Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Library Loot: November 30 to December 6

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 is the last Library Loot for November! Where has the year gone? For this month I was trying to show a little self control and not just request books constantly as I usually do. The idea was that this would reduce the number of books that I would have out and that therefore I would get to a point where there would be a gap and I would therefore be able to make a concerted effort to read some of the books that I have sitting around my house unread. 

It was a good plan, but I don't think it has quite worked because there really has only been one week where I only picked up one book. This week, for example, lots of books that I have been waiting for for some time have all turned up, so I still picked up four items tonight in addition to other books earlier in the week.

I also noticed a sign at the library that said that if we borrow any books during December, the borrowing time has been extended from four weeks to 60 days, so those books will not be due back until February. I am not sure that this is necessarily a good thing for me in terms of getting some books read, but what can you do? Going to have to take advantage regardless!

Share your loot this week by adding your post's link to Mr Linky below:

Here's the loot that I picked up this week:

All That I Am: a novel by Anna Funder - I can't remember exactly why I added this to my TBR list, but with a WWII setting and the fact that Anna Funder is an Australian author, I am really looking forward to it. Actually, I think I might have heard a podcast about it and that was what prompted me to request it.

Changeless by Gail Carriger - the next Alexia Tarabotti book.

A Train in Winter: an extraordinary story of women, friendship, and resistance in occupied France by Caroline Moorehead - I do seem to be reading a lot of WWII books at the moment. This one has a slight variation in that it is a non-fiction book.

The Strangers on Montagu Street by Karen White - the latest book in the Tradd Street series. Yay! Can't wait to read more about Jack!

The Most Wicked of Sins by Kathryn Caskie - I read the first book in this series a couple of weeks ago and thought it was okay. Can't seem to help myself and still requested the second book in the series anyway!

Making Mirrors by Gotye - I love the song Somebody That I Used to Know so want to see which other songs on the album I like!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: Camp Nine by Vivienne Schiffer

My teaser this week comes from a book that I am reading for an upcoming blog tour. My review of this book will be up on Thursday.

The teaser comes from page 76:

"One month," said Mrs Ochi. "Only one month to get one thousand stitches in the senninbari."

Mrs Matsui turned, her shoulders back and her face held high. "Plenty of time. I have a thousand friends to make the stitches."

I didn't actually know what a senninbari was so thought I would share this definition from Wikipedia:

A Senninbari (千人針 thousand-person-stitches?) or Thousand stitch belt is a strip of cloth, approximately one meter in length, decorated with 1000 stitches, given as an amulet by women to soldiers on their way to war as a part of the Shinto culture of Imperial Japan.

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, November 28, 2011

Mailbox Monday: November Edition

Welcome to my Mailbox Monday post for November (or otherwise known as the November guilt inducing post!) November was another good month in terms of acquisitions. I have done so well at not requesting library books. I think next month I should try and reduce the amount of books I acquire! Or maybe not.


Wish: A Novella, Bedded for Diamonds, The Maverick's Greek Island Mistress, Untameable Rogue and Her Singapore Fling by Kelly Hunter - I went on a bit of a Kelly Hunter binge this month. Not only did I buy them all, I have also read them all!

30 Minute Meals and Jamie's Great Britain by Jamie Oliver - I am not 100% sure what prompted me to buy two Jamie Oliver cookbooks in the space of two or three weeks, but I don't regret it at all!

Love in a Dish and Other Pieces by MFK Fisher and  The Chef at War by Alexis Soyer - Two more books in the Penguin Great Food series.

All They Need by Sarah Mayberry - I have read a few books by Sarah Mayberry this year and really liked them, so I had to get this one too.

The Most Beautiful Walk in the World by John Baxter - I went to the movies the other Friday night to see Midnight in Paris. Is it any surprise that I couldn't walk past a book about walking in Paris?

Review Books

The Next Always by Nora Roberts - Was very excited when I saw that this book was up for review. I have read it, just waiting for the appropriate date to post the review here on my blog.

Love and Freedom by Sue Moorcroft - An author I like a lot recommended Sue Moorcroft so I thought I would give it a go.

Camp Nine by Vivienne Schiffer - For a blog tour! I am reading this one at the moment, and will be reviewing it on Thursday.

Saving June by Hannah Harrington, The Girl's Guide to Homelessness by Brianna Karp and The Iron King by Julie Kagawa - I knew I was getting a package of books, but I had no idea what was in it!


Touch of Power by Maria V Snyder - I first heard about this series when Maria V Snyder visited Australia earlier this year.

