Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

Lying in front of Harrison Opuku is a body, the body of one of his classmates, a boy known for his crazy basketball skills, who seems to have been murdered for his dinner.

Armed with a pair of camouflage binoculars and detective techniques absorbed from television shows like CSI, Harri and his best friend, Dean, plot to bring the perpetrator to justice. They gather evidence—fingerprints lifted from windows with tape, a wallet stained with blood—and lay traps to flush out the murderer. But nothing can prepare them for what happens when a criminal feels you closing in on him.

Recently emigrated from Ghana with his sister and mother to London’s enormous housing projects, Harri is pure curiosity and ebullience—obsessed with gummy candy, a friend to the pigeon who visits his balcony, quite possibly the fastest runner in his school, and clearly also fast on the trail of a murderer.

Told in Harri's infectious voice and multicultural slang, Pigeon English follows in the tradition of our great novels of friendship and adventure, as Harri finds wonder, mystery, and danger in his new, ever-expanding world.

The first thing that you need to know if you are intending to read this book is that it is properly hutious. Don't know what that means? I will get to it shortly.

Harrison Opuku has recently immigrated to the UK from Ghana, along with his mother and two sisters, Lydia and Agnes. His father and other relatives have remained in Ghana with hopes of joining them soon. The family lives in one of the tower blocks that form part of the London suburban landscape. The area is rough with violence, gangs and danger forming part of the everyday landscape.

The book opens when Harrison and his friends are standing around looking at the body of one of his acquaintances. The boy appears to have been killed for his dinner. With the gang culture that is prevalent the Police seem powerless to come up with a breakthrough in the investigation to find out why the boy died, and who killed him. When it seems apparent to Harrison that there will be no answers, he decides to try to investigate the murder, along with his friend Dean.

Harrison is an interesting character, alternatively innocent and hard edged, awed by the life that he is now living in London, but also reminiscing about is life back in Ghana, worried about his sisters and mother especially seeing as he is now the man of the house, yet needling his older sister Lydia constantly, on the verge of sexual activity and yet happy to just hold hands with his girlfriend Poppy.

Sometimes the juxtaposition between the two levels of extreme was startling, but I have no doubt that that was a deliberate choice by the author. For example, early in the book in one paragraph Harrison is telling us about the playground where sometimes the kids swap football stickers and sweets, and a short five or so paragraphs later, he is being shown the correct way to 'chook' (knife) someone by some of the members of the Dell Farm Crew. A few more paragraphs and Harrison is talking about his love for all the different types of Haribo lollies.

Many of the people that Harrison comes in contact with are the marginalised in society - elderly, disabled, immigrant, drunken - and yet he does find some fragile sense of community with these people. In a way he has been searching for belonging anywhere he could find it, even if that means becoming part of the Dell Farm Crew. The alternative to belonging to DFC though is to be enemies to them, and that is a dangerous place to find yourself.

As Harrison and his friend Dean continue to investigate the murder they find themselves coming up against the code of silence which dominates the gangs, and by asking the wrong questions, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, they bring attention to themselves in ways that may have consequences far greater than anyone can imagine.

There is one other 'character" in the book whose presence grows as the story progresses and that is a pigeon.. As I was reading the book I was puzzled by the choice that the author made, but looking back on it from a distance of a couple of weeks I suspect that the use of this additional perspective was to provide a foreshadowing point of view, but also to reiterate the childishness of Harrison as the book speeds to it's conclusion.

When the author talked about the tower block that Harrison lived in, I was taken back to the time when I lived in one of those towers. We lived in one in Sheffield for a couple of years until I had my son and we were moved out because the Council didn't allow young children to live in the higher levels of the tower. I was lucky to live on a very quiet floor of the tower. There was an old lady who had lived in her flat for nearly 30 years who lived opposite us, and the flat next to us was quite often empty. I do remember getting out of the lift on the wrong floor and being terrified because just one floor below us there was graffiti and broken windows on the landing.You had to be careful.

