it via a company called Much Better Adventures who helped organise airport transfers and pre and post-trip accommodation.

This post is about Day 3 of the trip. To read more about Days 1 and 2 (Bucharest, Peleş Castle, Braşov and bear watching), please check out the links at the bottom of this page.

Day 3

Waking up to snow. Like, an actual thick layer of snow. My boots were still damp from stepping in a puddle in the woods the night before but it didn’t matter because they were about to get even wetter from all the slush. Day 1 and day 2 of the trip had both been hugely enjoyable: I had loved wandering around Bucharest and trying some traditional Romanian food on Day 1, and seeing Peleş Castle and people watching in Braşov on Day 2 had also been good fun. It had been a chilly and very quiet evening sat in the observatory, however, waiting to see if would see a bear (we didn’t), and it had started to sleet on the way home.

Back in Braşov, we had stayed the night in a boutique hotel called Casa Wagner. Each of the rooms were quirky and I really loved the all the carved furniture in mine. I would definitely recommend it to anyone staying in Braşov. The breakfast could have done with a couple more options, though!

On the morning of Day 3, we drove to the Libearty Sanctuary. I spent the drive looking out of the window at all the snow that seemed to have even surprised the locals.

The Sanctuary had been set up to provide a safe patch of forest to rescued bears. In Romania, it had been fashionable to have a caged bear – restaurants had them, monasteries had them, as well as your usual suspects like the circus. A law was passed which made having caged bears illegal, and some of them ended up at the sanctuary, which now rescues as many as they can from captivity.

It was an emotional and unforgettable morning at the Sanctuary. All the bears had such sad stories of how they had been held previously, and there were so many of them! Some were older and a bit calmer, quite a few boisterous young ones and then even a couple of cubs who were playing in the snow. A lot of the bears had injuries (mental and physical) from the abuse they received before their rescue but the sanctuary provides them with space, food and companionship.

It was very cold, and while the snow did make the sanctuary very picturesque, I had to buy a hat to try and keep warm, however, they only sold child sizes so it just had to perch on top of my head! But I love it, it became my favourite memento of the trip. Protect the brown bears, y’all.

Next up was Bran Castle (Dracula’s castle), which yes is cheesy and stereotypical, but it was also interesting to walk round! From the top there are some lovely views of the surrounding areas (especially pretty under a layer of white snow), as well as exhibits on vampires, werewolves and all many of supernatural things. Also, there was a café, not at the castle but in the town, that served me one of the most delicious cups of hot chocolate I’ve ever had.

To help us get back to Bucharest on time, the guide suggested we grab a takeaway pizza to eat on the bus. It was fun and memorable – I even had a beer whilst looking out of the window and eating my pizza. She also surprised us with a Romanian pastry called Kürtöskalács (huge pastry chimneys covered in cinnamon sugar). I found that it was little touches like this that made our guide so great – she was knowledgeable, fun, and she really made the trip easy and memorable.

Back in Bucharest, most of the group went straight to the airport but we stayed for an extra night. We ate at Hanu Lui Manuc (the oldest inn in Romania, set around a beautiful courtyard), which turned out to be the best meal of the trip.

Overall, I thought the trip was very enjoyable – every part was nicely timed so we never felt rushed. The castles were interesting and the bear watching was an experience I won’t forget. I’ve looked at other Truly Romania’s trips since getting home and they do have a couple of other tempting itineraries (the Danube Delta Discovery, especially, looks good). It has definitely made me want to see more of Romania.

And, of course, I have looked at other trips with Much Better Adventures. I am addicted to their website – if you haven’t seen it, you must! Booking through them makes everything super easy, and the information and communication is always excellent. I thought it was great value for money and a great few days away from home. Get it on your travel list!

Link to Day 1 post:

Link to Day 2 post:

The Paper Palace, by Miranda Cowley Heller

Today. August 1, the Back Woods.

