Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Salon: Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

To say that I have been anticipating this book is an understatement. I loved A Discovery of Witches - it was one of my favourite reads of last year, so I have been waiting what seems a very long time to get my hands on this book. That kind of anticipation does lead to pretty high expectations which may have never been going to be met.

This book is the sequel to A Discovery of Witches, and it really assumes that you have read the first book. To be honest, I am not sure that I wouldn't recommend a reread of ADOW immediately before reading this one as it drops you straight into the action, a couple of minutes after the end of the last book. As a consequence, it is difficult to discuss this book without spoiling ADOW so...

*******SPOILERS AHOY********

Where ADOW was set mainly in the present, Shadow of Night is predominantly set in the past. Diana and Matthew travel back through time and end up in Elizabeth England. The reason why they have traveled back is to see if they can find out more about the mysterious Ashmole 782 manuscript but also to help Diana learn how to control the witch powers that she discovered in the last book.

I am having a little bit of difficulty in terms of putting my thoughts together on this book. I wasn't as wrapped up in this one as I was in A Discovery of Witches, but it was still really readable. I had both a print and ebook version of this book and I was engrossed enough in it to be swapping between those two versions so that I could take it everywhere with me.

The time travel element was .... interesting. The main crux of the matter was that the Matthew who still lived in the 1500s could not be at the same place and time as the modern Matthew and so when he gets back to the past his friends were a little surprised as last they knew he was in a different part of the country and he was suddenly accompanied by a wife. Whilst Matthew and Diana were in the past, they needed to be careful to not change the past, but just by being there they left behind clues, and then they deliberately did things that they knew were going to change the known history.

It was interesting to see Matthew in the 16th century. 21st century Matthew had different ideas that come from having lived for hundreds of years more and in the modern world. He therefore made different decisions than his past persona would have been making and you can't help but wonder how this would be explained when the past Matthew reappears.I suspect the fact that first he didn't have a wife, then he did, and then he didn't again would also be somewhat difficult to explain. There was a plan to deal with this made, but I didn't get how that plan wasn't changing the history of what happened initially! Time travel is difficult to get right at the best of times, and I am not sure that the author quite made it here.

In the modern day, Matthew's family was spending all it's time and money trying to track down these clues to Matthew and Diana's life in the past. I find that these chapters were a bit of a distraction to the plot even though there were only a few of them. The modern day aspects either needed to be more important to the plot and more developed, or not there until the end. There was one new character that we met both in the past and present that I can't wait to find out more about though - Gallowglass! I really hope that he plays more of a role in the next book.

Whilst it was clear in ADOW that Matthew had known important people in the past, it seemed in this book that he was close personal friends with every single important name from history. He was close personal friends with people from Christopher Marlowe (oh my goodness, this character was a pain in the butt to read about), Sir Walter Raleigh and more. He is indispensable to Queen Elizabeth I but when the action moves to Prague he is also well known in the Royal courts there. There were times when I couldn't help but wonder if the less is more approach shouldn't have been considered.

You will notice that I haven't said much about Diana yet, and that is partially because I am not really sure how I felt about her role in this book. Whilst in ADOW Diana wasn't aware of her witch powers, and she only started to learn about them, in this book she is looking for assistance from other witches to try to learn exactly what powers she has and how to use them. This is not a great time to be a witch (not all that unusual in history really) and so she attracts attention to her almost immediately. They start off in Oxford but soon the couple has to flee, initially to France, then to Prague and back to London. In each location they find themselves in impending danger either from people who believe that Diana is a witch or because they have crossed someone as a result of their actions to do with their search for the Ashmole 782 manuscript.

As a couple, there was some developments in the relationship between Diana and Matthew, but there was also a lot of rehashing of themes that we went through in the last book - you can't possibly love me because I am a monster, let me show you how much of a monster I can be etc. It was also interesting to see how easily Matthew slipped back into the 16th century mentality when it came to his relationship with Diana as his wife. I don't think that Diana expected that kind of change in attitude.

Of the different locations, I think I enjoyed the section set in France the most. In ADOW we heard what had happened to Phillippe, Matthew's father, but spent time with his mother Isabeau. In this book, it is the other way around. We meet Phillippe, who is the head of the family and whose word is law! He comes across as stern with very fixed ideas, but we get to see why he was such a formative figure in Matthew's life and I warmed to him in due course. 

There was also a twist to the end of the book in relation to Diana that I really enjoyed. I am not entirely sure what the point of it was other than to have an emotional moment but it was good. To be honest, that probably sums up my reaction to this book. I closed the book and wondered what precisely the point of everything that the characters had gone through was. There was some development in the search for Ashmole, but I don't know that some of those things couldn't have been learned in the present day. The parts with the witches of London teaching Diana how to cast her spells were again interesting, but did she have to learn from those particularly people in that particular time.

I will still be looking forward to the third instalment of this series, but my expectations will be somewhat tempered compared to the anticipation I felt for this second book.

Rating 3.5/5

"Together we lifted our feet and stepped into the unknown"—the thrilling sequel to the New York Times bestseller A Discovery of Witches

Deborah Harkness exploded onto the literary scene with her debut novel, A Discovery of Witches, Book One of the magical All Souls Trilogy and an international publishing phenomenon. The novel introduced Diana Bishop, Oxford scholar and reluctant witch, and the handsome geneticist and vampire Matthew Clairmont; together they found themselves at the center of a supernatural battle over an enchanted manuscript known as Ashmole 782.