There were times when I completely related to the Harrison and his family constantly checking to ensure that the door was locked, and to try not to look out the peephole when you heard unexpected noise. I learnt that the hard way when I was at home by myself one night and the police broke the door in next door at 2am and suddenly I had them knocking on my door too. The author did a great job of reminding me of living in that environment of constant awareness of what was happening around you. It wasn't always fear, but I guess I was constantly aware that something could happen, even if it didn't.

At the very beginning I mentioned that this book was hutious, which is as far as I can tell is a Ghanaian slang term for "frightening". Not only are the events portrayed hutious to our main characters, but as a reader you are taken into a world where just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or not being accepted by a particular group of people, can lead to danger every days. Sometimes that danger is slight, but other times, it is much greater.

There is charm in the language, there is a relatively good portrayal of events from the perspective of a young boy, but please don't expect this to be a light and fluffy read, for it is something completely different altogether from that.  Weeks after finishing this novel though, I found myself contemplating the events portrayed in the book in far more than a 'I really liked that book' kind of way. It is a rare book that does that to me. The strange thing about that for me is that this is despite the fact that I didn't totally connect with the world or the characters, even though I did have my experiences to draw upon.

Thanks to Netgalley for the e-ARC of this novel.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Library Loot: June 29 to July 5

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 is very close to the end of financial year here, which for me means that I am busy, busy, busy at work. It doesn't however stop me from still borrowing far more books than I can actually read from the library.

Here's my loot this week

New Loot:
 Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand - I have wanted to get hold of this book since I first heard about just as it was about to come out. I am pretty sure it will be worth the wait!

 The Charm School by Susan Wiggs - There was a review of this one over at Dear Author not too long ago where they said that this was a romance with a heroine that wasn't beautiful, which is quite unusual.

 Dreams of Joy by Lisa See - Yay, a follow up book to Shanghai Girls. I actually just won a copy of this from Savvy Dreams and Wit but I had already borrowed this one so will keep it out for me until I get my copy.
 Kafka's Soup: A complete history of world literature in 14 recipes by Mark Crick - I first heard this mentioned on a podcast and thought it might be fun for a future weekend cooking post.

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister - There have been quite a few mentions of this authors latest release around the blogs lately but my library doesn't have it yet, so I thought I would try this one out first.


Share your loot by adding your link to Mr Linky below

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison

My teaser this week comes from pages 28 and 29 of The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison:

"I love you, my darling," said Roberta, stroking her daughter's hair. Anna looked up at her mother with unblinking eyes. In the years to come, she would remember that fragile day, its touchless light, their quite elations.

*This teaser comes from an ARC version and so the wording may change in the final version.

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!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Mailbox Monday: June edition

I originally decided to do Mailbox Monday posts monthly as I do enough weekly memes and I wanted to leave Monday's free for other things. I am thinking however that maybe I should do it weekly because then I could be more in denial of how many books it is that are coming into my house!

Mailbox Monday is on tour and for June it is being hosted at The Bluestocking Guide. Head over there to share your links, or to see what everyone else has posted about this week.


Radio Shangri-La by Lisa Napoli - I won this as part of Armchair BEA and I was very glad to get my first choice which was this book.

The Making of a Gentleman by Shana Galen - Jenny from Jenny Loves to Read sent me this to read. I read the first book in the trilogy a while ago and whilst I wasn't blown away with it, I did really like the concept so I will give this one a go.


Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn - I was out for lunch with some of the ARRA girls and we visited the specialty romance store in Melbourne, and I couldn't leave without buying something. I read this and it started a Julia Quinn reading jag!

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks - I went and saw Geraldine Brooks speak a few weeks ago and wanted to get a book signed so I had to buy it first!

The Katyn Order by Douglas W Jacobson - There was a mix up for a blog tour which meant I didn't get this book when I was meant to. However I really wanted to read it, so ended up buying it myself.

Unveiled by Courtney Milan - There's been a lot of buzz about this novella. I haven't read the other connected books to this one, but I will.


The Debutante's Dilemna by Elyse Mady, Friendly Fire by Megan Hart, Demon's Fall by Karalynn Lee and The Twisted Tale Stormy Gale by Christine Bell were all free downloads from Carina Press last week.

The Ex Boyfriend's Handbook by Matt Dunn and Dating Mr December by Philippa Ashley are both supposed to be fun reads, which sounded perfect to me at the time.


