Saturday, June 30, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Food Science

My Weekend Cooking post this week is a quote from A Red Herring Without Mustard, which is the third book in the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley. The quote comes from pages 153-154:

Ten minutes later I was back with a bowl of food nicked from the pantry.

" Follow me," I said. "Next door."

Porcelain looked round wide-eyed as we enter my chemical laboratory. "What is this place? Are we supposed to be in here?"

"Of course we are," I told her. "It's where I do my experiments."

"Like magic?" she asked, glancing around at the glassware.

"Yes," I said. "Like magic. Now then, you take these...."

She jumped at the pop of the Bunsen burner as I put a match to it.

"Hold them over the flame," I said, handing her a couple of bangers and a pair of nickel-plated tube clamps. "Not too close - it's exceedingly hot."

I broke six eggs into a borosilicate evaporating dish and stirred them with a glass rod over a second burner. Almost immediately the laboratory was filled with mouthwatering aromas.

"Now for toast," I said. "You can do two slices at a time," I said. "Use the tongs again. Do both sides, then turn them inside out."

By necessity, I had become quite an accomplished laboratory chef. Once, just recently, when Father had banished me to my room, I had even made myself a spotted dick by steaming suet from the larder in a wide-neck Erlenmeyer flask. And because water boils at only 212 degrees Fahrenheit, while nylon doesn't melt until it is heated to 417 degrees, I had verified my theory that one of Feely's precious stockings would make a perfect pudding bag.

If there's anything more delicious than a sausage roasted over an open Bunsen burner, I can't imagine what it might be - unless it's the feeling of freedom that comes of eating it with the bare fingers and letting the fat fall where it may. Porcelain and I tore into our food like cannibals after a missionary famine, and before long there was nothing left but crumbs.

As two cups of water came to the boil in a glass beaker, I took down from the shelf where it was kept, alphabetically, between the arsenic and the cyanide, an apothecary jar marked Camellia sinensis.

"Don't worry," I said. "It's only tea."

Weekend Cooking 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, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.  

Friday, June 29, 2012

At Last by Jill Shalvis

Right from the first moment that we saw Amy and Matt together in the pages of the last Lucky Harbor book it was clear that there was a story there! This book is where we get to explore that story to greater depth. To be fair, there hadn't been much action. Matt had tried to let Amy know that he was interested and Amy tried to stay well away.
Amy had come to Lucky Harbor to try to work out the clues in her grandmother's journals about finding peace, and she is hoping to find a peace of her own. She is a talented artist who spends her days working at the diner in Lucky Harbor and drawing the local area.

One day Amy gets lost whilst out hiking in the mountains and who should come to her rescue but Ranger 'Hot Buns' Bower. Amy just wants to get out of there but it seems that Mother Nature has other plans and she is stuck up the mountain overnight with Matt which leads to a scorching kiss.

Whilst Matt is making his interest in Amy known, she continues to put up an icy facade of indifference, which is actually a long way away from what she really thinks about Matt.

Amy had a tough childhood, and was a difficult teen who made bad choices. It has taken her time to get herself together but now she is getting there, and she doesn't want to take the risk that her fragile stability might disappear at the hands of a man, no matter how he makes her feel and she also has a sense of guilt about some of those decisions she made.

When Amy is given the chance to help a troubled teen, she recognises echoes of her own struggle, but like Amy, Riley is damaged, scared and independent and definitely is untrusting of those around her.  Watching the dynamics between both Amy and Riley and Amy and Matt made this a very touching read.

Matt, though, has secrets of his own. He is a former cop who left a big city force and an unhappy marriage behind. He likes Amy a lot, but as far as he knows he isn't really looking for forever. He is a man who likes to take care of those around him, even if Amy makes it difficult for him to do that.

One of the things I really enjoyed in this book is the camaraderie between Matt and Josh and Ty (the heroes of the other two books) - the competitiveness, the jokes, the play fighting all helped to give the guys a more solid sense of friendship that was hinted at in the last book, but wasn't really there as tangibly as it was this time.

The spark between Matt and Amy was strong and intense and all the secondary characters that the reader has met in the previous Lucky Harbor books are back to bring light and colour to the pages once again.

I have already read the next Lucky Harbor book which is the last in this second trilogy. Whilst I know there are more Jill Shalvis books coming, I will be waiting in anticipation of the next Lucky Harbor books to come out!

Rating 4/5


Amy Michaels loves her new life in Lucky Harbor. A waitress in the local diner, she's looking forward to her first weekend hike through the mountains. But when a wrong turn takes her off the trail, she finds herself up close and personal with forest ranger Matt Bowers. And even though she's tempted to kiss that sexy smile right off his face, she won't make the mistake of getting involved with the town heartthrob.

A former cop whose life went south, Matt doesn't let anyone get too close. But something about the feisty beauty caught his eye the moment he first saw her in the diner. After a hot night under a starry sky, Matt can't deny their attraction-or the fact that for the first time in a long time, he feels the stirrings of something more. Now it's up to Matt to help Amy see that, no matter what is in their past, together they can build a future in Lucky Harbor.
I will finish with a thought about this title. Every time I think about this book or see it's cover, I can't help but think of the Etta James classic song of the same name, so I just had to share it even though this is the only connection between the book and the song.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Equal of the Sun by Anita Amirrezvani

If you knew absolutely nothing about this book and I said that it was set in the 16th century, featured a royal princess who needed to fight and scheme for her royal rights, court intrigue, illicit romance, murders and so much more, you might think Elizabeth I, or maybe Mary, Queen of Scots. Princess Pari Khan Khanoom Safavi was a contemporary of those two women but instead of looming large on the world stage, Pari's power was concentrated in the harem and the court of Iran.

