Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Alphabet in Historical Fiction:W is for Winston Churchill

You would think that by the deadline to put up our posts for the ABC of Historical Fiction, I would have some idea of what I wanted to post about, but apparently not. To be fair, I have had a few different ideas, but in the end I decided to go with the Winston Churchill series by Michael Dobbs after hearing that November 30 was Winston's birthday!

The reason why I even had this as one of the options I was thinking about is that I was looking through the list of series I have been reading and couldn't work out why I still had this series showing as not having been finished. Turns out I have read the first, third and fourth books in the series but had somehow missed the second one. That book is now waiting for me to go and pick it up from the library so that this time I can say for sure that the series is finished.

So here are the reviews for the three books in the series that I have read:

Winston's War is a masterful blending of imagination and compelling fact that places the reader at the right hand of the most momentous events in our history.

Saturday 1 October 1938. Two men meet. One is elderly, the other in his twenties. One will become the most revered man of his time, and the other known as the greatest of traitors.

Winston Churchill met Guy Burgess at a moment when the world was about to explode. Now in his astonishing new novel, Michael Dobbs throws brilliant fresh light upon Churchill's relationship with the Soviet spy and the twenty months of conspiracy, chance and outright treachery that were to propel Churchill from outcast to messiah and change the course of history.
Winston's War opens in October 1938. Winston Churchill is a man on the outer with his political companions, Hitler has just annexed part of Czechoslovakia and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain has just returned home from talks with the Fuhrer declaring that he has obtained 'peace with honour, peace for our times'.

We are given several different view points throughout the novel, starting with Churchill and Chamberlain and their political allies as well as the barber who goes about the business of cutting and shaving whilst the very important men go about their business almost oblivious to the barber.

Another is from Guy Burgess, a man who worked as a journalist for the BBC, and whose paths crossed with those of Churchill on several occasions. I don't want to give too much away about Burgess, but he lived a very notorious life, and as a reader you are never quite sure where his loyalties lie, other than to himself. He is a degenerate character but completely key to this fictionalisation of the events in the twenty month period covered by the novel.

One of the other perspectives is from a post mistress in Bournemouth. I must confess that as I read the novel I wasn't sure about this final storyline as I couldn't see how it connected to the main plot, but in the end the author I didn't need to be worried due to a couple of different events. Whilst many of the interconnections between the various characters are obvious others are more subtle, but in the end the connections are there.

As much as this is a novel about the momentum towards and the beginning of WWII, including leaving the people of Poland and Czechoslovakia to defend themselves despite promised assistance, it is also a novel about the political machinations of the British parliament. There are shady deals, immoral behaviour, spies, betrayal, blackmail and misdirection to the British people through the newspapers of the day. The constant battle to maintain power and to keep political enemies out of positions of power dominates, even when those enemies might be parliamentary colleagues from your own party! One of the more interesting examples is around a Scottish MP, Duchess of Atholl, Katharine Stewart-Murray, who vehemently opposed Chamberlain's policy of appeasement and who found herself forced out of Parliament.

One of the most striking things about this novel for me was the reminder of how much there is that is not necessarily commonly known even when we are only a couple of generations away from the events, particularly for those of us who do not profess to be scholars of a particular period. For example, some of the most enduring images of WWII are the bombed out homes in London from the Blitz, or say the evacuation from Dunkirk, the damage done in France, Belgium and Holland. It is easy to forget that from the time that war was declared against Germany, there were many months where there was very little actual fighting, although there was plenty of political infighting going on.

I should say that this book was not an easy read. At times it was dense with the political machinations and plotting, more political thriller than my more standard historical fiction maybe, but it was definitely worth taking the time to read.

As anyone who has read my blog for any length of time will probably be aware, I really, really do not like to read a series out of order. It may be something of a surprise then to find that this is the third book in the Winston Churchill series by Michael Dobbs that I have read, despite the fact that it is the first book in the series. I have now read books 1, 2 and 4. The reason this happened is that I was originally given review copies of both Never Surrender and Churchill's Triumph from Sourcebooks a couple of years ago. I always intended to go back and read the other books in the series, but every time I borrowed this book from the library I had to take it back unread. I was determined that this time, I was going to read it, and now I have. I should confess though it is overdue by more than a week at the library so that I could finally read it! The third book is on request and I hope to read it soon.

This stunning historical novel brings you deep inside Winston Churchill's mind and heart as he becomes Prime Minister and takes on the terrifying challenge of halting Hitler's murderous invasion of France, Holland and Belgium with only his wits and his magnificent words. Only his courage stands between the people of the British Isles and advancing enemy armies as they drive his retreating soldiers onto the beaches of Dunkirk and into the English Channel. You will live at Churchill's side as he deals with his own feelings of inadequacy while contending with his fellow ministers, who plot to throw him out of office. And you will be the fly on the wall of history as he matches wits with Hitler in the most crucial battlefield of all, the battlefield of the mind.

Whilst I have read a number of books set in WWII where the main characters interact with many of the famous real life figures, this is the first time that I remember reading a book where the main characters are the real life historical figures. One of the advantages of this is that even though I have not read much about Churchill, for example, I very much already had a picture in my mind of the character, of what he looked like and yes, that also means some preconceptions about some of his characteristics.

