Thursday, August 30, 2012

RIP VII (Readers Imbibing Peril)

Whilst we are just about to have our last day of winter and therefore the joy that goes along with those first warm sunny days, the flowers blooming and the longer days should be manifesting! But in the Northern Hemisphere, the opposite is happening and the days are drawing in. For some, that could mean spooky reads, and luckily I am not really a seasonal reader so I can be joining in with RIP VII, hosted by Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings.

The purpose (from Carl's intro post) of R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII is to enjoy books and movies/television that could be classified  as:

Dark Fantasy.
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.

Looking at the piles and piles of books that I have around me, I think my pool of books will include

Fables 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers by Bill Willingham
Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan
Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan
Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier
I Shall Not Want by Julia Spencer-Fleming
Fool Moon by Jim Butcher
The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore

Also, over at Estelle Society, they are hosting a readalong of The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, which I might join in with as well, although I am thinking that I might just be over committing myself given the other books I have already got plans to read!

That's a starting list at least.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Library Loot: August 29 to September 4

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

This week I am back into the hold habit with multiple holds to pick up and I already know next week will be the same! Oh well.... these things happen.

Here's my loot:

Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos - For an upcoming blog tour.

Laid Bare by Lauren Dane - I can't remember why I picked up this particular Lauren Dane book. I know that she has a foodie erotica series coming up soon, so I think it may be connected that those books.

A Novel Seduction by Gwyn Cready - I read this author's latest book and enjoyed it so thought I would read some more from her.

Taking a Shot by Jaci Burton - The third book in the Play by Play series. This is an audio book because that is the only version the library has. I used to listen to a lot of audiobooks but now I only have a 5-10 minute drive it doesn't really work as well for me. I have had fun embarrassing my son by listening to some bits while he is in the car (making sure that it is only kisses and stuff - not the really full on sexy stuff! lol)

A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead  - For an upcoming blog tour.

Claire has Mr Linky this week so head on over to share your Library Loot for this week.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Mirrored World by Debra Dean

I often find myself fascinated by novels set in Russia. Whether it be the terrible siege of Leningrad or the final days of the Romanov family, I find it so interesting. I remember thinking a few years ago that it was kind of surprising that there is so little set in the world of Catherine the Great. Over the last 12 months or so, I have read a couple of books with that setting which goes some way towards rectifying that oversight, but I suspect that just like the country itself, Russian history is so vast that it would be difficult to read something about all the different eras!

This book starts in the upper classes of the Russian aristocracy in the latter days of the reign of Empress Elizabeth in the mid 1700's and through the reign of Catherine the Great. Whilst the reader is exposed to some of the key historical events and culture of that time, really the story is much narrower than you might otherwise expect. While other authors might be tempted to fill the pages with what are undoubtedly fascinating details about the glamourous life of the upper classes, Dean is careful to provide the reader with just enough to colour the book, but not so much that the reader loses track of exactly what it is that this book is about.

The book opens with three young women who are about to make their debut into society. Nadya, Xenia and Dasha are on the lookout for husbands. For Nadya, there is marriage to a much older man, Dasha is left for all intent and purpose on the shelf, and for Xenia there is an all consuming love match with Colonel Andrei Feodorovich Petrov. We see Xenia fall in love and then deal with the disappointments and tragedy that life brings her way through the eyes of her cousin and companion Dasha.

It is those tragedies which push Xenia out of what is perceived to be normal for a lady of her class and time and that prompts her to begin the acts of charity that she in the end was known for, and which in due course lead to her canonisation as a saint of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Whilst I did enjoy this book by the end, there is a pacing issue in my opinion. The book started really slowly especially as the author matches Nadya and Xenia off with their respective spouses, leaving Dasha to find her match much later in life. We are given small glimpses into the gift of foresight that Xenia displays but even then it was really only once she took the definitive steps towards becoming the religious fool after the tragedies of her life that I felt as though I was thoroughly engaged in the story. Given that the book is actually quite short the fact that at least the first half of it is quite slow means that there isn't enough time and space for this reader to recover from that slow beginning.

While I do understand why it would have been quite difficult to have Xenia as our narrator through the 'fool' section, I do wonder if the book would have worked better if we had of had more insight into Xenia as the main character rather than viewing her through the eyes of a third party, in this case her cousin Nadya. There were also sections in the book where the focus shifted from Xenia to Nadya's own relationships which was an interesting choice on the part of the author.

I have no doubt that when the author comes out with her next book (hopefully still set in Russia) I will still be interested in reading it because Dean is a good writer. She has a lovely voice and turn of phrase. This book just didn't meet my admittedly high expectations.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for my copy of this book.