A mildewed book of poetry lies open on the table. “To a skylark,” soaring into the blue – painful, thrilling – replays in my mind as I stare at the still life of last night’s dinner. “The world should listen then, as I am listening now.” He read it so beautifully. “For Anna.” And we all sat there, spellbound, remembering her. I could look at him and nothing else for eternity and be happy. I could listen to him, my eyes closed, feel his breath and his words wash over me, time and time and time again. It is all I want.

The Paper Palace, by Miranda Cowley Heller

This book is painful, it’s disturbing, it’s very hard to read as the story takes dark twists and turns. But it is also an addictive and compelling page-turner.

On the morning of 1 August, Elle Bishop walks out of her family’s holiday home in the Back Woods to take a swim in the lake. In the water she remembers the previous night and an incident with her best-friend since childhood, Jonas. It is an incident that has been years in the making.

We then read about Elle’s birth in December 1966:

1966. December, New York City.

I am screaming. I scream and gasp until, at last, my mother realizes something is wrong. She races with me to the doctor’s office, imagining herself Miss Clavel as she runs up Park Avenue, terrified, clutching her three-month-old baby. My father is racing, too, briefcase in hand, up Madison Avenue from the Fred F. French Building. thoughts stammering, afraid of his own impotence, now, as in everything he does.

The Paper Palace, by Miranda Cowley Heller

The book continues to flash between the 1 August, as Elle thinks about Jonas and the choice she now has to make between him and her husband, Peter, and her life up until that day. It’s an absorbing novel, the chapters and flashbacks short and snappy, leaving you wanting more. I couldn’t put the book down even though Elle’s childhood recounts abuse and heartbreak that her father could not provide more for her. Her mother and her sister, and her relationship with her own children are all so fascinating to read about.

Trip Review: Bear Watching and Castle Hopping in Romania (Part 2)

Are you thinking about booking the ‘Bear Watching and Castle Hopping in Romania’ tour with Much Better Adventures or Truly Romania, but want further detail from someone who has done it? Or are you just curious as to what this trip is all about? Love reading about travel? Then this is the post for you as I will be going through how I found the trip and what you can expect on each day!

This three-day trip was a short-and-sweet introduction to Romania: on the itinerary was a walking tour of Bucharest, two castle visits and two opportunities to try and see some of Romania’s bear population. We stayed one night in Bucharest and another night in Braşov. The trip was led by a company called Truly Romania and I booked it via a company called Much Better Adventures who helped organise airport transfers and pre and post-trip accommodation.

This post is about Day 2 of the trip. To read about Day 1 (all about Bucharest), please check out the link at the bottom of this post and Day 3 will be published on the 22 August.

Day 2

Following our day getting to know Bucharest and traditional Romanian evening meal at Caru’ cu Bere, we were up early on day 2 for a scenic drive into the Carpathian mountains. We went past small villages and through lots of forest, glimpsing the snowy peaks of the mountains.

The first castle on the itinerary was Peleş Castle, near Sinaia. Built for King Carol I, it is richly decorated and impressively turreted. It’s also home to my new favourite statue depicting a woman with her feet up reading a book (the dream).

I enjoyed exploring the castle and the grounds, although it was very busy and there only seemed to be one toilet (in the café) and so be ready for queues. If you can time it right with a travel buddy, however, one of you can be queuing for the loo while the other is waiting to buy one of the amazing pastries they sell.

After the castle, we were back on the bus to the small town of Braşov, where we would be staying the night. We had lunch (goulash followed by apple strudel), sat in a candle-lit cellar which felt like the sort of establishment Dracula would have been at home in. Then we had a couple of free hours to explore the town.

Braşov is bright and charming; there’s a square with a large church and plenty of cafes and bars, then the smaller streets branch off. We had a lovely walk round, seeing the different colours and exploring the alleyways and shops, before settling down with a beer to people watch. There’s also a cable car which you can take up the side of the mountain that will give you an aerial view of the town.

However, the excitement of the day was yet to come: we were to meet, wearing dark clothes, ready to go into the forest and visit the bear observatory.