One Good Reason by Sarah Mayberry - I have read a couple of this author's books this year, so I grabbed this one when I saw it.

The Wind Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi - Heard lots of good things about this one.

The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison - This was nominated for the Orange Prize so should hopefully be a good read.

City of Promise by Beverly Swerling - I have really enjoyed all the other books in this series, so the chance to read the final book was one that I couldn't pass up!

Grave Sight graphic novel - I have read the series that this is based on, so thought I would see how the graphic novel version was.

Accidents of Providence by Stacia Brown - I have read quite a few books set in the court of Charles II, but not a lot about what happened during the time of Charles I.

For review

The Orchard by Jeffrey Stepakoff - I read Fireworks over Toccoa by this author a couple of years ago.

Sylvester by Georgette Heyer - I always feel as though I should have read more Heyer!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday Salon: Reading the immigrant experience.

The phrase 'must see TV' is one that is bandied around quite regularly - often for TV shows that are pure entertainment but are must see because so many people are watching and it therefore becomes the water cooler topic.

This week on TV here in Australia, we got to see what truly was must see TV. The show was called Go Back to Where You Came From and it was raw, confronting, emotional, challenging television and the TV channel that showed it deserves many, many kudos for showing it! I cried so many times whilst watching this shows but more than just being emotionally affected to the point of tears, I was also shocked, outraged and humbled by the show. The station that showed it is SBS which is the multi cultural mainstream broadcaster here in Australia showing TV shows, news, movies, sports events etc from around the globe that the other more commercial channels would not normally be interested in showing.

Before you wonder why on earth I am talking about TV in a Sunday Salon post that is meant to be about books, I will get to books I promise.

Go Back to Where You Came From was amazing TV - reality TV at its best. It took six ordinary Australians with quite strong opinions on the question of immigration, and in particular about the boat people who arrive illegally in Australia and sent those six people back through the journey undertaken by refugees. They started by spending time with people who have been settled here in Australia and learnt a bit about their stories, then doing the boat trip that causes so much emotional reaction in the Australian media, back to places like Malaysia, and then further back to camps in Africa, and then further again to the very source countries for many refugees - countries like Iraq and the Congo. There were varying reactions amongst the six to what they experiences, and quite strong reactions to the participants on the social media sites as the show was airing to some of them.

Here is a link to the first episodes (sorry, I have no idea if it is geo blocked or not). Here's the trailer, which I don't think is blocked.

I have moved countries twice in my life. Both times it was willingly - because I could, not because I didn't feel as though I had any other choice - and it was to a country where I knew the language. Despite that it was difficult to leave behind family, friends and possessions.

Now, I will confess that I don't have strong objections to the idea of Australia increasing it's refugee intake, mainly because I have always been compelled to think about how difficult life must be for someone to leave behind everything they own, friends and family, to spend years in refugee camps, to risk your life in a boat that is unseaworthy, and then further years in a detention centre and that is a better option than staying where you were. I am reminded of a series of photos that I saw over at The Big Picture a few weeks ago on immigration, which illustrates just how desperate people are to escape from their current situations.

I agree that there needs to be a process that determines who are legitimate refugees, but that the current process which can take years whilst leaving people languishing in detention centres is wrong. I don't know what the answer is, but I do know that this isn't it!

For me, this show wasn't one that changed my opinion, but it was one that made me want to do something. I am not sure what, but I want to find something.

Maybe I am a bit of a bleeding heart when it comes to this issue, but I have always found the immigrant story to be a compelling one. It may not necessarily be appropriate to ask the question to my neighbours or casual acquaintances of how they came to be here, or what they escaped from. When authors are brave enough to put those experiences into books enables someone who is lucky to have been born where I was, at the time I was, someone like me the chance to understand, to empathise, which was pretty much the point of making a show like Go Back To Where You Came From. Even after getting to the new country there will be many struggles - starting again often in low paying jobs, dealing with different cultures, particularly after the children get older and are caught between two cultures.

