Door to Door

As a nod to one of my favourite bloggers, Alex Stedman, (a.k.a The Frugality) I’ve decided to take today’s PeakTimeTales on a slightly different journey.

To feed our increasing obsession with doors (front doors, to be precise) I’ve taken to the streets to capture my choice in local door-eye-candy. Yes, I’m serious. Alex, enjoy!

It comes as no surprise that much like a statement necklace or pair of earrings, the style or colour of a front door can dramatically alter the overall look of a property. I’m not too proud to admit that I often take an alternative route home simply to ogle at a particular front door that holds my current no. 1 spot.

Let’s start by paying homage to the classic black and blue Victorian beauties. Understated in colour but packing a punch in curb appeal, these majestic designs demand attention. Bold. Elegant. Timeless.

Grey is one of my go-to shades when it comes to styling my home and myself. So what better choice when it comes to accessorising the front of your home? Not happy with a simple cool, calm and collected approach? Then create interest by varying the tone of grey and adding some patchwork glass detailing. A thoroughly modern take on another classic design.

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Keeping it cool with pastels, these stunning baby blue options are a welcomed alternative in a suburban setting and add a well-placed pop of colour. I love the way the pale blue frames the glass panes of this Edwardian-style door, moving away from the traditional green and red of the period.

Natural wooden doors instantly add a more modern edge to any property, but in order for this look to work, the house must toe-the-line. These beautiful examples of natural wood-effect doors definitely provide a refreshing alternative and subtly lift the façade of the properties without being too showy. I especially like the carefully placed glass detailing, adding character and in the case of the second image, extra sass! (And in case you’re wondering, the wreaths are changed seasonally – surely an accessory every door demands!).

If it’s unrivalled glamour and flair you’re after then look no further than the roaring twenties. Bursting at the seams with elegance and confidence, the decade is unmatched on the style front. So it’s quite a surprise that doors of the period were fairly low-key, being mainly dark painted wooden designs with decorative glass features. This modern take on a twenties-style door is understated but still gorgeous thanks to the dainty diamond shaped glass element.

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And now, readers, the door of dreams. The ‘I know I made you look’ door that stands pride of place down a street of bloomin’ lovely doors, but this one just has that little extra something. Painted in Lilac, an unusual choice for a non-beach-front setting, it shouldn’t work, but it does. It adds interest, makes me smile and completely elevates the property (which, by all accounts, is stunning lilac or no lilac). Bravo that owner who dared to break the mould and give my walk home, albeit now slightly longer, a very welcomed dash of colour.

 

(For those of your with a thing for windows, here’s something to tame that craving!)

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“Those bagpipes sound lovely.” Did I just say that out loud?

I live opposite a saxophonist. I consider this an absolute pleasure as I often leave the flat to what feels like my own personal theme tune. This may not be the opinion of his actual neighbour’s in situ, but my goodness, a sax solo creeping its way above rush hour traffic is enough to make me go weak at the knees.

So as a lifelong muso and champion of the art form, it pains me to say this, but the mind-boggling instrument they call bagpipes, have never really been my (ahem) bag. As much as I’ve tried, my ears simply cannot compute the torturous sound that, in my opinion, is up there with foxes crying and the universally annoying moped engine. Shudder.

I fully appreciate the skill involved in mastering the tartan beast, but the effects…not so much. So why did I find myself drawn to their non-dulcet tones on a recent trip to Hampton Court? Perhaps it was the setting or the glorious sunshine, but something strange happened and I found myself enjoying bagpipe music. I may’ve even done a little jig the sound thrilled me so.

It turns out that a gentleman had placed himself in a park opposite the palace and was filling the air with a fantastic array of Scottish folk music. The outdoor acoustics were staggeringly appropriate and carried his melodies far and beyond. As young and old stopped to enjoy his performance, it really made me smile. Something as simple as taking a practise session al fresco, sent myself and many others on our way, with a very Scottish spring in our step.

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Mr Bagpipe – music to my surprised ears

Hoop Hoop Hooray

I’ve never quite mastered the art of hula hooping – much to my utter frustration. I was really sporty as a child and couldn’t (and frankly still can’t) fathom how a piece of circular, fluorescent plastic had me stumped. Well, my hips won’t lie, thus the hoop won’t hula.