Rating 3.5/5

The critically acclaimed author of The Madonnas of Leningrad ("Elegant and poetic, the rare kind of book that you want to keep but you have to share" --Isabel Allende), Debra Dean returns with The Mirrored World, a breathtaking novel of love and madness set in 18th century Russia. Transporting readers to St. Petersburg during the reign of Catherine the Great, Dean brilliantly reconstructs and reimagines the life of St. Xenia, one of Russia's most revered and mysterious holy figures, in a richly told and thought-provoking work of historical fiction that recounts the unlikely transformation of a young girl, a child of privilege, into a saint beloved by the poor.

If you are interested in reading this book, we are giving away a copy of it over at Historical Tapestry.

I read this book for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sunday Salon: Enquire Within at MWF

Today I spent the day at the Melbourne Writer's Festival. It was a great day, getting to hear lots of fabulous authors speaking.

The sessions I attended included The Morning Read which featured Carrie Tiffany, Uzodinma Iweala, Sefi Atta, Honey Brown, A Fine Romance with Stephanie Laurens, Rachel Treasure and Su Dharmapala. John Boyne in conversation and then a Twelfth Planet Press event in the evening!

I have read both Carrie Tiffany and Uzodinma Iweala before, but walked out thinking I really need to read them again. Honey Brown and Sefi Atta are both new to me, and I do think I will read them eventually, particularly Sefi Atta as I do find Nigerian writers very interesting to read.

While I do have some notes to write up for the other session, I am not going to be doing that tonight. Instead I am watching the second part of Howzat! which is a mini series about the early days of World Series Cricket. Then it will be bed and time for work on Monday again.

In the mean time here are my current and next reads.

Currently Reading

The Angel by Tiffany Reisz, The Mirrored World by Debra Dean and Faithful Place by Tana French

Next Reading

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan, History of Love by Nicole Krauss or The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Photoaday August

Normally on a Saturday I post something for Weekend Cooking. Having already posted for that earlier, I was thinking about what I could post instead, and I realised that I haven't mentioned that I have been participating in #photoaday during August so I decided to post some photos most of which were taken on my phone as I was out and about. I was conscious though that I have had some pretty photo heavy posts recently (given that I am not that great at photography the irony of that has not escaped me).

However, I was playing around in the android app stories and found some apps that you can use to make frames etc for your photos and so instead of 20 or so photos we instead have a few frames! I  have been lots of fun playing with Photogrid in particular (the beta version) where you choose your photos and then you shake your phone and it changes the make up of the collage - hours of entertainment!

1. Outside
2. One
3. Coin - I was trying to capture a spinning coin
4. Somewhere I sat

5. Logo
6. Writing
7. 8 o'clock (or close to anyway!)
8. Glasses

9. Messy
10. Ring
11. Purple
12. Spoon

13. Simple
14. Arrow
15. Ready
16. Food

17. Faces
18. Inside (the State Library)
19. Hole (in the shopping centre roof)
20. Today (it was my friend's birthday that day!)

21. Cool (Mali in the city)
22. Home
23. Pair
24. Path

Next week I will have the final week of photos for August plus a few others that you haven't seen yet over the last couple of weeks!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy

I started thinking that I wanted to read this book even before the initial release date. Despite that, it took being on a blog tour to prompt me to actually read it. What was I waiting for? No idea. Do I kind of wish I had of read it earlier? Absolutely!

This book is so good and in some way is tailor made for me as a reader. There's intertwined threads, both modern and historical. There's delicious sounding food, there is plenty to think about and just a touch of romance.

The book opens when Reba Adams visits the local German bakery. She has been trying to find a time to meet with Elsie, the owner and baker, as she is trying to write a series of articles about Christmas in different cultures. She is hoping to get an upbeat Christmassy quote about German celebrations - something a little light and fluffy. What she gets is so much more, not only in terms of the story that she hears, but also the impact that Elsie and her daughter make on her.

Elsie Schmidt is the title character - she is the baker's daughter. She lives in a small town in Germany during World War II. Like many others around them, her family is struggling to get by, doing their best to still provide bread to their neighbourhood despite the shortages and restrictions that are being place on them by the Nazi regime and by the deprivations of war.

What makes this portrayal of German life interesting is that Elsie's family have initially pretty much subscribed to the Nazi propaganda. Her father believes in keeping on keeping on for the fatherland but what you can't tell, certainly in the early parts of the book, is how much of that belief is genuine, and how much is influenced by fear. Her sister Hazel is part of the prestigious (at the time) Lebensborn program, hoping to be part of breeding the next generation of 'perfect Aryans'. Elsie is young and a little naive, especially when she doesn't realise that the Nazi officer that is giving her a little attention is interested romantically! As a reader, we get to see something of that officer's intentions in relation to Elsie. In a way, he sees her as a means to some level of forgiveness, which is interesting given his actions as a SS officer. In many ways, Josef is a clear example of how there are no cut and dried characters in that book. There are definitely characters who are doing bad things but some of those same characters are also given a human face.

