Books I have recently read

The books which I have read recently are linked by their settings: all three of them are set, either wholly or partly, in the past. From North Carolina during the First World War to Philadelphia in the 1940s and Kentucky in the 1930s, these books cross many different times and places.

The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan (click on the author’s name to go to their website).

The Engagements

The Engagements

The Engagements is an absorbing novel which spans a century and delves into the lives of five diverse characters who are connected by a common element: love and marriage. For a full review, click here: The last book I read.

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

This is a stunning debut novel from Julie Kibler. It alternates between racially segregated Kentucky in the 1930s and Kentucky in the present day. Isabelle is a young white girl who falls in love with a black man, the son of the family’s housekeeper. Inspired by true events, Calling Me Home is an enthralling, moving novel.

The Cove by Ron Rash

The Cove

The Cove

Ron Rash is an excellent storyteller, weaving together a gripping yarn. One of his other novels, Serena, is on my current list of books I want to read, before the movie adaptation, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, is released this fall.

The Cove is the story of an impoverished brother and sister, Hank and Laurel Shelton, who live in a cabin near the shadows of a cove in the Appalachian mountains. They have been struck by misfortune in the past and rejected by their neighbours who believe that the cove is cursed. When Laurel finds a stranger in the forest one day, a stranger who cannot talk, their lives begin to change irrevocably. The Cove is a compelling novel with a shocking twist at the end.

The last book I read

Daily Prompt: Bookworm

Tell us about the last book you read (Why did you choose it? Would you recommend it?). To go further, write a post based on its subject matter

A page from The Engagements

A page from The Engagements

The last book I read was The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan. The Engagements, as you have probably already guessed, is a novel which focuses on marriage. Five separate characters – Frances, Evelyn, Delphine, Kate and James – tell the story of relationships and marriages in several different decades of the twenty and twenty-first centuries. Many authors, especially those who particularly appeal to a female audience, take a similar approach in terms of multiple characters with separate storylines and sometimes when I read novels in that style, I find that the characters start to merge and become rather ‘samey’. However, The Engagements is a highly engrossing read and J. Courtney Sullivan weaves a fascinating subject into the fabric of her novel: the way in which diamonds have become an essential ingredient in the western world’s view of an ideal engagement and marriage.

One of the characters in the novel, Frances Gerety, is based on the real-life Frances Gerety who, working as young copywriter for De Beers in the late 1940s, coined the world-famous slogan, “A Diamond is Forever”. During the time of the Great Depression, diamonds weren’t popular. In fact, as J. Courtney Sullivan writes in this New York Times article, How Americans Learned to Love Diamonds, most Americans viewed diamonds as an extravagance which only the richest people could afford. It is quite astonishing to realize the enormous power that marketing has over us and the fact that it was advertising which entrenched the diamond engagement ring in our society. The analysis of this enthralling topic, along with engaging (no pun intended!) characters, has resulted in this readable and very absorbing novel.

A visit to Scone Palace

Scone Palace

Scone Palace

Scone Palace, near the city of Perth in Scotland, has an important place in Scottish history. The kings of Scotland, including Robert the Bruce, were crowned at Scone from the thirteenth through seventeenth centuries.

So, thanks to all at once and to each one,
Whom we invite to see us crown’d at Scone.

Macbeth, Act 5, Scene VIII

The house as we see it today was rebuilt in the early nineteenth century when the Gothic style was extremely popular. We saw a model of the house as it stood in medieval times before it was rebuilt in the Georgian period. It was interesting to see the comparison between the simple medieval architecture and the lavish Gothic-style palace.

Inside the house there are many wonderful paintings and portraits, including works by Joshua Reynolds and Van Dyck. We also saw many examples of beautiful furniture. I was especially interested in a little delicate writing desk which was a gift to the 2nd Earl of Scone from Marie Antoinette. It was fascinating to walk through the rooms, furnished with antique pieces, and imagine what it was like throughout history.

