Monday, October 31, 2011

Mailbox Monday: October edition

After being very controlled last month, I have had a bit of a book blowout this month!


The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott - With the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic happening next year there are bound to be a number of books out about those events. This will likely be the first one I read.

The Folded World by Catherynne Valente - I didn't realise when I requested this that is was a second book in a series, and I haven't read the first!

The Duke is Mine by Eloisa James - The next book in Eloisa James' current series. I love the cover on this one and can't wait to see how this fairytale telling goes. I suspect based on the cover it is going to be The Princess and the Pea but we will see.

Trouble at the Wedding by Laura Lee Guhrke - I really enjoyed the first two books in this series so I had to request this as soon as I saw it1
The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak - a new novel about the life of Catherine the Great? Of course I had to request it!
Obedience by Jacqueline Yallop - WWII and set in France was definitely enough to pique my interest in this book1

Rogue Pirates Bride by Shana Galen - I have read the first book in this trilogy, and I have the second here somewhere to read!
Hidden Summit by Robyn Carr - a new Virgin River book! Squeeeee!
Busted in Bollywood by Nicola Marsh - I helped launch the cover for this book a few weeks ago. Can't wait to get to read the book now!

The Bungalow by Sarah Jio - I have been wanting to read Sarah Jio's debut novel for the longest time. If that one sounds great, this one sounds even better!
Small Town Christmas anthology - There's a Lucky Harbor story in this anthology which was enough for me to want to read it.


Demon Marked by Meljean Brook - I didn't even realise that Meljean was running a competition when I responded to a tweet from her!


Discord's Apple by Carrie Vaughn - an author I have been meaning to find out about for a while.
Song of Scarabeaus by Sara Creasy - an Aussie author. I have high hopes for this one.
Double Cross by Carolyn Crane - I have been reading this author's blog for many years now, back even before she decided on this author name.

Touched by an Angel by Gini Koch - I don't know too much about either this book or the next one, but I am generally happy to try new stuff.
The Broken Kingdom by N K Jemison


Lola's Secret by Monica McInerney - I loved The Alphabet Sisters. This book is about Lola who was the spirited grandmother in that book!
Dissertation on Roast Pig by Charles Lamb - another of the Penguin Great food series.
The Violets of March by Sarah Jio - I have been waiting for this book to hit the bookshelves here but there was still no sign of it, so I bought it instead.

Warrior by Zoe Archer - I am contemplating joining a romance themed book club. This is their next book.
30 Minute Meals by Jamie Oliver - hoping to get some recipes that both the little chef and I can cook!
Bring me home for Christmas by Robyn Carr - Another Virgin River book! Squeeeee!

For Review

Golden Earrings by Belinda Alexandra - I am a big fan of this author's books so I was very excited to read this one!
Things We Cherished by Pam Jennoff - an author I have been meaning to try for the longest time.

As you may be able to tell, I need to go and read now!

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

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fragile Things Readalong - week the last!

Let me tell you stories of the months of the year, of ghosts and heartbreak, of dread and desire. Of after-hours drinking and unanswered phones, of good deeds and bad days, of trusting wolves and how to talk to girls.

There are stories within stories, whispered in the quiet of the night, shouted above the roar of the day, and played out between lovers and enemies, strangers and friends. But all, all are fragile things made of just 26 letters arranged and rearranged to form tales and imagining which will dazzle your senses, haunt your imagination and move you to the very depths of your soul

And so we come to the end of the Fragile things reeadalong. I can't remember the last time that it took me this long to read a book from beginning to end, but I really did enjoy the experience of taking just a few stories at a time and concentrating on them rather than rushing through such an eclectic mix of stories. From the topics of the stories, to the tone employed to the poems and the final novella we have run the gamut of emotions and the breadth of storytelling. I can definitely see what it is that makes Gaiman one of the more popular authors out there today.

This week's selection of stories was:
Sunbird - The members of the Epicurean Club are becoming a bit jaded. There is no food that they haven't tried, no taste that they haven't experienced, until someone mentions the possibility of trying to eat a Sunbird.

I might post more about this short story in a future Weekend Cooking post ... maybe.

One of the strengths in this book is the way that Gaiman incorporates myths and legends in his own storytelling. In this case the story that is being incorporated is that of the Phoenix - the bird that is regenerated by fire over and over again for all eternity.

Inventing Aladdin - speaking of incorporating mythology and legend, this poem does this with not only one but two stories. The first is of Scherheredaze - a wife who needs to keep her husband sufficiently interested in her stories in order to save her life because she knows that once he is bored with her then he will kill her. The story she chooses to tell him is about Aladdin.

The Monarch of the Glen - this is by far the longest story in the book and is labelled as An American Gods novella. Now I haven't read American Gods so I was a bit worried that I would be a bit lost, but I was drawn into the world that Shadow inhabits quite easily. I was interested to see Mr Alice make another reappearance. We met him earlier in the collection in the Keepsakes and Treasures story.

What this novella has most definitely done is whetted my appetite to actually finally get around to reading American Gods. I have already requested it form the library.

I would like to thank Carl for hosting the readalong and also the other participants for their comments. Having to stick to the schedule outlined was sometimes challenging but I enjoyed taking a leisurely wander through the various worlds we were introduced to.

I was going to try and figure out what my favourite stories were, but that would take a lot of revision. I do find it difficult to go past the story embedded in the introduction - The Mapmaker. It had such charm as did another of my favourites October in the Chair. There are others that I will remember fondly as well!