This book is actually the second book in a series of four that concentrates on a number of incidents during the war to give us a picture of the man who led Britain during the darkest days of WWII. This book concentrates on the days just after Churchill finally became Prime Minister, and then follows the events as they unfold over the next three weeks, a period which includes the evacuation at Dunkirk, and the famous speech that was given in the House of Commons following the evacuation:

We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing-grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender!"

There were a number of things within the book which surprised me. I did not know that Churchill was so universally disliked by his political opponents, and yet it seemed that the tenaciousness that made him a challenging personal opponent was the very thing that Britain as a country needed to lead them against the deadly foe that was Hitler.

Don't get me wrong...this book is not some rosy eyed look at Churchill. This is a man who is portrayed as thinking nothing of giving a briefing to his staff whilst in the bath. A man who wanted to attack at all cost despite the disobedience of his generals, when in the end, it was only in retreating that the British even managed to live on to fight another day.

Whilst it is primarily a book about Churchill and WWII it is also a book about fathers and sons. Churchill seems haunted by his father - his political life and his personal relationship with him - always trying to act in such a way as to possibly exceed his father's seemingly low expectations for him.

In addition, threaded throughout the story, there is also a relationship between another father and son. Don Chichester is a non combatant stationed initially in Belgium, working in the Royal Ambulance Corp. As Churchill makes decisions as to where the troops must go, Don is the human face that portrays the effect of those decisions. He had joined up as a non-combatant, much to the shame of his vicar father, Henry, and the two have parted barely on speaking terms. Truth be told, this storyline was the weaker of the two major plotlines, but it did enable us to be part of the defense of Calais, the mad scramble to get to Dunkirk, and then to be on the beaches of Dunkirk waiting to see if the Navy was going to be able to rescue the thousands of troops there, who were basically sitting targets for the German fighter pilots.

I very nearly said that I didn't want to review this one when I was offered it last year, but definitely am glad that I said yes. Not long ago I was offered the fourth book in this series (which I will review in the next few days), so I thought I should hurry up and read this one, despite the fact that it isn't the first book! I am definitely planning to pick up the other books to fill in the gaps. Thanks to Sourcebooks for providing me with a copy of this book.

World War II is about to end when the world's three most powerful men gather at Yalta in the Soviet Crimea: an idealistic and exhausted Franklin Roosevelt, a dyspeptic and feisty Winston Churchill and a brutal Joseph Stalin. Once proud allies, they will lie and cheat and deceive each other. And, while doing so, they will change both the map of Europe and its destiny.

In this riveting historical novel, you become a fly on the wall of history. For those fatal eight days at Yalta, you are privy to the heart and mind of England's prime minister, who hopes he has enough strength to negotiate with the Russian dictator and enough whiskey to last the week. Carrying the burden of history, he becomes Europe's conscience, when, to save the peace agreed to at Yalta, he must decide whether or not to commit a devastating act of betrayal.
It's hard to tell from the number of reviews that I have been posting, but I am actually reading. In the last week or so I have read two books by Michael Dobbs about Winston Churchill. The first was Never Surrender (the second book in the Winston Churchill series) and then pretty much straight after I finished that book I read this one, which is the fourth book in the series. I really can't stand reading series out of order, but once I had finished this one it was off to the library to pick up the first book in the series so that I can finish it off!

The author follows a similar set up as he did in Never Surrender - taking a short period of time and examining the events, and then interweaving those historical events with the events taking place in the life of a fictional character.

In this case, the event that is being focused on is the Yalta Conference that was held between 4 and 11 February 1945 in the Crimea. The conference was a meeting between Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill where decisions were made that affected the fate of millions of lives across Europe, and influenced the political landscape for many, many years.

The three most powerful world leaders are portrayed as all being very much concerned with their own agendas - for the ailing Roosevelt his main objective is to get the United Nations up and running, for Churchill it is try and prevent the march of communism across all of Europe and for Stalin it is gain as much land as he possibly can.

There are secret meetings, lavish and drunken dinners, spying on each other, and grand showmanship as each of the leaders tries to meet their own goals, and at times, it seems as though those ideals are worth a great deal more than the lives of the people that will be affected.

Churchill is also aware that the British star is fading a little, in terms of power and prestige in the eyes of the world. Whilst they can hold their head up in terms of their actions in World War II, in hindsight, it is clear that the seeds were being planted for the Cold War where the US and the Soviet Union were the super powers.

The fictional character is a young Polish man, who is trying to escape from the Soviet Union where a man can get arrested for no real reason at all. He has taken on a dead man's identity, and as we see him try to find a new life in the west, we are also privy to the events that are taking place in Poland, as firstly the German Army leaves the war devastated country and as the Soviet 'liberators' move in to take their place. Let's just say that neither army appears to have treated the locals particularly well.

Where this book did lose a little focus in my opinion was in the very beginning and very end where the novel moved forward in setting approximately twenty years, and Churchill, now a very old man, is taking a cruise in the Mediterranean and meets a ghost from the past. Whilst the initial drama is provided through a Churchill family argument, this initial theme seemed to get lost somewhat through the rest of the book. Maybe it was a carry on from the events in the third book. I guess I will only tell when I get around to reading the third book.

Once again this was another very interesting read, featuring some of the most famous historical figures from WWII, an era that I already find fascinating.

Sourcebooks are about to rerelease this book in the US. Thanks to them for the review copy.


Teaser Tuesday: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

I actually finished reading this book yesterday, after reading about 300 pages of it on my flight home from Perth on Sunday night. I was already a big fan of Jennifer Donnelly's writing, although previously I have liked her Victorian saga novels, The Tea Rose and The Winter Rose, a bit more than her previous YA book. I loved this book, and so I wanted to share a teaser with you all from it.