Now, picking up from A Discovery of Witches’ cliffhanger ending, Shadow of Night plunges Diana and Matthew into Elizabethan London, a world of spies, subterfuge, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the mysterious School of Night that includes Christopher Marlowe and Walter Raleigh. Here, Diana must locate a witch to tutor her in magic, Matthew is forced to confront a past he thought he had put to rest, and the mystery of Ashmole 782 deepens.

Deborah Harkness has crafted a gripping journey through a world of alchemy, time travel, and magical discoveries, delivering one of the most hotly anticipated novels of the season.
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copies of this book.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Manu's French Bistro by Manu Feildel

A couple of years ago I did a Weekend Cooking post about going to the Good Food and Wine Show and getting the chance to watch a demonstration by celebrity chef Manu Feildel. Since that time, Manu has become even more well known with more series of his TV show, winning the Australian version of Dancing with the Stars, celebrity endorsements of soup, and more. At the demonstration, he talked about the fact that he was starting to work on a cookbook, and today I am going to talk about  that book  his second book.

Manu started out helping out in his dad's restaurant but then he ran away to join the circus. Having realised that the circus was not his long term future, he returned to the kitchen and spent many years working in the bistros of France.

There were plenty of recipes that included traditional French ingredients that I just can't imagine using in my home kitchen like a recipe for Garlic Snail Pies and a gorgeous looking Hare Pie, which is like a posh version of cottage pie but I just can't imagine actually ever cooking with hare. There are plenty of recipes though that I could at the very least try. In some of the interviews that I read though, Feildel makes no secret of the fact that this book was designed to be more challenging without being too inaccessible. Having now looked at this book, I am interested to see if I can get hold of the first book and see how it compares in terms of accessibility to someone like me who is a functional cook at best.

As an object, this is a very well presented package. The photography is both practical and gorgeous when it comes to the recipes, but also there is a bit of fun in some of the other photos that are included. In addition, there is a menu which gives suggested entrees, mains and desserts that are fitting for each season. I think that one of my favourite things stylistically is the word cloud type page which features the name of the recipes that are included in each of the section; entrees, mains, desserts and basics. You can catch a brief glimpse of an example of this at about the 30 second mark of the video below.

Instead of typing up a recipe, I thought I would share a video that was created to help promote the book. This has a couple of bonus points in that you can hear his delicious French accent, and you also can see a quick glimpse of the styling that I talked about before.

In addition, below are some links to recipes that are from the book

Onion and Bacon tartlets (from the publisher's website)
Beef Cheeks/Chewy Walnut and Caramel Tart (from the Courier Mail)

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.    

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Winner of Shadow of Night!

Congratulations to 

who has won the giveaway of Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness! My review of the book will be up in the next couple of days!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Library Loot:July 25 to 31

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 very nearly didn't have any library loot to share this week. I haven't been to the library for over a week. Realising that I am not sure that I am going to have time to go over the weekend I made a special effort to go after work today. Lucky I guess, because there were quite a few books waiting to be picked up.

I quite often have a bit of a look to see what other people are requesting. It is probably no surprise to know that there were eight copies of one particular book sitting on the shelves waiting to be picked up. You know the one I mean. The library system has more than 25 copies and there is still a queue of around 130 people. You may be wondering why I am mentioning this? No, I didn't borrow it (been there, didn't buy the t-shirt) but just thought it was interesting because this is by far the biggest request queue I have ever seen in our local  library system.

Anyway, instead of talking about a book that I didn't borrow, here are the ones I did get:

Poppy and the Thief by Gabrielle Wang - Next Our Australian Girl book

Recipes for a Perfect Marriage by Morag Prunty - the other day Stephanie from Reading a Single Sitting mentioned a book in the comments as something I might like. After reading her review, I totally agreed and     so I broke my no new requests rule for July to request the book! Only problem is that it was a different book that she recommended! Whoops! This one sounds alright too though! Haha.

I am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley - The next Flavia de Luce book.

Blood Song by Rhiannon Hart - I got home from work the other day to find an unexpected package at the door. It contained the second book in Rhiannon Hart's series, but I hadn't read the first one, so I had to go and borrow this one because I can't read a series out of order.

Fool Moon by Jim Butcher - Reloot. I am determined to get to this second book in the Dresden series.

Hometown Girl by Mariah Stewart - the next book in the Chesapeake Diaries contemporary romance series.

What loot did you get? Add your link to Mr Linky below so we can all  have a look at your loot!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Parchment of Leaves by Silas House

One of the big advantages of being part of a book club is that you often find yourselves being encouraged to read books that you just normally wouldn't read. This is especially true if that particular book club has quite eclectic tastes. This year alone we have read Fifty Shades of Grey the book that shall not be named,  To Kill a Mockingbird, and then this book among others.

A Parchment of Leaves is a book that I hadn't heard of before, or even the author! It is historical fiction, but it is firmly set in a particular time and place - the mountains of Kentucky during the early 1900s - one which I haven't read much about at all. Whilst the events in the larger world do have an impact on the lives of the people, they are also relatively self contained within their area. One reason why I found this era so interesting to read about it is that it seems kind of in between, especially in terms of technology. For example, whilst there were some cars and trucks, for most people this was beyond reach and so they still either walked or rode their horses and most chores around the house were still very labour intensive.

The book opens with young Saul Sullivan braving the rumours about a Cherokee girl who is so beautiful that men die when they see her and heads to her home, looking for work. He has his younger brother Aaron with him. Whilst he doesn't die as soon as he see Vine, he is slayed emotionally and he knows that she just has to be his wife. This is reiterated when his younger brother is bitten by a snake and Vine and her family save Aaron's life. Vine too is mesmerised by Saul and it isn't long before they are married, despite the opposition of their families who are concerned about their mixed marriage.