We met our guide for the evening who gave us plenty of information about the Romanian wildlife (we even saw a nightjar). Then when we parked up, we were asked not to speak in case we scared away the bears. The guide made it an interesting walk through the forest to the observatory – we crossed over streams and he pointed out bear tracks on the ground. The observatory was more like a treehouse that had been built near a stream and overlooked a clearing – a popular spot for bears to walk past in the evenings. The treehouse was basic with wooden benches, not a super comfortable place to sit, and we had to be very still and quiet so as not to frighten anything away.

And so we waited…. every crack and creak of the forest, every sound of a bird flapping its wings, every gurgle the stream made, appeared amplified as we waited.

And waited.

We waited for over an hour (sitting very still for fear of scaring anything) before the guide decided that it was getting too dark and we needed to make our way back. We crept quietly out of the observatory, the steps a little slippery now as it had started to rain, each of us wondering as we walked through the trees, if this would be the moment a bear would surprise us.

It was a shame that we didn’t see a wild bear but I did note that the guide went out and dropped food to try and tempt the bears our way. As special as it would have been to see one so close, it still would not have felt like a completely natural moment. But having said that, I thought the guide was great and his mission of building another observatory so that more people can come and learn about, and maybe even see, a bear was very admirable.

On the way back to Braşov it started to rain, like… really rain. Then the rain turned to sleet. Was I prepared for sleet in Romania in April? No, no I was not.

The next post (which will be published on 22 August) will be all about Day 3, including: Snow! Bears! Pizza!

I hope you found this post useful; have you been on this trip or do you have any questions about it? Let me know in the comments!

Link to Day 1 post:

Trip Review: Bear Watching and Castle Hopping in Romania (Part 1)

Are you thinking about booking the ‘Bear Watching and Castle Hopping in Romania’ tour with Much Better Adventures or Truly Romania, but want further detail from someone who’s done it? Or are you just curious as to what this trip is all about? Love reading about travel? Then this is the post for you as I will be going through how I found the trip and what you can expect on each day!

The trip: Bear Watching and Castle Hopping in Romania

This three-day trip was a short-and-sweet introduction to Romania: on the itinerary was a walking tour of Bucharest, two castle visits and two opportunities to try and see some of Romania’s bear population. We stayed one night in Bucharest and another night in Braşov. The trip was led by a company called Truly Romania and I booked it via a company called Much Better Adventures who helped organise airport transfers and pre and post-trip accommodation.

Day 1

We had arrived a day early and so we had all day in Bucharest to look round, the tour not starting until the evening with a welcome meeting. Bucharest really surprised me with its colour and energy. When I had been planning the trip, Google had seemed to suggest that Bucharest may not be the prettiest or most exciting place to visit, but I have to disagree. There are some beautiful buildings, nestled in amongst some not-so-attractive buildings, and so many hidden corners of history. There was so much to see and do, in fact, that we ran out of time to see all the things we had planned.

My recommendations to see in Bucharest are:

  • Stavropoleos Church (tiny, beautiful monastery)
  • Carturesti Carusel (very instagram-able bookshop)
  • Palace of the Parliament (built by the dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, it is the heaviest building in the world and quite the sight)
  • Old Princely Court and Curtea Veche Church (ornate church and courtyard)
  • Hanu Lui Manuc  (the oldest inn in Romania, set around a pretty courtyard, also has a good restaurant that serves traditional Romanian food)

The tour company had booked for us to stay in a Hilton in the city centre. The area itself was fairly quiet but it had some quaint cobbled streets and majestic buildings (the Museum of the National Bank of Romania was right outside the hotel), and there wasn’t far to walk to find restaurants and bars. Truly Romania normally use boutique hotels and accommodation but, because of Covid, it had not been possible this time (the hotel in Braşov, Casa Wagner, definitely met the boutique brief). The Hilton was just fine and what you would expect.

After the welcome talk, the guide took us for a short walking tour of the city and following this, we had our first meal together at the Caru’ ca Bere (which means ‘the beer wagon’). This restaurant serves traditional and very delicious Romanian food, but it is also a sight in itself. The building is richly decorated with stained glass, tiled floors, wooden panelling, a balcony and all kinds of carved intricacies. They also have live music and dancers who take to the floor at regular intervals throughout the night.