The teaser comes from page 150:

I put the diary down for a moment and close my eyes. I see that girl, too. In my mind. I hear her voice. And I want her to tell me the rest of her story.

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Miz B at Should Be Reading. Head on over to find out all about it, and how to join in!

By the way, check out my blogoversary giveaway which closes very soon! All the details are here, and if you are interested in sharing some of your favourite holiday memories, songs, recipes, books, traditions etc, then please sign up to the Virtual Advent Tour.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mailbox Monday: November acquisitions

After the huge number of books that came into my house in October, this month has been a more reasonable number of books! Thank goodness for that, because there is no way that I would be able to keep up with that number every month!

I have managed to already read a couple of these, and have also read a couple from last month, so while I am not exactly reducing my currently TBR pile, it could still be much higher!

Here are the books that I did receive during the month of November.

War on the Margins by Libby Cone (review copy) - I have been wanting to read this one for ages, so I am pleased to finally have it!

Christmas with her Boss by Marion Lennox (bought) - I seem to have been in a real romance mood lately which is great. This is the first Harlequin novel I have bought in years, but I felt the need after having read a review at Dear Author. I have read this, and it was a good weekend away read!

Song of the Silvercades by K S Nikakis (won) - I won this book in the Melbourne Cup sweepstakes held over at BookThingo earlier this month. K S Nikakis is a local to me author, and I have had the first book in the series for ages. This is the second book.

Hot Under Pressure, Midnight Resolutions, Just Fooling Around and Long Summer Nights by Kathleen O'Reilly (bought)- Not long after buying my first Harlequin in years, I then bought my next four! This was actually a bundle that I bought after I read a review of Long Summer Nights at Bookthingo.

Leviathan and Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld (bought)- I went out for dinner a couple of weeks ago with Amanda from Desert Book Chick. Shouldn't be too much of a surprise to find out that we spent a little time in the bookstore, and I couldn't go past a two for the price of one deal!

Mailbox Monday was originally hosted at The Printed Page, but now it is going on tour so for November it is being hosted at Knitting and Sundries. Head over there to share your links, or to see what everyone else has posted about this week.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Salon: Terry Pratchett Reading Challenge reviews

Last week for Sunday Salon, I posted the list of participants in this year's Terry Pratchett Challenge. I thought I would also provide a summary of the reviews that people posted as part of the challenge!

A Hat Full of Sky

@Miscellaneous Mumblings
@Sarah's Book Reviews

Equal Rites

@A Striped Armchair


@Miscellaneous Mumblings

Going Postal 

@Miscellaneous Mumblings
@ Chasing Bawa

Good Omens

Guards, Guards 

@Tapping the Ether

I Shall Wear Midnight 

@Things Mean A Lot
@Miscellaneous Mumblings
@Sarah's Book Reviews
@Magical and Colloquial

Lords and Ladies 

@Tapping the Ether

Making Money

@Magical and Colloquial


@Miscellaneous Mumblings

Monstrous Regiment 

@ Miscellaneous Mumblings
@ Susz's Space


@Fluttering Butterflies


@Wandeca Reads
@Chasing Bawa  
@Fluttering Butterflies
@Sarah's Book Reviews

Night Watch


Reaper Man 

@Miscellaneous Mumblings

Small Gods 

@ Miscellaneous Mumblings 


@Suzs Space

Soul Music 

@Miscellaneous Mumblings 

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rats 

@Fluttering Butterflies

The Colour of Magic 

@ Books & Fiber

The Last Continent 

@Miscellaneous Mumblings

The Last Hero 

@Miscellaneous Mumblings
@Notes from the North

The Light Fantastic 


The Truth 

@Suzs Space
@ Desert Book Chick

The Wee Free Men 

@ Booklust
@Miscellaneous Mumblings
@Sarah's Book Reviews

Thief of Time

@Miscellaneous Mumblings


@ Bookworm1858

Unseen Academicals 

@ Bookworm1858
@ Notes from the North
@ Books to the Ceiling
@ Chasing Bawa


@Biblio File
@Sarah's Book Reviews

Witches Abroad 

@Miscellaneous Mumblings

Wyrd Sisters 

@Miscellaneous Mumblings

For a general overview of the series as a whole visit Aradia from Aradia's Reading

Please let me know if you participated in the challenge, or you have written a review and I have missed it.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Weekend Cooking: Anna Gare's Deluxe Chicken and Noodles

Every now and again on a Sunday afternoon I watch a relatively new cooking show on our Lifestyle Food channel (similar to the Food Network in the US I imagine) called Quickies in the Kitchen. The host is Anna Gare who I must confess I hadn't heard of before this year but she does seem to be popping up all over the place at the moment.

A few weeks ago I was watching and she started demonstrating the following recipe and she was talking about it in terms of being grown up chicken noodle soup. I haven't really a lot of Asian inspired soups, but I was intrigued by the cooking method.

It turns out that this is without doubt the simplest way to cook whole chicken breasts I have ever come across and the chicken stayed incredibly moist. I can assure you that we will be making this one again and again, especially seeing as we now have all these bottles of sauces in the fridge!