Pari is the beloved daughter of the Shah Tahmasb, and she is one of his closest advisors. When he dies, she puts her own grief to one side and begins to corral the powerbrokers of the court to bring them together to protect the throne for her brother Isma'il as he makes the journey from exile back to the Royal Court to claim his throne. Pari fully expects that, in gratitude and in recognition of her actions, Isma'il will name her as one of his chief advisors and she will help him reign. But, in a familiar tale the world over, many of the most influential figures in the court are threatened by a strong woman who they say should be at home looking after her children and not asserting herself into the volatile political world. Rather than giving Pari the power she desires, Isma'il is convinced that she is a threat to him and treats her accordingly.

With the shahs having several wives and many children, there are lots of possible contenders for the throne and so Pari has plenty of scope for intrigue and for planning but would the viziers and appointees that people the court follow Pari if, or maybe it should be when, there is a need to find yet another Shah in due course.

Pari's story is told by the eunuch who rose through the ranks at court to the exalted rank of her vizier. Javaher was something of a rarity among the eunuchs in that he chose to be made into a eunuch at the age of 16, having experienced the joys of sexual love rather than being forced to have the operation as a young boy. 

Whilst Pari's story was the focus of the novel, Javaher's own story was also very interesting. The reason why he chose to be castrated was so that he would come to court to serve the Shahs but also to try and find out what exactly happened to his father. He was an accountant who had risen to the top of the court, but then he was accused of treason and killed leaving Javaher to look after his sister and mother.  As a eunuch, Javaher can access the parts of the harem that are off limits to normal men. Many eunuchs traded the secrets of the court, and Javaher is no exception, acting as Pari's eyes and ears as well as messenger and co-conspirator.

I read and absolutely loved this author's first book, Blood of Flowers which I read nearly five years ago now. As soon as I heard that there was a new Anita Amirrezvani book coming out, I was very excited! Whilst this one wasn't quite as good as Blood of Flowers for me, I did find it very interesting to read, mainly because it is a such a different setting within which to look a the lives of women than you find in your normal run of the mill historical fiction novel.  There are times when the details that the author provide crowd out the plot and yet it is hard to be critical because of lot of those details were fascinating for the most part. The food, the clothes, the palace were all detailed in a way that leapt off the page. Sometimes though, those details slowed down the action.  I was a little bit surprised at how graphic the castration scene and the after effects were (left me feeling a bit squeamish just like the foot binding scenes do when you read historical fiction set in China) and also by the scenes talking about Javaher's sexuality.

I will definitely be looking forward to Anita Amirrezvani's next book. I just hope that we don't have to wait another five years for it!

Rating 3.5/5

Legendary women--from Anne Boleyn to Queen Elizabeth I to Mary, Queen of Scots--changed the course of history in the royal courts of sixteenth-century England. They are celebrated in history books and novels, but few people know of the powerful women in the Muslim world, who formed alliances, served as key advisers to rulers, lobbied for power on behalf of their sons, and ruled in their own right. In "Equal of the Sun, "Anita Amirrezvani's gorgeously crafted tale of power, loyalty, and love in the royal court of Iran, she brings one such woman to life, Princess Pari Khan Khanoom Safavi. Iran in 1576 is a place of wealth and dazzling beauty. But when the Shah dies without having named an heir, the court is thrown into tumult. Princess Pari, the Shah's daughter and protege, knows more about the inner workings of the state than almost anyone, but the princess's maneuvers to instill order after her father's sudden death incite resentment and dissent. Pari and her closest adviser, Javaher, a eunuch able to navigate the harem as well as the world beyond the palace walls, are in possession of an incredible tapestry of secrets and information that reveals a power struggle of epic proportions.

Based loosely on the life of Princess Pari Khan Khanoom, "Equal of the Sun "is a riveting story of political intrigue and a moving portrait of the unlikely bond between a princess and a eunuch. Anita Amirrezvani is a master storyteller, and in her lustrous prose this rich and labyrinthine world comes to vivid life with a stunning cast of characters, passionate and brave men and women who defy or embrace their destiny in a Machiavellian game played by those who lust for power and will do anything to attain it.

Thanks to the publisher and TLC Booktours for providing a review copy of this book. This post was originally posted at Historical Tapestry. Speaking of which, Anita Amirrezvani provided us with a fascinating guest post - Why I Love to Write About Eunuchs

This book also counts for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Library Loot: June 27 to July 3

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!

Chocolat by Joanne Harris - Recently I saw a few posts about the third book in this trilogy. I have seen parts of the movie of this book, but hadn't actually read it!

Queen of America: A novel by Luis Alberto Urrea - A couple of weeks ago, Tony from Tony's Reading List had a very interesting discussion post about reading translated books. It prompted me to have a look through my archives and see what books in translation I had read. Whilst I was doing that I was reminded that I had thoroughly enjoyed the previous book I had read by this author (not translated fiction though) but still hadn't read any more.

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch - This is reloot. I have heard so many good things about this author.

The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley - This author caught my attention a while ago so when I saw that this book was on order I had to request it.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier - After reading Frenchman's Creek a couple of weeks ago I had to request more du Maurier to read.

Saved by Cake by Marian Keyes - Another reloot. I love Marian Keyes books but this is not her normal chicklit.

Parchment of Leaves by Silas House - This is my next online bookclub read.