Pure by Juliana Baggott - Juliana Baggott also writes under the name Bridget Asher and I quite liked her voice under that pseudonym so I thought I would try this one out too.

Any Given Christmas by Candis Terry - this is the second book in this author's series.  Really liked the first one so had to request this one!

White Dawn, White Shadows, White Wind, White Shadows by Susan Edwards - I am not really sure why I requested all four books in this series. Normally I would only request one at a time.

A Clockwork Christmas Anthology - I requested this for the Jenny Schwarz story which sounds really interesting.

Holiday Kisses Anthology - I think it was the prospect of a Shannon Stacey story which made this a must have.

The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley - This sounds like exactly my kind of read!

The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy - I can't remember why I thought this one sounded interesting.

Learning to Trust by Lynne Connelly - I often enjoy reading this author's blog opinion pieces but I  haven't actually read her books yet.

Mailbox Monday is on tour and for November but this month it is being hosted at the Mailbox Monday site. Head over there to share your links, or to see what everyone else has posted about this week.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Salon: 2012 Challenges

In 2011 I made a very definite decision to step back from doing too many reading challenges. There were a number of challenges that I was doing previously that weren't, well, challenging no matter how good it felt to achieve them. For example, a 100+ Challenge is fun, but I knew that I would complete it, and it meant maintaining lists and everything during the length of the challenge. That's just one example, but there were several others that were going through the motions type challenges.

Now it is time to start thinking about 2012 Challenges and I will be taking the same decision again for next year because really I didn't miss any of the challenges that I didn't participate in this year.

These are the challenges that I will be signing up for in 2012

Historical Fiction Challenge -I can only show you a sneak peak of the button for next year's challenge which is being hosted over at Historical Tapestry. The launch is coming up soon, and you will be able to see the whole button then. Let's just say that Alex has done another marvelous job with the graphic! This one is one challenge that I do complete very easily but I kind of feel like if you are a member of the group that is running a challenge then you probably need to participate in it!

What's in a Name 5 hosted by Beth Fish Reads - 2011 was the first time I participated in this challenge. The categories this year look like a lot of fun and I look forward to trying to find book from my existing reading piles to fit the challenge criteria which are"

Between January 1 and December 31, 2012, read one book in each of the following categories:
  1. A book with a topographical feature (land formation) in the title: Black Hills, Purgatory Ridge, Emily of Deep Valley
  2. A book with something you'd see in the sky in the title: Moon Called, Seeing Stars, Cloud Atlas
  3. A book with a creepy crawly in the title: Little Bee, Spider Bones, The Witches of Worm
  4. A book with a type of house in the title: The Glass Castle, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Ape House
  5. A book with something you'd carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack in the title: Sarah's Key, The Scarlet Letter, Devlin Diary
  6. A book with a something you'd find on a calendar in the title: Day of the Jackal, Elegy for April, Freaky Friday, Year of Magical Thinking

War Through the Generations hosted by Serena and Anna - Abject failure in this years challenge is not a stumbling block for signing up for next year's challenge! The theme for 2012 is World War I and I can't wait to read some fantastic books about this era.

Aussie Author Challenge hosted by Booklover Book Reviews- Every year one of my aims is to read more Australian authors, and I think I have done pretty well in relation to this in 2011. I have signed up for the Dinky-Di level of participation which means I am aiming to:

Read and review 12 books by at least 6 different Australian authors
‘Dinky-Di’ is Australian slang meaning ‘true or genuine’.
I will also be signing up for Carl's challenges when he announces them, which almost goes without saying, and I might still sign up for a couple more, but I am not 100 percent sure yet!

Have you started thinking about your 2012 challenges yet?

Currently reading

I am currently reading Where She Went by Gayle Forman, The Time in Between by Maria Duenos (somewhat curiously the book is going to have the title The Dressmaker here).

Reading Next

Camp Nine by Vivienne Schiffer

PS - Don't forget that that the Virtual Advent tour signups are still open for a few more days! It isn't long at all until the tour starts! So exciting.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Jamie's Great Britain by Jamie Oliver

"For many years now, I've been making TV series' about the food from other countries and I've also been defending British food against its reputation overseas. We've got fantastic food here in Britain and it's time we celebrated it, especially as we’ll have the eyes of the world on us in 2012."

Jamie's Great Britain explores much that is great about British food and shows that much of what constitutes "British" food is actually a result of centuries of invasion, exploration, colonisation and immigration which has created a unique and wonderful food culture within our small island home.

Jamie's Great Britain captures the heart and soul of real British cooking - it's full of food that'll make you happy and will put a smile on your face. Over the years, Britain has embraced loads of different flavours and influences from all the people who have settled here and have made this country their home, and the result is an unique and wonderful food culture within our small island home.