Deluxe Chicken and Noodles

  • 500mls chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon Kecap manis (sweet soy)
  • 1 tablespoon light soy
  • 1 teaspoon shao xing-chinese cooking wine (can use lemon juice)
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, julienned
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 big chicken breasts
  • 60gms fresh shiitake mushrooms (about 2) sliced
  • 50gms enoki mushrooms
  • 2 spring onions sliced
  • 4 bok choy leaves, cut in to bite size pieces
  • Packet of fresh egg noodles


  1. Heat stock and add kecap manis, soy, shao-xing wine, ginger & star anise. Taste and adjust if necessary.
  2. Add chicken to stock, bring to boil. Remove from heat and put aside covered for 20 mins.
  3. Cook egg noodles separately in boiling water.
  4. Add all vegetables to stock & bring to boil for 2 mins.
  5. To assemble place noodles in bowl, slice chicken and place on top, spoon over veg and stock.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Library Loot: November 24 to 30

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

Claire is hosting Mr Linky this week so head on over to share your loot!

I need to be quick tonight, so here's my loot

Divided in Death by J D Robb - yes again! I can't believe I have only read one In Death book this year. I swear I have borrowed this one at least three times. Maybe this time I will reread one.

The Black Pearl by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles - Another reloot. I am currently part way through a non Morland dynasty book from this author.

The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa - I've decided to see what all the fuss is about this series!

Soulless by Gail Carriger - More reloot! I am determined to read it this time.

Cake: A Global History by Nicola Humble - Thanks to a comment on a post I was directed to a podcast which featured this author talking about her book! I thought it would be interesting to read it, particularly given how little non-fiction I actually read. Turns out this is part of a whole series about all sorts of different foods and drinks. I might end up reading more!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Double Teaser Tuesday

Today, I am bringing you two teasers, just because!

The first teaser comes from page 206 of A Kiss At Midnight by Eloisa James. This is the first book in her newest series which is titled Happily Ever After series, and features fairy tale retellings. This story is a retelling of Cinderella.:

"We kiss as if the bloody room had burst on fire," he interrupted. "We kiss as if making love didn't exist and kissing was all there was."

The second teaser come from Anna by Cynthia Harrod Eagles. This was actually due back at the library yesterday and I really have quite a lot to go, but I am determined to finish it relatively quickly because I am really enjoying it. Cynthia Harrod Eagles is more well known for her Morland Dynasty series of novels. This one is set in Russia in the early 1800s. I d love books that are set in St Petersburg in particular, and so far there has been quite a lot set there. The author can be a bit heavy on the description, but I definitely want to know what happens next! The teaser comes from page 166.

"It does look very exciting," Anne said, "but I don't know if it is quite proper. Do ladies toboggan in public?"

"Now you have said the one thing that would persuade me," he grinned. "Proper? Is that my English Anna, two thousand miles from home, wondering about propriety?"

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Miz B at Should Be Reading. Head on over to find out all about it, and how to join in!

By the way, check out my blogoversary giveaway! All the details are here, and if you are interested in sharing some of your favourite holiday memories, songs, recipes, books, traditions etc, then please sign up to the Virtual Advent Tour.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Drop Bears again

Just because it has been mentioned in the comments to my previous Drop Bears post a couple of times, here is an ad for Bundy Rum about drop bears. There are actually a series of ads featuring this bear in various situations.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday Salon: Terry Pratchett 2010 Reading Challenge Participants

What's that common saying about the road to hell being paved with good intentions? Whilst I did have very good intentions both at the very beginning of the Terry Pratchett 2010 Reading Challenge and at various times throughout the year, I am not sure that I deserve that grim fate for being a bad challenge host!

I thought that as the challenge comes to an end, I would do a post listing everyone who participated in the challenge this time around, and that next week I would create a list of all the reviews that were written as part of the challenge! At least that is my intention.

While I don't think I will run the challenge next year, I am contemplating doing it again the year after, maybe making it a bi-annual challenge. I have certainly enjoyed all the books I read this year for the challenge, and look forward to reading more in due course! I still have a couple of books sitting on the shelf and I am sure I will continue to read more Pratchett books.

When I announced the challenge, there were five possible levels of participation:

Death's Apprentices (these dedicated readers read between 10-12 (or more) books)

Members of Granny Weatherwax's Coven (read either 9 or 10 books)

Academics at the Unseen University (read between 6 and 8 books)

Guards of the City Watch (read either 4 or 5 books)

Cashier at Ankh-Morpork Mint (read between 1 and 3 books)

I want to give a special shout out to Caty from Miscellaneous Mumblings who completed an amazing 17 books! Well done Caty!

Here's the list of participants

Susan at Reading Upside Down
Nymeth at Things Mean a Lot
Vasilly at 1330V
Katie Mack at Kiss Me Goodnight
Aarti at Booklust
Staci from A Life in the Thumb
Ninefly at Story on a Page
Leya from Wandeca Reads
Sauconys Books
Jacqui from Curiosities
Zibilee from Raging Bibliomania
Stephanie from Bookworm1858
Jo from Ink and Paper
Sakura from Chasing Bawa
Caty from Miscellaneous Mumblings
Amy at My Fluttering Heart
Bookpusher at The Genteel Arsenal
Michael at Classics and Cheese
Miss Eliza at Strange and Random Happenstance
Cath from Read Warbler
Sarah from And Here's How it Happened
Which Way Did She Go
The Fat Lady from Earley Days Yet 
Granny Weatherwax Apprentice
Clover from Fluttering Butterflies
Dawn Leger
Jennie from Biblio File
Zee from Notes from the North
Lightheaded from Everyday Reads
Brenda from Brenda Loves Books
Alyce from At Home with Books
Darcy from Roman de Renart
Ranti from ThingQ
Eva from A Striped Armchair
Magpie from Tapping the Ether
Jess from Onward, Upward Ho
Stephanie from Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-a-holic
Sharon from Books to the Ceiling
Mee from Bookie Mee
Rebecca from Just One More Page
Aradia from Aradia's Reading
Ah Yuan/Wings to Dust from GAL Novelty
Marion from Books and Fiber
Sarah from Sarah's Book Reviews
Koolaidmom from In the Shadow of Mt TBR
Megan from Posey Sessions
Suz's Space
Beth's Books
Meri Greenleaf
Amanda from Desert Book chick
A Trillian Books
Carey from The Tome Traveller
Heathcliff from Burn After Reading
Kate from What Kate's Reading
Sibylle from Magical and Colloquial
Kailana from The Written World

