Friday, September 30, 2011

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

She started as a maid in an aristocratic London household when she was thirteen. Her employer, Lady Rowan Compton, a suffragette, took the remarkably bright youngster under her wing and became her patron, aided by Maurice Blanche, a friend often retained as an investigator by the elite of Europe. It was he who first recognised Maisie's intuitive gifts and helped her to earn admission to prestigious Girton College at Cambridge where Maisie planned to complete her education.

The outbreak of war changed everything. Maisie trained as a nurse, then left for France to serve at the Front, where she found - and lost - an important part of herself.

Ten years after the Armistice, in the spring of 1929, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator, one who has learned that coincidences are meaningful, and truth elusive. her very first case involves suspected infidelity but reveals something very different. In the aftermath of the Great War, a former officer has founded a convalescent refuge for those grievously wounded, ex-soldiers too shattered to resume normal life. It is a working farm known as The Retreat. When Fate brings Maisie a second case involving The Retreat she must confront the ghost that has haunted her for over ten years.

Okay, I am going to start with shallow and make my way to a bit more depth in this review!

Firstly, can I say how much I dislike this cover! It might be correct for the era but it is also drab and boring especially when you are holding the book in your hand and I am so glad that they have moved onto new covers for this series.Aren't these ones much, much better?

Anyway ... moving on.

Do you have strategies as to how and what you are going to read next? For the longest time I had put off reading this book because I was reading the Phryne Fisher mystery series which is also set in the late 1920s and I had decided that I didn't want to mix the two series. Now that I seem to have fallen off the Phryne Fisher series (not deliberately I just haven't read one for ages) it was time to give Maisie a go. To be honest though, other than the superficial similarities of a woman detective in the late 1920s there is really not a lot in common and so I could have been reading them both the whole time! Oh well, lesson learned!

Maisie Dobbs started out as a maid in the London household of Lady Rowan Compton, mother, suffragette and determined to make a difference. Early on Maisie's enthusiasm for education and learning is identified when she is found reading in the library in the early hours of the morning, and so Lady Compton brings in her friend Maurice to teach her, leading to a place for Maisie at Girton College in Cambridge. Her future education is pretty much assured until World War I interrupts and instead of continuing her education she becomes a nurse first in a London hospital but later on is sent to the French fronts.

Fast forward 10 years and Maisie is setting herself up as a private investigator. Her first case involves a husband who believes that his wife is cheating on him. The clues eventually lead Maisie to a working farm which was set up to provide a safe haven for those returned soldiers who suffered horrific injuries that make it difficult to live a normal life, but Maisie thinks that there is something a bit odd about the set up. When Lady Compton's son James decides that he wants to go and live at The Retreat, Maisie knows that she needs to investigate, with the assistance of Billy. He was a patient in France and they meet again fortuitously when she rents the rooms where he is the building handyman/supervisor.

The structure on this one was interesting. The first part of the book is all about the cases she is working on, but the second part takes us back to her humble beginnings and works through her past leading right up to her time as a war nurse. The scenes portrayed in this section in particular were heart rending and this reader could almost hear the guns booming through the pages. The third section of the book then went back to the case, and to the memories that Maisie is forced to confront and deal with, especially the memories of the heart. The supporting cast of characters include not only those I have mentioned previously and her father Frankie, and they all work to assist Maisie with her case but also with her own emotional issues.

I feel a little silly that I waited so long to start this series because I knew I would like it. I can assure you that I will be reading the next book in the series fairly soon! It is waiting at the library to be picked up as we speak!

Rating 4/5

This book is one of the books that Kelly challenged me to read for the 2011 Reading Swap! Two down, three to go!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy

Simon Van Booy brings to the page his unique talent for poetic dialogue and sumptuous imagery in this his remarkable debut novel of love and loss, dependence and independence. Rebecca has come to Athens to paint. Born and raised in the south of France, Rebecca's mother abandoned her and her sister when they were very young, left to be raised by her loving yet distant grandfather. Young and lost, she seeks solace in the heat of Athens. George has come to Athens to translate language. Dropped off at a New England boarding school when he was a child, he has close to no relationships with anyone, except the study of ancient language and alcohol. Henry has come to Athens to dig. An archaeologist, Henry is on-site at Athens during the day, and roams the Agora on the weekend. Three lost and lonely souls whose worlds become inexorable enmeshed with consequences that ripple far among the ruins of ancient Athens
There are a number of very enthusiastic fans of Simon Van Booy. After hearing rave reviews from Jen and Bookfool (amongst others) I added his books to my list but he doesn't have any books in my library catalogue so I was contemplating how I was going to get my chance to try his writing! Lucky for me, not long after this book came up on Netgalley, and I requested instantly!

Now, I am lucky enough to be able to join in on the praise, because the language was a joy to read! Simon Van Booy has writing the human condition down. He conveys emotions with really beautiful language used to express them! For example, from pages 48-49.

"I think he looks lonely," Rebecca said.

"But there are always people on the street below his balcony ---"

"That doesn't mean anything," Rebecca interrupted. "Loneliness is like being the only person left in the universe, except that everyone else is still here.

Earlier this week I shared a teaser for Teaser Tuesday about one of the main characters, Rebecca, and now here is one about Henry from page 53:

And he would continue watching himself from the shadows - impersonating the man he should have been.

Van Booy understands and comments on human emotions - certainly ones that I could relate to (from page 79)

He wanted to love her, and almost could - but there was something holding him back, something he could feel but couldn't see. He'd felt it all his life, like a wall between him and happiness.