The meal began with ‘fire water’ (our free ‘welcome’ drink) which was unique and… powerful… in its flavour and strength. We were then served soup, followed by pork wrapped in cabbage leaves with polenta (we ate a lot of pork on this trip), and a doughnut-style dumpling for dessert. We rolled back to the hotel, we were so full.

Booking the trip was simple and easy, as was the airport connection and meeting at the hotel. It was a good-sized group of friendly and adventurous people. I’m glad that we arrived a day early to get a chance to see Bucharest as the walking tour was only short and we left for the mountains early the next morning. Day 2 led us to Peleş Castle, Braşov and bear watching in the woods.

The next post will be published on 18 August.

Peles Castle

Have you been on this trip or have any other questions about it? Let me know in the comments!

Wahala, by Nikki May (Book Review)

A story about friendship, food and fate.

The smell hit her first. Smoky burned palm oil, fried peppers and musty stockfish. Next came the noise: Fela Kuti blared out of the speakers, struggling to compete with the group of three men at a corner table, talking over each other. And because this was effectively Nigeria, their voices were louder, accents stronger, gesticulations wilder…

She spotted Simi deep in conversation with a striking woman and felt a spike of irritation. ‘Just us two,’ Simi had said. The stranger had long toned limbs and glossy brown skin; she looked almost sculpted. Something about her profile was familiar and for one heartbeat Ronke was sure she knew her from somewhere. She blinked and the feeling disappeared. She didn’t know anyone who showed side-boob at lunch…

Wahala, by Nikki May

Told in three narratives, Boo, Ronke and Simi’s, Wahala is a story about female friendship. We learn about their lives, their jobs, their hopes and fantasies. Ronke is a dentist (with a rather fabulous assistant), and a boyfriend called Kayode, who she is hoping might be The One. Simi is successful and career-driven in the world of fashion, but keeps getting over-looked by her boss who only sees her as good for ‘urban’ projects. Her husband who is living and working in New York and keeps strongly suggesting that they should start a family when he returns. Boo has the family: a loving husband and cheeky daughter, but now she’s not sure if that was the life she wanted after all.

Boo, Ronke and Simi, have been friends for years, they know each other inside out. Or do they? When Isobel, a friend from Simi’s past, joins the group, splinters start to show and secrets bubble to the surface.

Isobel is glamorous, rich, and in need of friendship having just escaped from a bad marriage. The women allow her into the group where she makes the effort to get to know each of them, finding things to bond over and ways to encourage them to like her. But the reader can see what she is doing – she is collecting pieces of information, seeing what is making the women uncertain or unhappy with their own lives, and then she uses it against them. It is as if she is trying to tear them apart from the centre, having consequences not only on Boo, Ronke and Simi, but on their families and loved ones.

I thought the book explored friendship so well – how we can love someone so utterly for who they are, but still find them deeply annoying at times. It also portrayed how devastating friendship-group arguments can be. It’s a different kind of hurt when a friend does something to upset you, or stops speaking to you.

The book opens with the ‘Aftermath’ where one of the women “sits huddled in the corner of her bedroom. Her dress is ruined – the button missing, the belt ripped.” As a result, there is a sense of foreboding throughout the story as we wonder how it ends up there and who it is. It’s a clever and very enjoyable page-turner!

Best served with jollof rice with chicken stew and a glass of white wine.

The Maid, by Nita Prose (Book Review)

Murder, intrigue, cleaning.

Every day, when I arrive to work at the Regency Grand, I feel alive again, part of the fabric of things, the splendor and the color. I am part of the design, a bright, unique square, integral to the tapestry.

Gran used to say, ‘If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life.’ And she’s right. Every day of work is a joy to me. I was born to this job. I love cleaning, I love my maid’s trolley, and I love my uniform.