Please let me know if I have missed you off the list of participants in the challenge, or if you want to share  what level of achievement you achieved.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Weekend Cooking: Junior Masterchef Cook a Long

Cooking shows have taken Australia by storm over the last couple of years, and the biggest show is Masterchef. There have been two seasons of Masterchef, plus a celebrity version, and most recently a kids version. I haven't watched all the way through, just bits and pieces, but I had very mixed reactions to the Junior Masterchef episodes, alternating between awe at what these kids could do in the kitchen and  inadequacy because there is no way I could do most of what they could do to name just two things. I was pretty happy that my son could cook himself spaghetti bolognaise and shepherds pie etc before I saw some of the things they could do!

Each week on Friday they have a masterclass where the two chefs who co-host the show, Gary Mehigan and George Colombaris, share recipes and tips to the contestants and the viewing public. Last Friday night, they went a step further, and made the masterclass a cookalong. The idea was that kids at home could have the ingredients all prepared, and then they would follow George on the TV as he showed how to put it all together. I talked to the boy and asked if he would like to do it and he was enthusiastic so we decided that we would do it on Saturday.

When I looked at the recipe I realised that it made six desserts, and there was no way that I was going to eat all six. This might have been the case because the boy has a history of helping make something and then refusing to try it. We therefore decided to invite some friends over for dinner as well, at which point the boy said that he wanted to cook the whole dinner.

This is where I made a bit of a mistake. I did say yes, he could cook the whole dinner, but I didn't put any guidelines in place. He went through my recipe books, and came back and said this is what I want to make - Roast Rib Eye from Gary Mehigan's cook book Comfort Food. (I mentioned this book before for Weekend Cooking because it is one that I won on Twitter a while ago). I sent him away again to find something else, but he came back insisting that he still wanted to cook that, which is why we ate the most expensive piece of meat I have ever bought on Saturday night, along with broccoli and cauliflower cheese and roasted hasselback potatoes! Anyway, other than to say that it was worth the money with the spices on the outside giving it a real zing, what I wanted to focus on was the cook a long dessert.
The official name of the dish was Individual Hazelnut and Chocolate Self-Saucing Puddings with Candied Orange, but because the boy has an allergy to tree nuts (particularly hazelnuts) we just left those out. This also means that I never have Nutella in my house which is a bit of a tragedy really. Annnyyywaaayyyy...

One note about the Chantilly cream. The quantity that you make is huge, so you could easily halve this and still have more than enough! You could also prepare the orange syrup and cream a little bit earlier as well.

Have to say, this was really, really good pudding, and I can't wait to make it again. Although it would have to be a very special occasion to recreate the whole meal!

Hazelnut Chocolate Pudding

Melted butter, for greasing
1 cup self-raising flour
1/3 cup oven roasted hazelnuts, peeled and roughly chopped
1½ tablespoons cocoa powder
¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar
60g dark chocolate70%, roughly chopped
140ml full cream milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
50g unsalted butter, melted, cooled
Icing sugar, to serve

Chocolate Sauce

½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
¼ cup cocoa powder, sifted
200ml warm water

Candied Orange Zest

Zest of 1 large orange, long thin strips
¼ cup caster sugar
50ml orange juice, strained

Cream Chantilly
400ml thickened cream
1 tablespoon icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

1. Preheat oven to 190°C. Brush six ¾ cup-capacity round ramekins with melted butter and place onto an oven tray.

2. Combine flour, hazelnuts, cocoa powder, brown sugar and chocolate in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Make a well in the centre and slowly pour the milk, butter and egg in, whisking until combined.  Divide batter evenly between prepared ramekins.

3. For the sauce, combine brown sugar, cocoa and warm water in a jug and stir to dissolve. Carefully pour chocolate sauce over prepared puddings to just under full.

4. Bake for 13-14 minutes. Remove from oven and stand for 2 minutes. Dust with icing sugar.

5. For the orange syrup, combine orange zest, sugar and juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook for 3-4 minutes to a syrup consistency.

6. For the cream Chantilly, place all ingredients in a jug with a whisk attachment of a stick blender and whip until soft peaks form.

7.Serve puddings with a drizzle of orange sauce and a dollop of Chantilly cream.

When it says a dollop of cream, George showed everyone how to make quinelles of cream. Every time I go to use any of the cream, the boy insists that we can't just drop the cream on whatever we are having, it must now always be quinelled!

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Aussie Author challenge complete

A few days ago I posed the question Do you know what a drop bear is?