I have enjoyed reading these kinds of immigrant experience books for many, many years. Among the earliest I can recall are novels like Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, and the more recent Shanghai Girls by Lisa See dealing with Chinese families immigrating to America, to non fiction/memoirs like Ishmael Beah's Long Way Gone about boy soldiers from African wars and Alice Pung's Unpolished Gem about a Vietnamese family's new life in Melbourne, Australia.

There are so many other books I could mention here, but I wanted to ask you what are the best immigrant experience novels you have read? Do you have a must read novel recommendation? Do you like reading these kinds of books and why or why not?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Weekend Cooking: The Empress of Ice Cream by Anthony Capella

FRANCE 1670. Carlo Demirco's mastery of the extraordinary new art of creating ice creams has brought him wealth, women, and a position at the court of Louis XIV.

Then Carlo is sent to London, along with Louise de Keroualle, an impoverished lady-in-waiting. The most powerful ministers of two countries have decided that Louise is to be Charles II's new mistress, and will stop at nothing to make sure she submits.

But Carlo too is fascinated by the enigmatic Frenchwoman.With the king's every pleasure the subject of plots and betrayals, and Carlo's only weapons his exquisite ice creams, soon he must decide ...Where do his loyalties lie?

If you were to ask me who my favourite English king to read about is, I would probably choose Henry II, but not far behind you would find Charles II, and yet on the surface of things there is not that much to admire. He was a king who lived for pleasure, had multiple mistresses and numerous illegitimate children, but after the years of austerity that was enforced during the years of the Commonwealth, his court must have been something to behold.I guess though, when it comes down to it, I have been charmed by the way I have read Charles II through the fiction I have read over the years. (I have previously posted about this fascination here)

The title and cover of this book alone would have caught my attention, but to read further in the blurb and find out that it is set in the Restoration court of Charles II made it a must read for me! Stir ice cream into the mix and it is even better!

The events that are portrayed in the book come to us from two different perspectives. The first is of a young man who we meet in Italy where he is the young apprentice of an ice maker. He is being taught the art of the ice by his owner - the four flavours, the skills, the tips to creating the perfect textures for ices, cordials, for ice carving and more. But Carlo has lofty ambitions. He wants to do more than just stick to the rules that he is being taught. He wants to experiment with new flavours, new techniques, and most of all, he wants to be his own man, to call no man master.

Offered a chance to escape from his life in Italy, Carlo finds himself in the court of Louis XIV, and it is there that he meets Louise de Keroualle, a lady in waiting to Minette, the sister of Charles II, and sister in law to Louis XIV. Carlo is very quickly besotted, but Louise is out of his reach. She may be impoverished but she is the daughter of one of the most noble families of Brittany, and whilst Carlo has made his own way to Court, he is still of ignoble birth.

It is Louise who provides the other perspective in the narrative. Following the death of Minette, Louise is sent to the court of Charles II. It seems everyone but here is aware of what her objective is to be - to become mistress to Charles II and to influence his decisions and policy to the advantage of her native France. Carlo is also sent to France as part of the 'gift' from Louis with a brief to create an ice the likes of which has never before been seen or tasted in England.

One of the hallmarks of the decadence of the Court is that there was a total fascination with all things French - fashion, art, food... ices. Carlo spends all his time trying to create the dessert that we now know as ice cream, using some of the most famous intellectuals of the time to help develop the methodology. Far from being an accessible treat as it is for us today, the desserts created by Carlo were only for the rich and powerful, and sometimes they were created for the king alone.

Many of the desserts that are described in the book sound incredible - for example, at one of the feasts Carlo creates a pineapple ice that not only is made from the then exotic and difficult to obtain fruit, but is also carved to look exactly like a pineapple - although in the quest for more and more unique tastes and combinations there were also some that were not quite so enticing to my more modern palate!

Providing contrast to the glittering courts, we also get introduced to Hannah and Elias who live in the same establishment as Carlo. These are the working class, the people who suffer under the heavy burden of poverty and who see the merriment of the court and find it hard to believe that there can be such wastage, particularly as the king and parliament are increasingly at odds about issues like funding the wars against the Dutch. Stir in anti-French sentiments and anti Catholic sentiments that were rife at the time and they provide a necessary contrast to the constant over the top details of life at Court.