I found it interesting to learn that when portraits of the ladies and gentlemen of the house were painted, they used to sit while the artist painted the face. Then someone else, perhaps a maidservant or a footman, would sit wearing the same outfit for the rest of the body to be painted. This was so that the person whose portrait was being painted didn’t have to experience the tedium of sitting still in one pose for hours!

Photography is not permitted inside the palace but you can view photos on the official Scone Palace website – click here for photos. However, I took plenty of photos in the wonderful grounds. I was surprised by the lack of formal gardens but the natural wildness of the grounds created a relaxing atmosphere for a stroll.

The Butterfly Garden is full of different plants which encourage wildlife to visit the garden.

Butterfly Garden

Flowers

Butterfly Garden

The grounds were bursting with color from the spectacular rhododendrons and azaleas and as we walked to the Pinetum, we admired the lovely shades of purple, pink and crimson.

photo collage

The Pinetum is a beautiful wooded area with many different types of pine trees, including enormous sequoias (redwoods) and Douglas firs, named after the botanist and explorer David Douglas. Douglas was born in the village of Scone and worked as a gardener at Scone Palace before traveling to the United States on an expedition to discover plants. In 1826 he sent a Douglas fir seed home to Scone from the U.S. (the first Douglas fir to be introduced to Britain) and the tree which grew from the seed still stands in the grounds of Scone Palace.

Various pine trees in the Pinetum:

We enjoyed the walkway of laburnum trees and we weren’t the only ones: the trees were full of the sound of bees harvesting nectar from the blossom.

Laburnum

The avenue of cherry blossom is also very pretty:

And there is a beech hedge maze in the shape of a five-pointed star which represents the Murray family crest. It was designed by Adrian Fisher who has created mazes in more than thirty countries. His mazes include the Skyline Caverns Mirror Maze in Atlanta, the Chateau de Thoiry Hedge Maze near Paris and the Blenheim Palace Hedge Maze in Oxfordshire. It would be fun to travel around the world completing each one of his mazes.

Scone Palace maze

It took quite a while to navigate to the center of the maze at Scone! I was reminded of the scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, during the Triwizard Tournament, when Harry and the other tournament competitors battle their way through a maze filled with dangerous creatures and hazardous spells. Fortunately, our journey through the Scone Palace maze was somewhat less eventful!

Maze at Scone

We finished our day at Scone by admiring the pretty Highland cows which were grazing contentedly in a field. This calf stood still and posed long enough for me to take a picture,

Highland calf

before ambling over to mama for an afternoon snack:

Cultural Life turns two!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Cultural Life! Public domain image - Happy Birthday In Sand by Petr Kratochvil

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Cultural Life!
Public domain image – Happy Birthday In Sand by Petr Kratochvil

My WordPress blogging journey began two years ago today. I have enjoyed every minute of blogging so far and I am glad to be a member of the WordPress blogging community. In the past year, a lot has happened in my blogging life: my number of followers has grown significantly from a mere 60 this time last year to 619 (and counting!) at the time of writing this post. And I was Freshly Pressed in February! That was a wonderful experience and getting a personal email from the editor of WordPress made me feel very honored.

To mark my second blog anniversary, here are a few highlights from the past two years of Cultural Life:

Reasons why I want to move to Maine – this post, with wonderful Maine photos courtesy of Karen at Back Road Journal, is one of my most popular posts. It seems that a lot of people Google “reasons to move to Maine”!

Saying Goodbye – This is my Freshly Pressed post, about the emotions I felt when saying goodbye to my mother before she was wheeled into an operating room for lifesaving surgery.

Valencia Orange Cake – a delicious recipe with no flour, making it perfect for gluten-free diets. The cake is simply amazing, especially when served with cream.

Photo Challenge day 1: Resolution – I took this photo on the first day of this year; it’s a pretty view from outside my home.

Thoughts on reading The Hunger Games – when I first read The Hunger Games in November and December 2011, I became hooked on the series. When I was going through a stressful time last year, I re-read the series a couple of times. I find that I take inspiration from Katniss’s grit and determination.

Thank you to my readers for supporting my blog and here’s to the next two years – and more! – of Cultural Life.