Here's the Wikipedia definition: a fictitious Australian marsupial.[1] Drop bears are commonly said to be unusually large, vicious, carnivorous koalas that inhabit treetops and attack their prey by dropping onto their heads from above.[2] They are an example of local lore intended to frighten and confuse outsiders and amuse locals, similar to the jackalope, hoop snake, wild haggis, or snipe.

Really, they are a joke played on unwitting tourists!

It was interesting because when that post went up I got a comment from someone on Twitter asking me if I had heard of an "oooh-me-doodle bird", which I must confess I hadn't heard of. The definition they gave is "really short wings & legs when trying to fly they sing ooh-me-doodle, ooh-me-doodle'. I am sure that there are a lot of other made up animals out there!

Having now finished reading The Third Day, the Frost by John Marsden, which is the book that contained the passage that prompted the posting about drop bears, I have also completed the Aussie Author challenge. The books I read were for the challenge were:

Shadowfae by Erica Hayes
The Night They Stormed Eureka by Jackie French
Disco Boy by Dominic Knight
A Distant Shore by Peter Yeldham
Lord Sunday by Garth Nix
Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden
The Dead of the Night by John Marsden
The Third Day, the Frost by John Marsden

Thanks to  Booklover Book Reviews for hosting the challenge! I will definitely be signing up to participate again next year.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Library Loot: November 17 to 23

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

It's my turn to host the Mr Linky this week, so after you have finished checking out all my loot, then please, feel free to add your link so that we can come and have a look at yours.

I did something a bit unusual tonight. I actually took books off the shelf myself. *gasp*. Normally I only spend a few minutes in the library because I just pick up the books that are waiting for me on the holds shelf and then leave.

Here's the loot that I got this week:

English Passengers by Matthew Kneale - This book was mentioned over at Goodreads, and seeing as the library had it, I thought I would borrow and see how it is. It would also mean that I would actually read a book for my sadly neglected perpetual Booker challenge!

Outback Station by Aaron Fletcher - I finished reading the first book in this series, Outback, last week. Whilst I did have some qualms, the story was definitely interesting so I will continue on with the series. By the way, does anyone know anything about the author of this book, Aaron Fletcher. We haven't been able to find anything out about him at all

The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong - This is one of the books I actually picked up off the shelf myself. I just finished reading The Summoning which is the first book in this trilogy on the train on the way home tonight and I though seeing as I was at the library I might as well request the book while I was there, but then it turned out that the book was on the shelves, so I picked it up myself!

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan - I have been seeing reviews of the latest book from this writing duo, Dash and Lily's Book of Dares, and it looks like such fun that I want to read it even though I haven't read these authors before. My library doesn't have that book yet, so I thought I would start with this one instead. I picked this one up myself too!

What loot did you get this week?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong

Kelley Armstrong is one of favourite authors. I love her Nadia Stafford books, and her Otherworld books, but I hadn't yet read her YA trilogy, but I am rectifying that at the moment. This book, The Summoning, is the first book in the Darkest Powers trilogy.

My teaser comes from page 48:

As traumatic experiences went, the last few days were my best film fodder ever. But what genre would it be? Straight horror? Or psychological suspense? Maybe a combination of elements, surprising the viewer with - 

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Miz B at Should Be Reading. Head on over to find out all about it, and how to join in!

Speaking of Kelley Armstrong, if you are a fan of the Otherworld series, did you realise that she has recently put up a graphic novella on her website called Becoming, which tells the story of Elena, after she was bitten.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Drop Bears post

I am currently reading The Third Day, The Frost by John Marsden which is the third book in the Tomorrow series.

Here's the blurb:

Live what you believe in... die fighting for it.

The third day comes a frost... a killing frost.

The enemy spreads across the land, cold and relentless. They invade. They destroy. They kill.

Only the heroism of Ellie and her friends can stop them.

When hot courage meets icy death, who will win through?

The Third Day, The Frost is the third volume in the award-winning Tomorrow series.

When I was reading it this morning, I was struck by two thoughts.

One is that there are some books that you really shouldn't read the ending before you get to it (yes, I know that a fairy dies every time you do this, but what can I say, I can't help myself!)

The second thing was that I was wondering how certain Australianisms come across to people outside of Australia. For example, there was this whole section about drop bears on pages 14 - 15..

"I hope you know what you are doing, sitting under that tree."

"What for? "

"Well, this time of day, middle of the afternoon, that's when the drop bears get active."

"That's right," the other man said. "Shocking area for drop bears, this."

"I wouldn't sit under that tree for a million dollars," the first man said.

Terrible what those drop bears do. I've seen them take a bloke's face off. Those claws. Gawd, they'd give you the horrors."

"And you never see the one that gets you."

"That's the truth."

"What for, drop bears?" the boy asked.

I'd worked around a bit further, to where I could see his face. He was fidgeting anxiously, but trying to look untroubled.

"You don't know what drop bears are? Fair dink, don't they teach you blokes anything? Fancy sending a bloke to a place like this and not telling him about drop bears."

"They told you about sharks, didn't they?" the second man asked.

"Sharks, yes."

"And crocodiles?"

"Crocodiles, yes."

"And hoop snakes?"

The boy hesitated. "Hoop snakes, yes," he said after a moment.

"Well, I'll tell you what mate, I'd rather go fifteen rounds with a crocodile than have a drop bear land on my head."