Life in Seven Mistakes by Susan Johnson - Having just finished My Hundred Lovers I needed to get hold of more Susan Johnson books!

Paris to the Past by Ino Caro - I will be trying to read this for Paris in July, but I am not sure if I am actually going to get to it or not in time!

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

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Six Women of Letters by Marieke Hardy and Michaela Mcguire

Yesterday I reviewed a Nam Le short story which has recently been reissued as a Penguin Short. Today I am going to talk about another Penguin Short. This time though, rather than a short story, it is a collection of letters from some well known Australian women.

The Women of Letters story began as theatre events. The organisers would ask a selection of women (mostly) to write a letter and then read it out in front of the audience. Much later, the idea was born to collect some of those letters into one volume, called Women of Words, and now six of those letters have been put into one collection and released as a Penguin short.

Whilst I would love to attend a Women of Letters event one day, I am having to substitute with this book for the time being, but I am not complaining! Taken as individual letters, you see the personalities of the letter writers shine through, in some cases humour in others poignancy. As a collection of stories, my taste was definitely piqued and I look forward to getting the full book and reading  more.

I liked all the letters, but if I had to only pick a couple I would say I thoroughly enjoyed singer Kate Miller-Heidke's letter to her twelve year old self, was moved by Helen Garner's letter to an old teacher and reading Ita Buttrose's account of a possible different life for herself was fascinating. Deborah Conway talking about bringing a new member of the family was amusing and also bought back memories of listening to her sing in a club in Adelaide many years ago!

The whole aim of Women of Letters is to remind people of the power of a well crafted letter in this day where most of us communicate in 140 letters or less on Twitter, status updates on Facebook or text messages.

I have one more Short to read, but I am definitely intending to read more. To find out more about Penguin Shorts, visit the Penguin website.


In homage to that most civilised of activities, letter writing, Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire created the literary afternoons of Women of Letters. Some of Australia's finest dames of stage, screen and page have delivered missives on a series of themes.

Published here for the first time are Deborah Conway writing about the ups and downs of being a dog owner in A Letter to the Best Decision I Ever Made; Ita Buttrose imagining an alternative life as an opera singer in A Letter to the Life I Could Have Lived; Tracee Hutchison writing A Complaint Letter to complaint letters; Pip Lincolne describing a magical childhood afternoon in A Letter to the Moment I Knew it Was Time to Go Home; A Love Letter from Kate Miller-Heidke aged twenty-nine to Kate Miller-Heidke aged twelve; and Helen Garner looking back on a teacher both terrifying and inspiring in A Letter to the Person I Misjudged.

Touching, funny and wise, this brand new collection of letters is a captivating tribute to correspondence.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice by Nam Le

Over the last couple of months, at least two of the big publishers here in Australia have started putting out ebook only individual short stories by some well known Australian authors!  When I saw them on Netgalley I jumped at the chance to read at least a couple of them.

I was especially pleased to see a new Nam Le story, having read and enjoyed his very successful collection, The Boat, several years ago. I possibly should have read the description because it turns out that this story is one that was previously published in that collection. In other words, this ended up being a reread for me. Not that this was a huge hardship though.

It is interesting to revisit a short story several years after you first read it, particularly in the context of being a standalone story and not part of the collection. In The Boat, this was the first story  and so the other stories built on top of this one. At one point, the character Nam (who does seem to share a lot of characteristics with the author Nam) makes references to other stories which turn out to be the other stories in the original collection.

Our character, Nam, is a writer who is just about to finish his time at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He is, however, very blocked creatively and is resisting as much as possible the idea  of writing an ethnic story like the one that is the story of his family. With a deadline looming, the last thing he needs is the added pressure of his dad coming all the way from Australia to spend some time with him.

The relationship between the two men has been precarious for a long time. Nam thinks he knows his father's story that led him to escape to Australia as a refugee, but does he really? His father doesn't necessarily understand Nam and his modern ways. This is a common immigrant story - the disconnect between the two generations who have very different life experiences and who have two very different cultural experiences.

As the deadline for his submission continues, he decides that he will write his father's story, but is it possible for the son to understand exactly what it was that the father went through as a young boy in the Vietnam war; his loss, his actions, the lasting impact both on his father as a man and as a family man who now lives in a far away country.

It's a bit meta, with Nam the character taking on some of the story of Nam the author, but ultimately it is a compelling short story to read to occupy a few minutes in your day.

Now, I need to keep on waiting for the next new story from Nam Le.


A young Vietnamese-Australian named Nam, in his final year at the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is trying to find his voice on the page. When his father, a man with a painful past, comes to visit, Nam’s writing and sense of self are both deeply changed.

Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice is a deeply moving story of identity, family and the wellsprings of creativity, from Nam Le’s multi-award-winning collection The Boat

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday Salon: Continuum 8 (the rest)

I am determined that today I will finish talking about Continuum, before it is far too late! Last week I gave some thoughts on the Friday night events and then a comparison between this con and the romance ones that I have attended previously. This week, I will talk about the rest of the sessions that I attended.

My Saturday started with an exploration of Melbourne's Dark Side with authors Meg Mundell, Felicity Bowker, Narelle Harris and historian Paul Poulton. Melbourne's recent criminal history has been dominated by the underworld activity that inspired the Underbelly books and TV series. With our gothic architecture and the Underbelly infamy there is plenty of darkness to be explored.

Paul's interest is with historic Melbourne and he shared a story about a doctor named Mr Beanie who was arrested on charges of murder for what appeared to be a botched abortion. His case was sent to the coroner to be investigated but he was cleared, which probably wasn't such a big surprise seeing as Mr Beanie also was the colony's coroner. One surprising thing that Paul mentioned is, like many major cities, Melbourne has a hidden underground with a series of tunnels that most Melburnians would not know existed.