Together Vine and Saul build a house, build a life together, with Vine overcoming his mother's opposition and soon becomes close to Esme. Really, the only thing that isn't quite right is Aaron's obsession with Vine, to the point that he runs off and bring himself home a wife - one with more than a little in common with Vine looks wise.

With World War I raging in Europe, Saul goes off to log trees on another mountain which in turn will be turned into turpentine and shipped off to the battlefields knowing that the money that he earns will help set his family up for years to come. While Saul has his eyes on the future, in the here and now Vine is left to run the home, help Esme and Aaron's wife. Most worryingly the only man around the house is Aaron. The implications of Saul going away will be felt by everyone on that mountain for quite some time.

Whilst at it's heart this novel is about Saul and Vine, it is also about secrets, about race issues and the loss of the Native American identity (when families try so hard to assimilate into the surrounding community), about trust and forgiveness and so much more.

As for the characters, Saul was the strong, silent type. Vine knew that he loved her, but it was really in his letters that he was the most eloquent and able to tell his wife how much he appreciated and loved her. Vine was an engaging character - strong, resilient, resourceful and proud. She was a woman who found herself in a very difficult situation. Whilst it would be easy to sit and judge and say that she did the wrong thing, it would also have been very difficult for her to take another path, particularly at that time in history and in that place.

I mentioned before that this is a novel firmly placed in the Kentucky mountains, and this was clear from not only the use of the mountains as the setting, but also in the dialect that the characters used. It took a little while to get used to it, but there was a certain charm to it nonetheless.

Because it is Tuesday and I often do a Tuesday Teaser, and also because I am claiming this book as a read for the War Through the Generations (WWI) challenge, I thought I would share a teaser from the book about the day that the war ended. Initially I was going to only quote the second paragraph, but then reading the first again, I realised that it was a good example of how the author used nature to advantage in the novel. The quote comes from pages 184 to 185:

There was an early snow the day we found out the war ended. Just a light dusting that didn't amount to anything, but it seemed like a sign. The sky was a bright gray, and the sun showed itself like a silver ball hung there, so smudged you could look right into it. The snow drifted down and frosted the big rocks lining the creek, clung to thin tree branches. It stood like sugar in the yard. By noon it had melted away except where the sun could not reach; it striped the mountainside like white rows in a garden. The road turned to mud, and the yard was too wet to walk through. Even after it melted, the scent of winter had come in, solid and tough, letting us know what it had in store for us.

We learned of the war's end from some boys over on Buffalo Mountain. They'd heard the news in town, got drunk, and come back through, firing their pistols up into the air. America Spurlock lived out at the mouth of God's Creek, and she could hear them coming from a long ways off. She always was nosy. She got her shotgun, went out to the edge of the road, and waited for them. They bowed their horses up when they seen her there. They took their hats off and started telling about the war ending as fast as they could, each of them taking a turn in sharing the news. And of course she run up the holler, squalling for everyone to come out and hear the news. She had a a grandson over there and she was wild with the prospect of him coming home. She was so excited that she paid no attention to the shining mud that caked her shoes and lined the hem of her skirt.
I am glad that I stepped outside my comfort zone just a little bit to be able to read this one!

Rating 4/5


It is the early 1900s in rural Kentucky and young Saul Sullivan is heading up to Redbud Camp to look for work. He is wary but unafraid of the Cherokee girl there whose beauty is said to cause the death of all men who see her. But the minute Saul lays eyes on Vine, he knows she is meant to be his wife. Vine's mother disapproves of the mixed marriage; Saul's mother, Esme, has always been ill at ease around the Cherokee people. But once Vine walks into God's Creek, Saul's mother and his brother Aaron take to her immediately. It quickly becomes clear to Vine, though, that Aaron is obsessed with her. And when Saul leaves God's Creek for a year to work in another county, the wife he leaves behind will never be the same again. the violence that lies ahead for Vine will not only test her ability to forgive - both others and herself.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Until I Die by Amy Plum

Somewhere up high in the book heavens, the cover gods see that Amy Plum has a new book coming out and decides that once again it is time to bless her! The cover on this book is gorgeous, especially in real life. It doesn't hurt that purple is my favourite colour, or that the buildings are meant to represent Paris!

What about inside the book though? I mean, after all, a gorgeous cover is great to catch the eye but it is really what is inside the cover that matter.

The book is good without being excellent, and in some ways felt very much like the middle book in a trilogy, which is what it is.  We had the set up of the world in the last book, and in this book a lot of time is spent arming the characters for the big finale in the next book.

In the last book we met Kate and Vincent. She is a young American girl who has come to Paris to live with her sister and her grandparents after the death of her parents. Vincent is a revenant - a paranormal creature who dies over and over again saving human lives. Each death regenerates him enabling him to basically stay a young man forever.

Whilst it is not unheard of for a human and a revenant to fall in love, it is a difficult road to travel, particularly because one person ages and the other doesn't. For Kate, it is also difficult to contemplate watching her love die over and over and again. She therefore starts to try to find other stories of those who were like them by reading some of the mythology about revenants and seeing if she can follow some of the clues hidden within those texts.

Due to the events in the last book, the head of the revenants also feels the need to find out more about their history to be better prepared to face the revenants enemy, the Numa, who are currently quiet, but are generally believed to be preparing themselves to once again do battle on the streets of Paris. We therefore get to meet two new members of the family, Violette and Arthur, and once again Kate has to justify her place within the inner sanctum to people who question her right to be there.