"What for, drop bears?" the boy asked again. He was showing real nervousness now, standing up straighter against the motorbike and with increased alertness in his voice. The men stopped working and spoke to him directly.

"Mate," the first one said, with great seriousness, "it's none of my business if you end up wearing a drop bear for a hat, but if you want to keep that good looking face attached to your head, I wouldn't recommend you spend any more time under trees."

So, anyone know what a drop bear is?

Launching: 2010 Virtual Advent Tour

Over the last 4 years Kailana from The Written World and I have been cohosting the Advent Blog tour where we ask people to share their holiday memories, recipes, traditions etc with us all. This year, we are doing it a little bit differently in that we have set up a separate blog for sign ups, buttons, and the daily posts talking about where the stops will be! We hope that lots of you decide to sign up and join in on the fun this year. If you would like to have a look at some of the posts in previous years, you will be able to find some links here.

If you don't celebrate Christmas, please don't feel excluded. We are interested in hearing what you do during the holiday season too!

Special thanks to Court from Once Upon a Bookshelf who designed these amazing buttons. This year we even have one that doesn't reflect snow for those of us who are in the Southern Hemisphere! Thank you so much Court.

You can also follow us on Twitter @VirtualAdvent

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Salon: I've got a lot on!

Today I thought I would take the opportunity to talk about a few things that I have going on. This time of year seems to get very busy very easily online!

Where to start.

First things first! Have you seen the awesome Shaun Tan blogiversary giveaway that I have going on at the moment? You can win a special boxed edition of The Arrival and Sketches from a Nameless Land that at this stage has only been released in Australia. To enter, check all the details here.

Next up, South Pacific Book Chat. A few months ago, I mentioned in a Sunday Salon post a few months ago that Maree from Just Add Books and Tanabata from In Spring it is the Dawn were starting South Pacific Book Chat. There were lots of book chats on Twitter, but so often they were at inconvenient times for those of us who live in the South Pacific. So now, each week on Thursdays at 6pm JPN/8pm Eastern Aust/10pm NZ we come together and chat about all sorts of different things. Through #spbkchat I have met new book bloggers, and Tweeters, had a load of fun, and had some good book recs. Topics we have chatted about over the last few weeks include sports books, show us your TBR, spooky reads and more. Coming up this week we are focusing on Australian YA, so if you are on Twitter and would like to join in, then look out for the #spbkchat tag on Thursday nights.

One project that I am a little behind on is the Australian Book Blogger Directory. We are still taking entries, and there has been some discussion about there being a Book Blogger meet up in Sydney next March. Keep an eye out for further news about that. It will be announced both at the directory and here, and a few other places as well. If I get  organised, then I will try to organise one in Melbourne before then as well. I am planning to spend some time today putting new entries up. In the meantime, if you are an Australian Book Blogger and you would like to be added to the directory, then please head over to the Directory and leave your link.

Tomorrow, I will be posting about the 2010 Virtual Advent Tour. This will be the fifth year I have co-hosted the tour with Kelly from The Written World, and we always look forward to seeing all the posts by the participants. I just saw the buttons for this year's tour and they are Gorg-e-ous!

And finally, in a couple of weeks, we have a special week coming up at Historical Tapestry featuring one of my favourite authors, so I will be sure to tell you all about that when it happens!

All this means that I have lots that I can be doing on this Sunday morning, and can be very productive without even leaving the chair. If only I didn't have to be doing some housework at the same time! What are you going to be doing this Sunday afternoon?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Weekend Cooking: Baumtorte from Mr Rosenblum's List by Natasha Solomons

This week I have been reading the absolutely delightful Mr Rosenblum's List by Natasha Solomons. It's funny, moving, magical and so much more. There have been so many parts that I could have quoted from in addition to the two that I chose for my Teaser Tuesday post this week. As soon as I read the second half of Chapter 11, I knew that I wanted to do a Weekend Cooking post about it, even though I had already written my post for this week (which I have rescheduled for next weekend!) and even though I know that there has already been at least one Weekend Cooking post about this book.

To be honest, I could have quoted about 5 consecutive pages from this chapter, but instead here are some selected quotes touching on the themes of food, memories and emotions. To set the scene, Sadie and Jack are German Jews who emigrated to the UK in 1937, leaving behind their family who disappeared during World War II. One of Sadie's prized possessions is the well loved and well used recipe book from her mother, and this is the first time that Sadie has taken it out of the box she keeps it in to cook from it;

Sadie stroked the battered volume. The spine was coming away and the cloth loose, and she glanced through the index, neatly inscribed in her mother's curling hand and smudged with mixtures from a hundred meal times, until she found the one she wanted: 'Baumtorte'- part of a category called 'cakes to help you remember'. Unlike Jack Sadie preferred German to English because she like the literal meanings of the words; they were put together like tiny building blocks and felt good in her mouth as she said them. 'Baumtorte' was a good word, meaning tree (Baum) cake (Torte), since it is made of layers like the rings of a tree, Sadie, like her mother and grandmother before her, had baked a Baumtorte whenever she needed to remember. She'd baked a cake after Jack kissed her for the first time that December night, another when he proposed (in a noisy train carriage on the way back from Frankfurt, so she couldn't hear him and he had to repeat himself), another when they were stripped of German citizenship and one more after Elizabeth was born. She made the last one with Mutti on the day they received their exit visas. They'd asked for six (Jack, Sadie, Elizabeth, Mutti, Papa and Emil) but there were only three. They hadn't cried - they'd baked a Baumtorte. (page 140)
Sadie bakes her cake, with "each cake was placed on top of another and then another until, when dawn came, there was a cake towering many feet high with a thousand layers of rings: every layer holding a memory." (page 141). The ladies from the town smell Sadie's cake and invite her to their village meeting, and Sadie takes the Baumtorte with her.