Meg was interested in the hidden history of our buildings. For example, there is an asylum in suburban Kew that is now apartments, and the same is true of the former prison named Pentridge.

Another fascinating story was the one we heard about the Jack the Ripper connection to Melbourne! Fascinating stuff.

This session reminded me that I really want to get hold of Black Glass, Meg Mundell's debut novel.

The next session I attended was The End of the World is Just the Beginning which featured Sue Ann Barber, Liz Barr, Emily McLeay, Michael Pryor and Kate Eltham. This session was focusing on the current trend for Dystopian fiction in YA. The discussion about why dystopian is so popular right now was very interesting. The panellists seemed to think that there was a correlation between the periods of popularity of the dystopian style story and the breakdown in traditional structures. One of the panellists talked about her teenage sister not being able to remember a world before 9/11 and the resulting wars. There was a similarly to the Cold War panics in the 1950s and the nuclear threat of the 1980s, both popular times for dystopian reading. There was also some suggestion that the GFC could be a factor a the moment too. With the breakdown of traditional structures, there is more opportunity for the main characters, and in particular female characters, to be empowered.

I came out of this session thinking that I could listen to Kate Eltham talk all day, and that I really need to read Michael Pryor's series.

The next session was The Big Bad - Fairytale Villains and the panellists were Angela Slatter, Nalini Haynes, and Margo Lanagan (squee!). The discussion started with the question - who are the villains. There were plenty of evil women - like Snow White's stepmother and the various evil queen's - and lots of animals, but very few male villains, perhaps only Bluebeard and Rumpelstiltskin.

There was also some discussion about how many of the monsters of our past have either been neutralised (as an example natural predators like wolves and bears) or romanticised (i.e. sparkly vampires) and about how retellings can run the risk of losing the way and lose some of the power. For Margo Lanagan this means that they sometimes need to be twisted (which if you have read any of Margo Lanagan's books shouldn't be a surprise). Another interesting concept that was touched on was the idea that charming people often turn out to be the villains in fairytales, but it doesn't often happen the other way around.

Other questions that were asked included who gets the villain wrong to which the answers included Hollywood, who turns to regurgitate the same stories, any villain with an evil laugh and conversely, who gets it right, as well as where do you find the unsanitised versions of fairy tales (Virago Book of Fairytales, From the Beast to the Blonde and No Go the Bogeyman by Marina Warner and work by D L Ashliman at the University of Pittsburgh.

After a break for lunch, it was into a live recording of an episode of Galactic Suburbia, which is one of my favourite Australian podcasts to listen to. You can listen to the episode here. I have to say I was almost mesmerised as I watched Alisa rewind her wool while the three of them talked. I have to say, it was a bit odd in a way meeting Alisa, Tansy and Alex. During lunch I ran into Sean and Alex and we were chatting. To me, Alex feels a bit like an old friend because I listen to her talk regularly!

Kelly Link was the international guest for the convention and it was a pleasure to listen to her talk when she was in conversation with Kate Eltham. Kelly writes short stories and is an integral part of Small Beer Press as well. She is friends with a lot of big name authors and one of the things that she talked about is the fact that some of her friends are trying to strongly encourage Kelly to write a novel but at this stage she is mostly happy with sticking with short stories.

As a publisher, Kelly was talking about the changes that are taking place with the advent of ebooks, the increase of the influence of Amazon with some of the moral issues that leads to. One of the things that she mentioned that possibly seems a little obvious, but worth stating is that customers like Amazon more than publishers do.

The next session I attended was on Other Entities and the panellists were Margo Lanagan, Amanda Pillar, Jane Routley and Paul Poulton where the topic was talking about things other than dragons, fairies, vampires and zombies. There was lot of interesting content as the panellists talked about the where the familiar creatures come from and where the unfamiliar can come from, such as other cultures and traditions.

One of the most interesting points that was raised was about where do new monsters come from if in the past they came from the things that we are afraid of. What are we afraid of now, and is it possible to create something completely new?

After listening to some readings by Claire Corbett, Lisa Hannett, Angela Slatter and Felicity Dowker and then my last unofficial session of the day was watch the recording of the Twelve Planet Press authors podcast. I have blogged previously about the Twelve Planets short story collections and I love to see what the Press is doing with this exciting project. You can listen to the podcast here. The recording was held at Embiggen Books which is a bookshop I knew of, but I had never actually visited before. If you are in Melbourne, Embiggen Books is a gorgeous bookshop destination and I will definitely be going back.

If you do go to Embiggen Books then maybe also take the opportunity to visit The Moat, which is a restaurant/bar that is located in the basement of the State Library and seemed to be an uber cool place to visit! I didn't stay to eat because I didn't want to be catching the train too late at night by myself.

My Sunday sessions began with What's It Worth? - a discussion about the eBook industry and in particular emphasis on how much is an ebook worth which featured Jason Nahrung, Steven O'Connor, Alan Baxter and Kate Eltham. It was fascinating to listen to Kate talk about the the way that pricing is structured, and then how the publishers have tried to cut the costs involved in publishing a book. Some of the other things that were touched on includes the fact that a lot of consumers think that it doesn't cost anything to convert an ebook but that isn't actually true.

Value was something that was talked about in several ways - both how much an ebook should be to buy and what the optimal price range is for each individual panellist, about DRM, about added extras and much more.