In addition to capturing the human spirit Van Booy also made me want to travel to Athens , to breathe in the air and gaze at the vistas that he had described in the books. I love it when a book makes me feel that way. This quote comes from page 171:

Hundreds of miles away in Greece, it was morning. Oranges stud the trees, even in winter. You imagined lines of cars at lights. Taxis on the main avenues around Omonia Square. Old women in black sitting on the steps of the church, their hard shoes bent to one side. You imagined your old apartment. A desk and the reflection of passing birds.

The square beneath your balcony. Athens at dawn, a cool blue breath.

Lingering stars.

At sunrise, the city blushes. Stone statues glow pink with life for a few minutes, and then fade back to plain white with no memory of their momentary passion.

Okay, enough quotes although there are a load more I could have chosen. What is the book about? Well, I actually am not going to say too much more than three lonely and isolated people are brought together in Athens. Their paths cross and each of them is changed in ways that they could never fathom. There is friendship, love and loss, deception and redemption, being lost and then finding your way back again and so much more. In fact this ended up being a completely different book than the one I was expected to read in many ways, but I don't want to spoil for anyone who is planning on reading the book. Even if you think that you know what this book is going to be about you really don't.

Despite how much I loved the book, I haven't given it the highest possible rating. When I read the prologue I actually commented to someone that I had no clue what was going on. It took a little while for the prose to settle down from being overly flowery into truly exceptional and eventually the prologue became clear but it took a while! Some might find it a little self indulgent at times, but if that doesn't bother you then you will find it a very enjoyable read. The other thing is that there was a plot twist late in the book, that I just don't recall seeing any clues about. I don't mind plot twists that come out of nowhere as long as you can look back and say oooohhhh, right!

Speaking of plot twists, the author used an interesting tool in the book in that there is a change of tense within the book from third person to second person. I am not the biggest fan of second person narrative, but I have to say that in this case it really worked! It definitely helped define the sense of helplessness, of loss, of despair in a way that third person might not quite have managed.

It should be noted that this is a book that it is probably best to read in paper as I had some issues with reading some sections in the book due to formatting in the ebook. There are a few sections where the narrative is driven forward through the use of letters which are type written on hotel stationery. Because they are inserted in the text as images I was unable to zoom in so that I could read those letters on my ereader. I ended up having to come onto my computer and read it through the software so that I could actually see what had been written. This hasn't affected my grade though because really this is a formatting issue rather than a story issue but it was something I felt should be mentioned!

I am so glad to have read my first Simon Van Booy book! It certainly won't be my last. I am intending to try and track down his previous short story collections.

Thanks for Netgalley and the publisher for my copy of this book!

Please note that all quotes from the egalley and therefore may be different in the final version of the book, and all page numbers refer to the egalley page numbers which will be different too!

Rating 4/5 although I am seriously tempted to change it up to 4.5/5

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Library Loot: September 28 to October 4

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!

Mr Linky is over at Claire's blog this week, so head on over to her blog to share your link to your Library Loot post. Here's my loot:

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater - I borrowed this (again) because I am thinking about joining in with a local book club that focuses on romance and urban fantasy. I meet up with some of the members regularly so it would be fun to start discussing particular books with them. I just have to get it read by Friday!

After the Abduction by Sabrina Jeffries - While I wait for the next new book by Sabrina Jeffries I am working my way through her back list!

Affinity by Sarah Waters - Kelly and I were looking for a book to do a joint review of and we agreed on this one! Now I just need to agree when it needs to be read by.

Ready Player One by Ernst Cline - I don't actually remember why I requested this one. Must have heard some buzz about it somewhere!

Serendipity by Carly Phillips - a new to me contemporary romance author!

The Dresden Files - As a result of the Storm Front readalong that I am participating in I decided that it would be fun to watch the TV series that was adapted from the book! So far, I have only watched one episode so it is a bit early to pass judgment just yet!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy

Simon Van Booy has a big following in certain sections of the blogiverse and they are certainly passionate in their praise of him! My library doesn't have any of his books so when I saw this book on Netgalley a little while ago, I knew that I had to take this opportunity to try his work and see what all the fuss was about.

My teaser this week comes from page 12:

The real Rebecca lay beneath, smuggled onboard each flight inside her uniform, waiting for the moment to reveal herself.

But such a moment never happened, and her true self, by virtue of neglect, turned from the world and slipped away without anyone noticing.

Please note that this selection comes from a galley version of the book and therefore may be changed 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!

Cover Reveal: Busted in Bollywood by Nicola Marsh

I am very excited today to be involved in the cover reveal for Nicola Marsh's new book which is being published by Entangled Publishing on December 6!

Nicola is a Melbourne author who I have chatted a bit with on Twitter. I recently read a book by her and loved the way that she used some of the Victorian country towns in her story. I have been following her comments about the writing of this book and now I am looking forward to reading this one! The blurb sounds like it is going to be a fun read.

Shari Jones needs to get a life. Preferably someone else’s.

Single, homeless and jobless, Indo-American Shari agrees to her best friend’s whacky scheme: travel to Mumbai, pose as Amrita, and ditch the fiancĂ© her traditional Indian parents have chosen. Simple. Until she’s mistaken for a famous Bollywood actress, stalked by a Lone Ranger wannabe, courted by an English lord, and busted by the blackmailing fiancĂ©.

Life is less complicated in New York.

Or so she thinks, until the entourage of crazies follows her to the Big Apple and that’s when the fun really begins. Shari deals with a blossoming romance, an addiction to Indian food and her first movie role, while secretly craving another trip to the mystical land responsible for sparking her new lease on life. Returning to her Indian birthplace, she has an epiphany. Maybe the happily-ever-after of her dreams isn’t so far away?

A fab author quote is going to be included where the tagline is, but other than that, this is the cover for the book!