It was time for tea and Sadie went to her Baumtorte, which rested on a makeshift table, bowing under its weight. She cut slices for each of them with a huge knife - the thinnest that she could manage. The women ate, and it was the most remarkable cake that they had ever tasted. It was sweet and perfectly moist with a hint of lemon but, as her mouth filled with deliciousness, each woman was overwhelmed with sadness. Each tasted Sadie's memories, her loss and unhappiness and whilst they ate Sadie was, for once, not alone in her sorrow. (page 144)

There are several places to find the recipe online. I found this one at The Times Online. Natasha Solomons has provided the recipe, and you can see what it looks like at the author's website.


225g caster sugar (or vanilla sugar — caster sugar stored with a vanilla pod)
225g unsalted butter;
225g plain flour;
Zest of 1 lemon
6 eggs.

For the icing:
1 tbsp lemon juice;
175g icing sugar, sieved;
Candied orange and lemon segments for decoration


Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one by one. Stir in the lemon zest to taste — it should have a hint of lemon, not too zingy. When the mixture is creamy, slowly mix in the flour. Spread a thin layer of mixture in a cake tin and lightly brown under the grill. Continue to spread and grill, layer upon layer, until all the mixture is used. Allow to cool. Meanwhile, whisk the lemon juice into the icing sugar, then gradually add water until you have a lovely, thick icing. Ice the cake, then decorate with candied orange and lemon segments.

Please note this book is published under the title Mr Rosenblum Dreams in English in the US.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Blogoversary giveaway - Boxed set of Shaun Tan's The Arrival

5 Years! How long is that in blogging years?
It's hard to believe that I have been at this blogging business for 5 years! When I was a kid and teenager, I started dozens of journals. I would do a couple of entries, and then a couple of months later I would pick up the book, turn a couple of pages, and then start again, and the cycle continued over and over again. When I started blogging I actually half expected that same sort of thing to happen again, but it didn't! And now, 5 years on, blogging is an integral part of my life, and very much part of who I am! There are people who I know through blogging that I might never meet in person, but who I count amongst my friends!

To celebrate, I have a very special giveaway, but first a little background.

As soon as I saw a mention of the prize, I knew that I wanted to do a giveaway of it. Never mind that it is the most expensive non text book I have ever bought, and that I haven't bought myself a copy yet!

The Arrival by Shaun Tan is one of my favourite books that I have read since I started blogging, and I know that it is a book that has touched the hearts of other bloggers around the world. I've mentioned it here numerous times, and I have guest posted at other blogs about it, and if I see a review of the book on someone else's blog then I am practically guaranteed to comment!

It doesn't matter that there are no words in the book. The images have such strength that the story is evident and moving without words! One of the things I did when I first read this book was to give it to my then 8 year old son. While his story was different to mine, the key elements were the same.

Now, Shaun Tan has released a boxed set of The Arrival, and another book called Sketches from a Nameless Land, which gives the background behind The Arrival, the illustrations and so much more. To quote Shaun Tan, "it is like the extras on a DVD."

Here is the info from the website for this set:

This special boxed set of the best-selling, internationally acclaimed graphic novel THE ARRIVAL, and a new companion volume of commentary and developmental drawings, SKETCHES FROM A NAMELESS LAND, will fascinate anyone who has fallen under the spell of Shaun Tan's timeless story, and offers a revealing insight into the craft of one of Australia's most compelling author-illustrators.

THE ARRIVAL has become one of the most critically acclaimed books of recent years, a wordless masterpiece that describes a world beyond any familiar time or place. How did it come to be created, and what inspired its unique and captivating story? In SKETCHES FROM A NAMELESS LAND, author Shaun Tan explains the origins of his ideas, using examples from early research and concept sketches through to finished artwork. In tracing this evolution, he sheds light on the silent language of images, the spirit of the migrant experience and the artist's creative journey.

And here is just one of the videos from the website. If you would like to see more videos then there are a number of them available to view here.

As far as I am aware, this box set is only being made available through the Australian publishers and so if you win it, then you will have something that is quite hard to come by outside of Australia.

If you really love the book, and you are really cashed up, you might be interested to know that there is also a deluxe Collector's Edition which comes in a box that looks like a suitcase. Again, see the website if you want to drool over that! I must say that the website that has been developed to promote these releases is amazing, and you can easily spend more than a few minutes exploring it. Please note, if you do look at the website, then the prize that I am offering for this giveaway is the first item under Other Books, not the suitcase!

For those of you who haven't read The Arrival yet, what are you waiting for? I will also offer up a second  prize of a copy of The Arrival. In order to win this prize, you must be in a country that the Book Depository ships to.

Please spread the word so that as many fans of the book as possible get the chance to win this fantastic prize.

The prize details:

First prize: The winner will receive a special box set of The Arrival and Sketches from a Nameless Land as pictured above.

Second prize: One copy of The Arrival by Shaun Tan

The contest is open internationally, although for second prize I must ask that the prize winner live somewhere where the Book Depository ships.

Contest closes on 1 December 2010 at 5pm Eastern Australian Daylight Savings Time

To enter, please complete the following form:


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