Rating 4/5

Sunday Salon: much more than just maintaining a blog

Get Glue
Google +

I have been thinking a lot about balance lately, specifically the balance between blogging and all the associated activities and reading. Then of course there are any other hobbies you might have, family time and your social life! In theory, I do also make cards. In practice, I haven't actually made a thing in more than three months, which means I have three projects that I am behind on. I just don't seem to have any inspiration though.

These days it seems as though blogging is about so much more than just maintaining a blog. Above I have listed just a few of the other things that people can get involved with. Of those listed, I haven't set up a Facebook page for my blog, although I do have my personal page. I haven't joined in on Foursquare or Get Glue, I am always on Twitter (always!) and I am on Google+ but I am afraid I  haven't yet worked out the point of it. Another thing I don't get the point of is having both a blog and a Tumblr. I understand why you would have a Tumblr instead of a blog, but in addition to....not so much! I do have both Goodreads and LibraryThing accounts but I haven't visited LibraryThing for ages.I visit Goodreads multiple times daily.

The latest thing I have joined in on is Pinterest, and so far I like it a lot! It seems like a really easy way to gather random pictures and ideas in one place and you can spend as little or as much time on there as you want which is a bonus for me.

The decisions that I have made in relation to what I need to do or not do are based mainly on trying to get some time away from the computer, on ease of use if I do decide to join and who recommended the application to me.

In addition though to all these online activities, there still has to be time to read because lets face it, this is a book blog and if there is no reading happening, there's not going to be a lot to blog about. This month, I feel as though I have had a really good blogging month. Earlier this month I wrote quite a few reviews (to the point where I had reviewed everything I had read in the previous month which is very unusual for me), participated in some readalongs, in addition to some general posts. Having said that, my reading suffered. It was a bit of a shock to realise that I had only finished one book in the first week of the month. I think it will end up being a good reading month but it started very slowly!

How do you decide which other activities? Is there something that I haven't mentioned that is integral to book blogging?

Currently Reading

The books I currently have on the go are Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart, Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman, Affinity by Sarah Waters, You are my Only by Beth Kephart

Reading Next

Coming Home by Mariah Stuart, Persuasion by Jane Austen (maybe)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Weekend Cooking: A Pleasant Lunch

I was going to post this last weekend but then I realised that four posts about one book in a week was probably a bit too much, so we have it this week instead!

In a feeble attempt at disguising my blue mood that morning, I was preparing a pleasant lunch, hoping to serve it on the table in the south-facing courtyard if the midday sun was warm enough.
I had made an artichoke-and-tapenade quiche, and Dom's favourite crushed potatoes with black olives and olive oil - which I intended to decorate with a sprig of olive branch.

Next I was trying to follow a magazine recipe for charlotte aux trois abricots - a moist cake made with three kinds of apricot: fresh; stewed with lavender; and a whole pot of apricot jam. Like so many French recipes, it seemed to assume that time was no object, that cooking was the point of life rather than a quick dash into the kitchen to sustain it. But that was fine. I was happy enough at this table, in this room where the sun streamed through tall windows, and at that point time was irrelevant (apart from precise cooking instructions, of course; there was a certain bossiness in this magazine cook's tone that insisted concentration was required).

And it smelled wonderfully already, an olfactory elegy to life in the French countryside. The fantasy life that had seemed within reach but which was even now slipping from my grasp.

I love it when I am able to indulge in that kind of time is no object cooking. It doesn't happen often though!

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.

Foal's Bread readalong - Chapter 20 to end

Welcome to Foal's Bread, Gillian Mears' first novel in sixteen years, one eagerly awaited by Gillian's passionate readers. It is worth the wait.

Set in hardscrabble farming country and around the country show high-jumping circuit that prevailed in rural New South Wales prior to the Second World War, Foal's Bread tells the story of two generations of the Nancarrow family and their fortunes as dictated by fate and the vicissitudes of the land.

It is a love story of impossible beauty and sadness, a chronicle of dreams "turned inside out", and miracles that never last, framed against a world both heartbreakingly tender and unspeakably hard.

Written in luminous prose and with an achingly affinity for the landscape the book describes, Foal's Bread is the work of a born writer at the height of her considerable powers. It is a stunning work of remarkable originality and power, one that confirms Gillian Mears' reputation as one of our most exciting and acclaimed writers.

And so we come to the end of the Foal's Bread readalong. Even now at the end of the experience I can't decide if I am glad to have made it to the end of the book or just relieved that it was over.

This section was the shortest of the sections that we had to read, and it was pretty dramatic. I really can't talk too much about what happened during these final chapters without major, major spoilers, but that impending doom that was prevalent in the earlier sections pretty much were not unwarranted.

I guess the key to this book will really be how readers react to Noah, and even in this final section I am torn in my reaction. Could I have done what she did - definitely no in both cases. Did a part of me cheer when she stepped in and did what she did for Lainey - a little. Did my heart break for her children - absolutely.

One thing that I did find myself wondering is what happened to George. We meet Lainey when she returned to One Tree later in her life but there is not a lot mentioned about him. I was so glad that we did have this final section to finish off the story because without it the book would have ended at quite a morose place.

It was interesting that the author choose to have a preamble and a coda rather than the more usual prologue and epilogue. I wonder what the significance of that choice was in the author's mind.

For those of us participating in the readalong, there have been differing reactions to the book, some more enthusiastic, but we have all talked at some points about the difficulties of the subject matter, the language and more. This is definitely not an easy read. I guess how much you enjoy it will very much depend on your own life experiences and your taste in literature. For me, this touched a couple of topics that are very close to home and that certainly impacted on my reaction to the book, especially my reaction to Noah.

To read the thoughts of other participants in the readalong visit the following links:

The Book Nerd Club
The Talking Teacup
My Journal of Becoming a Writer
Fantasy vs Reality
Slightly Addicted to Fiction
The Book Nook

Thanks to Danielle from Book Nerd Club for hosting the readalong and Allen and Unwin for providing the review copy.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Library Loot: October 26 to November 1

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 know that I am going to completely confuse myself by posting Library Loot on a Friday instead of Wednesday. How will I be able to remember what day of the week it is!

Part of the reason for being late is that my library's catalogue system was down most of last weekend. Not only could I not log in and check anything online, we also couldn't borrow any books as I found out when I went down there on Saturday morning! That particular branch is only open late on Wednesday nights so I could only go and pick them up on Wednesday night!

I was intending to post this on Thursday but when I got home last internet! PANIC!!!! And still none when I got up this morning, but after getting home tonight I was relieved that it was finally back on. The thought of having no internet all weekend really, really freaked me out!

Claire has Mr Linky this week, so head on over to share your loot!

Here's my loot for this week:

Sugar Plums to the Rescue by Whoopi Goldberg - the story of why I requested this book is a little strange. I might share it with you in a post coming up soon.

Lord and Lady Spy by Shana Galen - I wasn't blown away by the first Shana Galen book I read but this one has been getting good reviews!

All Mortal Flesh by Julia Spencer-Fleming - the next book in the Reverend Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series.

Curse Not the King by Evelyn Anthony - the second book in the Romanov trilogy. I reviewed the first book a couple of weeks ago.

Rrakala by Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu  - I haven't listened to a lot of this artist's music but I have heard quite a few good things about it so I thought I would borrow it and see what I thought. So far, my overriding thought is that this guy has an amazing voice! Gurrumul is an Australian Aboriginal performer who sings in his own language and giving a contemporary feel. Despite being blind from birth he has achieved commercial success in a couple of different bands and also as a solo artist. I was listening to podcasts yesterday afternoon, when I decided to search for a video to go with the post on Youtube. I never went back to the podcasts. I listened to this amazing voice all afternoon!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Coming Soon: The Strangers on Montagu Street by Karen White

Given that this book is coming out next week there hasn't much buzz until the last few days! As soon as I saw that it was coming out I put in a request at the library but it was really when I read the blurb yesterday that I got a bit excited. This is the third book in the Tradd Street series. One of these days I will read some of Karen White's other books too!

Can't wait to see how this all plays out!

Psychic Realtor Melanie Middleton returns — only to be greeted by a house full of lost souls.

With her relationship with Jack as shaky as the foundation of her family home, Melanie’s juggling a number of problems.  Like restoring her Tradd Street house — and resisting her mother’s pressure to “go public” with her talent, a sixth sense that unites her to the lost souls of the dead.  But Melanie never anticipated her new problem…

Her name is Nola, Jack’s estranged young daughter who appears on their doorstep, damaged, lonely, and defiantly immune to her father’s attempts to reconnect.  Melanie understands the emotional chasm all too well.  As a special, bonding gift, Jack’s mother buys Nola an antique dollhouse — a precious tableaux of a perfect Victorian family.  Melanie hopes the gift will help thaw Nola’s reserve and draw her into the family she’s never known.

At first, Nola is charmed, and Melanie is delighted — until night falls, and the most unnerving shadows are cast within its miniature rooms.  By the time Melanie senses a malevolent presence she fears it may already be too late.  A new family has accepted her unwitting invitation to move in — with their own secrets, their own personal demons, and a past that’s drawing Nola into their own inescapable darkness…  

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: Affinity by Sarah Waters

I have been meaning to read Sarah Waters for the longest time. I have borrowed her books from the library numerous times. Finally, this time, I am actually reading one!

The teaser is the opening line of Chapter 1 and I think it is suitably teaser worthy!

Pa used to say that any piece of history might be made into a tale: it was only a question of deciding where the tale began, and where it ended. That, he said, was all his skill. And perhaps, after all, the histories he dealt with were rather easy to sift like that, to divide up and classify - the great lives, the great works, each one of them neat and gleaming and complete, like metal letters in a box of type.

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, October 24, 2011

The Lantern Readalong Part 3

This is the third, and final, part of The Lantern readalong which is being hosted by Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings as part of RIP VI. You can read parts 1 and 2 by clicking on the links below:

Part 1
Part 2

1. Now that it's all said and done; what did you think of the book? Did you see the ending coming?

I liked the book, but didn't love it as much as I hoped to. I kind of thought the end fizzled a little bit. The ties that bound the two stories together, other than the house itself, were a little loose for my liking.

I am not sure what I think about the ending of Benedicte's story. There does seem to be a certain irony in the fact that she was losing her sight, but felt that the condition that she was diagnosed with was too convenient an explanation for the visions that she was having. I was both surprised and not surprised when we found out about her guilty secret that she carried around with her for all those years.

I do really love the idea of gothic novels, especially a modern gothic, and this book is a good example of this style of storytelling.

2. What do you think of the characters? Lawrenson took us on a twisty little ride there, I had trouble deciding who was good and who wasn't for a while there! What do you think of Dom? Of Sabine? Rachel?

I am going to start with the character that I struggled with the most in terms of characterisation and that is Rachel. I was reading the section of the book where we find out exactly what happened and for a little while there was appalled that she was going to be blamed for what happened to her. That isn't what ended up happening at all, but it sure felt like that was what was coming.

As for Dom, I am still undecided about how I feel about him days after I finished the book.We found out why he was so secretive about what happened with Rachel, why he was reluctant to talk to Eve at all but I actually don't feel like we got to know him as a person very much at all, other than the fact that he was rich and musical.

Sabine was quite the piece of work in the end wasn't she. I found her manipulative especially of Eve and to a lesser extent to Rachel, using both of them to try and further her own cause. I was kind of surprised when Eve suggested that they might end up being friends.

Finally...Eve. There were certain parts of the book where I wanted to shout at Eve, particularly  as she accepted the treatment that she was receiving from Dom, including being isolated from her support network etc,  being led around by Sabine etc. I was so pleased when she finally confronted him and showed some gumption, but then she undid that by starting to keep her own secrets too.

3. Pierre was such a conflicted character. In the end, do you think he killed Marthe and Annette, or did the fall to their deaths because of their blindness?

I was disappointed in the one dimensional portrayal of him. I know we had a motivation for why he was as he was once he was older but there didn't seem to be any nuances when it came to him. I guess that there are some people who are nasty kids who grow up into nasty adults, but in some ways he would been a much scarier character if you actually didn't know which Pierre you were getting. Maybe that is what the author was trying to achieve by saying that Marthe hadn't or couldn't see this aspect of Pierre's personality?

I definitely think he killed Annette, and most likely Marthe too, although I am thinking that perhaps Marthe's death was more accidental given her blindness and the empty pool. Maybe she fell, maybe she didn't. At the end of the day I would count Pierre as being accountable for both deaths.

4. The book is being compared to Rebecca and Daphne du Maurier's writing. Do you think the book lives up to that description?

In my experience as soon as those kinds of labels are placed on an authors, there is an almost inevitable raising of expectations on the part of readers and almost as inevitably people may be disappointed. Let's put it this way, I don't think that in fifty years time someone will be saying that a new book is like The Lantern.

That kind of sounds as though I didn't enjoy the book which isn't really the case. There were things that the author did really well - for example, the details which made the book a delight for the senses. The smells, the sights, the taste - all came to life through the words on the page and I would quite happily have read those passages over and over.

I mentioned in a previous post that I think that I would have enjoyed this book so much more if I had of just kept reading and not actually stopped to think about the characters and the plot. It was very readable, and I could quite easily imagine myself there in the Provence countryside.

5. Did you have any problems with the book? Narration? Plot? The back and forth between two different characters and times?

Sometimes it was a little unclear which story we were reading in each new chapters, especially seeing as some times the narrative swapped in every chapter but then there would be several chapters of one narrator.

6. Do you think Lawrenson tied both stories together well in the end? Is there anything she could/should have done differently?

I don't know about could/should have done differently because, after all, this is the author's creative work and so she brings to bear all of her life experiences, all of her agendas and more to create her work.

The house was more than adequate to tie the two stories together but I am not sure about the other symbols such as the lantern itself, and also the other murders that it was inferred were connected to the characters in the book.

I was just struck by the thought that houses bear witness to so much (if an inanimate object can be said to witness anything). Think how many people a house might have living in it over an extended period of time. The joy, the sadness, the laughter and the tears, especially if it is a house like the one in the book that has been home to generations of people over hundreds of years!

I was wondering about Benedicte was going to fit into the modern storyline and thought that the way that particular aim was achieved was actually quite clever in terms of the way she got to tell her story and explained a lot about how the older storyline was being told through out the earlier parts of the story.

7. One problem I had with the novel is the reliability of the narrators. Do you think any of them were telling the truth? Which ones?

Ah, unreliable narrators. Where would this kind of storytelling be without them? It's a bit like all the foreshadowing comments. Both were in place to act as hooks to keep you hoping that you would find out exactly what is going on...eventually.

I think this quote summarised this quite well. Often, as readers, we like things to be linear, to be neat and tidy, but sometimes they just aren't!

All of which goes to show how dangerous it is to assume connections where there are none, to link events that have no link, to want tidy storytelling when real life is not like that, to draw too much on the imagination when it is so often misleading. (Page 381)

I wanted to say a special thanks to Carl for hosting this readalong, and to Kailana and Heather who contributed questions and to Netgalley for provided me with an E-Arc. I started reading that, but ended up also getting the book from the library once I knew that I had to spread the reading out for readalong purposes!.

A modern gothic novel of love, secrets, and murder—set against the lush backdrop of Provence

Meeting Dom was the most incredible thing that had ever happened to me. When Eve falls for the secretive, charming Dom in Switzerland, their whirlwind relationship leads them to Les GenÉvriers, an abandoned house set among the fragrant lavender fields of the South of France. Each enchanting day delivers happy discoveries: hidden chambers, secret vaults, a beautiful wrought-iron lantern. Deeply in love and surrounded by music, books, and the heady summer scents of the French countryside, Eve has never felt more alive.

But with autumn’s arrival the days begin to cool, and so, too, does Dom. Though Eve knows he bears the emotional scars of a failed marriage—one he refuses to talk about—his silence arouses suspicion and uncertainty. The more reticent Dom is to explain, the more Eve becomes obsessed with finding answers—and with unraveling the mystery of his absent, beautiful ex-wife, Rachel.

Like its owner, Les Genevriers is also changing. Bright, warm rooms have turned cold and uninviting; shadows now fall unexpectedly; and Eve senses a presence moving through the garden. Is it a ghost from the past or a manifestation of her current troubles with Dom? Can she trust Dom, or could her life be in danger?

Eve does not know that Les Genevriers has been haunted before. Benedicte Lincel, the house’s former owner, thrived as a young girl within the rich elements of the landscape: the violets hidden in the woodland, the warm wind through the almond trees. She knew the bitter taste of heartbreak and tragedy—long-buried family secrets and evil deeds that, once unearthed, will hold shocking and unexpected consequences for Eve.

Until There Was You by Kristan Higgins

Posey Osterhagen can't complain. She owns a successful architectural salvaging company, she's surrounded by her lovable, if off-center, family and she has a boyfriend—sort of. Still, something's missing. Something tall, brooding and criminally good-looking…something like Liam Murphy.

When Posey was sixteen, the bad boy of Bellsford, New Hampshire, broke her heart. But now he's back, sending Posey's traitorous schoolgirl heart into overdrive once again. She should be giving him a wide berth, but it seems fate has other ideas….

2011 has been the year of reading short stories for me and it has also been the year that I started reading contemporary romances. In the past I only read a couple of authors, but this year I have been reading quite a few. One of the new to me authors I have started reading is Kristan Higgins. Reading her backlist has been a bit hit or miss (Just One of the Guys = hit, Fools Rush In = big miss). This is the first time I have read a Higgins book as it was released.

This book was somewhere in the middle for me - not a complete miss, but I did have some issues with it!

First of all, this book is different from her previous books in that, finally, we get to hear from the male character. In the past the point of view was limited to the thoughts of the heroine and in a way there was a disconnect to the hero, but this time we hear from both Posey and Liam and I must say I liked it!

Posey Osterhagen was in love with Liam Murphy in high school. He was the local bad boy, complete with motorcycle and a bad attitude and he broke her heart on prom night in high school. While he knew that Posey existed, he only had eyes for Emma the local sweetheart. Liam and Emma moved away, had a daughter and went on with life. Posey is still single (mostly) and is running a business that she loves (as an architectural salvager which sounds very cool) and has a full life with her friends and family.

I loved most of the secondary characters in this book! There is Posey's brother Henry and his partner, Jon, her best friend who has boundary issues with her teenage son, her coworkers, her parents. Have to say I didn't think much of her cousin Gretchen who has returned home and is causing issues within the family and .

Also returned home to Bellsford is Liam. He is now a widower and he has changed from the ultimate bad boy into the ultimate over protective father! The interactions between Liam and his teenage daughter Nicole were so much fun!

"Well, listen, sweetheart. Boys only want one thing, of course, and guess what that means for you? Heartbreak. Pregnancy. Chlamydia, herpes, syphilis, crabs.”

That’s beautiful, Dad. You should set it to music."
Liam is dealing with being a single dad, overbearing grandparents and his own feelings of guilt, inadequacy and mortality which all build up to OCD and panic attacks. I really loved reading Liam and his struggles. As written he seemed really hot, and really human.

The bad boy returning home is a common trope as is the bad boy turned good by the love of a good woman. I really appreciated that in this book Liam had transformed his life, but that it wasn't transformed by the heroine. He had left his past long behind him with the help of his wife and daughter and he was ready to show that to the town when he came back even if the town wasn't quite ready to accept that he had changed.

I wasn't quite so fond of Posey for a number of reasons. The major reason was her tendency to replace curse words and phrases with cutesy phrases - for example Holy Elvis or using the word Bieber as an explanation! Drove me crazy! Fun for a little while but when it goes through the entire book.....step away from the gimmick.

It is always interesting to me to read about the prom scenes in romances. We had school dances but it just wasn't the huge coming of age deal that it seems to be in America as we see in novels and movies. The thing is though that there just don't seem to be that many great proms written in romances. Posey had had a terrible prom experience and so she shied away from even being a chaperone at the event because of the bad memories. I can understand there being a redo moment for her but I don't necessarily feel as though this scene really worked all that well.

I didn't necessarily feel the connection between Posey and Liam and felt the resolution scene came a little bit out of left field. Still, I was emotionally involved with the characters, I laughed and I cried so on that level the book worked for me.

I wouldn't start with this book if you are new to Higgins, but it wasn't a bad read. It just wasn't a great read. The book is available in stores on 25 October.

Rating 4/5

Thanks to Netgalley. Please note that all quotes from the egalley and therefore may be different in the final version of the book

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fragile Things Readalong Week 7

Another week, another story that isn't included in my edition of this book! Despite that, this has probably been one of the better weeks of the readalong as I really liked two of the three stories that I read in this section.

It's interesting as the way the book has been compiled has definitely been a change in the type of stories we are reading. More aliens and space stories than the spooky reads that we have had in previous weeks, although the second story I talk about (Pages...) does not have that setting.

In the End is the story that isn't in my edition of this book.

Goliath - Is it possible for just the last line to make a short story? I hope so because that is exactly what happened to me. I loved this story which tells the story of a man who is destined to save the world - there is humour, poignancy, twists and turns, and then a kicker of an ending line that I can share here without really even spoiling the story:
I'll die soon. But the last twenty minutes have been the best years of my life.
In the introduction, Gaiman tells us that this story was written to go on the website for the film The Matrix - a movie I have never seen. I therefore don't know what this story added to the movie, or indeed gained from the movie, but it works well for me as a standalone entity anyway!

Pages from a Journal Found in a Shoebox Left in a Greyhound Bus Somewhere Between Tulsa, Oklahoma and Louisville, Kentucky - Phew....just the title is long enough to be a short story. Apparently this is another story that was written to accompany an album by Tori Amos (as was Strange Little Girls). Of these two stories, Pages (did you really think I was going to retype the whole title every time I mentioned it?) worked better for me. Our main character is chasing after Scarlet, and he follows her from one side of the USA to the other trying to catch up with her. We don't really know why, or why Scarlet keeps moving around, but she always manages to stay one step ahead.

My favourite line in this story was when he "spoke to a woman I used to love today, in a cafe in the desert."

"I thought I was your destination," she told me. "Looks like I was just another stop on the line."

I could just feel the long ago heartbreak in her voice, the one that is only mostly healed, but not completely!

How to Talk to Girls At Parties - this is one of the Gaiman short stories that I had heard of before I started reading this anthology. I had heard so many good things, and I wasn't disappointed! I actually loved the story of how this story came to be as related in the introduction. The idea of being so nettled that another author could come up with a good short story in 24 hours that he had to go and sit down and write a story in a short time too! Who know that writing was competitive in this fashion!

The story itself is about two young boys who crash a party, but it isn't the party they think it is. Enn is shy and finds it difficult to talk to girls unlike his somewhat brash friend Vic who seems to be much more successful with the young ladies.

You have to wonder if Vic will be in such a hurry to be quite such a player after the events at the party!

I have actually had quite a busy Gaiman week. Earlier in the week I rewatched Stardust (the movie version) and loved it all over again, and then just like last week, I did find another Neil Gaiman short story to listen to. In fact, it is fair to say that one thing that this readalong has done is made me even more aware of his name when skimming through posts.

The short story that I listened to was called The Thing About Cassandra and it was podcast on an NPR show called Selected Shorts on October 16. It was performed in front of a live audience and I have to say that really added some ambiance to the telling. It was also a really fabulous story, perhaps even one of my favourite Gaiman short far.

Next week is the last week of the readalong and while I will be glad to get to the end of the book, I might also have to go and borrow some other short story collections to take my time reading through!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Memorable Meals - Budapest

We are very much experiencing the change of seasons at the moment.

Just this week we have warm days and a warm night, but today when I got up it was grey and overcast. After the little chef's game of cricket was washed out, it was time to think about what to have for dinner, and it seemed somewhat fitting to think of something that was almost a bit wintery. After searching for some inspiration I found it!

Not only did I find inspiration but I also bought back memories of when I was travelling around Europe many, many years ago!

When I was touring around Europe, we spent a couple a couple of days in Hungary, spending the night in Budapest. To be honest I was glad to go there but it wasn't one of my must see destinations on the tour so I wasn't really sure what to expect but I enjoyed wandering through the city, cruising along the Danube, walking in the Castle Hill area and viewing the Parliament building which gives Westminster a run for its money in terms of grandeur.

We stayed in a relatively modern hotel, from memory in the Pest side of the river but I could be wrong there (it's been a long time!). At dinner, we were served Goulash which may have been something of a cliche but tasted really yummy, and then a lovely chocolate cake for dessert. What really made this meal memorable though was that the next morning along with the other standard continental breakfast options like bread rolls we also could have goulash and chocolate cake! Goulash for breakfast!

The other really memorable thing about Hungary was actually leaving the country. This was in the days before open borders, and when we got to the border with Austria (I think) there was a huge line of buses waiting to be processed. Our bus driver thought he might try and take a shortcut through an unofficial border crossing into Slovakia (a country that none of us had visas for) and then on into Austria but the border officers didn't like that idea so at one point there was a big tourist bus being chased along a country road by a carful of border officials. In the end we had to turn around and go to the end of the queue. The tour guide and bus driver nearly got into a lot of trouble, but for those of us on board it actually makes for a great story to look back on!

Gulyas (goulash)

1.5kg beef chuck steak, cut into 3cm pieces 
2 tbs olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 large green capsicum, halved, deseeded, cut into 1cm-thick slices
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 1/2 tbs sweet paprika
500g Baby Coliban (Chat) potatoes, quartered
125ml (1/2 cup) white wine
1 x 400g can diced tomatoes
375ml (11/2 cups) beef stock
Sour cream, to serve
Chopped fresh continental parsley, to serve

  • Season the beef with salt and pepper. Heat half the oil in a large saucepan or flameproof casserole dish over medium-high heat. Add one-third of beef. Cook, turning occasionally, for 3-4 minutes or until browned. Transfer to a plate. Repeat, in 2 more batches, with remaining beef, reheating the pan between batches.
  • Heat remaining oil in the pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and capsicum and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until golden. Add the garlic and caraway seeds, and cook for 1 minute or until aromatic. Remove from heat. Add the paprika and stir for 1 minute to combine. Place over medium-high heat. Add the potato and stir to coat. 
  • Add the beef, wine, tomato and stock to the pan. Reduce heat to low. Cover and cook for 2 hours or until the beef is tender. Taste and season with salt and pepper. 
  • Divide among serving dishes. Top with sour cream and parsley to serve.

    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.

    Foal's Bread Readalong - Chapters 14 to 19

    What a difference a week makes!

    I am not sure if it is something in the book, or if it was just that once I had vented last week about my feelings in relation to Noah I was freer to read, but this week the reading was much easier and much more enjoyable.

    It was a very eventful section of the book! The war ends but at One Tree Farm life is getting harder as Roley's illness continued to get worse, Noah has to take on more and more of the farm tasks, but on the good side of the coin Lainey finally got her chance to shine.

    I did think that the way that the author described the worsening of Roley's still unnamed illness was exceptional. From what I gather from the few news articles there are around, the author may have been through similar health experiences and that would certainly give her first hand experience of the various symptoms.

    I was so pleased with the chapters that dealt with Lainey's performance in the show! It had that sort of feeling to it of the triumph of the underdog - at one point I was reminded of the scenes towards the end of Strictly Ballroom, with the crowd going wild and the winning couple all triumphant. I loved this quote from page 281:

    So that on this day, even if never again, she'd know that the impossible becomes possible when the valley inside your belly lays itself open, running as if with deep rivers and trees so steep and green it must be how One Tree Farm and others looked before the hills were cleared.

    She would cherish the quality of a showground forever, its circle so calmly fenced. She would remember how an announcer's voice could take on the quality of a prophet. How for a moment after landing it was as though streams of sunlight, not old leather reins at all, were connecting her hands to Landwind's mouth.

    You will notice I haven't said much at all about Noah so far. She is certainly the character that I react most vividly to but not in a good way. When Lainey came home, I just wanted to slap her for the way that she destroyed her daughter's happiness, especially given how much Lainey looked up to her;

    All her life up until then, Lainey Nancarrow had watched her mother, copied her mother, and just when she'd succeeded behind her wildest imaginings, just when their Chalcedite foal, their Landwind, had really jumped - oh, like a bird, everybody had kept on saying - too late Lainey realised she'd gone too far.
    Noah seems to be heading into full on alcoholism and becoming hard and bitter, and for me, it is painful to watch. As the child of an alcoholic, it is hard to watch Noah unraveling through the pages of the book.

    This week, we finish off the book, and I hope to see good things for Lainey, but I suspect we have some more hard yards to work through first, because that just seems to be the way this book is.

    For other thoughts about this week's section head over to the other readalong participants:

    The Book Nerd Club
    The Talking Teacup
    My Journal of Becoming a Writer
    Fantasy vs Reality
    Slightly Addicted to Fiction
    The Book Nook

    Friday, October 21, 2011

    The Lantern Readalong Part 2

    After only posting my thoughts on part 1 of this book yesterday, I have continued reading and now have composed my thoughts on the second part.  Please bear in mind that this post is about the middle of the book and there are therefore SPOILERS ahead!

    1. The title of this book is The Lantern, and a lantern makes an appearance in both of the stories. In Benedicte’s past, it had a meaning, but what do you think the lantern signifies in her future and in Eve’s story?

    Oh  dear! A hard question to start with.

    Actually, I think that there are two roles that the lantern is fulfilling. The first is a mechanism for tying the two stories together and maybe it is a symbol for both Benedict and Eve of shining a light on the past.

    For Benedicte it is a sign of love with Andre, but also for her in later life it seems to also be symbolic of revealing exactly what went on!

    2. Carl mentioned scents in last weeks questions, but they have been addressed even more in these sections. What significance do you think scents have in this story overall?

    As I was reading this section I was very much reminded of a book I read earlier this year called The Various Flavours of Coffee by Anthony Capella. In that case the main character has a strongly defined sense of taste which he uses to identify all the different notes of various coffee beans! In this section Marthe is divining scents for perfume rather than coffee but the sense of appreciation was paralleled.

    I find the idea that some people have better noses than other people to be totally fascinating and enjoyed reading the parts about Marthe.

    Marthe's career as a perfumer has also reminded me of the visit I made to a French perfume factory many years ago.

    3. What do you think of the combining storyline of Marthe? She connects Benedicte, Eve, and Rachel. What do you think will be revealed about this connection in the next sections?

    Like I just mentioned I am enjoying reading Marthe's story. I am not sure that I feel that the connection between the other four characters is really strong enough, but it is moving the story forward which is the purpose I guess.

    4. Now that things are beginning to move along, what do you think of the characters? Are any standing out for you? Do you particularly like any? Dislike any?

    I am going to start with a secondary character - can I just say I don't really like Sabine. It is like she is a puppeteer manipulating the events that are happening and the actions of Eve in particular.

    I am hard pressed to choose a character that I really, really like! Benedicte is okay as is Marthe, but I find Eve to be far too accepting and passive, particularly in respect of her relationship with Dom and his refusal to talk about anything. As for Dom, I don't distrust him quite as much as I did, but I think that he really needs to answer some questions and start actually communicating with this woman that he professes to love!

    I said in my previous post that I found Philippe to be a one dimensional character and I don't think we have seen anything to find out why he was the way he was and to give him any depth. The reader is not meant to like him or to empathise with him in any way shape or form, and I don't so that appears to be right then!

    Provence is synonymous with sunflowers and now  lavender to me
    5. What do you think really happened to Marthe and Annette? What do you think the significance of the bones in the pool are to the story? Especially now that it has been revealed that Rachel is also dead.

    I think Marthe and Annette are dead and that Pierre killed them. The bones in the pool are there to move both aspects of the story ahead and also to cast more doubt on Dom and what exactly happened to Rachel. I must confess that at one point I did wonder if perhaps Rachel had died of natural causes and Dom had chosen to bury her and so came back to the house so that he could be close to her even in death but I am changing my mind about that theory at the moment.

    6. Do you have any other things you think are significant to talk about? Are there any other predictions to be made for the last two sections of the book?