Over six programmes, Jamie visits Yorkshire, the East Midlands, Essex and East London, Bristol and Somerset, South Wales and the Scottish Borders and immerses himself in the traditions and cultures which make British food so exciting.

He will be pausing along the way to cook some delicious examples of classic dishes that make this country’s cuisine great, including: Bubble and Squeak, Steak and Kidney Pie, Eccles Cakes, The crumbliest scones and Retro Arctic Roll!

"The recipes you'll see in these programmes and my book are some of my absolute favourites of all time," says Jamie. "Whenever I visited a part of Britain, I was blown away by the quality of local produce and the dishes that were created. This series really puts British food on the map and anyone who watches it will realise that our tapestry and patchwork quilt of old traditions and new arrivals makes our food some of the most exciting in the world."

The other week I was at a different branch of my library where they have their cook books right before the exit. As I was walking through this book caught my eye and I picked it up! Having now read through it as if it was a novel (i.e. straight through from beginning to end without missing a page) I know that I am going to have to own it and in fact have already brought it!

When I posted about Jamie and me (grin) a couple of weeks ago, I talked a bit about the effort that he is going in terms of educating people how to cook at home. As much as I enjoy those books, I loved that this book is about the joy of cooking with British ingredients rather than teaching people something. I know that there are other books by him that do this (like the Jamie does series for example) but I haven't read those yet and so I really can only compare this book to the Ministry of Food book and the 30 Minute Meals books that I have at home.

I loved the layout of this book! It is very much about fun and celebration. There are of course all the photos of food and ingredients, but in addition there are photo essays about places and people that Jamie has obviously met in his travels across the UK for the TV series that accompanies the series. The series hasn't yet made it to our TV screens here, but I will try and watch it when it does come here, despite the fact that his series show on a channel that I watch very rarely!

Speaking of the TV fun is this for a trailer for the show

I bookmarked a number of recipes from the book as ones I would like to try one day including Roasted Apple and Squash Soup (a fun twist on the soup I usually make using Butternut squash), Granny Smith's Port and Rice Salad, Epic Roast Chicken Salad, Empire Roast Chicken (roast chicken and potatoes with gravy all with an Indian flavoured twist), My Nan's St Clement's Cake (orange flavoured cake with lemon icing), Wonderful Welsh Cakes, Tasty Shredded Brussels (I can't stand brussel sprouts normally so it would be interesting to see if I could eat them like this) and Joyful Trifles (always happy to find a good trifle recipe).

I would say that for the first two thirds of the book I was constantly drooling and I knew very early on that it wasn't going to be enough to have read the book from the library!

The recipe that I am going to share from the book is Guiness Lamb Shanks. I have been making the same lamb shanks recipe for three or four years now, and I still love it when I make them, but it might be time to try a new variation and these look, well, good enough to eat!

Guinness Lamb Shanks

3 red onions, peeled
olive oil
sea salt and ground pepper
2 handfuls of raisins
3 heaped tablespoons thick-cut marmalade
1 heaped tablespoon tomato ketchup
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, plus extra for serving
200ml Guinness or smooth dark ale
6 lamb shanks, roughly 350g each
8 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 litre organic chicken stock

To serve

a small bunch of fresh mint leaves
a few tablespoons rapeseed or olive oil
2 spring onions, trimmed
cider vinegar

People absolutely love lamb shanks. You cook them until they’re just falling apart and they develop the most amazing flavours. This recipe is all about investing in dark sticky sauce and tender meat. We’re spoiled for choice when it comes to interesting ales, and adding a good dark ale or even Guinness to the onions creates the most brilliant depth of flavour. The sauce here makes enough for ten lamb shanks, so if you want to make this recipe serve more people, just plop a few more shanks into the pan and top up with a little more stock if need be. Whatever you do, do NOT skip the mint oil or spring onions. It’s like switching on a light, and just that simple little touch makes the whole dish sing.

Finely chop the onions and put them into a really large casserole-type pan (roughly 26cm in diameter and 12cm deep), with a lug of olive oil and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Cook over a medium to high heat, stirring as you go, until the onions start to caramelize. Add the raisins and marmalade, then add the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and booze. Give it all a good stir, then leave to gently simmer.

Put the lamb shanks into a large frying pan (roughly 30cm wide) on a medium to high heat with a drizzle of olive oil – you can cook them in batches if needed. Turn them every few minutes; once they have some good colour, pick in the rosemary leaves and move them around in the pan to get crispy, but don’t let them burn. Use tongs to move the shanks into the pan of onions, then pour in all their juices and the crispy rosemary. Add the stock, put the lid on, turn down the heat and leave to blip away slowly for around 3 hours, or until the meat falls off the bone easily. Try to turn the shanks halfway through so they cook evenly.