When you read an Anthony Capella book it becomes obvious pretty quickly that this is an author who loves food, and I would go so far as to say that if you want descriptions of sensory experiences - be they taste, sight or the other senses - then Capella should be a go to author. This is particularly true of The Wedding Officer and the Food of Love with their focus on Italian food, and of this book. It is only when the narrative moves away from the focus on the sensuous that it loses its way. Unlike some of the other portrayals I have seen of the relationship between Louise and Charles this one is definitely more clinical, colder and more  about business, and this is also a bit of a difference between this book and others by this author that do tend to have romantic themes.

That is not to say that there is no mention of love - for all that this isn't completely a romantic story, there is lots of discussion of love and sex:

I have heard love compared with a fire. But that is all wrong. If you touch a flame you draw back. The pain is quick and sudden and then it is gone.

Love is like ice. It creeps up on your, entering your body by stealth, crumbling your defences, finding the innermost recesses of your flesh. It is not like heat or pain or burning so much as an inner numbness, as if your heart itself were hardening, turning you to stone. Love grips you, squeezing you with a force that can crack rocks or split the hulls of boats. Love can life paving slabs, crumble marble, wither foliage from trees.
If you are at all interested, then Capella has shared some recipes of some of his favourite ice creams which prompts me to ask...

What are your favourite ice cream flavours?

I find it difficult to to go past Boysenberry. I first tasted this flavour when I went to Christchurch in New Zealand many years ago, and will always therefore associate it with New Zealand, but I am grateful that the flavour is also accessible here!

 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, June 22, 2011

Library Loot: June 22 to 28

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!

I have mentioned a couple of times before that we are in the lucky situation of having our library system being one that is growing. A couple of years ago we had a new branch open, and in a matter of weeks we are going to have another new branch as well. The exciting thing about when there is a new branch, is that every single book that they bring in to shelve is brand new. The reason I mention this is that we are starting to see that there are books that have been catalogued as being on the shelf in the new branch, and there are some that I am waiting for. The new branch is probalby equal distance from my house to the one I go to now, so the key factor for me will be opening hours before I can decide whether I go to the new one or old one!

New Loot:

The Heir by Grace Burrowes - I have had chances to read this before, but I was never all that interested. I don't know what changed, but I must have seen something that made me think need to request this now!

A Fountain Filled with Blood by Julia Spencer-Fleming - I recently read the first book in this series and thoroughly enjoyed it. I had to get this one through Interlibrary Loan as well. I think I have to get the next couple of books too through ILL too, but the later books in the series are on the catalogue when I get to them!


Claire has Mr Linky today, so head on over and share your loot by adding your link to Mr Linky!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: The Ice Cream Girls by Dorothy Koomson

This week my teaser comes from The Ice Cream Girls by Dorothy Koomson. I first read this author a few years ago when I read the oh so good My Best Friend's Girl and ever since then I have been working my way through all her books. The premise for this one feels a bit different than her other books, so it will be interesting to see how it all pans out in the end.

My teaser comes from page 48:

When all the dots are joined, when he gets to the end of the puzzle, the policeman's face gives him away. It freezes in its inquisitive expression as everything falls into place and he connects the dot of my old name with the dot of my general description with the dot of my alleged crime. And there he has it; who the woman he's just pulled over is.
Tuesday is hosted by Miz B at Should Be Reading. Head on over to find out  all about it, and how to join in!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Nightsiders by Sue Isle

In a future world of extreme climate change, Perth, Western Australia’s capital city, has been abandoned. Most people were evacuated to the East by the late ’30s and organised infrastructure and services have gone.

A few thousand obstinate and independent souls cling to the city and to the southern towns. Living mostly by night to endure the fierce temperatures, they are creating a new culture in defiance of official expectations. A teenage girl stolen from her family as a child; a troupe of street actors who affect their new culture with memories of the old; a boy born into the wrong body; and a teacher who is pushed into the role of guide tell the story of The Nightside.

Last week I posted about Love and Romanpunk, which was the second book that was released as part of the Twelve Planets series published by Twelfth Planet Press. This book, Nightsiders by Sue Isle, was the first published.