Whilst Kate tries to find answers, Vincent is also trying to find another way, by basically denying himself the renewal that he needs. He is growing tired, battered and bruised and is gradually looking worse and worse. Of course, in true novel fashion, neither is completely honest with the other about what they were up to and this, of course, leads to misunderstandings and more importantly danger.

Whilst the idea of the revenant is a welcome change from the more normal vampire paranormal story, the other thing that really makes this story stand out for me is the Paris setting. The author takes us to both familiar scenes from Paris and those more unfamiliar to those of us who do not spend a lot of time in the city.

In other ways, you do some standard tropes - the idea of a lonely girl becoming a kick ass heroine, an older but still teenage hero, and oh yes, the cliff hanger ending which had me gritting my teeth saying you can't possibly be ending the story there!

I, for one, am looking forward to the next book so that we can see how Kate and Vincent deal with the responsibilities and challenges that face them both!

Rating 4/5

I thought that in addition to the review, I thought I would mention a couple of other things related to the book.

One of the places that the author took us to in the pages of the book was a wedding that was held in La Sainte-Chappelle, and she has shared a video where we get to visit this church with her, and it is totally gorgeous! I want to go there. When I was finding the link to this video again, there are quite a few videos where Amy Plum introduces different places in Paris that are used as locations in the books!

The trailer for the book also takes advantage of the awesome setting.


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

Kate has chose to leave the comfort and safety of her human life in order to join Vincent in the dangerous supernatural world he inhabits. For his part, he has sworn to go against his very nature and resist the repeated deaths that are his fate as a revenant - even though it will bring him immeasurable suffering.

Desperate to help him, Kate's search for answers takes her from the glamorous streets of Paris to the city's squalid underbelly. But when she stumbles across a secret that could help to overthrown their enemies for ever, Kate unwittingly puts everyone she loves at risk. And puts herself in the midst of an ancient and deadly war, not as a bystander ..... but as a target.
P.S After I had finished this post, I went back to read my review for the first book and noticed that I started that review with a glowing reference to the cover too! Oh well. Just have to hope that the third book in the series gets given a gorgeous cover too!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday Salon: A Stranger in My Street by Deborah Burrows

Like most readers, I have my favourite types of books. For example, tell me a book is set in either World War I or World War II then I will certainly consider whether it might be something that I might want to read. Tell me that book is set in my home town of Perth then I will have to do more than that! Of course, that bring it's own dangers. What if the representation of the city feels off? Luckily, that wasn't an issue here.

Perth is a city that has been invaded, mostly by the American servicemen who have been based there as a flying base and also, to a certain degree, as a deterrent to a Japanese invasion. With them the US service men bring hard to find goods that can be sold on the black market, money and good times, especially for the young ladies in town. They look good in their uniforms, and they know how to show a lady a good time with music and dancing and more!

Whilst Meg Eaton should be out living it up, she has been living a more low key life since she heard the news that her boyfriend had been killed. Her attempt to contact his parents has been shunned and so she grieves alone. She lives with her mother and older sister, and works as a stenographer at the Crown court. Her very quiet life is changed when, on a hot summer day, she overhears a conversation outside her house. When she goes out to investigate, she finds herself talking to her dead boyfriend's older brother, Tom.

Tom is the quintessential war hero. He is handsome, decorated for bravery, former Rhodes Scholar and from a well known (and wealthy) family. He is, however, also fighting his demons as he was badly injured and is constantly in pain. He therefore can no longer take part in active fighting, but he has instead returned to Perth, with his glamourous fiancee in tow, to act as a liaison officer between the Australian and American forces that both call the city home.

Tom and Meg had never actually met before the day that he visited her next door neighbour. Neither could possibly have known the impact that meeting was going to have, both immediate and long term. When they find a body, the police know who they need to find immediately. The dead woman's husband is an Italian and therefore must have a big temper. Meg doesn't believe that at all, and so it is therefore up to Meg and Tom to work out precisely what did happen to the woman.

Once Tom realises who Meg is, and that she is still living a half life as a result of her grief, he is determined that it is time for her to start living and as a result he introduces her to some of the soldiers that he knows, and starts meeting her for drinks and lunch. The most difficult thing for Meg though is to see behind the charming exterior of the men that she is meeting to see the kind of men who are underneath, and that is especially true of Tom. He is keeping many secrets, not the least of which is what the true nature of his relationship with the dead woman was.

The author did a great job of dealing with some of the social issues of the day. The husband's family has been interred as enemy aliens and yet he is off fighting for Australia. The dead woman is working at the local hospital and has a reputation for being a bit fast and so there are plenty of judgements made about her fate, and then there is the taste of animosity that exists between the Australian and American soldiers.

Sometimes when an author tries to get good historical detail, a good romance and a good mystery into the one novel, one aspect or another is weaker, but Burrows has managed to get the balance pretty much right. Throw in the places that I am familiar with like the gardens near the court buildings and the foreshore of the Swan River among others, and some unfamiliar aspects of the history of Perth, and I was a pretty happy reader. Whilst I have that extra connection to the setting, I am sure that the setting will be enjoyable to most readers even if they aren't as familiar as I was with it.

A Stranger in my Street is Deborah Burrows first novel and it is a really strong debut. I saw her mention the other day on Twitter that she has recently been signed for a second novel which will once again feature World War II and Perth, so I am already anticipating getting my hands on that book.

Rating 4.5/5

It's January 1943. Australia is at war and Perth is buzzing.