Find out more about Nicola and her books at her blog and website and at Entangled Publishing

Monday, September 26, 2011

Storm Front Readalong - Week 2

I am sitting here late on Monday night thinking about going to bed, but I know that I really need to get this post finished off as soon as I can. Why? Because I want to pick up the book again and see what happens next! Guess that is a good sign that I am really enjoying the book again this time around!

On to the questions....

1. What are your thoughts on the pop culture references Butcher includes in his work, largely coming from Harry himself?

Uh-oh! I can't say I have really noticed the pop culture references. Maybe because I am enjoying reading the book and not taking a lot of noticed.

I am always wary about the way that pop culture references are used in books! Done well it can add touch points for the reader to help understand the characters. Overdone it makes me feel like the book is going to date really quickly. An example of a series where the pop culture references are overdone and I therefore think the books are unlikely to stand the true test of time are the House of Night books by PC and Kristin Cast.

 2. As I finished part two of Storm Front I realized that each section of the book thus far feels like a distinct act in a three act story arc. How do you compare the events in this second section of the book with what happened it part one? Is there a mood or theme or such that you feel is embodied by part two of Harry's adventures?

Beginning, middle and end? The first third of the book is getting to know our main character, meeting the secondary characters, getting a feel for the relationships between them, building the world and of course finding out about the crime.

The second third of the book builds a little more but is all about action! Harry is put in danger, and to a degree finds himself more isolated from the people that he normally can rely on. You get the feeling that when time comes for the big showdown that leads to the resolution of the crime Harry is pretty much going to be on his own!

In effect, Harry is put under pressure in this section of the book - emotionally, physically, magically and more!

I have to say the reading this week ended at a pretty crucial point! It was all I could do not to keep on turning the pages so it took a little self control to stick with the scheduled reading this week.

3. One of many things Jim Butcher demonstrates in Storm Front is a healthy sense of humor. Share with us your thoughts on one (or more) of the humorous moments in the story thus far.

The humour is really the factor that makes this series very readable and in many ways distinguishes it from other paranormal series that have murder mysteries associated with them! Quite a few of those lost their emphasis on mystery rather focusing on trying to be more paranormal or more humourous after a couple of weeks but I don't envisage this happening with Harry.

4. Our hero Harry had disastrous interactions with the women in his life in section two of the book (Four by my count). For first time readers, were you surprised by any of these and what are your thoughts? For those who've read the books before, had you forgotten about any of these? If so, or even if not, share your thoughts on Harry's luck with women.

Harry is so not a ladies man, but I really don't think that he sees himself any different. I was sure that there was a quote somewhere where he talked a little about this, about his shortcomings romantically. I don't think this is the one I meant but it shows that he is aware of his limitations in this area of his life:

I stared at her. Oh my gosh. I had forgotten my date with Susan. How in the world could I have forgotten that? I mean, the White Council, the police, vampires, concussions, junkies, mob bosses, and baseball-bat-swinging thugs notwithstanding -

Well, no. There probably weren't any women incredible enough to make me keep my mind on them through all of that. But all the same, it seemed a little rude of me.

He hates that he lets down the women in his life because of who he is and what he does. He hates knowing that he does it, but it doesn't stop it from doing it, particularly when he thinks it is in their best interests. At heart, I think that Harry is chivalrous in his own way, he is just not all that good at showing that chivalry in a way that isn't going to upset those near him.

I did understand, really. I understood the pressure she was under, her frustration, her anger, and her determination to stop the killing from happening again. If I was some kind of hero from a romance novel, I'd have said something brief and eloquent and heartrending. But I'm just me, so I said, "I do understand, Karrin."

Carmichael stepped out of my way.

And I walked away from Murphy, who I couldn't talk to, and from Linda, who I couldn't protect, my head aching, weary to my bones, and feeling like a total piece of shit.

5. A few other popular characters have been brought up in the first round of discussion about Storm Front. What books, films, tv shows, etc. does this story/these characters call to mind and why?

Not sure on this one I must confess. I don't watch a lot of TV or film to be able to compare. The only thing that came to mind was the TV show Charmed simple because of the paranormal aspects combined with the humour.

6. For new readers, what is your overall assessment of the story thus far? For re-readers, what have you picked up on this time that you either forgot about or don't remember seeing from your first trip through the book?

This is a reread for me and I am thoroughly enjoying the book. Normally I pride myself on being able to remember books I read a while ago, but while I have remembered the basic plot, I have found myself not recognising much of the action, so in some ways it is like reading the details for the first time! Maybe I should reread a bit more often!

Time to go and read some more.

Mailbox Monday: September edition

After a couple of months recently where there have been huge amounts of books coming into my house, this month things have been a lot more under control! Maybe I have a chance to actually catch up a little!


That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott - When this book was awared the Miles Franklin Award I added it to my TBR list but it just didn't seem to be making it onto the library catalogue. After going to a session at Melbourne Writer's Festival feature Kim Scott, I decided that I was just going to splurge and buy it.

The Roving Party by Rohan Wilson - Rohan Wilson was featured in the same session and based on that, and also on the enthusiastic encouragement of Lisa from ANZ Litlover I decided to buy this one too!

10 Short Stories You Must Read In 2011 - This is actually a free book that I got as part of the Get Reading promotion that has been running through September.

Shadow Kin by M J Scott - I went to the launch of this book last week so I had to buy a copy so that I could get it signed!


You are my Only by Beth Kephart - This author is very popular throughout blogland but I haven't read her before so when I learned that her book was on Netgalley I jumped at the opportunity to try it out!

Mailbox Monday is on tour and for September it is being hosted at Amused by Books. Head over there to share your links, or to see what everyone else has posted about this week.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Salon: Fragile Things Readalong - Week 3

September seems to passing by very quickly! I am not sure how it can possibly be week 3 of the read along already, but it is! 

Another mixed bag in terms of reactions from me to this week's stories:

Going Wodwo - Yay! A poem I liked, mainly because I think the idea of shedding everything leaving "the way of words to walk the wood" definitely holds some appeal! Shedding all the stresses of modern life to take a moment to just be!

Bitter Grounds - I liked the idea of this one and I like the setting which was mainly New Orleans, just not sure of the execution! I am not sure why exactly, but I suspect because there was a grittier darkness to this book! Sure other stories in the collection have been dark, but none before now have had such edginess and rawness to them.

Other People - Maybe I am a bit contrary because it was that similar gritty darkness with heavy themes that permeates both this and the next stories and yet I liked them both better than I did  Bitter Grounds! The opening line is very clever -' "Time is fluid here," said the demon. ' At first, it might seem a little convenient and a little trite, but by the end of the story it actually has told you far more about the story than you would possibly have thought!

Keepsakes and Treasures - When a story is titled as this one is, you could be forgiven for think that it sounds kind of light and fluffy and happy. You would be wrong. The story starts out when we meet a teenager who has taken it upon himself to seek revenge on those people who did his mother wrong. He then works his way up to be the key man for one of the richest men in the world. Not the richest men that everyone knows about, but the one who really have money! Survival of the fittest, dog eat dog world - whichever cliche you might choose to use is fitting in this world!

Because I like to reread the introduction to each story before reading it through, I also had the opportunity to reread The Mapmaker story that was embedded in the Introduction. I have liked quite a few of the other short stories in the book but that is still be right up there with my favourites so far!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Weekend Cooking: The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn (includes giveaway)

The author of The Sharper Your Knife tells the inspiring story of how she helped nine others find their inner cook.

After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, writer Kathleen Flinn returned with no idea what to do next, until one day at a supermarket she watched a woman loading her cart with ultraprocessed foods. Flinn's "chefternal" instinct kicked in: she persuaded the stranger to reload with fresh foods, offering her simple recipes for healthy, easy meals.

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School includes practical, healthy tips that boost readers' culinary self-confidence, and strategies to get the most from their grocery dollar, and simple recipes that get readers cooking.
I am very pleased this week to have teamed up with Candace from to bring you a discussion about The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks by Kathleen Flinn. In addition, I share a glimpse into my last shopping trip and my pantry, and there is also a giveaway at the end of the post!

Lots going on this post, so lets get started! Candace's thoughts are in purple and mine in black! Also, don't forget to head over to Bethfishreads to read the second half of the discussion! Enjoy!


The idea for this book came when Kathleen Flinn started chatting to a woman in the supermarket after watching what she loaded into her shopping trolley. I must say that I would be totally mortified either if a stranger did that to me, or if I was thinking about doing it for myself. We briefly contemplated taking photos of our own shopping trolleys and that was even mortifying!

Definitely. No way I was going to start spying on people. Flinn was gutsy.

During the course of the book we are introduced to nine different cooks. Could you relate to any of them?

Not really. Not even the cooks who were close to my age. I think the main difference is that I grew up in a family of cooks and helped out from a young age. I also took home ec in junior high and high school so I was baking and cooking simple dishes by the time I was 12. The students in the book didn’t really know anything.

I could relate to a degree. My mother is, and always has been, a terrible and unimaginative cook so we never really grew up enjoying the cooking process. We did some home ec at school for one year but it didn’t really stick with me!

I am a lazy cook. I can cook but I prefer the find a new recipe, go to the shops and make it kind of weekend cooking - not Monday to Friday cooking! I often get home from work and think oh, I am far too tired to make something from scratch, and that’s assuming that we didn’t stop for takeaway on the way home. I do have some of those packets of pasta side dishes etc in my cupboard but I am tempted to at least to give a couple of the pasta suggestions a go.

Oddly enough, I’m a lazy cook too. But for me that means I don’t make recipes that require a lot of clean up or all-day fussing. Once you get a few skills, however, there are quite a lot of dinners you can make in under an hour from scratch.

Brave enough to photograph the pantry, not
shopping trolleys though!
If Kathleen Flinn was to look in your pantry what would she find?

I took a photograph of my bounty from the farmers’ market and a few things I filled in with that weren’t fresh. In my refrigerator one would find unsalted butter, various hot sauces and condiments, cheese, orange juice, rice milk, dried fruit, and sometimes yogurt. My freezer has frozen vegetables, shrimp, lamb, nuts, chocolate chips, and maybe some chicken, pork, or beef.

My shopping this week is actually pretty good for me! There are probably two reasons for this - firstly, because I knew that we were going to take photos and secondly, I took a list and actually stuck to it!

My son watched the videos that are available and he was definitely ready to try a couple of the recipes - Pomodoro in particular (see below). Not too long ago we tried to make a recipe from a four ingredients type cookbook which was similar but it was bland, bland, bland. It will be interesting to see how much of a difference those extra couple of ingredients make.

One of the really interesting things in the book was the passage about recipes that appear in magazines and how they sometimes cut ingredients because there isn’t enough room to print them in full or because the recipe is going to appear in a certain month or season. I am almost always disappointed by recipes that use only 4 or 5 ingredients.

I watched a few of Flinn’s videos and have to say I was more excited about them than I was about the book. I think anyone could learn some basic dishes by watching her videos.

Relatively good trip to the shops this week!
For me one of the interesting things I found was thinking about things like what all the extra ingredients are in packets of food (cake mixes, pancakes mixes, side dishes etc). My son loves pancakes and so we always have some of those bottles of shake and mix pancake mixes and just looking at the list there are nine different ingredients and some of those are actually things like flavours and raising agents so there could be a lot more than nine. Pretty sure that there are less if I was to make them from scratch. We might have to try!

I think this book suffers a little bit from a lack of direction and therefore my reaction to it varied quite broadly. For example, there is a chapter about where she goes on a cruise to teach. The first part focuses on a romantic dinner with husband which I didn’t think needed to be there. A bit later there was a small section which talked about the meals they had and I wanted to be there with them. Such different reactions even within just one chapter.

I totally agree. If you truly wanted to learn to cook, you would have a difficult time working your way through this book. It’s really more like a memoir than a guide. I was often left wondering who the audience was. I found a tidbit here and there interesting or new but as an experienced cook, I didn’t find much new. Some of the advice was definitely solid -- like learning cooking techniques and learning to taste.

Other aspects were good in theory but even someone like me (works from home, experienced cook) wouldn’t do. For example, I’m happy to buy low-sodium organic chicken broth rather than make my own. And although I am perfectly capable of cutting up a chicken (and so is my husband) and I know it’s cheaper, I’m just as happy buying only the parts we really like -- despite the cost.

I think the cutting up a chicken chapter really needs to be a visual explanation rather than a written explanation. I would like to see a video of that one!

I only have a small freezer and so the idea of making stock and storing it, or even just bags and bags of bones is impractical. I think that there is nothing wrong with using short cuts like bought stock if that is what works for you and your lifestyle.


Don't forget to head over to read the second part of our discussion at Bethfishreads, and while you are there check out the links to lots of other fabulous Weekend Cooking posts.

Are you interested in reading this book? Thanks to the good people at Viking I have a copy of the book and also a magnet (see right).

The rules...

- US or Canada only (no PO boxes please)
- leave a comment and don't forget your email address or Twitter ID so that I can contact the lucky winner
- the contest closes on 3 October at Midnight Australian Eastern Standard Time. (one week from today)

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.

One for the Money trailer


After all the discussion of Katherine Heigl as Stephanie, an Irish guy as Morelli, who should play Ranger here we are! First glimpse of the trailer for One for the Money, based on the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich.

What do we all think?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Empire Day by Diane Armstrong

A heart-warming novel in the tradition of CLOUDSTREET and THE HARP IN THE SOUTH

Empire Day, 1948. A back street in Bondi is transformed as the fireworks of Cracker Night cast a magical glow over its humble cottages. But Australia as a whole is being transformed in this postwar era and the people of Wattle Street know that life will never be the same again. The ′reffos′ have moved in, and their strange ways are threatening the comfortable world of salt-of-the-earth locals like Pop Wilson, deserted mum Kath and sharp-tongued Maude McNulty.

With suspicious and disapproving eyes, the Australians observe their new neighbours -- mysterious Mr Emil, fragile young Lilija and all the other Europeans starting their lives afresh. Mistrust and misunderstandings abound on both sides. To Hania, an angry teenager struggling to cope with her hysterical mother, and to Sala, an unhappily married woman trying to blot out her traumatic wartime past, the Australians appear enviably carefree.

But behind closed doors, Old as well as New Australians suffer secret heartaches. As the smoke of fires past and present gradually disperses and the lives of the two groups entwine, unexpected relationships form that bring passion and tragedy for some, and forgiveness and resolution for others.

EMPIRE DAY is a dramatic and heart-warming novel in the tradition of CLOUDSTREET and THE HARP IN THE SOUTH. It confirms Diane Armstrong as one of our most gifted and compelling storytellers
Each year, one of my goals is to read more Australian authors. This year is my most successful year so far and I am pleased to say that I can now add Diane Armstrong to my list of new to me Australian authors.

This book covers the events in the lives of the people who live in Wattle Street in Bondi in Sydney for one year, starting on Empire Day. Whilst there are several residents that have lived in the street for many years, there are also the new arrivals - refugees from the war in Europe. The make up of Sydney's population was rapidly changing in ways that we take for granted now, especially in terms of the impact that they made in helping the city to become more cosmopolitan. For example, at one point one of the Australian characters mentioned about the strange new delicatessens that were starting to appear where you could go and buy your cured meats and cheeses, something that now we take for granted!

Among the various residents we meet Hania and her mother who have recently immigrated from Poland, the Ukrainian family whose young daughter falls in love with the Australian boy Ted who lives with his mother down the street. There is also a young married couple who have moved into a room and the mysterious Mr Emil who keeps very much to himself, causing others to think he is behaving very suspiciously. One of the other major story lines concerns the single mum Kath who holds down a job as a barmaid whilst single-handedly raising her boys, a job made even harder when the eldest of the boys, Meggsie, comes down with polio.

One of the major strengths of this book is it's portrayal of Sydney at a particular place and time. There were several significant historical events that were covered in the pages of the book, as well as topics like the terrible disease of polio and the treatments that were just starting to be used.

Each of the sets of characters get their time to tell their story - where they have come from and what they have seen, where they would like to be going to. Some of the stories are stronger than others. I was particularly moved by the stories of the new Australians, struggling so hard to try to fit into their new lives.

At the same time though, the fact that there were so many stories, so many characters to get page time became one of the weaknesses of the book in that characters would just disappear for pages at a time and then suddenly pop back up on the radar.

Not too long ago I posted about a Melbourne Writers Festival event that I went to where one of the points that was made was about the relationships between characters and place and about how characters who are living displaced lives  are very much charged by loss and by memories of the past. These characters also bring their previous places to where they currently reside through their memories and the past shapes their current lives. For me this book perfectly represented this! There were the newly arrived immigrants who had left behind the traumatic events of World War II but bought the residual fears and memories. Even for those Australian characters there were past events that were very much affecting their current lives. For me, this aspect is a very interesting one when authors choose to explore it!

As I read this book I could not help but draw parallels to the immigrant experience being shown through the pages of this book and the current political situation. It is astounding to think that for a country that often prides itself on the welcoming and tolerant attitude towards multiculturalism, much of the propaganda and attitudes have stark parallels with the immigration questions of today. I don't doubt that this was a deliberate choice on the part of the author.

I did spend a lot of time as I was reading this book wondering why on earth the title wouldn't be something to do with Wattle Street, so I was glad that this issue was resolved towards the very end of the book!

This is my first time reading Diane Armstrong, but I intend to read more and it was a good, solid read. I liked her voice, I liked her characters and settings and I am looking forward to exploring more of her work.

Rating 4/5

Thanks to Netgalley and Harper Collins Australia for the e-galley.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Meanjin Tournament of Books

The Meanjin Tournament of Books has been modelled on The Morning News Tournament of Books but with a distinctly Australia flavour! All the nominated books are by Australian authors, and this year at least are all by women. I am not sure if that will be an ongoing criteria or not as this is the first time that the planned annual tournament of books has been run!

Here are this year's contenders vying for the label of Great Australian Novel.

Miles Franklin My Brilliant Career
Christina Stead The Man Who Loved Children
Henry Handel Richardson The Fortunes of Richard Mahony
Melina Marchetta Looking for Alibrandi
Thea Astley A Kindness Cup
Ruth Park Harp in the South
Jessica Anderson Tirra Lirra by the River
Elizabeth Jolley Mr Scobie’s Riddle
Helen Garner The Children’s Bach
Joan London Gilgamesh
Kate Grenville The Secret River
Alexis Wright Carpentaria
Michelle de Kretser The Lost Dog
Cate Kennedy The World Beneath
Sonya Hartnett Of a Boy
Isobelle Carmody Obernewtyn

Whilst the all the others were decided on by some judges the last choice, Obernewtyn, was decided on by the attendees at the launch of the tournament last week. If you are interested in reading Australian literature, this might be an interesting reading list.

So far Michelle de Kretser's The Lost Dog has gone up against Gilgamesh by Joan London and lost. Whilst I have only read a few of the books listed I will be watching with interest to see which books triumph and which one ultimately wins the prize!

Die for Me by Amy Plum

My life had always been blissfully, wonderfully normal. But it only took one moment to change everything.

Suddenly, my sister, Georgia and I were orphans. We put our lives into storage and moved to Paris to live with my grandparents. And I knew my shattered heart, my shattered life, would never feel normal again. Then I met Vincent.

Mysterious, sexy and unnervingly charming, Vincent Delacroix appeared out of nowhere and swept me off my feet. Just like that, I was in danger of losing my heart all over again.

Of course, nothing is ever that easy. Because Vincent is no normal human. He has a terrifying destiny, one that puts his life at risk every day. He also has enemies. . .immortal, murderous enemies who are determined to destroy him and all of his kind.

While I am fighting to piece together the remnants of my life, can I risk putting my heart - as well as my life and my family's - in jeopardy for a chance at love?

Sometimes the cover gods smile on an author, and Amy Plum was lucky enough for this happen with her debut novel. As soon as I first saw it, I knew that it was a book that I would want to read. Luckily for the reader, the contents of the book don't do the cover an injustice.

Die for Me introduces a new kind of paranormal mythology to the YA world, which at times seems to be very saturated with vampires, werewolves etc. It is kind of a mixture of zombies, ghosts and gods as far as I can tell.

Kate Mercier is 16 years old and moved to Paris after the death of both of her parents in an accident. She lives with her grandparents and her older sister Georgia but she is finding it difficult to cope with everything that has happened in her life in the previous year. When she meets Vincent, she is immediately attracted to him, but what she doesn't know is that he is a revenant (“one who comes back”) and that means that he dies over and over again to save other people, thereby prolonging his life forever if he wishes. He is of course in a life or death battle with the enemy of the revenant - the numa - and they have to kill people in order to maintain their life strength.

Kate is introduced to Vincent's fellow revenants and must gain their trust as she learns more and more of the secrets of this strange new world that she has been introduced to.

As a YA heroine, the author avoided some of the cliches surrounding young kick-ass heroines for most of the book although there were moments where some cliche slipped in. Vincent is of course a teenage girl's dream, but he was definitely a likeable character and I can see why Kate reacted to him in the way she did.

One of the points of difference in this book was the use of Paris as the setting! Amy Plum clearly knows Paris and loves the city and it shows in the way she guides the reader through the city, both the well known sights, but also some lesser known features. She made me want to visit Paris again!

This is the first in a planned series and there is definitely a lot of scope for more development and exploration of the revenant/numa mythology. I also suspect that we are going to find out more about Kate's family background in future books which I definitely plan to read!

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

This review was originally posted at Australian Romance Readers

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Library Loot: September 21 to 27

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!

This week I was blog hopping when I saw someone had posted some images that have been developed in support of saving libraries. Whilst I can't remember where I saw them, or if this was one of the images I originally saw and liked there are a number of library themed sets at Flickr, including some that have their origins in WWI and WWII posters. There's lots of great images to have a look through and I might feature some (if I remember) over the next few weeks.

This time we are all in the front line

Photo Credit

I've been doing my bit to help out my local library. Here's my loot for this week!

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Olbrecht  - Reloot.

Unholy Pilgrims: how one man thought walking 800kms across Spain would sort out his life by Tom Trumble - This author was one that I heard speak at Melbourne Writer's Festival a few weeks ago, and I thought it was quite interesting sounding!

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold - I have decided I want to read the Miles Vorkisagan saga. I think I now have the first couple - I think. Trying to work out the reading order has been somewhat confusing!

The Pretend Wife by Bridget Asher - I was originally interested in reading Bridget Asher's latest book, but at the time my library didn't have it so I started with her first book.. Having enjoyed that I am now going to read this, the second book that the author released under this name.

The Dead Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan - A couple of weeks ago I read The Forest of Hands and Teeth and absolutely loved it. Had to request this second book in the trilogy asap!

Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys - I have had this book on my TBR list for a while. Thought it was about time to move it up the list!

Black Juice by Margo Lanagan - My odyssey through Margo Lanagan's short story collection backlist continues!

The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson - I actually had this book from Netgalley but then I decided I wanted to participate in the RIP VI readalong but my galley was going to expire so I have borrowed it from the library instead.

To Darkness and to Death by Julia Spencer-Fleming - the next book in the very good Reverend Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series. I have had to request all of these books through ILL. I think my library has the last two or three books in the series.

What loot did you get this week? Add your link to Mr Linky below to share.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna

I have long been a fan of books set in India - books like A Passage to India and The Shadow of the Moon were devoured many years ago and bring back fond memories . More recently I read The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar and I started this book within a few days of finishing that book.

The marketing spin has tried to paint this as an Indian Gone With the Wind. I am not sure that it meets that comparison but it is certainly an interesting historical read. The book starts in 1878 and stretches through into the 20th century and touches on a lot of different subjects, including the British being in India.

My teaser, which I have chosen to extend to a whole paragraph this week, comes from page 106:

She felt Machu's presence even before she saw him. He came over to touch Thimmaya's feet; he said nothing to her, however, barely even glancing at her as he exchanged a few pleasantries with the deliberately offhand Thimmaya. Through the afternoon, he ignored her. Devi grew angrier and angrier as the hours wore on, the intensity of her allure increasing until she seemed to be scorching, dazzling, blinder her way through the gathering. Still, while all the other men could scarcely do more than gawk at her, Machu remained blithely unaware of her charms. Time and again, she thought she sensed his eyes upon her but when she turned towards him, he was always deep in conversation with someone or other, completely at ease and unheeding of her.

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, September 19, 2011

Storm Front Readalong - Week 1

Welcome to week 1 of the Storm Front read along! Before getting into the questions,  I thought I would elaborate on why I decided to participate in this read along which is being hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings as part of RIP VI.

It is very unusual for me to reread a book, but this is in fact a reread. The major reason why I decided to join in this time even though I have already read the book is because in amongst the many other series I am reading this one seems to have fallen by the wayside. I originally read both this book and the second book in the series more than three years ago, but it took another year to read the third book and then I haven't read any more even though I had requested the fourth book from the library a number of times. In addition I have read a few short stories that appeared in various anthologies.

I must confess that normally I have a relatively good memory when it come to books, but I apparently didn't absorb a lot because apart from remembering certain characters like Murphy and Bob, I haven't really remember a lot about the plot. I also remembered certain characteristics more than actual characters.

1. What are your first impressions of our main character, Harry Dresden?

One thing I did remember is that I liked Harry. I liked that we had hard bitten detective trope but with the paranormal twist and the humour! Down on his luck in his business, in relation to money and most definitely not hitting home runs with the ladies! Whilst I don't think I would want to drive his car or live in Harry's house with Bob and Mister the cat but I love the idea of them!

So what is it that gives Harry the edge in investigating:

Wizardry is all about thinking ahead, about being prepared.. Wizards aren't really superhuman. We just have a leg up on seeing things more clearly than other people, and being able to use the extra information we have for our benefit. Hell, the word wizard comes from the same root as wise. We know things. We aren't any stronger or faster than anyone else. We don't even have all that much more going in the mental department. But we're god awful sneaky, and if we get the chance to get set for something, we can do some impressive things.

As a wizard, if you're ready to address a problem then it's likely that you'll be able to come up with something that will let you deal with it.

2. In the first section of the book we are introduced to a large cast of characters. Some in support of our main character and others who are involved in the multiple investigations with agendas unknown to us. Are there any of the these characters who stood out to you?

As much as I like the perpetually stressed police office Murphy, it really is difficult for me to go past Bob the sex obsessed skull! I love the back and forth between Harry and Bob and the fact that they really need each other to get ahead (no pun intended). I was kind of surprised at how far into this week's chapters we were before we met Bob! Here's part of his first appearance into the book:

"Tell you what," he said. "Let me out for a ride, and I'll tell you how to get out of it."

That made me wary. "Bob, I let you out once. Remember?"

He nodded dreamily, scraping bones on wood. "The sorority house. I remember."

I snorted, and started some water to boiling over one of the burners. "You're supposed to be a spirit of intellect. I don't understand why you're obsessed with sex."

Bob's voice got defensive. "It's an academic interest, Harry."

"Oh year? Well maybe I don't think it's fair to let your academia go peeping in other people's houses."

"Wait a minute. My academia doesn't just peep -"

I held up a hand. "Save it. I don't want to hear it."

He grunted. "You're trivializing what getting out for a bit means to me, Harry. You're insulting my masculinity."

"Bob," I said, "you're a skull. You don't have any masculinity to insult."

3. Did you ever watch the Syfy channel's Dresden Files TV adaption? If so did it effect how you approached the novel? Were there positive and/or negative differences that stood out to you?

I don't even know if this series was shown on TV here. I certainly don't recall seeing anything about it.

4. Any thoughts on Jim Butcher's magic system, Harry's Watcher, and/or the White Council?

I think that there is a lot more to find out about the world that Butcher is building up here. I like that not unlike Kelley Armstrong's Otherworld series, the author has chosen very early on to make it clear that we are not just talking about wizards. I suspect (oh, alright I know) that this gives Butcher plenty of scope to keep on building onto the world thus preventing it from feeling too limited and giving a lot of freedom for future story lines.

I think that the events in Harry's past that have brought him to the attention of the White Council help give Harry a vulnerability that gives a real edge to the action. He knows that he is one step away from disaster a lot of the time and along with the reader is left treading a very fine line between potential 'doom' and certain 'doom'!

5. Lastly, Any guess on were Dresden's multiple plot threads will lead and/or any favorite scenes the first section of the book?

To guess where the final scenes are going would be cheating just a little bit!

In terms of favourite scenes, I really enjoyed the scene at McAnally's with Susan and the barely communicative barman Mac, and also the scene at the lake where Harry enticed Toots to help him out! Toot's enthusiasm about pizza had me smiling to myself:

"Pizza!" Toot cried, jubilant. "Pizza! Pizza! Pizza!" His wings fluttered again, and I tried to blink the damned faery dust out of my eyes before I started sneezing.

"Faeries like pizza?" I asked.

"Oh, Harry," Toot said breathlessly. "Haven't you ever had pizza before?"

"Of course I have," I said.

Toot looked wounded. "And you didn't share?"
Click on the link at the top of the post to see Carl's thoughts and to find links to other people's posts about this first section of the book. I will be back next week with my thoughts about the second section of the book.

My dragon book...

Last week I was reading Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton. I visited my sisters house, and my nearly 4 year old  nephew saw the book in my bag and asked me what book is that. My answer - this is my dragon book! He proceeded to look through it. I think he was a bit disappointed that there were no pictures!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fragile Things Readalong - Week 2

I was a little underwhelmed by the most of the reading during this second week of the Fragile Things readalong, hosted by Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings as part of RIP VI.

The Hidden Chamber - This is the second poem of the collection, and I liked it a lot more than the first one! In the introduction, Gaiman talked about being asked to come up with something gothic, and with an opening line of "Do not fear the ghosts in this house; they are the least of your worries." the tone is definitely set. At first I read it as a person telling another person about the house, but by the time I go to the end I had decided that it was actually a ghost telling the human. No idea if it is meant to be read that way or not.

Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire - pretty long title for a short story! This is a short story that Gaiman started years ago but it was rejected by the two people he showed it to. Fast forward twenty years or so and the story was reworked and published, winning a Locus award. Whilst I was left wondering what other hidden gems that Gaiman might have sitting around in his house, I am not sure that this was a gem for me! There were mythical creatures, seemingly haunted houses, a struggling author and more, but it just didn't quite come together for this reader!

The Flints of Memory Lane - This piece was written for an anthology of real life ghost stories. I think I missed the imagination!

Closing Time - This was my favourite of the four chapters to be read this week.Take an atmospheric drinking club, some almost strangers and mix in a story from long ago which features abandoned mansions and mysterious events and you have the ingredients for a perfect spooky story! When a young boy wants to be accepted by a group of older boys, how far will he go in accepting the challenges they set for him, and what will be the consequences for them all!

Looking forward to reading the next section of the book for next week's post.

Sunday Salon: Sylvester or The Wicked Uncle by Georgette Heyer

Rank, wealth and elegance are no match for a young lady who writes novels...

Sylvester, Duke of Salford, has exacting requirements for a bride. Then he encounters Phoebe Marlow, a young lady with literary aspirations, and suddenly life becomes very complicated. She meets none of his criteria, and even worse, she has written a novel that is sweeping through the ton and causing all kinds of gossip ... and he's the main character.
When a young woman feels slighted by a member of the ton, what else is she do but write an anonymously authored novel about how terrible he is - pompous, arrogant and dictatorial when it comes to the welfare of his young ward. She makes a thinly veiled attempt to hide the identity of the main characters - Sylvester, Duke of Salford.

Sylvester can be a bit pompous and aloof, always aware of his duty to his role and his family and particularly aware of his role as guardian of his young nephew. When he decides that he needs to find a wife, he is not looking for love and passion. He is looking for suitability more than anything, so he makes a list of the eligible females in the ton. Running the list of names past his mother, she suggests that he speaks to his godmother, who in turn adds one more name - that of her granddaughter Phoebe Marlow.

Phoebe lives with her father and her very overbearing stepmother who thinks that she is too spirited and must be tamed. When Phoebe hears that her father is bringing Sylvester home with a view to matrimony she panics. Her stepmother insists that she will behave properly and so the Phoebe that Sylvester finds is a somewhat insipid disappointment and he is determined that he will leave as soon as he possible can. However, Phoebe is  even more determined, and with the help of her childhood friend Tom she decides to escape to her grandmother's house in London.

What follows is a series of adventures that starts with an accident that leaves Tom with a broken leg, Sylvester being snowed in at the same inn as Tom and Phoebe, and ends with Tom and Phoebe being kidnapped by Sylvester's ditsy sister in law and her new husband on a ill thought out escape to France.

Along the way, Phoebe proves to Sylvester over and over that she is anything but the insipid miss he thought she was. She is always willing to point out his faults to him but he finds himself becoming more and more intrigued by her. That is until he figures out that she is the author of the book that has the ton abuzz!

I liked Sylvester a lot! Yes, he was pomp and arrogant but I am not sure what else to expect when you have been bought up to be a duke. We did however get to see his devotion to family, and quite often he didn't realise his own faults. He didn't like having them pointed out to him, but then again, who does.

Phoebe was a harder character to pin down for me. I don't think I ever really got why it was that Phoebe felt so strongly about Sylvester that she could target him in her book. She also was quite impetuous which led her to bring both herself and her family into situations that otherwise could have been avoided.

The path to true love never runs smooth, misunderstandings abound and there were times where I wondered if our hero and heroine were ever going to realise their feelings and act upon them. Ably assisted by a vibrant set of secondary characters including Tom and Phoebe's grandmother, the reader is taken from one adventure to the next. Little do our main characters realise it is the adventure of love!

Rating 4.5/5

Thanks to Sourcebooks for the review copy.