I hadn't read anything by Sue Isle before but knew as soon as I heard what the setting was that I wanted to read this collection of four short stories, one of which (Paper Dragons) had previously been published. The collection is predominantly set in the city where I was born, the city where most of my relatives still live, the city I visit quite regularly - Perth in Western Australia. This Perth however is only barely recognisable as the city I love to visit.

The book is set in the near future in a world where there has been dramatic climatic change in addition to bombings that have destroyed much of the infrastructure and housing. The temperatures soar during the day, forcing the few hardy souls who remain to take shelter where ever they can find it, and water is scarce. Most of the activity happens at night, hence the community being known as the Nightside. Most people have been evacuated to the East, and for the most part those who have been left behind have been forgotten.

The first story in the collection is The Painted Girl. The main character is Kyra, a young girl who travels with Nerina. They have travelled from place to place always being careful to behave appropriately as they travel through other groups areas and never to outstay their welcome. For the first time they that Kyra can remember, they are headed into the city proper. This story has familiar elements - the isolation you feel coming into an established community and not knowing how to act, a coming of age tale where getting to know yourself is made harder by the fact that you are not who you thought you were at all, but the harshness of the environment sandblasts these providing a rawness that is quite affecting.

The second story is Nation of the Night, and this is the story that is for me the lynch pin of the collection. The main character of the story is Ash, a young man born into a female body, and desperate for the gender reassignment surgery that will help him be the young man he feels himself to be. He has no choice but to head East to Melbourne for his operation. Whilst there are people that Ash meets in Melbourne that are welcoming to him as an outsider, the authorities or not. The city that I live in now is portrayed as overcrowded with refugees and suffering from it's own climactic issues, different from those faced in Perth, but with its own devastating implications for those who live in this city. As well as looking at the identity issues for Ash, there is also discussion of the fate of refugees in the city and the difficulties that they face like being able to provide and educate their families, as well as dangers facing those who don't belong. To me, this felt like a political statement given the emotional reactions that people have to the refugee issue, not only in Australia, but also in other places around the world.

The third story in the collection, Paper Dragons, is the one that worked least well for me, not so much because of the story itself but because of what we had already learned about the world. This story focused again on the younger members of the group with Ash appearing again within the narrative. I did think about using the word tribe rather than group but hesitated to do so, but there is almost a tribal feel to the group with all the members having prescribed duties. I think that the tribal element really comes to the fore in the fourth story, but more on that later. When on a mission to search through some of the dwellings for anything that might be of use to the group, Itch and Shani find some papers, which turn out to be a manuscript. When the troup of Players talk of performing the play, there is opposition from within the group as they fear that some of the memories of the past may be awakened and cause new ideas to be born that may cause changes that some within the group. The power of entertainment to provoke discussion and change is an interesting concept to explore in this setting.

Continuing with the idea of change and growth, the fourth story is also one I found very touching. In The Schoolteacher's Tale, Ellen Wakeling (the teacher of the title and oldest member of the group) is asked to perform the function of elder at an assembly to be held outside of the time and in conjunction with a tribe of native Australians. Whilst the vast majority of the people who live in this Perth stay close to the city centre, a few hardy souls have been spreading out into the surrounding areas, and now, there is a chance to move out to the Edge. For Ellen the trip to the Edge is a journey that forces her to think about the way that the people left behind in the colony have learned the skills that they need to survive and whether it is time for new ways to be examined and put into place. In some ways the expansion into the surrounding areas, and the meeting up with the Aboriginal communities felt a bit like a chance for recolonisation this time in partnership rather than through conflict.

Part of the reason I think that this story affected me as much as it did was that I recognised the journey that Ellen took, out through Mt Lawley, along the railway line (no longer in use in this book), out past the Peninsula hotel, as this is the route that I take most times I go to Perth and visit my family.

This book and Love and Romanpunk are completely different books, connected only in that they have been published as part of the Twelve Planets series, but they were both really good reads, and I can't wait for the next one to arrive in my mailbox in the next few weeks. I will definitely be ordering the future releases in the series and can't wait to see where I am taken next.

