The Nutcracker by E. T. A Hoffmann, illustrated by Sanna Annukka Ltd (Review)

The Nutcracker by E. T. A Hoffmann, illustrated by Sanna Annukka Ltd


Hoffmann’s classic Christmas fairy tale, immortalised by Tchaikovsky’s ballet, is brought to life by the gorgeous contemporary artwork of Finnish illustrator, Sanna Annuka.

On Christmas Eve, Fritz and Marie excitedly await the arrival of Godfather Drosselmeier and the marvellous gifts he brings for them every year. When Marie discovers a curious nutcracker doll among the presents, she suddenly finds herself caught up in an age-old battle before being transported to a magical world of sugar-frosted castles, chocolate kings, and true love.

Sanna Annukka is familiar to many from her collaborations with Marimekko. The Nutcracker is her third book project.

This cloth-bound edition combines the charm of Hoffmann’s original nineteenth-century tale with the freshness of Sanna Annuka’s gorgeous illustrations. A beautiful gift to give and receive.


As most of you know by now I love the story of The Nutcracker and I read a new edition of it every year. The story for me will always have 5 out of 5 Dragons and thankfully this edition was not abridged so I could enjoy the story in full.

Over the past few years I have read some beautifully illustrated copies of this story and last year’s was a pop up book version, which although abridged really made me smile as the detail of the book was stunning. The illustrations in this year’s edition for me was rather a shock and not what I had expected but this year due to the pandemic I had had to order my copy rather than explore an actual book shop.

The illustrations in this book are bold and only use a limited range of colours but they work so well together and you can really see how Annukka is influenced by her love of printing and Finnish design. The only issues I had was that the illustration of the mouse king sadly did not have seven heads but just the one. You could clearly see it was the mouse king because it was a mouse with a crown but I did miss the seven heads. The other issue I had was that there was an awful lot of black used that made certain illustrations appear rather gloomy.

I really enjoyed reading this edition and I am glad I chose it because in a bookshop I might have overlooked it as the illustrations are not something I would usually choose. However, I really liked how different the illustrations were and how they expertly added to the story. As usual 5 out of 5 Dragons from me.


Purchase Links

Amazon | Book Depository | Foyles | Waterstones | Wordery

(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

This and That Thursday


I hope everyone is ready for Christmas and has had a magical Christmas Eve so far.

I have been following Father Christmas’ journey on NORAD as I do every year and it always amazes me how many presents he delivers.

So what have I been up to this week?

Well, this week I have had no teaching, which has been a nice break to get the final things ready for Christmas. I have also had a little break from studying as well so hopefully I will be refreshed to restart in the New Year.

I have been busy wrapping presents and doing the final preparations for Christmas so hopefully tomorrow will be a nice relaxed day.

Today, I have spent a big portion of the day making my first ever Yule Log with the recipe from Highclere at Christmas and thankfully it does look good so hopefully it will taste good when we try it tomorrow.

So there is my week. I hope everyone has had a good week so far.

Happy Christmas Eve

Mid Week Quote: Tom Baker


I can’t believe it is Christmas on Friday. I am sticking with my Christmas theme for my mid week quotes and this week’s is by Tom Baker. I love this quote because so many of the ornaments on our Christmas tree have special memories attached.

Some Christmas tree ornaments do more than glitter and glow, they represent a gift of love given a long time ago.

Tom Baker

Christmas at Highclere by The Countess of Carnarvon (Review)

Christmas at Highclere by The Countess of Carnavon


Highclere Castle, known as ‘the real Downton Abbey’, bustles with activity at the best of times, but it is never more alive than at Christmas. Christmas at Highclere is a look behind the scenes at the routines and rituals that make the castle the most magical place to be throughout the festive season.

Lady Carnarvon will guide you through Advent, Christmas preparations and Christmas Eve all the way through to the day itself, and beyond. Learn how the castle and grounds are transformed by decorations, including the raising of a twenty-foot tree in the saloon, the gathering of holly and mistletoe from the grounds. All the intricacies of the perfect traditional Christmas are here: from crackers and carol singers. The festive feeling is carried through to Highclere’s Boxing Day traditions, the restorative middle days and the New Year’s Eve celebrations.