The Maid, by Nita Prose

Molly works as a maid at a luxury hotel called the Regency Grand. The kind with marble staircases, a doorman, and its own drug cartel.

Every day she slips quietly in and out of the rooms, cleansing them from top to bottom, and making them sparkly clean for that night’s guest. She sees the hotel as a hive of worker bees and herself as an important part of making sure the hive runs smoothly. One morning, she discovers the dead body of one of the hotel’s more well-known clientele (Mr Black) and a series of events lead to Molly being placed under scrutiny.

I found this book charming. Molly is seen as a “freak” and “weirdo” by some of her colleagues because she has a tendency to say what she thinks without understanding the social norms. There were a few moments in the book when I had to laugh at her bluntness and honesty. Below is an extract from when Molly meets Detective Stark, who investigates the death of Mr Black:

‘What an awful day for you,’ the detective says. Her voice is not without warmth.

‘Oh, it wasn’t awful,’ I say. ‘I’ve just been running through it in my mind. It was actually most pleasant, until approximately three o’clock.’

The detective looks at Mr Snow agian.

‘Shock,’ he says. ‘She’s in shock.’

Perhaps Mr Snow is correct. The next thought I have suddenly seems most urgent to articulate out loud. ‘Mr Snow, thank you so much for the cup of tea and the lovely shortbread biscuit. Did you bring them? Or did someone else? I truly enjoyed both. May I ask, what brand is the shortbread?’

The Maid, Nita Prose

The book left me feeling warm-hearted but it also perfectly captured what it is to be an outcast and lonely. Molly lives by herself in a grotty building with a rude landlord (but a very clean apartment), that she had shared with her grandmother who died. She doesn’t have any other family or visitors or people to meet up with after work and so spends a lot of her time at home cleaning and watching Columbo. But she is sweet, naïve, and hard-working, and she realises that she does have friends at the hotel when she starts to reach out for help (although not all of them have her best interests at heart).

This book is perfect for those who enjoyed The Cactus by Sarah Haywood or Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Best paired with a bowl of chicken alfredo or a pepperoni pizza from the Olive Garden…

A Net for Small Fishes, by Lucy Jago (book review)

Based on a true story, the book opens with our narrator, Anne Turner, being led to meet with Frances (Frankie) Howard in her chambers, having been called there by Frankie’s mother to dress her to meet the King. We are immediately thrown into Anne’s world. It’s dark and tearful as we wind our way through candlelit passages and corridors of palaces to Frankie, who has been badly beaten by her husband.

‘My lady,’ I said with a deep curtsy, for this unhappy creature was the Countess of Essex, Frances Howard. She was wife to an earl, daughter to an earl, great-niece to an earl and lady-in-waiting (second rank) to the Queen. The Howards were as close to the King as his own family; oftentimes they appeared more favoured. I had not seen Frances in three years since her wedding nor had I ever known her intimately, but we were acquainted, both our families being Catholic and living within a short distance of each other in the country, near Saffron Walden. ‘My husband is Dr Turner, your husband’s physician.’

She gave no indication of having heard me. Slowly, however, after much hiccupping and sniffing, her crying subsided. The silence that ensued was not of the peaceful kind. No one moved, the fire did not spit, all eyes were on a bowed figure, even her dog gazed into her face with concern. As her stillness became unbearable, she extended an arm. Without hesitation, the maid with the cup stepped forward and placed it in the girl’s outstretched fingers. She drained it and sat back on her heels. With eyes closed, she pushed the hair back from her damp face. Only then did she look at me.

A Net for Small Fishes

Anne dresses her in a “carmine skirt, pinning up the hem to reveal her ankles… from the shambles of this whipped child rose a castle, every swag and buttress testament to her worth.” Anne finishes the look with a ruff dyed yellow with her own patent starch recipe. Frankie receives the approval of the King and, as Anne continues to dress her, the two become close friends. However, it is a dangerous world they live in and Frankie needs to be free of her violent marriage because she has fallen in love with another man. Despite the new business that comes from dressing Frankie, Anne faces poverty following her husband’s death and, as her children start to fall ill, she too must make decisions in order to protect them and herself.