 Rating 4/5

This book  counted for the Aussie Author Challenge and I also counted it for the  Once Upon a Time V challenge which officially ends today (although it possibly fits under others of Carl's challenges just as easily). This is a therefore a good chance for me to list most of the books that I read during the challenge! Extra pleasing to me is to see that half of these authors are Aussie authors, and that I got to review all of those books! I actually didn't do that deliberately but I am glad it worked out that way.

The Third Pig Detective Agency by Bob Burke
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Glitter Rose by Marianne de Pierre
The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
Yellowcake by Margo Lanagan
The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen
Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sunday Salon: Reading for a good cause

Like so many of you, I was an avid reader as a child. Whilst I didn't need any added incentive to spend my time lost in the pages of a book, I do remember being very excited each year when it was MS Read-a-thon time! What's better than reading a book? Being sponsored to read as many books as you can in a specified time period!

To be honest, when the form comes home with my son, I still get a little bit excited at the thought of MS Read-a-thon even though I am far too old to be part of the target audience. The event has now been running successfully for more than 30 years. I was therefore very pleased when I got an email this week from the good people at the MS Society announcing that they have started The Novel Challenge for those of us who don't quite qualify for the school kids fundraising event anymore.

What is The Novel Challenge?:

The Novel Challenge is a reading-based fundraiser where literary-minded adults are invited to raise much-needed funds for people living with multiple sclerosis by getting sponsored to read, read, read!

According to the website, you can choose to read during July, August or September (or all three which is what I will be doing!), there are suggested reading lists, ideas for fundraising and more.

There are more than 20000 Australians living with Multiple Sclerosis. One of those is a member of my family, and so I am definitely planning to sign up and do something I love to help raise money for this important cause.

If you would like to sponsor me, then please visit my individual fundraising page.

Do you have a favourite charity that you read for? Do you have some reading related fund raising tips?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Who taught you to cook?

From page 182 of In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming

Dinner was a lamb stew thick with winter vegetables, garnished with Parmesan. He went through half the loaf of golden-crusted bread sopping up the sauce. "Where'd you learn to cook like this?" he asked between mouthfuls.

"My grandmother Fergusson. We went to live with her and Pawpaw when I was seven. I was a handful. A tomboy in a household of Southern ladies and mad at the world to boot. One day she caught me dropping eggs off the veranda to see what would happen to 'em. She marched me into the kitchen and tied about an acre of apron around me and said, "I'm going to teach you to put those eggs to better use, missy." She smiled. "First thing she taught me to make was meringue. Talk about starting at the top."

The other day at work I was talking to one of my colleagues and we were talking about whether we like to cook and about how that love or otherwise is fostered by our mother and grandmother. She talked about how both her mother and grandmother are fantastic cooks but that she never felt the need to cook because she knew they would do it for her. She claims to not be able to cook anything. One of my other colleagues talked about how her mother made fantastic cakes and slices etc and so does she, but Monday to Friday cooking is something she doesn't enjoy.

I didn't learn to cook at my mother's knee, and I can't remember much about my grandmother's cooking.
My mother is at best a functional cook. There was no flair, no enjoyment, not much care. Apparently she used to cook for a group of sheep shearers, and my dad insists that he taught her to cook (and he is a fantastic cook so I could see this happening) but it seems as though as soon as they broke up, she just forgot it all!

My brother, sister and I have so many stories that we regale our friends with when we start talking about food. We could talk about the severely out of date food in the cupboards which means that when we go to Adelaide we always buy new food because you just have no idea what you could find in that cupboard. We could talk about the endless meals of something with mashed potatoes and peas - could be sausages, mutton chops, pasties, but there would always be mashed potatoes and peas. We could talk about the fact that if she bought some nice fruit we would eat it very quickly and she would say "I am not buying any more fruit, it just gets eaten", so then she would buy the cheapest, nastiest fruit which wouldn't get eaten so then her comment would be "I am not buying more fruit because it doesn't get eaten."

One of our favourite stories though is Chicken Ping. I have briefly mentioned chicken ping before in the comments to this post. It was a dish that was served up regularly in our house!You haven't heard of chicken ping before? Let me enlighten you.