This book also tells the story of historic Christmases at Highclere – of distinguished guests warming themselves by the fire after a long journeys home through the snow, unexpected knocks on the door, and, always, the joy of bringing family – and staff – together after a busy year.

As well as telling the stories of Highclere Christmases past and present, Lady Carnarvon provides recipes, tips and inspiration from her kitchen so that readers can bring a quintessentially British festive spirit to their own home. Lady Carnarvon divulges the secret to perfectly flakey mince pies, the proper way to wrap presents so that you and your guests are guaranteed a Christmas to remember.

Lavish, celebratory and utterly enchanting, Christmas at Highclere is celebration of one of the UK’s most beloved historic houses and is the perfect gift for any Downton Abbey fan.


My husband and myself are massive fans of Downton Abbey and so I bought this last year for my husband’s Christmas present and it has been on the recipe book shelf waiting for Christmas to arrive. 

I picked this book up to look up some Christmas recipes as I wanted some new challenges for the Christmas season and quickly decided that I would be making the Yule log for Christmas. However, I then decided to start reading the book from the beginning and all of a sudden I was hooked and could not put it down.

I love the Countess’ writing style, she is very skilled and brings everything to life beautifully. The Countess starts with the season of Advent and how the castle prepares for the Christmas period by decorating for opening and also what preparations they make for family and friends who will be visiting over the period. The Countess then continues through the festive season until Epiphany.

This book has family history and traditions, personal anecdotes about the family’s past Christmases and then recipes peppered throughout the book all linked to the different stages of the festive period. The accompanying pictures are absolutely stunning and they really show how stunning the castle is, although my favourite pictures are of the family’s many dogs.

I absolutely loved this book and I have several recipes that I will be trying out on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. I highly recommend this book and definitely give it 5 out of 5 Dragons. I have also added the other books the Countess of Carnarvon has written to my wish list as I really want to read more of her work.


Purchase Links

Amazon | Wordery

(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

About the author

A former auditor for Coopers & Lybrand, Lady Carnarvon is the wife of George Herbert, 8th Earl of Carnarvon. Today, she manages affairs at Highclere Castle, home of the worldwide television drama Downton Abbey, including overseeing its grounds and gardens and many special events such as the Egyptian Exhibition in the cellars of the Castle.

Fascinated by Highclere’s history, Lady Carnarvon has written four books. The first two are about the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who discovered King Tutankhamun’s tomb with Howard Carter in 1922. Her latest are New York Times Bestseller Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere, and Lady Catherine and the Real Downton Abbey.

Christmas Cakes and Mistletoe Nights by Carole Matthews (Review)

Christmas Cakes and Mistletoe Nights by Carole Matthews


Fay and Danny are madly in love and it’s all Fay’s ever dreamed of. But she left everything – including the delightful cake shop she used to run – to be with Danny on his cosy canal boat The Dreamcatcher. And as she soon finds out, making delicious cakes on the water isn’t always smooth sailing!

Then Fay gets a call from her friends, a call that sends her back to her friends and the Cake Shop in the Garden. It will be hard being away from Danny but their relationship is strong enough to survive . . . isn’t it?

Fay soon falls happily back in love with her passion for baking – especially now she’s on dry land again! – and starts to wonder if she ever should have left. With Christmas around the corner, Fay is determined that her friends will have a very merry time, but does that mean even more time away from Danny? Can Fay really get everything she ever wanted in Christmas Cakes & Mistletoe Nights.


I actually bought this book last year but I didn’t get around to reading it so I dug it out for my Christmas reading list this year and I am so pleased I did.

This is the first book I have read by Matthews and it won’t be my last, I also didn’t realise that this book is a sequel so I will be buying the first book in the New Year as I really want to read about how these characters came together.

Fay and Danny are a lovely couple and I will be honest Danny has the patience and kindness of a saint and will do anything to please Fay, which includes looking after her friends and putting up with her sister. Fay is a very caring character who almost feels too much for everyone and at times I do wish she would perhaps say no.

My absolute favourite character is Lija. Lija is grumpy and prickly but she really does have a heart of gold and her swearing is very funny at times. Rainbow is also a lovely character but she can be extremely annoying at times.

Then there is Stan and Stan is a character that you can’t help but adore. He really is a perfect gentleman.

Fay rushes back to her friends Lija and Stan when Stan becomes ill and Danny follows shortly afterwards with their canalboat and there is where the story begins. Fay now helps Lija run the cake shop and helps Stan to get better all with Danny helping and supporting where he can.

I truly loved this story but I will be honest I was expecting a bit more baking involved as most of the story is set in the kitchen of the cake shop. I can’t wait to read more about Fay and Danny and give this book 4 out of 5 Dragons.


Purchase Links

Amazon | Book Depository | Wordery

(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

About the author

Carole Matthews born 1960 is a British author. Matthews has published 34 novels and currently lives in Milton Keynes with her husband.

Jingle Bell Book Tag


I haven’t done a festive book tag this year and have seen this one around and thought I would have a go. Please feel free to join in and drop me a comment if you have taken part as I would love to see your answers.

“All I Want For Christmas Is You…” | What book do you want to see under the Christmas Tree?

This is a tricky one because I have a lot of books that I would like to see under the Christmas tree. The one I will choose is The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb. I know it is a trilogy but it is what I want under the tree. I love Hobb and I will be honest it has been a long time since I have read any Hobb but the Folio Society edition of the trilogy looks beautiful.

“Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time…” | What book that you have read this year have you enjoyed the most?

I’ve read so many good books this year! My favourite must be The Existence of Amy by Lana Grace Riva, this book really made me think and I thought it was brilliantly well written.

“It’s Beginning to look a lot like Christmas…” | Which book has most festive look to it?

I have read a lot of festive reads so far this December but I think the most festive I have read so far has got to be Christmas at Highclere by The Countess of Carnarvon. This put me in a really festive mood and I just could not put it down.

Elf | What book unleashes your inner child?

Easy! Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I love this book it makes me think of Christmas and magic and just all sorts of wonderful things. I have recently read the illustrated version and that made me unleash my inner child even more.

The Grinch | Your favorite villain…

My favourite literary villain is definitely Bellatrix Lestrange. Yes, she is evil and completely mad but I think she is great and I always enjoy reading her scenes in the books. I also thinks Helena Bonham Carter portrays her perfectly in the films.

The Holiday | Name your favorite TWO couples…

I know it is probably a really common answer but Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are my number one favourite couple closely followed by Sam Vimes and Lady Sybil Vimes. Sam and Sybil just work perfectly together and their relationship always makes me giggle.

What book would you like to give as a present to your followers?

Another tricky question, so I think I would like to give my followers a copy of my favourite book/trilogy. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R Tolkien but would be my gift to you all.

So there are my answers.

Happy reading.

Christmas Reading List 2020 Update


I thought it was time for a Christmas reading list update. I am really racing through my Christmas books and I am thoroughly enjoying them and I have also added some extra ones into the mix as well.

I am currently reading Midwinter Murders by Agatha Christie and Christmas at Highclere by The Countess of Carnarvon.

Here are the books I have read so far…

Christmas is Murder by Val McDermid

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham

The Lion Book of Christmas Poems by Sophie Piper

A Wedding in December by Sarah Morgan

A Perfect Cornish Christmas by Phillipa Ashley

A Midwinter Promise by Lulu Taylor

Christmas at Woolworths by Elaine Everest

Christmas Cakes and Mistletoe Nights by Carole Matthews

So the Christmas books I have left over are…

The Christmas reading is going really well and I can’t quite believe how quickly I am finishing books at the moment. Christmas at Highclere wasn’t originally on the reading list but I started browsing through it yesterday and I just got hooked.

Please drop me a comment with your Christmas reads as I would love to see what everyone is reading or planning to read over the festive period.

Christmas Murder: A Chilling Short Story Collection by Val McDermid (Review)

Christmas is Murder: A Chilling Short Story Collection by Val McDermid


The Queen of Crime Val McDermid is a master of the dark and sinister story, and these powers are demonstrated in full force in Christmas is Murder, a festive collection of chilling tales.

From an irresponsible baron whose body is discovered beneath a silver birch tree, to an author who is haunted by the spiteful presence of a jealous writing partner, the characters McDermid conjures are enigmatic and dangerous, never above suspicion.

Follow Tony Hill and Carol Jordan as they track a deadly killer who is preparing to strike on Christmas Day, and lose yourself in a festive exclusive – a recently unearthed case for a classic detective duo, set as the lights are going out across Europe.

These evocative, atmospheric tales will shock and delight. This is the perfect book to curl up with as the frosty winter draws in and each night gets darker than the last, written by one of our greatest living crime writers.


I was so excited to see this book and immediately ordered it off Waterstones. I love a good Christmas murder mystery but sadly I was rather disappointed with this book.

The first thing I really disliked was the fact that a lot of these short stories seemed like they should have been longer but that McDermid had just removed chunks of the story to make it shorter. They jumped around too much and there was no development which even in a short story should be present.

The second thing that got on my nerves was the fact that some of the stories basically had nothing to do with Christmas and even if they did the link was tenuous at best. For a Christmas murder mystery book this was a disappointment for me.

I did however like some of the stories, my favourite was The Girl who Killed Santa Claus. This story was wonderful and a really good short story and was a welcome change from the rest of the short stories.

I am afraid I have only given 2 out of 5 Dragons to this book and I will be honest and say that I will not be reading another Val McDermid book as I just did not enjoy her writing.


Purchase Links

Amazon | Book Depository | Foyles | Waterstones

(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

About the author

Val McDermid is a No. 1 bestseller whose novels have been translated into more than thirty languages, and have sold over eleven million copies. 

She has won many awards internationally, including the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year and the LA Times Book of the Year Award. She was inducted into the ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame in 2009 and was the recipient of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger for 2010. In 2011 she received the Lambda Literary Foundation Pioneer Award. 

She writes full time and divides her time between Cheshire and Edinburgh.

Friday Poetry: The Friendly Beasts

Happy Friday!

It is time for another Christmas themed poem and this one is about the animals of the Christmas story. Sadly the author of this lovely poem is unknown.

The Friendly Beasts

Jesus our brother, kind and good,
Was humbly born in a stable rude,
And the friendly beasts around him stood;
Jesus our brother, kind and good.

'I,' said the donkey, shaggy and brown,
'I carried his mother up hill and down,
I carried her safely to Bethlehem town;
I,' said the donkey, shaggy and brown.

'I,' said the cow, all white and red,
'I gave him my manger for his bed,
I gave him my hay to pillow his head;
I,' said the cow, all white and red.

'I,' said the sheep, with the curly horn,
'I gave him my wool for his blanket warm;
He wore my coat on Christmas morn.
'I,' said the sheep with the curly horn.

'I,' said the dove, from the rafters high,
'Cooed him to sleep, my mate and I,
We cooed him to sleep, my mate and I;
I,' said the dove, from the rafters high.

And every beast, by some good spell,
In the stable dark, was glad to tell,
Of the gift he gave Emmanuel,
The gift he gave Emmanuel.

Happy Reading

This and That Thursday


I haven’t done a This and That Thursday for a while so I thought I would do one this week.

The studying and teaching is still going and this week I was really pleased to find out my two students who had completed their music exams at the beginning of the month had passed with a merit and a distinction. In these difficult times where their lessons have been online via Zoom since March it was an excellent result.

So here is what I have also been up to…


Yes, we have been getting the house ready for Christmas. I love decorating the house for Christmas and I would have a Christmas tree in every room but my husband reigns me in so I just have 3 instead. Here are a few snaps of the house so far as it isn’t finished yet.


The walking continues, we have been sticking to local walks recently and only averaging 1.5 miles but I always struggle at this time of the year with my asthma.


I’ve got back into my fitness again and have been enjoying my regular workouts on my exercise bike and doing some strength training. I have also come to realise that I really hate ab work on the floor so I have been trying out some standing ab workouts and have found I much prefer them and the aching I feel the next day shows that they must be doing me some good. I also treated myself to some Christmas leggings for my workouts through December.

So there is my week. I hope everyone is having a good week so far and managing to stay safe in these weird times.

Happy Reading