Instead of telling Reba about German customs and festive cheer, the story that Elsie tells her is of a particularly Christmas in 1944 when Elsie attends a ball with Josef. He offers her marriage but even on a night when she should be celebrating, the distrust that exists in Germany manifests itself. Little does Elsie know but this one night will change her life completely and in ways that could put both herself and the rest of her family in grave danger.

It was interesting to see the way that the author chose to tell the different stories. We got to hear about Hazel's life in the Lebensborn program through the letters that the two sisters exchanged. Elsie told her story as a story to Reba but as a reader we were treated to flashbacks of the key events in the story. One important thing to note is the dates that appear at the beginning of each chapter. Whilst the modern story is told pretty much chronologically, the historical story tended to jump around a little bit through the war years.

It was also interesting to see how the author tied history together with current events, particularly in relation to Reba's fiance and his work. He works in Border Patrol and has to deal with the many illegal immigrants that cross the border into America across the Rio Grande. The work is emotionally difficult for Riki and highlights the human face of these immigrants, many of whom are women and children just hoping for a better life which has to be balanced against the fact that they are breaking the law.

For Reba, her exposure to Elsie and her daughter Jane also force her to look at her own family relationships which have been strained for many years, initially as a result of the emotional stresses inflicted on and by a Vietnam vet father. Later, the strain was exacerbated by distance, time and small lies that grew into much more. Even with Riki, Reba has to figure out what she wants and what she is prepared to do in order to get to that point, before it is far too late.

Just reading through this now, there is an awful lot going on in this novel (and really I have only touched on some of the major themes). It takes a very good author to be able to keep the balance between these themes and McCoy does it seemingly with ease. I have now requested her first book from the library, and I will be keeping an eye out for her next book!

Oh, I was just about to wrap up the review and realised that I haven't even talked about the food! Reading this book left my taste buds tantalised with mentions of German, American and Mexican treats all mentioned. At the end of the book the author also shared some of the recipes that are mentioned in the book! Yum!

Thanks to TLC Booktours and the publishers for my copy of this book.

Tour Details

Tour Schedule
Sarah McCoy's Website
Sarah McCoy's Blog
Sarah McCoy on Facebook
Sarah McCoy on Twitter

Rating 4.5/5

In 1945, Elsie Schmidt was a naïve teenager, as eager for her first sip of champagne as she was for her first kiss. But in the waning days of the Nazi empire, with food scarce and fears of sedition mounting, even the private yearnings of teenage girls were subject to suspicion and suppression. Elsie’s courtship by Josef Hub, a rising star in the Army of the Third Reich, has insulated her and her family from the terror and desperation overtaking her country. So when an escaped Jewish boy arrives on Elsie’s doorstep in the dead of night on Christmas Eve, Elsie understands that opening the door puts all she loves in danger.

Sixty years later, in El Paso, Texas, Reba Adams is trying to file a feel-good Christmas piece for the local magazine. Reba is a rolling stone, perpetually on the run from memories of a turbulent childhood, but she’s been in El Paso long enough to get a full-time job and a full-time fiancé, Riki Chavez. Riki, an agent with the U.S. Border Patrol, finds comfort in strict rules and regulations, whereas Reba knows that in every good story, lines will be blurred.

Reba's latest assignment has brought her to the shop of an elderly baker across town. The interview should take a few hours at most, but the owner of Elsie's German Bakery is no easy subject. Elsie keeps turning the tables on Reba, and Reba finds herself returning to the bakery again and again, anxious to find the heart of the story. For Elsie, Reba's questions have been a stinging reminder of darker times: her life in Germany during that last bleak year of WWII. And as Elsie, Reba, and Riki's lives become more intertwined, all are forced to confront the uncomfortable truths of the past and seek out the courage to forgive.
I read this book as part of the Historical Fiction Reading challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry and this post will also be linked up to Weekend Cooking.\

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.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Library Loot: August 22 to 28

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!
Another week, another small library loot! This should of course mean that I am getting through my TBR list really quickly, but somehow, it doesn't! Maybe next week!

Here's the loot that I got this week:

When In Doubt, Add Butter by Elizabeth M Harbison - I saw a review for this over at Booking Mama the other day and thought it sounded like something I would enjoy!

Heartless by Gail Carriger - The next book in the Parasol Protectorate series.

The Time it Snowed in Puerto Rico by Sarah McCoy - Last weekend I read The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy and really enjoyed it (as you will see when my review goes up later this week) so I was pleased to see that the library had another book by her available.