While out recently, I was delighted* to see a man honing his skills in the local communal gardens. That he had chosen to put on a public display pre-9.00am, was not only refreshing to all those commuters and early risers, but also rather encouraging. Monday mornings aren’t for the faint hearted and something as innocent and fun as a hula hooping adult, could be just the caffeine alternative we all need to get the week started. As I carefully observed his technique, so did many a passer-by, some of whom stopped to watch his rather impressive physical display (please note: I’m not going to buy a hoop and realise said dream any time soon, I’m a new-ish mum, hula hooping can wait!). My imagination began to conjure up endless reasons as to who, what, why? Perhaps he was a circus escapee, a BGT hopeful or a performance artist carrying out a smile-inducing one-man protest?

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Well readers, I clearly wasn’t the only person intrigued by his act. A far more outgoing, and dare I say it, ‘egged on by his friend’ observer decided to yell across the street. “What’s that all about mate?” while chuckling into his smartphone. To which the hula hooping man replied: “I don’t like yoga.”

Ha! I couldn’t have wished for a better response.

*read: furious and regressed straight back to childhood

Review: Fever at Dawn by Péter Gárdos

Imagine the perfect love story; finding your heart’s desire through the beauty of putting pen to paper. You fall in love and a whirlwind romance leads to a life of happiness. Now imagine this story set against the backdrop of the end of World War II. Then add to that the unimaginable horror of having survived life inside a concentration camp.

We won’t speak of those times.

Fever at Dawn, is film director, Péter Gárdos’, debut novel. What makes his story all the more compelling is the fact that it isn’t just a story; it’s a true story of how his parents’, Miklós and Lili, came to meet and fall hopelessly in love. The reader is introduced to Miklós as he faces death on-board a ship heading towards Sweden. Suffering from what is considered (at the time) a life-threatening case of TB, he is taken to convalesce and it is here, his ambition to find a wife and his subsequent romance with Lili, begins. In the hope of finding a spouse, Miklós tracks down the details of women convalescing in Sweden, who originated from or near his hometown, and sets himself the task of writing to all 117 of them. Lili thinks little of her letter, surely sent in error? But as she lay in her hospital bed one bleak evening, she is decides to reply.

It’s an age-old cliché but the rest, as they say, is history. Lili and Miklós share delightful quips and details about their lives, more present than past, and gradually become acquainted through the beauty of the written word. With the help of their delightful (in most part) friends, their romance blossoms into something that you, the reader, relish being a part of. Knowing that the snippets of their love letters are real, makes Gárdos’ narrative come alive. He adds a welcomed humour to his characterisation and you really feel Lili and Miklós growing as a couple with every turn of the page.

There are times when their romance seems destined to fail; those in authority clearly do not favour young lovers or, ‘cousins’, as they are otherwise known. It is somewhat of a milestone when the pair finally meet. All the nerves of a first date coupled with their obvious ailments do not make for a particularly romantic encounter, but Gárdos’ makes it so with his beautiful prose. However, awkward silences are filled with harrowing thoughts and images of the past.

We won’t speak of those times.

This unlikely romance works against all the odds and you will find yourself spurring the couple on as they live out their young love. Fever at Dawn, is wonderfully innocent, harmless and as genuine as love should be. The truth behind the words makes it very special indeed.

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Fever at Dawn is released on 7 April 2016 through Doubleday and Transworld Publishers.     

Thank you to Alison Barrow at Transworld Publishers for providing me with a proof copy for review purposes.

Review: The Widow by Fiona Barton

In Fiona Barton’s debut novel, The Widow, the unimaginable is brought to life as we follow the lives of those involved in the case of missing child, Bella Elliott.

Barton’s detailed approach leaves no stone unturned. We witness this tragic story, told in past and present, through the eyes of all who are regretfully living the nightmare.

The widow, a.k.a Mrs Taylor, or Jeanie, as we come to know her, is a complex character who invokes pity, frustration and disbelief. Her somewhat Jekyll and Hyde nature echoes that of her husband, Glen, the main suspect in the case of missing child, Bella. It is only in the final stages of this story that their part in this tragic tale comes to light. Although I was still left contemplating the truth and the role they both played, given Jeanie’s convincing and contrasting performance as the widow.

What makes Barton’s novel so effective is the depth of character she manages to create amid this gut-wrenching theme. Understanding the role of each character and watching their experience unravel, gives Barton’s, The Widow, a documentary-like quality; each chapter offering up a new episode in this grim thriller. As a result, the reader can place themselves in the unenviable shoes of everyone from the widow, to highly committed D.I Sparkes and cutthroat reporter, Kate.

There are times when Bella’s case seems to lose its way, leaving D.I Sparkes, Bella’s mother, reporter Kate and the reader, wondering whether it will ever be resolved.

There is no escaping the mark this novel will leave. It may sound odd, but Barton’s written word somehow brings to life those all too familiar television news reports that frequent our screens.