When the lamb shanks are ready, carefully move them to a platter, making sure the meat stays intact. Whiz or liquidize the gravy with a stick blender until smooth, then allow to reduce down and thicken. Quickly bash most of the mint leaves in a pestle and mortar with a good pinch of salt and the olive or rapeseed oil, then take to the table. Finely slice up the spring onions and toss on a plate with the remaining fresh mint leaves, a drizzle of cider vinegar and a pinch of salt.

Add a little splash of cider vinegar and a few more splashes of Worcestershire sauce to the sauce, then ladle it all over the lamb shank and pour the rest into a jug for people to help themselves. Scatter the vinegary spring onions and a few fresh mint leaves all over the top, drizzle the mint oil all around the shanks, and serve with lovely potato and celeriac mash. The plate will be clean before you know it.

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

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber

When Rachel, hired help in a Chicago boardinghouse, falls in love with Isaac, the boardinghouse owner's son, he makes her a bargain: he'll marry her, but only if she gives up her 160 acres from the Homestead Act so he can double his share. She agrees, and together they stake their claim in the forebodingly beautiful South Dakota Badlands.

Fourteen years later, in the summer of 1917, the cattle are bellowing with thirst. It hasn't rained in months, and supplies have dwindled. Pregnant, and struggling to feed her family, Rachel is isolated by more than just geography. She is determined to give her surviving children the life they deserve, but she knows that her husband, a fiercely proud former Buffalo Soldier, will never leave his ranch: black families are rare in the West, and land means a measure of equality with the white man. Somehow Rachel must find the strength to do what is right-for herself, and for her children.

Reminiscent of The Color Purple as well as the frontier novels of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Willa Cather, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree opens a window on the little-known history of African American homesteaders and gives voice to an extraordinary heroine who embodies the spirit that built America.

Recently, I was asked the question 'Why do you read historical fiction?' I think my answer was something along the lines of being able to eavesdrop on history. Really, the answer could have been to read books like this to find out about little known facts from history. My knowledge of homesteaders in America is very limited and I certainly hadn't given any thought to the fact that there were African-American homesteaders,or to the life that they and their families would have lived.

Rachel and Isaac DuPree are living in the Badlands of South Dakota,  a land that is beautiful but also harsh at the best of times but is especially harsh during a long drought. The novel opens with a disturbing episode as one of the smaller children, Liz, is sent down the well to scoop out what little water remains at the bottom because the bucket can't be used in such a small amount of water as the well is practically dry.

Rachel tells us of her life in the Badlands but also flashes back to episodes from her past, especially back to when she was working in the Chicago boarding house owned by Mrs DuPree. When Mrs DuPree's son Isaac returns on leave from his duties as a buffalo soldier, she has grand ideas of marrying him off to a nice young lady from an acceptable section of society. She certainly doesn't want him marrying the help, but that is exactly what happens when Rachel agrees to join the parcel of land that she is entitled to under the Homestead Act to that which Isaac has already claimed, thus doubling his land size. They initially agreed to a limited time marriage, but they are still together, working hard to maintain their constantly expanding land holdings and their expanding family.

Rachel is in the latter stages of pregnancy when we meet her, and already has several young children, but this life that she has chosen with Isaac was not an easy one and she has also lost two children. She is however proud of the life that she has built with Isaac, having started with nothing, then living in a sod dugout until finally she is living in a wood house that they built themselves. That begins to change however when she begins to questions Isaac's priorities.

I loved reading about Rachel. She was strong enough to make the decisions that need to be made, both for herself and her children. It took her a while, but she got there in the end.

The character that has me thinking the most though is Isaac. I can't quite decide if he is such a driven man that he can think of nothing but acquiring and holding on to land, or if he is just a guy who doesn't easily show or communicate his emotions. He is hard on all of his family but I don't think he is blind to them and just making them do things that they won't like just for his own selfish ends. For example, with sending a terrified Liz down the well, the fact of the matter was that without doing this there would be absolutely no water for his family and they would all die of thirst.

In his mind, he thinks he is doing the right thing by contemplating going off to work in the mines to bring in a steady income and leaving Rachel to cope despite the fact she is telling him quite plainly that she won't be able too. It is obvious though that he is capable of physical affection with Rachel which he shows just by the touch of his hand on her back when she needs it. He does have feelings about his children, evidenced by the tears he sheds at one of the key moments in the book.

Isaac is particularly rigid when it comes to the rules in his own house. He seems to me to be very much of a generation where the father in the house must be obeyed by everyone, including his wife. Some of his rules make sense, but we did get to see more emphasis on the idea of persecution of a minority group with his own refusal to allow agency Indians into his home, or even to meet his own responsibilities in relation to certain Indians who make their way to him. He is discriminated against by certain towns people but he in turn is intolerant of others who he sees as beneath him for whatever reason.

I didn't actually realise for a few chapters that the characters in the book were African-American, and for me, that can be seen as quite a good thing. Whilst a big part of the subject matter of the book is both the isolation that Rachel felt not only living in the middle nowhere with few neighbours, but even more isolating is the fact that there are no other African-American people living anywhere near her. At it's heart though The Personal History of Rachel DuPree is a human story - a woman who is struggling to get by in a difficult situation and making the difficult but necessary choices to get the best outcome for both herself and her children. A story of endurance, of courage and of knowing when it is time to make changes.

A couple of years ago I was visiting Perth and I spent some time listening to the stories that my grandfather told about some of the jobs he has done over the years. One of his earliest jobs was clearing areas of land in some of the hilly areas nearby. He had a horse and cart, and himself, and that was it. In another example is having to walk from one town to the next in the country areas of Western Australia in order to get to the next job, and these towns were not close together. All of his work as a farmer and a shearer was hard and it was physical, and is really pretty foreign to the kind of work that his grandchildren get to do. I found myself thinking of his stories as I read this book, mainly because of the sheer physicality of their day to day lives! I suspect that I would be a bit too soft from modern city living to live this kind of life.

When I think of pioneers and homesteaders in Australian terms I think that we are talking more than 150 years ago, and yet this book is very much talking about life in the wilderness, about making a life for yourself in the isolated rural region of the Badlands of South Dakota in America. 100 years ago was a long time ago, but by that time in the cities there was electricity, there was running water, there were cars on the street. It was therefore something of a shock to me to realise that timewise, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree was in my grandfather's lifetime! In 1917, he would have been 8 or 9 years old. Giving it some kind of context makes it feel as though it happened very recently indeed.

This is a book that I would highly recommend to anyone who loves to read about times gone by. I am sure that you will cheer for Rachel, just as I did.

Rating 4.5

I am reviewing this book today as part of the TLC Book tours blog tour, although I obtained the book from my local library. To see other stops on the tour click on the following links.

Tuesday, November 1st:  nomadreader
Wednesday, November 2nd:  Peeking Between the Pages  
Thursday, November 3rd:  Linus’s Blanket - author Q&A
Monday, November 7th:  A Bookish Libraria
Tuesday, November 8th:  Man of La Book
Thursday, November 10th:  Unabridged Chick
Monday, November 14th:  Book Dilettante
Tuesday, November 15th:  Book Chatter
Wednesday, November 16th:  She is Too Fond of Books- Spotlight on Bookstores guest post
Thursday, November 17th:  Book Club Classics
Monday, November 21st:  Raging Bibliomania
Tuesday, November 22nd:  The Brain Lair
Wednesday, November 23rd:  Historical Tapestry – author guest post, “Why I Love Book Groups”
Wednesday, November 23rd:  Broken Teepee
Friday, November 25th:  Historical Tapestry
Monday, November 28th:  A Bookworm’s World
Tuesday, November 29th:  My Bookshelf
Wednesday, November 30th:  Elle Lit.
Thursday, December 1st:  Melody & Words
Monday, December 5th:  Book Snob
Wednesday, December 7th:  Life in Review
Thursday, December 8th:  The 3 R’s Blog

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Library Loot: November 23 to 28

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

My self control in terms of requesting books has held strong, and this week it might appear that restraint is showing. That would, however, only be part of the story. The sad truth is that my library card is full and so I need to return a few books so that I can pick up the other items that are still sitting on the library hold shelf.

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

I only actually picked up one book today.

Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James - I must confess I was a bit surprised when an erotica novel was chosen as the book for this month in my online book group. I have read the occasional erotica novel, but never actually read one with a view to discussing it! We'll see how it goes!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber

My teaser this week comes from a book I will be reviewing Friday as part of a blog tour. Figured I should at least start it!

The teaser is from page 95 of the large print version:

I started walking again, picking my way over the broken sidewalk, my chin high. Mrs. DuPree might have the money for a second boardinghouse, but this neighbourhood was where she lived. Mrs. DuPree was on her way down, I told myself, but the next Mrs. DuPree - me - was on her way up.

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! 


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