What loot did you get this week? Add your Library Loot link in Mr Linky below:

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday Salon: A visit to the State Library

Today I went to visit the State Library of Victoria. They have an exhibition on called Gusto! which is a look at some of the food history of Victoria. While I am not going to talk too much about that today (probably will post about it next week for Weekend Cooking) I thought I would share some photos I took at the library today!

Even better, later I realised that this could be my post for this month's Where in the World meme which asks us to talk about our libraries. The meme is hosted by Kelly, Trish and Lisa so if you fancy sharing something about your library, head over to their blogs for all the details. Whilst this isn't the library that I use every week, it is one that I do enjoy visiting when I go to the city.

The Street View

The Reading Room

 Looking up

Looking down

Mirror of the World Exhibition

There is an exhibition which showcases the production of books from medieval to modern times. There are books on display which are hundreds of years old, and a couple that are worth millions of dollars. It is always a joy to spend time looking at the various manuscripts. The photos I took today are from the more modern facets including books that changed the world, Penguin classics and the advent of pulp fiction.

The Changing Face of Victoria 

Another of the exhibitions is a series of documents and photos showing the history of Victoria from British settlement through to the modern day. It also includes a display on the infamous bushranger Ned Kelly, the major component of which is the suit of armour that Ned was wearing the day he was finally captured.

This photo, taken in the 1950s, from the rural life photos amused! I don't know if you can read it but at the very bottom it says Don't Steal This One. Presumably he has had trouble with sign stealers previously.

Ned Kelly's armour

There have been quite a few movies made telling the Kelly story.

The view at the top

William Shakespeare stained glass window

Looking down from the very top into the Reading Room


Sir Redmond Barry was instrumental in the foundation of the library. He is probably more well known as the judge who sentenced Ned Kelly to death!

I really love the 'ruins' that are embedded in the footpath outside the library!

I have no idea why but there were lots and lots of decoarated elephants all round Melbourne today! They were lots of fun!

Currently Reading

Blameless by Gail Carriger, A Brief History of Montmoray by Michelle Cooper and The Mirrored World by Debra Dean

Reading Next

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Weekend Cooking: The Food of Spain by Claudia Roden

A few months ago I reviewed a cookbook by Spanish Australian author Frank Camorra. In the comments to that post, Fay from Read, Ramble mentioned that a Spanish cookbook had just won the International Association of Culinary Professionals award in the International category. A quick check of the library catalogue and it was mine. Well....not mine mine, but temporarily mine!  It should give you a good indication of how much I liked this book when I tell you that this book is actually on it's way to me as we speak because I ended up buying it!

First off, this is a huge book! At more than 600 pages long there is bound to be something for everyone in terms of the recipes. Really though, the thing that makes this book stand out from others I have read is that it is much, much more than a cookbook! In fact, in the first 120 pages there is not a single recipe included. Rather there is a fascinating breakdown of the food history of Spain, the way that the Jews and the Muslims influenced the cuisine of the different regions, the influence of classical French chefs and more. In addition, each region within Spain is examined with details on the kind of food that you might expect to find.

Really though, the most important measure of a cookbook is how often are you going to cook from it. I was talking to someone the other day and they said that on average most people only cook 2 to 3 recipes out of any one cookbook. While I haven't cooked anything from this one yet, I did bookmark lots of recipes that I might consder making at some point or another.

I was reading this in bed at night and took a couple of Instagram photos. Hopefully you can see from this photo just how many little bits of paper I had used to bookmark a recipe, and this was only when I was about half way through so there ended up being lots more. It was a bit of shame to have to pull them all out just so I could return this one to the library.

Once you get past the food history part, Roden takes us through a variety of different types of food, but even within the recipe pages there are feature pages that might talk about a particular type of ingredient or a place, and sometimes even features pages on the people that she has come to know through the process of researching this book, people she ate memorable meals with, chefs, ordinary people and more. There is so much information in this book. I can totally imagine myself pulling this book off the shelf and browsing for just a few pages and finding something I had either forgotten about or that jumps out and catches my attention this time around.

If there was one minor niggle with this book it is in the fact that none of the photos that were included in the book included any details of what it was that we were looking at and some of the photos were a bit boring really. If it wasn't for that very minor criticism, this really would have been a perfect cookbook!

When my copy comes, which should have this gorgeous cover, I already know that there are a couple of recipes that I will share for a future Weekend Cooking post. I didn't realise until I was ordering that Claudia Roden is also one of the authors who has been given the Penguin Great Food treatment, so I ordered that book as well. I can also definitely see myself exploring more of Claudia Roden's cookbooks in the future.

In the meantime, if you want to see a few examples of the kinds of recipes that you will find in this book, there are some recipes that can be found on the Guardian website at the following link:

If you have any interest at all in Spanish food, I would highly recommend that you take a look at this exceptional cookbook.

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.