This dish was christened Chicken Ping by my brother in law after this was what he was served up the first time he ever ate at our house. I was living in the UK at that point so missed this night, but we have all been dining out on the story ever since!

Take the cheapest whole chicken you can find.

Douse liberally in soy sauce (because that will make the skin at least look a bit brown).

Place in the microwave for 15 mins (always 15 mins. You never change the time to allow for coldness of the chicken, or the different sizes or anything like that)

When the microwave goes PING! it is done.

Serve, usually with lumpy mashed potatoes and peas!

As the story goes, my brother in law cut into his still raw chicken and started thinking oh my goodness what am I doing here! After that they only ever went to his house for dinner because his mother is an excellent cook!

Anyway, enough mother stories for now.

I thought in light of the character's comment above, I would share a recipe for Pavlova Rolls because it is meringuey. We had them at the party that I posted about last week, and they are always a hit. I actually am not all that fond of normal pavlova (which is almost unAustralian I know), but I do like these. When we make them we usually only put strawberries in, but this variation looks really yummy!

Soft Pavlova Roll with Liqueur Mascarpone

  • 1 x 250g ctn mascarpone
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) double cream
  • 1 1/2 tbs icing sugar mixture
  • 1 tbs Grand Marnier liqueur
  • 7 eggwhites
  • 1 3/4 cups (375g) caster sugar
  • 2 tsp cornflour
  • 2 tsp white vinegar
  • Icing sugar mixture, extra, to dust
  • Berry compote

  • 1/3 cup (75g) caster sugar
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) water
  • 1 x 500g packet frozen raspberries, thawed
  • 2 x 250g punnets strawberries, hulled, thinly sliced
  • 1 x 150g punnet blueberries
  • 1 x 150g punnet raspberries

  1. Combine the mascarpone, cream, icing sugar and Grand Marnier in a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge to firm slightly.
  2. Preheat oven to 160°C. Grease and line the base of a 24 x 30cm Swiss roll pan with baking paper. Use an electric mixer to beat the egg whites in a medium bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add the caster sugar while continuously whisking. Continue whisking until thick and glossy and sugar dissolves. Add cornflour and vinegar and use a metal spoon to gently fold until just combined. Spread mixture into prepared pan. Bake for 20 minutes or until just firm. Remove from oven and set aside for 3 minutes to stand. Lay a clean tea towel on a clean work surface. Top with a large sheet of baking paper and dust with extra icing sugar. Turn pavlova out onto baking paper and set aside for 10 minutes to cool.
  3. Spread mascarpone mixture along the long side of meringue closest to you. Carefully roll pavlova, using the paper and tea towel as a guide, to enclose filling. Keep pavlova wrapped in baking paper and tea towel. Transfer pavlova roll to a tray and place in the fridge for 3 hours or overnight to set.
  4. To make the berry compote, combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Simmer for 2 minutes or until thickened slightly. Place the syrup, raspberries and their juices in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Strain though a sieve into a medium bowl. Place in an airtight container and refrigerate to chill.
  5. Transfer pavlova roll onto a serving platter. Remove paper and tea towel. Top pavlova roll with strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. Drizzle with half the raspberry coulis. Cut into slices to serve with remaining raspberry coulis.
** In the comments there is a suggestion that you could use 1 and a quarter cups of caster sugar (superfine sugar) and it is still sweet enough,  and another variation was to add rosewater to the marscapone instead of liqueur.

 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, June 15, 2011

Library Loot: June 15 to 21

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!

I had a bit of a shock this week. I actually went and got books off the shelf myself. Not that I had to, but I had requested the books, I knew they were checked in but the librarians hadn't yet put them on the hold shelf so I went and got them myself. I even ventured into the non fiction section!

Here's my new loot:

Immovable Feast: A Paris Christmas by John Baxter -  I was listening to a podcast the other day and they mentioned this author's latest book, but my library doesn't have that one yet, so I thought I would try his writing with this book.

Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson - I just read 13 Little Blue Envelopes, and I was hoping to get the follow up book, but the library doesn't have it yet so I picked up this one instead.

Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani - I haven't actually read this author before, but I am pretty sure that she is my kind of author so I have high hopes for this one.


Share you loot by adding your link to Mr Linky below: