Saturday, December 31, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Cheese by Tim Minchin

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

Friday, December 30, 2011

Best books of 2011 (includes international giveaway)

Today I thought I would share my favourite reads of the year - the books that had me enthralled from beginning to end and that have me anticipating the next book from that author! Over the weekend I will have some stats about my reading year in 2011, how I went achieving my reading resolutions for this year and my reading resolutions and most anticipated reads of 2012!

The books are listed in the order that I read them (except for the last one which I read earlier in the year but have put at the end because I am giving away a copy of the book)

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins - I didn't realise it when I read this book early in the year, but this year was the year that I got a bit obsessed with all things French! I also read Lola and the Boy Next Door this year and really, really liked it. Looking forward to Isla next year. (My review)

The Last Letter from your Lover by Jojo Moyes - A few years ago I read The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes and really liked it. I had meant to read more from her but didn't actually do so until I read this book this year and really loved it! I wouldn't have thought that I would enjoy a book where infidelity played such a central role but the story was handled so beautifully. I just learned on Twitter last night that Moyes has another new book out now so I had to request it straight away!

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley - I made a comment somewhere recently saying that I thought I was genetically predisposed to liking Susanna Kearsley's books, and this book was no exception! I loved it from beginning to end and literally gasped out loud at the twist in the tale. Whilst The Winter Sea is still my favourite maybe because it was my first read by her, this one comes close in terms of favourites. (My review)

Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick - Elizabeth Chadwick is one of my favourite authors, so it isn't a surprise to see her appear on a best of list, but I do think that she is getting better and better! This book is about the war between Empress Matilda and her cousin Stephen, but it is also about so much more. No one brings medieval times to life like Elizabeth Chadwick. One of the not so great things about 2012 is that there isn't going to be a new Chadwick book. We have to wait until 2013 for the first book in her Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson - Before I read this book I had only read one book by Maureen Johnson and had thought it was okay, but didn't get the fuss. After reading this book, I got it. I really did! This book is set in contemporary London but the events surrounding Jack the Ripper heavily influence the plot. Oh so good!

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness - Witches, warlocks, vampires, time travel, a cantankerous house... this book has it all! The follow up book, Shadow of Night, is due out next year and will be one of my most anticipated books for 2012. (My review)

Giveaway details

To celebrate the paperback release of A Discovery of Witches, I am thrilled to be able to offer a giveaway copy of this book! And even better, the giveaway is open worldwide! The paperback is lovely with a picture of the Oxford sky line down the spine.

To enter, please complete this short form by clicking on the link below! Good luck!

The giveaway closes on 8 January 2012!

Thanks to Penguin for the giveaway copy.

To whet your appetite, here is a video of author Deborah Harkness doing a walking tour of Oxford, which is where the beginning parts of the book are set.

And here is the synopsis:

A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.

Deep in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Library Loot: December 28 to January 4 2012

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!

Did you notice that date? Yes, Library Loot is careening straight into 2012 this week. In some ways it has been a long year. In another....not at all. It can't possibly be the end of the year yet can it!

Luckily, I have picked up quite a few books to read during the holidays. If you did too, share your Library Loot post with Mr Linky below:

Here's my loot for this week:

Deep in the Valley by Robyn Carr - I am all caught up to date with Robyn Carr's Virgin River series so now it is time to try some of her other books. This is the first in a trilogy which loosely connects to Virgin River.

Lords of the White Castle by Elizabeth Chadwick - My leisurely stroll thought Elizabeth Chadwick's backlist continues.

Legend by Marie Lu - This author appeared via video at the BTL Live event I went to a few weeks ago. I don't recall having heard about her book before then, but by the time the session was finished I knew I wanted to read it.

The Briny Cafe by Susan Duncan - I can't remember why I added this book to my request list as I added it ages ago. It will however count for a couple of my challenges for 2012.

Family Guy Season 9 - The little chef is on school holidays at the moment so this will perhaps help keep him occupied for a few hours at least.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: All that I am by Anna Funder

I am getting a slightly early start to the Australian Women Writers Challenge of 2012 and the Aussie Author challenge by reading All that I am by Anna Funder.

The teaser comes from page 1:

When Hitler came to power I was in the bath. Our apartment was on the Schiffbeuerdamm near the river, right in the middle of Berlin. From its windows we could see the dome of the parliament building. The wireless in the living room was turned up loud so Hans could hear it in the kitchen, but all that drifted down to me were waves of happy cheering, like a football match. It was Monday afternoon.

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, December 26, 2011

Mailbox Monday: December edition

And so we come to the end of the book buying year. I haven't sat down to work out the stats yet but I am really hoping that I read more books than I acquired. It's what I hope, but not what I am sure I will achieve.

Here are the books that I have acquired during December:


Second Chance Pass, Temptation Ridge, Paradise Valley, Forbidden Falls, Moonlight Road, Harvest Moon by Robyn Carr - Over the last couple of years I have read some of the Virgin River series in ebook that I bought, in library and inter library loan books, bought some and then read some via Netgalley. I decided the other day that I wanted to own them all in ebook.

Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller by Jennifer Kloester - I went to the signing in Melbourne and so had to buy a copy of the book and get it signed.

The White Pearl by Kate Furnivall - I am a big fan of Kate Furnivall's books and this one seems to have an interesting to me setting as it is

The Courier's New Bicycle by Kim Westwood - The ladies from Galactic Suburbia have been raving about this book and so I had to see what the fuss was about. As a bonus, this will be a perfect candidate for the Australian Women's Writers Challenge which starts in a few days.

Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti - the next book in the Twelve Planets series that I started reading this year. Another book that will qualify for the same challenge. 

Unraveled by Courtney Milan - the third book in the Turner series. I really need to buy the first one so I have the complete series on the ereader.


Head Over Heels by Jill Shalvis - The third book in the Lucky Harbor series.

Paris, My Sweet by Amy Thomas - It was Paris. How could I resist?

Believe it or Not by Tawna Fenske - There was lots of good buzz about this author's debut novel so I thought I would try this follow up book.

A Rogue by any Other Name by Sarah MacLean -  A new Sarah Maclean book! Squeee!

Light in the Verandah by Ciji Ware - A new Ciji Ware book! I haven't read the last one yet, but I will!

For Review

The Kings Agent by Donna Russo Morin - For an upcoming blog tour.

Ivan and Mischa by Michael Alenyikov - Heard lots and lots of good things about this book.


A Pinch of Love by Alicia Bessette - I think I won this from the Debs author blog, but I can't 100% guarantee that.


The Push by Lawrinson, Julia and The Three Loves of Persimmon by Cassandra Golds - Got both of these at the BTLlive event I went to a couple of weeks ago.

Treespeaker by Katie W Stewart- This one was offered to participants in the Australian Women's Writers Challenge.

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

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Wishing everyone a Very Bookish Christmas!

Weekend Cooking: Edible Gifts

I have a pretty easy life when it comes to Christmas. I don't have to cook for a crowd, don't have to do a lot of preparation, and so usually just have to worry about gifts and that's it.

This year, even that has been reduced as it is a kids only Christmas where we go for lunch, which means I had lots less shopping to do. It also means that I won't get anything in the way of gifts which I am a bit torn about because yes, kids only does reduce the cost for everyone, but they are all married and so will still get something decent from their significant other but I won't but I guess you can't have it both ways.

Anyway, in the end it didn't quite feel right to be not giving anything so today the little chef and I spent some time just making up a little gift bag of edible gifts to give out tomorrow. Inside the bag are rocky road clusters, snowballs and yo yo biscuits.

I have been making the rocky road clusters for a while now. In fact, I am not sure where the magazine is that I found the recipe in so these days I just sort of make it from memory. The other thing is that because of the nut allergies and dislikes we have I don't put nuts in but you could do so if you wanted to.  I wonder if rocky road without nuts is just road?

Rocky Road Clusters

Approximately 250 grams milk chocolate melts
100 grams glace cherries, chopped
packet of marshmallows, chopped

Melt the milk chocolate (3-4 minutest at 50% in the microwave stirring every minute or so) and then mix all ingredients. It is best to let the chocolate cool slightly so that it doesn't begin to melt the marshmallow.

Scoop spoonfuls of the mixture onto a tray lined with baking paper and put in the fridge until set.

Snowballs are another recipe that we have been making for a while now. The little chef likes to make, and eat, these ones.


1 packet sweet biscuits (we use Nice biscuits)
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup dessicated coconut
1 can condensed milk
Extra coconut

Crush the biscuits until fine and then mix all the ingredients except the extra coconut together.

Form into small balls and then roll in the extra coconut to coat.


Yo-yos are one of my favourite treats to have if I go to a cafe, but I didn't realise how easy they are, particularly seeing as they use only 4 relatively common ingredients.

Yo-yo biscuits

  • 1 ¼ cup plain flour
  • ½ cup custard powder
  • ¼ cup icing sugar
  • 190g butter
Butter Icing:
  • ¾ cup icing sugar
  • 75 grams softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon liquid if required

  1. Set oven at 180 degrees (or 150 in a fan forced oven). Grease two baking trays or line with baking paper.
  2. Soften butter in the microwave it for 15-20 seconds taking care not to melt it.
  3. Sift dry ingredients and rub in butter, work into a stiff dough.
  4. Roll into balls (approximately 1 teaspoon in each) and place on oven tray lined with baking paper. Using a fork, flatten each ball slightly to give the fork indentation. 
  5. Bake for 8-10 minutes (depending on oven and size of biscuits).
  6. To make the butter icing combine the butter and icing sugar using an electric beater. If you want a less buttery taste add a couple of drops of vanilla essence, or perhaps some lemon juice. If you want a harder filling, add more icing sugar and a few drops of liquid.
  7. Cool biscuits on cake cooling trays and sandwich together in pairs with butter icing.

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

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Virtual Advent Tour: Christmas Eve in Paris

I wasn't going to do a virtual advent tour post as such this year. After getting together all the quotes, doing all the posts, commenting etc that was enough, but as I was going around visiting all the posts I was reminded that I do still have things to talk about - my Christmas Eve in Paris many years ago, the Christmas Day when I had three meals, the one Christmas card design that I made a few of and haven't sent any off to anyone and more.

At the end of this post, I am going to dazzle you wish some stats about the Virtual Advent tour! I bet you can't wait!

Given that I have been pretty obsessed with Paris and all things French for the last six months it seems fitting to share my memories of a Christmas Eve spent in Paris.

I have mentioned several times on my blog that I used to live in the UK. I was over there for 5 years in the late 90s and came home just at the before the end of 1999. At the beginning though I spent a month in the US, and very nearly didn't want to leave, and then a month travelling around Europe before I arrived back in London, at which point I was broke and needed to start working again.

My one month tour around Europe started in London early in the morning of 23 December and our first stop was Paris, which means that we were in Paris on Christmas Eve (the way it worked out we were in Nice for New Years Eve but that's another story). It was a bit of shock for this Aussie as I had only ever had hot Christmas celebrations but it was cold enough that Christmas Eve that there was a few snow flakes around the place. Bearing in mind that I had only seen snow for the first time a couple of weeks before that at the Grand Canyon and you can possibly imagine how exciting that was.

After spending time visiting all the usual sites, we went out for dinner on Christmas Eve to a restaurant where we were given the choice of snails or frog's legs for starters (I chose snails) and then I can't remember what else we ate. One thing I do remember is that the tour director gave us each a small gift which I thought was a nice touch. I got a bookmark and a Swarovksi crystal keyring which I used for years. I was gutted when it broke. After dinner, Paris by night and then back to our hotel for an early start the next day as we were due to go to Chartres cathedral and then onto Spain the next day.

However the highlight of Christmas Eve in Paris wasn't part of the tour. When we got back to the hotel some of the group started talking about going to midnight mass. I had done that before with some Catholic friends before, but it wasn't part of my normal Christmas rituals, but seeing as we were in Paris on Christmas Eve it seemed like something different to do.

It was amazing. We just went to a local church. We barely understood a word that was spoken during the service, the whole place was in darkness except for the candles that were lit, the music was familiar but with the words sung in French obviously and the atmosphere was just beautiful.

A couple of years later I spent some time in Lille during the festive season as well. I know that I am lucky to have been able to have this kind of experience twice, but it doesn't stop me from wishing I could go again at some point.

The video below is the French version of Silent Night showing the Christmas lights of Caen but it fits my post so I am still sharing it.

And this is as close as I am going to get to Christmas in Paris this year.

I have already said thanks to everyone over at the Virtual Advent blog, but I do want to reiterate that here, especially to those people who commented on the quotes that I was posting here too. Special thanks to Kelly for co-hosting the tour with me, and to Alex for the gorgeous blog redesign and matching buttons.

Just for fun I thought I would finish up with some stats about the Virtual Advent tour. It originally started in 2006 with 16 people participating over a two week period. The next year we toured for the 24 day period for the first time with 30 participants, and this year has seen our growth continued with more than 110 individuals signing up to participate. With some people not posting, and others participating more than once, we probably had that many individual posts this year.

Over the years there have been more than 250 individuals sign up to participate. With lots of people participating in more than one year, we have now had more than 470 posts as part of the tour.

I should mention that all these figures are approximate as I went through to try and collate them all, but I might have miscounted along the way.

To Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings who has been with us since the beginning, to my co-host Kelly and to everyone who has participated since the tour started ..... THANK YOU!

We are already thinking about what we can do differently next year, so if you have any ideas or suggestions we would be happy to hear them, or feedback on what we did this year (particularly the quotes - did you like them, loathe them?) we would love to hear about that too.

Virtual Advent Tour: the final quote

My final quote for this year's tour comes from a novella in the Holiday Kisses anthology - This Time Next Year by Alison Kent. It seems a fitting way to end seeing as so many of our advent tour are about sharing traditions.

"You're pretty good at that. the cookies. The tree." He dipped up more glaze.

She shifted the pan again, nudging her hip against his and staying there. "Mostly I'm good at Christmas. I love it. The corny songs, stringing popcorn for the tree. Eating as much as ends up on the needle and thread."

"You do it by hand?'

"Gran and I do. Some folks buy finished strands, or fake plastic ones. But stuck fingers and Bing Crosby is our thing."

"What's Christmas without traditions, right?" 

Stop by a bit later today for my Advent Tour post for this year.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Contemporary Christmas music

Here are a couple of contemporary Christmas songs. One is new to me this year, and the second is one that I first heard a couple of years ago now but really, really love. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

2012 Science Fiction Experience

Whenever Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings announces either the Once Upon a Time challenge or the Readers in Peril (RIP) challenge each year I am there, ready to sign up usually with a big pool of books to select from. That is not quite the case for the Science Fiction Experience. I have participated twice, but have missed the last couple of years. I am however signing up this time.

There are a couple of reasons for joining in this year. One is that I have read a lot more science fiction style books over the last year. The main reason though is that I have just started reading the Vorkisagan saga by Lois McMaster Bujold and so I am thinking that this would be a good series to have a number of posts about, depending on how many books I actually get through during the designated period.