Next up - Alison Goodman in conversation with Jason Nahrung. Whilst there were authors that I knew I wanted to read before I went to the convention but I was reminded by hearing about them, Alison Goodman is an author I don't remember having heard about before and now I really want to read Eon and Eona and her new series sounds amazing which is coming in 2014 with a novella set in the same world out in 2013.

Some of the interesting things that she talked about was her expectations as a reader that also then feed her writing. She looks for emotional journey, logic, elegance of structure, heroic characters, sensory (but not overloaded) writing. She reads widely and when you look at the various books she has had published this wide range of interest is reflected in her own settings and stories.

One thing I have often wondered about is how it works if you are working with different editors in different countries and they want different things changed in your story. Alison talked about how will only do a joint-edit so she tries to take the best ideas from each editor and incorporate in the story, so there will be very little difference between the editions published in each country. She did mention that the fundamental differences between the Australian and US edits tend to be that the Australian edit tends towards the more emotional and aesthetic whereas the US edit will be more about structure, logic and words so in the end by doing a joint edit it tends to balance each other out. The main reason why
this is necessary is political - neither publisher is prepared to give up control.

After lunch I attended the Book Blogs and Reviewing which was interesting to listen too, especially in the context that there were paid bloggers, unpaid bloggers on the panel and then a professional reviewer also in the audience.

My final session for the day was a live recording of The Writer and the Critic, another favourite podcast to listen to. You can listen to the episode here. The session featured an in depth discussion of a couple of books, but the one which inspired me was the discussion about The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.

I was very slack on Monday morning. There were some sessions that I was interested in attending but then I was also interested in finishing my non SF book so I took advantage of having time and quiet in my house to spend some time reading.

When I did make it in to the venue, the last couple of sessions I attended were The Awards Debacle and Beyond Paranormal Romance. I actually thought I was going to a different session when I walked into The Awards Debacle but I ended up staying as the discussion was quite interesting, particularly in relation to a lot of the drama that often seems to accompany the announcement of many of the national awards and short lists.

Beyond Paranormal Romance featured Michael Pryor (must read his books) Sue Burszytski. Liz Barr and Kelly Link. This was also another YA panel wanting to get away from the popular topics and look at more diverse themes. This panel was responsible for adding a huge list of books to my already bulging too be read list. Some of the authors mentioned include the following:

Scott Westerfeld
Maggie Stiefvater
Isabelle Carmody
Paolo Bacigalupi
Margaret Mahy
Carole Wilkinson
Leanne Hall
Lily Wilkinson
Michelle Cooper
Marianne de Pierres

There was lots more, including some books that are coming out in the next few months, but I do need to end this post at some point.

So, there you have it. My Continuum experience. And now, I need to go and have a lay down after writing up this post! Alex at RandomAlex has a wrap up post that collects lots of different links if you want to find out more.

Currently Reading

The Queen's Vow by CW Gortner

Up Next

Equal of the Sun by Anita Amirrezvani and Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Supersizers Go Restoration

This week I thought that I would share a TV show that I find very interesting and amusing to watch! It's not a food show with recipes, but rather one that concentrates on a particular era from history and looks at the kind of food that they would have eaten on a daily basis and the effect that diet would have had on the body. They have doctors who look at their health before they do spend a week eating as they would have done in the era and then take a look at the impact that had on their bodies.

Supersizers Go is hosted by Giles Coren,a journalist and restaurant critic (and as he says in the intro unashamed glutton), and Sue Perkins who is a broadcaster and comedian. They take on the guise of a couple of the chosen time and look at not only the food but also the kinds of activities that the men and women of the time would have participated in.

There are a number of different eras that they visit including Wartime Britain, the Seventies, Victorian era, Elizabeth era and Regency Britain, all of which can be found on Youtube. There was a second series called Supersizers Eat where they also visited the court of Marie Antoinette and Ancient Rome as well as several other times.

This week, I thought I would share the Supersizer's Go episode that concentrates on one of my favourite periods in history to read about - The Restoration when Charles II returned to the throne during the 1660s. Having watched this episode though, I think I am pretty glad that I am eating in this time. To be fair though, if someone was to look back through my diet for the last few weeks they would possibly be just as mortified as I am looking at this Restorations diet.

The show goes for about an hour, but is broken up on Youtube into approximately 10 minute grabs.

Some of the things I found amusing or very interesting include:

  • Breakfast consisters of a barrel of oysters, bread and cream, ale.
  • 'Always with the sword'
  • The pastry for the pies was made on one day a week. The pastry was made two inches thick and cooked but it was never eaten. Instead the filling was cooked inside the pastry crust and that had the effect of preserving the filling for up to a week.
  • At one stage, Sue talks about being half drunk from 9am in the morning because they started drinking ale early each morning but there was no water or anything.
  • Sue's mobile corn (as in hard skin on the feet corn) preparation! Ugh!
  • The latest crazes were for using the difficult new eating implement, the fork, and for ice cream and pineapple.
  • Sue's embroidery! lol

Weekend Cooking 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, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.  

Readalong Week 3: My Hundred Lovers by Susan Johnson

This week is the final week of the My Hundred Lovers readalong which was being hosted by Bree at All the Books I Can Read.

This is a book that I probably would not have picked out by myself to read but I am glad that I read it. I enjoyed it so much that I already have my next Susan Johnson book waiting to be picked up at the library.

Whilst the author may have set out to deliberately shock and surprise people with some of the things that she talked about in this book, ultimately I found myself having to think, which isn't always a bad thing.