US troops have permanently docked in the city in what local men refer to bitterly as the American occupation, and Perth women are having the time of their lives. The Americans have money, accents like movie stars, smart tailored uniforms and good manners. What's more, they love to dance and show a girl a good time, and young women are throwing caution to the wind and pushing social boundaries with their behaviour.

Not Meg Eaton, however. The war has brought her nothing but heartbreak, stealing her young love eighteen months ago. Until, in the middle of a Perth heat-wave, she meets her lost lover's brother, Tom – standing over a dead body in her neighbour's backyard.

Suddenly, Meg finds herself embroiled in the murder mystery, and increasingly involved with Tom Lagrange. But is he all that he seems? And what exactly was his relationship with the dead woman?

Debut author Deborah Burrows has brought her skills as a historian to the fore with this meticulously researched and thoroughly entertaining novel of love and intrigue.
This book counts for

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Poulet Cocotte Grandmere

Whilst July does mean Paris in July, it also means Le Tour de France!

I love watching the bike race that covers so much of France each year, really it isn't for the race itself, as enjoyable that is. I don't really understand the tactics, but I do love watching the scenery whiz past and the amazing history that the host broadcasters ensure that we see.

One thing that happens before the start of each night here is that one of the more famous French chefs in Australia, Gabriele Gate, presents a short 5 minute presentation called Taste Le Tour about the local ingredients and cuisine of the area that the riders are in that day and shares a recipe.

As soon as I saw the recipe for Poulet Cocotte Grandmere (Grandmother's Chicken Casserole) I knew that it was one that I felt that I could try, and that the little chef would actually eat.

Here is the video showing a little background about the free range chickens that the area of Brest is apparently famous for and then the recipe.

Here is the recipe 


3 tbsp vegetable oil 
2 tbsp butter 
4 free-range chicken drumsticks 
4 free-range chicken thighs 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper 
1 brown onion, diced 
1 bay leaf 
2 tbsp rosemary sprigs 
150g bacon, diced 
100ml white Macon wine or other chardonnay 
300g baby mushrooms, washed 
4 medium potatoes, cubed 


Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and the butter in a wide heavy-based pan and brown the chicken pieces for a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add the onion, bay leaf and rosemary and stir well. Add the bacon and cook for a few minutes. 

Add the white wine and bring to the boil. Stir in the mushrooms, cover with foil and a lid and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes. 

Heat the remaining oil in a heavy frypan and cook the potato cubes for about 15 minutes or until they are almost cooked. Transfer the potatoes to the chicken dish and mix gently and cook for a further 5 minutes to combine the wonderful flavours. Serve two pieces of chicken on each plate with the vegetables.

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, July 20, 2012

The Thread by Victoria Hislop

A few months ago I read this author's debut novel, The Island, and really loved it! Like that first book, this one is set in Greece, this time in the coastal city of Thessaloniki. It is a city that I knew very little about. Probably the only thing that came to mind was that there were a couple of letters to the Thessalonians in the New Testament of the Bible. What that tells us is that there is a long and rich history of the city, so it was probably wise of the author to concentrate pretty much on the events of the 20th century.

When the main part of the novel opens, it is 1917 and the city is populated by a roughly equal mix of Muslims, Jews and Greeks and for the most part the different groups living peacefully together. This is especially true on Irini Street where families live together in harmony, children playing together on the street, everyone close to each other.

The book is primarily the story of Dimitri Komninos and his wife Katerina, how they met and came together. It is fitting then that the novel opens on the day of Dimitri's birth, the much longed for son of Olga and Konstantinos. Konstantinos is a successful businessman and Olga his much younger trophy wife. We learn pretty early on what kind of man Konstantinos is and where his priorities lie. The baby's birth is a spot of good news in an otherwise terrible day for the city as this is the same day that most of the old city is destroyed by a devastating fire but rather than giving his family the priority for Konstantinos it is all about his business. With their home destroyed, Olga moves to Irini Street, much to her husband's disgust.

On another devastating day in another city, a young girl finds herself also fleeing from a fire that is destroying lives. In this case, the city is Smyrna in Turkey and the fire is precipitated by the terror of the Greco-Turkey war that was raging (an event that I had previously read about in Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides). As part of the agreements of that war, there was to be a swap of people. All the Muslims who lived in Thessaloniki were ordered to leave the city, and all of the ethnic Greeks who lived in Turkey were relocated back to Greece, with many thousands of them finding their way to Thessaloniki, a city that was ill prepared for such a population explosion.

In the chaos of the people swap, a young girl is separated from her mother who is destined to Athens. Suffering from a large burn on her arm, Katerina is taken care of by Eugenia and finds herself loaded onto a boat to Thessaloniki with Eugenia and her twin daughters, and soon they too live in Irini Street, and so they initial relationship between Dimitri and Katerina begins. As they grow towards adulthood, Dimitri has to fight his domineering father about his future career choice, and then ends up having to fight for his beliefs, and Katerina finds her passion in life - needlework. Soon she is one of the most sought after seamstresses in the city, and there is a lot of page time spent on the various skills she possesses and the garments that she helps to make.

One of the effects of the people swap is that the city goes from being one that was populated by roughly equal mix of religious beliefs to one where the Jewish are the minority and the Muslims are gone. Whilst there is no immediate effect, it is definitely felt as the events in world history march unerringly on towards the Nazi occupation of Greece, with inevitable consequences. Even when the war is over, there is still civil upheaval as the damaged country tries to find its way out of the dark days of World War II and into the future.

It is interesting to follow our main couple through these various upheavals, and see the consequences of their actions and beliefs, especially to see how some of those consequences had life long impacts on the choices that were available to them.