For months after that night, Frankie did no more than nod in acknowledgement of Sir Robert Carr, but feelings for him began to stir her heart. She had reached an age to choose for herself whom to love and she was falling for a man who eminently suited her. It worsened her distress in her own marriage, for now she had someone to compare to her husband, and in no area did Essex triumph…

A Net for Small Fishes

It took me a few chapters to get into the rhythm and narration of this book, but once you fall into it, you are immersed. The detail about in the early 1600s, from the sounds and the smells that seem to radiate off the page, to what people were doing and wearing, and just how hard life was for the majority of people, I found this book fascinating to read.

It was also difficult read and as much as I was invested in Anne and Frankie’s stories, I didn’t warm to either of them all that much. As Anne comments, they are both used by the people around them in awful and manipulative ways, but when they get the chance to manipulate others to get what they want, they do it. This book is as much about survival as it is about love and freedom.

It’s a beautifully detailed book and all the more amazing as I kept thinking how Anne and Frankie were real and had to go through these ordeals. I recommend this to readers who enjoy historical fiction (you guys will *love* this), but also to anyone who enjoys a really well written story.

A Keeper, by Graham Norton

This was my second book of the year and also part of #beatthebacklog which I’ve been following on Twitter. To recap, this idea was set up by @Owlbesatreading and aims to encourage us to select from our shelves before buying new books. Sometimes it works…. and sometimes you just need that new release. But A Keeper has been on my list to read for a few years – it came as a recommendation from my mum and I’m glad that I have finally given it the attention it deserves.

The book follows a dual timeline: ‘Before’ and ‘Now.’ The ‘Now’ timeline follows Elizabeth, as she returns from New York to Ireland following her mother’s death. She does not feel much happiness about coming back to her family home, indeed she finds it filled with rats and quickly vacates again, but before she leaves she finds a box of letters written to her mother in 1973 by the man she realises was her father, Edward. The timeline then switches to ‘Before’ and to her mother, Patricia’s, story.

Elizabeth put the pile of letters on the floor and leaned against the wall. Her father! Edward Foley. That name had been all she had ever known about her father. She picked the pages up again and her hand was trembling. The man her mother had never let her know had touched these bits of paper. she knew it was ridiculous but seeing the neat handwriting, the black ink soaked into the blue Basildon Bond, she felt connected to him. Had her mother put them here knowing that she would find them? were they her gift to her from beyond the grave?

A Keeper

Patricia had grown up in a small town and, under a friend’s advice she put an ad in a lonely hearts column to help meet someone. The only person to respond to her was Edward, his letters filling her with hope of a life away from the monotony and loneliness. Elizabeth never knew her father and the only thing Patricia told her was that he died. Through the letters from Edward she starts to piece together what happened between them and the secrets, that have been covered up for so long, slowly start to come to the surface.

Outside seemed very bright and loud. Cars were streaming along the road beyond the car park in front of the station. Looking around she quickly saw the kiosk with the large ‘Cork Examiner’ sign above it and there… just behind it, she recognised Edward waiting for her. In truth, the way he had positioned himself it seemed closer to hiding than waiting. She wondered if he had seen her. He was staring studiously in the opposite direction. God, this had all been an awful mistake. She wanted to walk straight back into the station and get on the next train home, the next one anywhere. No. She had come all this way and his letters had been lovely. Edward Foley was going to meet her whether he wanted to or not.

A Keeper

I didn’t particularly warm to the characters in it, but I read on because I wanted to know how the story would unfold. It takes Elizabeth on a tour of the small village where she grew up but also out to her father’s farm where he lived with his mother who was still grieving the death of her other son, and blamed Edward for how he died. I found this book genuinely shocking in parts; the things that happened to Patricia whilst she is with Edward are chilling to read.

I think this book is the perfect accompaniment to all this stormy weather we have been having! Grab a cuppa and get cosy. Have you read this book? Were you surprised by all the twists and reveals?