There were whole sections in this book that I could quote as the writing was just bursting with life. There were also sections that had me cringing in my seat and having to read again because I wasn't sure that I had really just read what I thought I read! As I mentioned in last week's post I had to take to dog-earring the page as I didn't have enough book marks with me to keep on marking the passages that I found beautiful or moving or compelling in some way. This book definitely has the distinction of being the most dog-earred book in my library!

As a central character, Deb was compelling and confusing to the reader, searching and confused as a character but ultimately I was surprised at how well I was able to relate to many of the emotions that she allowed to play out through her actions and reactions during the book..

The book is written in short, sometimes very short, chapters that chop and change from each of Deborah's love and they aren't necessarily chronologically ordered. Some are lovers in the amorous sense of the word but other chapters talk about the feeling of the sun on your skin, or crisp, clean sheets on a bed, gelati on a hot day and so much more.

One of the questions that Bree asked in her wrap up post was:

Do you feel you were given a whole picture of Deborah, her life and her lovers? Or do you feel there were things missing, things you would’ve liked elaborated?

I don't think we were necessarily given the whole picture of Deborah because that would imply more of the day to day life than most of us would have wanted to read. What we were given were glimpses into the life of a woman, from her own perspective, about the things that were important to her. I think she was honest with us about many of the incidents in her life and the impacts (for example, how she met Celestine, who became her lover, in a doctor's clinic where she was being tested for AIDS), or at least as honest as she could be.

Many of the relationships were, however, very filtered. For example, we knew that right from childhood there was a lot of jealousy in regards to Deborah's relationship with her sister, and that continued right to the end, and deservedly so, but there was just one chapter where the two sisters shared a tender moment and I think the same can be said of her father - just the one tender moment for her to grasp onto. There were a few details about her son but not a lot. I particularly loved the chapter titled Breast where she talked about looking down on her newborn son as he breastfed. I remember that feeling of wonderment so clearly which is kind of hard to believe as I look at my 13 year old son who is now taller than I am.

I was glad that by the end of the book, Deborah appeared to have found a place where she could be content. Ultimately, I suspect that is what we all want.

This is a book that I can see myself perhaps rereading and savouring again in a few years time!

Thanks to Bree for hosting the readalong and to Allen and Unwin for the providing a copy of the book for the readalong.

Rating 4.5/5

A woman, on the eve of her fiftieth birthday, reflects on one hundred moments from a lifetime's sensual adventures. After the love, hatred and despair are done with, the great and trivial acts of her bodily life reveal an imperfect, yet whole self.

By turns humorous, sharp, haunting and wise, this is an original and exhilarating novel from one of Australia's premier writers.

Lyrical and exquisite, My Hundred Lovers captures the sheer wonder of life, desire and love
This book counts for both the Aussie Author Challenge and for the Australian Women Writer's Challenge.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Anna Funder wins the Miles Franklin Prize

The winner of most prestigious literary prize in Australia was announced tonight, and for once it is a book that I have actually read and reviewed!

The winner was All That I Am by Anna Funder, and you can find my review here.

Congratulations to Anna Funder!

Library Loot: June 20 to 26

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 made a very exciting discovery today! It looks as though my local library is going to start lending ebooks! There hasn't been any official announcement yet but I was looking up a book with the intention of requesting it and noticed that there was an ebook option available. I got so excited I forgot to actually request it yet!

There is a certain irony in the fact that I got so excited about this. I actually joined two other library systems so that I could borrow ebooks when I got my ereader but I haven't used either of those library systems for probably 18 months! I am going to request this one and see what happens as I am not sure if you can extend your borrowing time in the same way you can normal library books and I am also not sure how many ebooks are going to come into the system. It will, however, be interesting to see how this aspect of the library borrowing develops in the near future.

Update: Turns out the link to download doesn't work yet!

Here are the books that I did actually request:

Paris in Love by Eloisa James - I've read quite a lot of Eloisa James' romance novels, but this is about the year that she spent living in Paris, and is a perfect read for Paris in July.

Smart and Sexy by Jill Shalvis - My journey through Jill Shalvis' backlist continues.

A Stranger in My Street by Deborah Burrowes - I love reading books set again WWII. What could be better than that? A book set in my home town of Perth during WWII!

Beyond the Sunset by Anna Jacobs - I recently read the first book in this trilogy, which is another set in Perth, but this time during the 1800s.

The Lost Art of Gratitude by Alexander McCall Smith - I am all caught up on the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books, but at least a few books behind in the Isabel Dalhousie series.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith - My next face to face book club book.

Karma by Carly Phillips - The next book in the Serendepity series of contemporary romances.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater - This is one of the books that was featured in an upcoming  Writer and the Critic podcast which was recorded at Continuum and everyone really enjoyed it so I thought I would give it a chance too

Clare has Mr Linky this week so head over to her blog to share your loot for this week.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier

Lady Dona St Columb is somewhat notorious in London, which is not a bad achievement considering that she was part of the court of Charles II where there were plenty of notorious people, both men and women! She is known for accompanying her husband, Harry, and his friends to card games and bawdy houses. After one particularly ribald prank where she dressed as a boy and scaring the living daylights out of an elderly society matron, Dona realises that this life is empty and that she wants... more.
She leaves her husband and his friends and the court of Charles II, takes the kids and heads to the family's country estate - Navron House in Cornwall. Once she arrives she is a little surprised to find that there is only one servant in the house, William, and even more strange, there is a jar of tobacco and a book of poetry in her room. Dona was looking forward to some peace and quiet, but it isn't long before the true adventure finds her, in the form of a ship full of pirates led by the handsome and charismatic Jean Aubrey.

The local landowners are determined that they are going to catch the marauding French pirates who are stealing their goods and allegedly bothering their women folk but, so far, have been far to clever to be caught in their traps. Dona finds herself caught up in both sides with her husband and his friends working to catch him and Dona compromised by her growing relationship with Jean, but this might just work to his benefit.

Du Maurier is such a clever author. I had no doubt that Dona was shallow and unlikable as we first met her, in the same way that her husband was quite spineless and his friend Rockingham was much cleverer and quite sly and determined to capture Dona for himself. By the time we get to the end of the book, Dona is still impetuous and adventurous but this reader was also sure that she was a better person.

When I mentioned that I was reading this book on Goodreads, someone commented that this is one of Du Maurier's most romantic novels, and at its heart, Frenchman's Creek is a romantic book without necessarily meeting all the structural requirements of a romance. It is also quite bawdy in parts, something that quite surprised me. After reading a few nudge, nudge, wink, wink sections of narrative I realised that it wasn't just the way I was reading the book but that those nuances were deliberately placed.

For me, the strongest aspects of the book were the action sequences. There were beautiful passages of description and reflection, but it was when the pirates were in action and Dona caught up in danger and intrigue that my heart was racing and the pages kept on turning. Towards the end of the book the pacing was a little up and down, but it certainly kept my attention right to the very end!

One of the things that I found interesting was that the opening chapter was told from a modern perspective as someone takes the opportunity to take a picnic in the ruins of Navron House. With the use of modern narrative to introduce a story such a common motif in current historical fiction, it was interesting to note that it was being used by authors like Daphne du Maurier (and presumably others as well) were using it so long ago as well.

I have owned this book for many years but had never read it before. It's been a couple of years since I read my last Daphne du Maurier book, but I am determined to read more from her now!

Rating 4.5/5

Lady Dona St Columb is beautiful, headstrong - and bored. Desperate to escape the pomp and ritual of the Restoration Court, she escapes to the hidden creeks and secret woods of the family estate at Navron, in Cornwall. Though renowned for her passionate engagement with life, privately she years for freedom, integrity and love - whatever the cost.

The peace Lady Dona craves, however, eludes her from the moment she stumbles across the mooring place of a white-sailed ship that plunders the Cornish coast. And as she becomes embroiled in a plot to steal another ship from under the nose of the English authorities, she realises that her heart is under siege from the French philosopher-pirate Jean Aubrey....
I read this book for the Daphne du Maurier Season that is currently running over at Historical Tapestry. Head over for guest posts, reviews, giveaways and more!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Readalong Week 2: My Hundred Lovers by Susan Johnson

I'm late....again!

Actually, I decided to not post this second post earlier because I already posted a quote from the book on Saturday as part of my Weekend Cooking post and so I didn't want to post again so close together.

Please note that there may be some spoilers following.

I found so many aspects of this second section book so interesting without necessarily liking our main character, Deborah, any more than I did previously.

To me, Deborah is a woman with many flaws. She is looking for her sense of worthiness in any way she can whether it be men, or other experiences. She doesn't recognise the difference between sex and love and I think that is a pattern of behaviour that many people would recognise.

As readers, we are only given just enough information about certain aspects of Deborah's life but then a LOT of information about other aspects. For example, we don't know very much about Deborah's relationship with her husband and yet we are 'treated' to chapters like the three man day and a couple of the sexual experiences that had me squirming uncomfortably thinking too much information!

In her discussion post this week, Bree has touched on a number of the important issues including why a woman would stay with a man like the shadow lover despite how unhappy she was, about the consequences of an unwanted pregnancy, various relationships and more.

A couple of things that I wanted to touch on was the addictive personality of Deborah. At one stage, she talks about staying away from heroin because "she adored the way heroin made her feel, and how far from fear it carried her. But she was worried that she loved it too much, and never used it again." I totally related to this sentiment. My father is a recovering alcoholic and so I have always been aware of the power of addiction and the way it destroys the lives of both the addicted person and their family. When I was young and silly, I was absolutely aware of the danger of trying drugs just in case I really liked it. I am fine with having a drink but anything more than that would still scare me a little bit. I was very surprised when I had a conversation with my father about exactly that sentiment and he was actually quite mortified that that was my thought process. I am not precisely sure why to this day! Besides, it turns out that my addiction of choice is food and I am not really achieving much in dealing with that issue.

Without going to the extremes that Deborah does, I can definitely relate to her in so many ways. I loved the sections about her travel to France (where she started calling herself the Suspicious Wanderer). In a way, I think that by wanting to escape to France she is both trying to run away from herself with the hope that she would actually find a different version of herself. When I went overseas to live, in many ways I think I was hoping to find a better version of myself, but in the end what I did find was that no matter how far you travel, where you go, the one thing that you actually take with you is yourself.  When asked where are her roots:

She thought for a moment. She loved Australia but she also loved France. She wondered if she might be like a plant whose roots do not travel down but sideways.

As much as I find Deborah relatable, and sometimes that is quite uncomfortable, the thing that is really making this book a good read is the quality of the writing.

As I read, I always keep an eye out for quotes to use in future posts, whether it be food related like the one I posted on Saturday, or perhaps about Christmas for later in the year, or for the upcoming Paris in July event. The author has the words leaping off the page in such an attention catching way so regularly I ran out of random bits of paper to use as bookmarks and had to start turning down the page corners.   *gasp*

I am really looking forward to finishing the book to see where the author is leading us with this narrative. I suspect that there may be shocks towards the end of the book.

Sunday Salon: Continuum 8 (Friday)

Last weekend was a long weekend here which meant an additional day off work on Monday! Yay! Especially when it was also the Continuum weekend. Not just two days of bookish goodness, but three, plus Friday night as well!

This year Continuum, which is the Victorian convention for celebrating spec fic and pop culture. This year, it also did double duty as the 51st Australian National SF Convention. I had pegged this convention as one that I wanted attend from last year, but it was only a few weeks ago that I actually decided to go. As it got closer and closer to the time to buy tickets I got more and more nervous at the prospect of doing so. In the end, I am glad I went but I was once again reminded that I am not great in crowds of people where I don't know people! One of the highlights was to meet the people that I have been chatting to online and actually get to chat with them face to face.

On the Friday night, it was gold coin entry and so I dragged encouraged Bree to come along. One of the first people we met was Sean from Adventures of a Blogonaut.

Lisa Hannett making a point
The first session we attended was Splicing Genres which featured Jane Routley, Jenny Blackford, Lisa Hannett and Claire Corbett. This is where I begin to wish that my handwriting was a little more legible a week after I was scrawling the notes.

With each session only an hour, there was a lot of topic to cover. Some of the main comments that I found of interest were talking about genre labels as a whole and their importance or otherwise to readers and publishers in particular in relation to how to market something that doesn't fit neatly into one category. One of the books that I went to con knowing that I intended to read eventually but definitely wanting to read by the time I came home is When We Have Wings, especially after hearing more of what Claire Corbett had to say about it. When she started writing the book she knew she had a detective character but not necessarily that she had a detective story. She found the thriller and spec fic aspects were pulling against each other but both aspects still needed to be strong and to work within the storyline.  There was a discussion about splicing like the recent spate of classics mixed with the paranormal like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and brief mention of the fact that much fantasy is actually genre splicing with historical fiction, particularly with so many fantasy worlds having a kind of medieval feel. There was quite a lot more meat in the discussion but if I am ever going to finish this post I need to move to the next session!

After a break for dinner, the next session we attended was Tales as Old as Time which looked at the resurgence of fairy tale retelling in popular culture with TV shows like Grimm and Once Upon a Time and also in fiction. The panelists were Angela Slatter, Lisa Hannett, Jane Routley, Kirstyn McDermott and Jenny Blackford. I actually attended a couple of sessions about fairy tales over the weekend. Among the discussion points were topics like the grittiness and darkness of the original fairytales which started to be lost with versions like those told by the Grimm Brothers and then the Disneyfication of many of those same stories into something with a sparkly happy ending. Loved the discussion about why wolves are so prevalent in the fairy tales that we know and how different animals take the place of the big bad wolf in other cultures fairy tales.

Next up was Twelfth Planet Press Hour. You could be forgiven that this hour was just an excuse for cupcakes and champagne, but really it was a chance to celebrate the release of the twentieth book for this small publisher, the announcement of a new crime imprint for the press and so much more! The room was crowded with people including many of the authors who have had books published with the press. For much more extensive coverage I would direct you to Alisa's blog (Alisa is the owner and driving force behind Twelfth Planet Press).

There was another panel scheduled that I wanted to attend but we couldn't find it and by that time I was getting tired after a long day at work and then out so we headed off pretty happy with our initial Continuum impressions.

I will have more posts about the con, but I thought I would finish up this one with a brief comparison to the romance conventions that I have previously attended.

The first thing is that I was actually expecting there to be a bigger attendance for a spec fic/pop culture event but I am not sure that the organisers were planning for too many more than they got. The venue was a good size for the number of people but there wouldn't have wanted to be too many more people as a lot of the sessions were full with standing room only and the corridor outside the various rooms were quite crowded.

The second difference was in relation to the books and authors that were available. One of the hallmarks of the romance conventions has been coming home with a huge pile of free books, both in the convention bag and in winning door prizes in each session, but there was none of that at Continuum. I am not sure if it is a reflection of the lack of big publisher support for this convention. The small presses were there in force, doing what they could to promote their authors and books but there was very little big publisher presence. Maybe that is the way that the conventions want it!  In addition, at both the Australian Romance Reader's Conventions I have been to there was dedicated time for author signings and people brought lots of books from home to get signed by their favourite authors. From what I saw, there was only a little bit of adhoc author signing going on. I am not saying that there should be huge amounts of free books, because goodness knows I still spent more than enough in the Dealer's Room acquiring new books but it was interesting to see the difference in this aspect!

Attending these conferences always forces to look at myself too. If you talked to people who know me in real life, most of them would suggest that I could talk the legs off a chair, especially when you get me onto my favourite topics, like books, but the fact is that I am happy enough with people I know, and even in groups of people who are friends of friends as an example, but put me in a room full of strangers and I find it incredibly confronting to start a conversation with the people around me. I also think I must give off a don't approach me vibe as well! It is interesting because while I inherited a lot of my father's bad traits, this is one trait that I wish I did inherit. He can talk to anyone.

Anyway, it is already Monday here and I need to go to work in just a few hours, so I will just finish this post here. I did intend to write the whole con up in this post but unfortunately I got very distracted by The Voice again tonight. I will come back with brief notes about the other days in the next couple of days.

Currently Reading

My Hundred Lovers by Susan Johnson for the readalong, Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier for the current season over at Historical Tapestry (it should be noted that we are giving away some books by Daphne du Maurier!)

Up Next

Until I Die by Amy Plum and The Girl in Steel Capped Boots by Loretta Hill


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