I really enjoyed getting to see this particular glimpse of Greek history, although I did have a couple of reservations. There were a couple of two dimensional characters, especially Konstantinos. I also wasn't sure about the use of the modern framing device. The novel opens with their grandson coming to visit an elderly Dimitri and Katerina, and for the first time hearing their story; how they met, what they went through, how they came together and more. Whilst I do normally like that kind of framework, this time it didn't quite work for me. I did also feel that the story kind of meandered a bit as it got towards the end, but this is really a minor complaint.

I still have Victoria Hislop's second book, The Return, here to read. That one is set in the Spanish Civil War. Whilst I am interested to read that one, it is clear that Hislop has a passionate interest in Greece and its people and history. It is interesting to note that as an author she is hugely popular in Greece. The Island was even made into a 26 part TV series! I hope to hear that her next book is once again set in Greece.

Rating 4/5

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Thessaloniki, 1917. As Dimitri Komninos is born, a fire sweeps through the thriving multicultural city, where Christians, Jews and Moslems live side by side. It is the first of many catastrophic events that will change for ever this city, as war, fear and persecution begin to divide its people. Five years later, young Katerina escapes to Greece when her home in Asia Minor is destroyed by the Turkish army. Losing her mother in the chaos, she finds herself on a boat to an unknown destination. From that day the lives of Dimitri and Katerina become entwined, with each other and with the story of the city itself.

Thessaloniki, 2007. A young Anglo-Greek hears the life story of his grandparents for the first time and realises he has a decision to make. For many decades, they have looked after the memories and treasures of people who have been forcibly driven from their beloved city. Should he become their new custodian? Should he stay or should he go?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Thief of Shadows by Elizabeth Hoyt

A new novel from Elizabeth Hoyt is always a fantastic treat, and it is one that I await with anticipation between each new book!

This book is the 4th book in the Maiden Lane series of books that is set predominantly in the very unfashionable part of London - St Giles. This is the area of town where young women would definitely not be expected to wander alone, and where even men of the ton would not risk entering unless they absolutely have to.

For Winter Makepeace though, the orphanage that he manages is located in St Giles and is home, and so, therefore, are the laneways and streets. In the earlier books in the series, you could almost be forgiven for thinking that Winter was nothing but a dour schoolmaster type, always serious and always right.

You would be wrong though.

The book opens when Lady Isabel Beckinhall is driving through the St Giles area of London and notices that there is an unconscious man in her path. Acting somewhat impetuously, Lady Beckinhall gets her men to throw him into the carriage and whisks him away, thus saving him from his pursuers. The man wears a costume and a mask - he is the notorious Ghost of St Giles. With a badly injured leg, The Ghost is in danger of being caught by the authorities, but rather than turn him in, Lady Isabel takes him home and cares for him, but he is very careful not to reveal his true identity.

Isabel and Winter are familiar to each other, and they tend to rub each other the wrong way. Winter sees Lady Isabel as being too frivolous and she sees him as too boring and responsible. She is, however, definitely fascinated by the dashing and dangerous Ghost who does his best to keep the vulnerable in St Giles safe and gain justice for those who are being exploited.

With more and more society ladies becoming involved in the home, some of the ladies of the charity feel that Winter is not a truly acceptable face of the home, and so they lobby to replace him with someone more suitable. Isabel is however determined to give Winter every chance to keep his post, and so she offers to teach him some social graces. The more they are thrown together the more they begin to appreciate each other. Isabel sees how truly devoted Winter is to the children and to the home, and he sees that Isabel has more depth than just being a society madam. Of course, the chemistry between the two of them is also scorching, something that is a hallmark of the romances that Elizabeth Hoyt writes!

Part of the reason that the chemistry between these two works so well is that Hoyt takes many of the normal romance tropes and turns them on their head. Isabel is the experienced one of the pair. She has been married before and has had several lovers since her husband's death. Winter is that rare thing in romance, and historical romance in particular, a virgin hero. The scenes where Isabel introduces Winter to the pleasures of sex are very hot!

Another hallmark of Hoyt's books are the fairy tales that is told in sections at the beginning of each chapter, and again the fairytale reflects the underlying themes being explored in the main romance between Isabel and Winter. It will be interesting to see if Hoyt continues to use this particular fairytale idea throughout her next series of books (and yes, I am looking forward to the next series (multiple) despite the fact that this series isn't even finished yet) or if this gimmick will eventually be one which she leaves behind.

I was a little surprised by the epilogue because it seemed to me that some of the 'rules' were changed in relation to the existence of the Ghost, and I also wasn't sure about the couple but despite those reservations, I will still be looking forward to the next book and will be reading it as soon as I possibly can.

Rating 4/5


Winter Makepeace lives a double life. By day he's the stoic headmaster of a home for foundling children. But the night brings out a darker side of Winter. As the moon rises, so does the Ghost of St. Giles-protector, judge, fugitive. When the Ghost, beaten and wounded, is rescued by a beautiful aristocrat, Winter has no idea that his two worlds are about to collide.


Lady Isabel Beckinhall enjoys nothing more than a challenge. Yet when she's asked to tutor the Home's dour manager in the ways of society-flirtation, double-entendres, and scandalous liaisons-Isabel can't help wondering why his eyes seem so familiar-and his lips so tempting.


During the day Isabel and Winter engage in a battle of wills. At night their passions are revealed . . . But when little girls start disappearing from St. Giles, Winter must avenge them. For that he might have to sacrifice everything-the Home, Isabel . . . and his life.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Library Loot: July 18 to 24

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!
Whilst I still have quite a few books coming through on request, I am expecting that it will drop off a little bit as I have been pretty good at sticking to my request restrictions. I have so many fabulous books here that I need to read, both from the library and that I have acquired in other ways that I really want to be able to feel as though I am making a dent in the TBR pile.

Claire has the Mr Linky this week, so head over there to add the link to your loot post.

Here are the books that I picked up this week

Blame it on Paris by Laura Florand - Not sure I will get this read for this year's Paris in July, but I might end up reading it and reviewing it and just leave it in draft.

Flavours of Melbourne: favourite restaurants and bars in Melbourne's laneways and rooftops by Jonette George - This book is huge! Much bigger than I was expecting, but I am looking forward to exploring the contents.

Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear - The next Maisie Dobbs book.

Queens Bounty by Fiona Buckley - It has been years since the last book featuring Ursula Blanchard as amateur sleuth. I honestly thought that the series had been dropped never to be revived again, but apparently I was wrong!

The Restaurant of Love Regained by Ito Igawa - Saw this on Sam Still Reading and instantly thought it sounds like my kind of book.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bookish Quotes: Books in Paris

Every now and again I share a quote about books, bookshops, reading in general or libraries that I call Bookish Quotes. They are infrequent posts, mainly when I happen to find that capture my attention. It is always good though when a post can be used for multiple purposes, so today this quote from Passing Love by Jacqueline E Luckett  (which I reviewed here last week) also counts as a Paris in July and Tuesday Teaser post. Got to love multitasking!

The quote comes from pages 149 and 150

By the age of fifteen, libraries and her father's infatuation with books had lost their charm for Nicole. Library as babysitter, as place to meet nice boys, as reliable locale to tell the parents she was when she really wasn't. (Oh, that Nicole? Such a smart girl, spending so much time at the library.) Not one library was as impressive as the one before her. The Bibliotheque Nationale was a palace: a house of books the length and breadth of a generous city block. A sign, written in four languages, directed her past a boutique window decorated with flying pigs statuettes and to the rue de Richelieu. Double gates, flags, and its name carved into the stone above marked the entrance where she surrendered her purse to an African security guard and passed through the metal detector.

The foyer was a corridor of remodeled beauty: a glass-enclosed bookstore, marble counters, a reading room - cordoned off by carts filled with three-foot lengths of steel poles. Nicole peeked through an open door at blue walls and table lamps, wooden desks comparable to church pulpits, and imagined Hugo, Dumas, de Tocqueville laboring inside the circular room. Farther down the hall, a curved staircase wound up to the second floor.

Nicole was impressed with just the entrance. Imagine how much more impressed she would have been had she made it into the oval reading room!

Of course, if I was going to be in Paris looking at bookish delights, I would also have to stroll among the booksellers along the Seine:

And I wouldn't be able to resist a visit to Shakespeare and Co. (quote from page 185)
From the Seine they went to the little bookstore whose reputation overcompensated for its floor space. The interior of Shakespeare and Company was a book lover's fantasy, every wall covered from beamed ceiling to checkered floor with books by English-speaking authors.

"This store is as popular as it was when it opened in 1956. There's even a little bit of black history here." Laurent ran his fingers over a few volumes. Nicole watched him examine the titles and take one from a shelf. Books lined one wall of his living room. An organization Squire, for all his love of books, never imposed on his.

"The owners held a reception for Richard Wright the same year they opened. Baldwin signed copies here of Go Tell It on the Mountain. Your father's favorite, Langston, read in the sixties. Abbey Lincoln sang and read poetry. I guess that's why Loot loves it here. It reminds him of the past."
Not sure that date is correct, but still. By the way, did you know that there is a Shakespeare and Company podcast where they share some of the events they have at the store! I didn't know until today.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Fables, Vol 3: Storybook Love by Bill Willingham

This is the third edition of the Fables collection, and once again I have enjoyed spending time with the various fairy tale creatures that form the population of Fabletown.

Whilst the narrative that was started in book 1 and 2 were carried on through this volume, there were also a couple of stories that provided some more back story to the individual characters that were a lot of fun, but almost stood separately to the overall story arc.

As with all the Fables books, these are fairytale stories for grown ups. There is sex and violence aplenty throughout the pages, and plenty of adult themes! Not to mention blood and gore!
The first instalment in this book features Jack (of the Beanstalk and giant slaying variety). During the American Civil War, the always scheming Jack thought that he might be able to make some money. Unfortunately, he picked the wrong side as he joined the Southern forces, but he jumps ship and heads away from the action through the swamps where he meets Nick Slick, and is forced to gamble for his soul! The consequences of the unforeseen outcome are funny but also macabre!

The final instalment tells the story of the Lilliputian men who came to live in Fabletown back in the early days of New York. Only problem was that there were only men who came and obviously there are no other women who were their size, other than Thumbelina, and so action needs to be taken! One brave Lilliputian risks his life to go back to their homeland and steal the special beans that create the flowers that women come from (if they don't come from the normal method that is!). Both of these standalone tales were a lot of fun.

It is the second and third stories that drive the story arc. With Snow White still on limited duties recovering from the events of the last book, Digby Wolf is ostensibly in charge. When a mundy (i.e non fable human) journalist threatens to reveal everything he knows (or at least what he thinks he knows) about the Fabletown community, desperate action is required, although between Digby, Prince Charming and Bluebeard there are differences of opinion as to what action that should be! Whilst Bluebeard favours a permanent solution, Digby's plan involves using the curse that afflicts Briar Rose and then a much more devious solution to silence the man. I was amused by the way that Briar Rose had to be awoken!

As always, there are plenty of big egos involved and when people get pissed off, then there is of course retribution to be taken. In the third story, Snow White and Digby Wolf (as in big, bad) are put under an enchantment and find themselves marooned out camping in the wild together. It is only when their lives are endangered that there is a gradual thaw in their usually frosty relationship. As any romance reader knows that, it is often the people who clash the most who really have the strongest attraction, especially when they find themselves in mortal danger! It was interesting to see how the authors chose to deal with this with a lot of the action taking place off stage and even out of the characters memories, and some ongoing consequences to be dealt with in the future episodes I suspect.

Whilst I still enjoyed this instalment, and I liked the standalone stories, I did find that I was perplexed at how they fitted into the overall scheme of things at first. I also thought that there were a couple of plot holes, particularly in relation to Prince Charming. Maybe this will be further explored it the next instalment, which I am looking forward to.

Rating 3.5/5

Other artists include Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha

In the Fables' world, there isn't a lot of happily-ever-after to go around. As refugees from the lands of make-believe, the Fables have been driven from their storybook realms and forced to blend in with out gritty, mundane reality.

But that doesn't mean they don't have any room for romance -- or the pain, betrayal and jealous rage that go along with it. In fact, love may be blooming between two of the most hard-bitten, no-nonsense Fables around. But are they destined for happiness -- or a quick and untimely death?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sunday Salon: Bastille Day in Napoleon Land

Yesterday, it was Bastille Day! Without even consciously realising it, I had arranged to have morning tea with Lisa from ANZLitlovers at the National Gallery of Victoria. She wanted to look for some specific types of paintings, and I had intentions of going to see the Napoleon exhibition that is currently on there.  We always seem to find lots to talk about, and today was no exception!

Below are some photos from my day, including just some general Melbourne ones, and then I will talk more about the Napoleon exhibition in a bit more detail.

First up, here are some photos, all taken on my phone:

After saying farewell to Lisa, I headed into the Napoleon: From Revolution to Empire that is being shown at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) until October.

This exhibition is very much about Napoleon the conquering general, the hero. It follows events mostly chronologically so we do see a little something about his life on St Helena after he was exiled, but even then it is put in the context of an Australian connection. The battles where he didn't do quite so well barely rate a mention. The most famous battle, or at least the one that I know the most about, Waterloo was mentioned only once.  However, once you know and accept those limitations, the exhibition was completely fascinating.

The exhibition is peppered with Australian connections (which I will get back to later in the post) but covers the end of the reign of Louis XIV, trying to show excesses of that time that led to the French Revolution and then to the rise of Napoleon, initially as First Consul and then when he was invested as Emperor. The irony of the fact that many of those excesses that the revolution was against soon came back into play once Napoleon became emperor is not lost, especially in the displays of gift boxes, jewellery and more that was lavished on guests and family and friends, and the appointment of his children, siblings and loyal friends to the kingships of the conquered countries of Europe.

Throughout the exhibition, we see various displays elaborating on the symbolism that Napoleon and the leading artists of the day employed as propaganda - Roman and Egyptian abounds, as well as the decor of the State rooms and at Malmaison, uniforms of the day and the only dress that is known to have been worn by a lady at the coronation of Napoleon and Josephine as emperor and empress.

Of the art, the star of the show is undoubtedly the huge painting of Napoleon Crossing the Alps that dominates. Whilst there is no doubt that the crossing of the Alps was a formidable achievement, this painting definitely has elements of propaganda about it, no matter how impressive it is!

There was a lot of focus on Malmaison, the retreat that Napoleon shared with Josephine, and in particular on the fascination that Josephine especially had with the flora and fauna, and animals, that the various expeditions to Australia were bringing back to France. I knew, for example, that Josephine had a fascination with roses, but I didn't know (or at least I didn't remember) that there were emus, kangaroos and black swans that wandered the extensive gardens at Malmaison.

Here are some of the photos that I took that relate to the staging of the exhibition.

There were no photos inside the exhibition, or at least there wasn't meant to be, so here is a link to the trailer, and embedded below is a video which shows some of the beautiful objects that were featured in the exhibition.

And now, I come to the Australian connection, and the possibly puzzling post title today. Do you sometimes what you have known previously but now have forgotten, and then when you learn it again it is a surprise?

I knew that despite the fact that the British claimed Australia as their territory, there had been other European explorers who had spent time here. I knew that the Dutch and Portuguese had been here, and yes, I knew that the French had explored the Australian coastline. For example, when Matthew Flinders was mapping the South Australian coastline, he met up with French explorer Nicolas Baudin and the place where they met is now known as Encounter Bay.

What I don't remember knowing is that the French actually claimed a great deal of the South Eastern Coast of Australia, and had named it Terre Napoleon (or Napoleon Land). For example, on the coast of South Australia there are two big gulfs that are now known as Spencer Gulf and Gulf St. Vincent, but if we had of been a French colony, those two stretches of water would have been known as Golfe Bonaparte and Golfe Josephine (his was obviously the bigger of the two!).

To bring this back to books, I was left pondering how someone like Napoleon would be presented in French historical fiction? Are there books that are published in France about the adventures of men like La Perouse who disappeared on his way back from exploring the Australian coastline, Baudin who met up with Matthew Flinders, or Freycinet whose map is shown above? It would be fascinating to be able to read about important world events from a different perspective!

Currently Reading

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness (a lot of the section I read today was set in France), Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan (not set in France at all), Fables 3 by Bill Willingham and The Proposal by Mary Balogh (featuring survivors of the Napoleonic wars)

Next Up

The Thread by Victoria Hislop (set in Greece, just for something different!)


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