When trying to decide which order to read the Vorkisagan books, I have decided to go with chronological order rather than publishing order so this is the order that I am following:

Dreamweaver’s Dilemma (short story)
Falling Free (Miles, Mutants and Microbes)
Shards of Honor (Cordelia's Honour)
Barrayar (Cordelia's Honour)
The Warrior's Apprentice (Young Miles)
Mountains of Mourning (novella) (Young Miles)
The Vor Game (Young Miles)
Cetaganda (Miles, Mystery and Mayhem)
Ethan of Athos (Miles, Mystery and Mayhem)
Labyrinth (novella) (Miles, Mystery and Mayhem)
Borders of Infinity (novella) (Miles Errant)
Brothers in Arms  (Miles Errant)
Borders of Infinity  (Miles Errant)
Mirror Dance  (Miles Errant)
Komarr (Miles in Love)
A Civil Campaign (Miles in Love)
Winterfair Gifts (novella) (Miles in Love)
Diplomatic Immunity (Miles, Mutants and Microbes)

Having said that, I couldn't find the first short story to read, so I have already missed one element! Oh well.

I also have a couple of other books here waiting to be read at some point which may well qualify for this experience.

For full details (including to find out why this is an experience and not a challenge) head over to Carl's blog.

*Edited to add which Baen collection each book is in for my own records

A Wildflower Hill Christmas

Today's quote comes from a book that I only just finished a few days ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! I found it hard to actually put it down which is always a good sign!

I did however forget to note down which pages the quote came from!

Christmas wouldn't be the same without Mikhail.

The room swirled with laughter and music, Peter and his brother Matt, the stockmen, were singing a drunken goodbye song, Lucy was jumping up and down near the Christmas tree demanding to know what the 'big green present' was. And Mikhail stood by the empty fireplace with his arm around his fiancee, grinning as widely as he had for the entire six months since he'd met her. Mikhail was marrying Catherine - a widow with two grown children - and they were moving to Launceston to be near her elderly parents. And Beattie would just have to learn to manage without him.

"Come on," Beattie said, flipping up the lid of the piano. "Rosella, will you play us a song to stop those men singing so terribly out of time?"

Rosella was her new neighbour. She and her husband had leased Jimmy Farquhar's farm at the start of the year, and become good friends to Beattie. Their daughter Lizzie was the same age as Lucy, and they spent every moment of the holidays together, racing around in the paddocks, building cubbies and making mud pies.

As Rosella sat and started playing 'Jingle Bells' and everyone joined in, Beattie curled her arm around Lucy and her eyes moved from face to face, counting her Christmas blessings. Two fabulous wool clips and growing side business in designing women's work wear had brought her the financial security she had long dreamed of. The piano, the little utility truck, the glass Christmas decorations.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Library Loot: December 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!

I will be happy to have a few days off next week if for no other reason that I could maybe get to read a couple of books because all of my requests just keep on coming in.

Here's my loot for this week. It looks like a lot, and I am going to try to justify and say that it is two visits worth. I am not sure that really works in terms of justification though.

Olivia and Jai by Rebecca Ryman - This book has been recommended to me a number of times as being excellent historical fiction set in India. I am not even sure what prompted me to check, but I suddenly thought I should see if it was available through inter library loan....and it was!

Scandalous Desires by Elizabeth Hoyt - The next book in the Maiden Lane series...and it's purple!

The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon - the next Lord John Grey book.

There but for the by Ali Smith - I was listening to a podcast the other day where they were talking about this book with a lot of enthusiasm. They talked about how funny it was, how clever and more. If it wasn't for that podcast I am not sure I would have picked it up because the back cover copy didn't do a lot for me!

All I Ever Wanted by Kristan Higgins - Only a few more books left in Kristan Higgins backlist, and this is one of them.

Songs of Love and Death: tales of star crossed love anthology - I really only got this book for the Diana Gabaldon story, which I think is the one which tells Roger's parent's story.

To Wed a Wild Lord by Sabrina Jeffries - the next book in the Hellions of Halstead Hall series.

Animal Attraction by Jill Shalvis - the next book in the Animal Magnetism series.

Head over to Claire's blog to add your link to Mr Linky and share your loot for this week.