The Widow, is already proving essential reading for 2016 and if you are looking for an addictive yet harrowing storyline, look no further.

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The Widow is out now via Transworld Publishers.

Review: The Ballroom by Anna Hope

Asylum: a safe or inviolable place of refuge.

The year is 1911 and the UK is about to become a hotbed of industrial strike action and withstand the hottest summer on record, coupled with severe drought. The country is rife with opinion, tension and pent-up aggression.

Set in Sharston Asylum, on the outskirts of the Yorkshire Moors, Hope, gives life, love and death to the complex characters behind its walls. As you are introduced to the patients and staff at Sharston, it becomes apparent that the line separating the two is very much blurred. You begin to question who is more needy in this place of so-called refuge, the staff or those subject to life at the asylum?

Hope has so beautifully crafted her approach to very sensitive and difficult issues and her sympathetic slant means you are quickly drawn into life at Sharston, life that is grim beyond comprehension. There is, however, a chance for patients to escape the harsh conditions and for male and female to mix. A weekly dance in the ever-talked-about ballroom gives each patient a chance to be free, dream and let go, albeit briefly, from their ‘reality’ within Sharston.

It is here that our two protagonists, Ella and John, develop their very personal journey. Supported whole-heartedly by their friends, Clem and Dan, you can liken Ella and John’s relationship to that of Romeo and Juliet. A heartfelt struggle, completely forbidden in a place where women and men are segregated and where, it would seem, misery is the only emotion allowed.

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The Ballroom, Anna Hope. Released 11 February 2016

You can’t help but become attached to the characters Hope has so carefully crafted; Clem pulls on the heartstrings with her dying need for adoration, while Dr Fuller’s personal battle makes you feel for his fragile soul while gritting your teeth at his despicable treatment of patients.

Based on the life of Hope’s great grandfather, her words take on a deeper meaning and have a long-lasting impact, that will remain with you long after you’ve closed the doors on Sharston Asylum.

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Author, Anna Hope

The Ballroom – released 11 February 2016, Doubleday & Transworld Publishing.

Thank you to Doubleday & Transworld Publishing, Alison Barrow and Anna Hope for providing me with a proof copy for review purposes.

Review: A Snow Garden & Other Stories, by Rachel Joyce

Edit. Edit. Edit. It’s what writers do and it’s what makes good stories great. But what happens to those characters that end up on the cutting room floor and those moments the author once thought page-worthy?

In the case of renowned author, Rachel Joyce, you dust them down and end up with, A Snow Garden & Other Stories. This collection of seven interlinked Christmas-themed tales’, explores the depth and fragility of human emotions, so often brought to a head during the festive season.

A Snow Garden & Other Stories, published by Transword Books

A Snow Garden & Other Stories, published by, Transworld Books

Each of the seven stories’ provides a snapshot into key character’s lives; as a reader you find yourself playing the role of a secret bystander in each of these seasonal tales.

A Faraway Smell of Lemon, follows Binny (originally penned as a bit-part in Joyce’s novel, Perfect), a single mum fraying at the seams who perceives everyone and everything as being better off. Yes, she’s been through the emotional wars, but a chance encounter in an unfamiliar environment brings with it some much-needed cleansing and provides a fresh perspective on her life.

As a new mum I found the simplicity of, Christmas at the Airport, an inspired take on a modern day nativity. Without overcomplicating the reality of labour, Joyce, manages to convey the anxiety, the unknown and the fear of birth, so tastefully. The surrounding chaos of an overcrowded airport and self-importance each of the supporting character’s puts on themselves, only adds to the innocence and beauty new life brings. Truly heart-warming.

Joyce’s clever use of imagery, delicately takes the reader through these subtly linked stories, throwing up emotions and experiences known to us all: life, love, loss, betrayal, regret. It’s all there.

The title story, A Snow Garden, introduces Henry, a downtrodden father trying hopelessly to restore his sons’ faith in the magic of Christmas and himself. The result is seasonally heartfelt and will have readers glowing on the inside coupled, no doubt, with a touch of snowflake-covered envy.

Joyce’s final instalment, Trees, brings with it a whole new perspective on Oliver (a character the reader is introduced to earlier in this series). Trees, packed full of symbolism and unspoken emotion, is a fitting end to Joyce’s seasonal saga. Although festive in nature, the themes and feelings confronted in Joyce’s seven stories’ apply year-round – A Snow Garden & Other Stories, is definitely not just for Christmas.

Author, Rachel Joyce

Author, Rachel Joyce

(Complimentary copy of, A Snow Garden & Other Stories, provided by, Transworld Books, for review purposes – released 5 November 2015).