    No predictions, I just want to keep reading because even though I am still finding holes in terms of characterisations and plot I am still finding the book immensely readable.

    7. Lastly, what do you think of this book overall? Other than for the read-along, why are you reading it? Is it meeting your expectations?

    I would have read the book eventually as I do enjoy a good gothic type read and also have had an obsession with all things French over the past few months so this ticks boxes for me!

    And now I am all caught up on the posts and can post about the final section of the book on Monday, and now that I have posted about this section I can go and finish reading it! Seems like a good way to spend a rainy Friday night!

    Three things that make me happy

    Aussie author Belinda Alexandra has a new book out and I was really pleased when I saw it in the shops! I really loved Silver Wattle and liked Wild Lavender a lot. I also have a couple of her other books on my shelf (White Gardenia and Tuscan Rose).

    She also finally has a web presence with a Twitter account, a Tumblr page and a Facebook page.

    You can get a taste of the first 30 pages of Golden Earrings by going to her Facebook page and sharing it! I was certainly ready to read more when I did so!

    Kudos to Tammy from Under a Blood Red Sky who posted this! I do love some Keith Urban!

    video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

    I have been listening to this song over and over and over and I can't see that changing any time soon!

    Thursday, October 20, 2011

    The Lantern Readalong Part 1

    I'm late! I'm late! I'm late!

    So, yeah! It may be 10 days late, but here are my thoughts on the first part of the readalong of The Lantern which is being hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings as part of RIP VI.

    I haven't had time to read the book before now but today I had a space in my schedule so I picked this up and have been sucked right into the world! More than anything I want to share my thoughts for my own records!

    1. This may seem like an obvious opening question, but what do you think of The Lantern thus far?

    I feel bad that I am so far behind because what I have read of the book is quite good. I do wonder if it is trying too hard to be …. gothic …. for want of a better description though.

    2. The book appears to be following the experiences of two different women, alternating back and forth between their stories. Are you more fond of our main protagonist's story or of Benedicte's or are you enjoying them both equally?

    I think I am enjoying the modern storyline more than the past, which is something that I find quite interesting because whenever I read these kinds of books I tend to like the historical story a lot more! Maybe part of the reason for that is that in my usual reads of this nature the two strands tend to be a bit further apart than they are in this book and therefore the two eras aren’t distinct enough in my mind.

    3. The Lantern is a book filled with descriptions of scents. How are you liking (or disliking) that aspect of the book? How do you feel about the lavish description of scents? How are the short chapters working for you?

    I would definitely describe as a sensual read. The author takes great pains to describe the smell, taste, sight and feel of various events. There were lots of passages where I literally stopped just to appreciate the description or to imagine the smell or taste or sights.

    Here is an example of a passage that I read a number of times as it really caught my attention from page 60:

    We shared a capacity to stay very still and just look, and touch, and smell. Toward the end of summer, we would lie facedown in the courtyard. After the brief, hard rainstorms of late August, the earth was caramel-sweet and spicy, and the warm, smitten flesh of fruit gave off a smoke of incense. I may be imagining this of course. Perhaps memory has rendered these interludes larger-than-life, but it's true we did spend hours simply looking and inhaling, feeling life slowly in close-up, burrowing into our surroundings, eating vanilla pastries with dirt on our fingers.

    Marthe loved to talk about the scents and smells of the farm. My sixth sense was never as acute as hers (as I said earlier, my imagination has always been poor, which leads me to worry that the present situation is indeed precisely as I fear) but I could almost always smell what she smelled. Perhaps there was a family nose we both inherited that enabled us to read aromas, some small quirk of nasal membrane or nerve setting that provided an extra sensitivity.

    4. How would you describe the atmosphere of Parts 1 and 2 of The Lantern?

    Brooding, foreboding. Definitely oh-my-goodness something bad has either happened or is going to happen soon!

    5. Has anything surprised you to this point? Anything stand out?

    To be honest, I am a little bit surprised at some of the reactions I am having after I stop to think about the book. I am totally engrossed in it as I am reading it, even though I know that I am being led along by the foreshadowing and the hooks that are embedded in the end of a lot of the chapters, designed specifically to keep you reading. When I stop and think about it, I am not as hooked as I thought I was!

    As an example of a keep-you-reading hook, I was surprised by Marthe's proclamation in the last of Benedicte's chapters in this section. Marthe is Benedicte's sister.

    6. What are your feelings about Dom in these first two sections of the story?

    I think we are deliberately being lead to believe that Dom has huge secrets and with the foreshadowing that is being used expected to think the worst of Dom. To be honest though, I think I will be a bit disappointed if the secrets are so obvious as we are being led to believe as there might be a lack of subtlety if that is the case.

    In a way, the characters that we are supposed to not like (Dom and Philippe) actually feel a bit cliched to me.

    Bonus question: Did anyone else hear "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again" ringing in their ears through the first sections of the book?

    To me it seems that the author is making a conscious effort to evoke the book Rebecca, to the point of the protagonist that we don’t know the real name of, the use of one of du Maurier’s heroine’s name as the name of the ex wife, especially in the use of isolation – the husband who on the one hand is all encompassing but on the other is emotionally isolated whenever the subject of his ex wife comes up, the way they are pretty isolated as a couple with few visitors, the locale of the house being isolated from the village.

    I also wanted to mention that I am a sucker for a story within a story and so loved the use of the fairy tale and also the article as part of the narrative!

    I have now finished part 3 and will try to read part 4 tomorrow so that I can be all caught up in time for the end of the readalong! Maybe anyway!