Sunday, September 30, 2012

Reading... Waiting

I nearly forgot to post my Where in the World are you Reading post for September! This month's theme was Waiting. Now I always have a book with me or at the very least my e-reader but I only have a few of photos to share.

I am actually cheating a little with this first photo because I actually took it as I was waiting in line to get in to the Gillian Mears session at Melbourne Writers Festival in August, but I like the photo so much that I am counting it for this post as well. My favourite thing about this photo is that it is a very literate queue! There were lots of other people reading while waiting too!

Earlier this month we had a bit of a train breakdown which affected all the trains on my line. Long delays were guaranteed and it was cold and wet. In the end, instead of standing around grumbling I went to a cafe across the road and read a big chunk of this book.

This next photo reflects the fact that I read whenever I am catching public transport, or even just when I am waiting for said public transport to turn up! In this case I was waiting for the tram outside the train station.

And finally, here is my current waiting to go to sleep book! It's just a little massive - and I have to start carrying it around with me in my handbag when I go back to work tomorrow!

The Where in the World are you Reading? meme is co-hosted by KellyTrish and Lisa. This month's theme, Waiting was hosted by Lisa.

Hopefully I will get next month's theme posted a little earlier!

Difference, Dystopia and Defiance (guest post by Ambelin Kwaymullina)

Today I am thrilled to welcome Ambelin Kwaymullina to my blog. Earlier this week I reviewed her novel, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf as part of the More Diverse Universe blog tour. When Ambelin offered a guest post about the importance of diversity, I was thrilled to accept!

Difference, Dystopia and Defiance

I am an Aboriginal woman. My people are the Palyku. And I write speculative fiction because it is the genre that taught me to hope. Through the pages of a hundred books, I have travelled the stars in silver ships; shared laughter with alien beings, and walked beneath the twin suns of far-off planets. I have seen futures where difference is a cause for celebration, not division – and where the diverse cultures of this or any other world live together in harmony.

My novel, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, is set on an imperfect future earth, one where the government locks away those who are different. But the story is not about the masterminds or the bureaucrats or the soldiers of injustice. It is about those who defy oppression.

Defiance comes in many forms. I am descended from generations of women who lived through the hardest of times for Aboriginal people in Australia, and who came through these times with dignity and strength. Although they were treated inhumanely, they never lost their humanity, their generosity of spirit – or their ability to laugh. Ashala has this kind of defiance, as do her friends and allies. Some of these friends and allies are ‘Illegals’ as she is, born with an ability and oppressed by the government. Others are Citizens, part of the privileged of society. But all share a common goal of creating a better and more just world.

I think often of a story that my mother once told me, a tale about a colonial pioneer who painted one white circle around his homestead, and then another around the camp where the local Aboriginal people were living. The idea was, that the Aboriginal people would stay within their circle and the non-Aboriginal people within theirs. She told that tale to one of my Aboriginal grandfathers, and when he heard it, he said that the pioneer should have made the circles cross each other – because then there would have been a piece of ground where everyone could come together. He was a farseeing man, my grandfather. The beauty of the circles is that neither subsumes or dominates the other. There is simply this space in the centre, where people from different cultures can come together to gain a greater understanding of each other, and talk about things that matter to them both.

Through the pages of a thousand books, I have glimpsed what is to come. Many of the possibilities that stretch out before the human species are terrifying, while others fill me with hope. I reach for a future where the boundless potential of human beings is matched only by our boundless compassion. I believe that to achieve it we need all the different cultures of the earth, the ideas and thoughts and hopes of the diverse peoples of the planet.

I dream of worlds filled with interlocking circles.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Weekend Cooking: At the Show

This past week has been very busy!

Last Sunday I went to a wedding. The wedding and the reception were a great mix of Greek and Australian traditions, and I left not feeling lonely and depressed which is a pretty good sign of a good night! One of the highlights of the food at the reception was a seafood platter to start with. This was especially good news seeing as there were only a couple of us at the table who were eating from the platter! Lucky, lucky me!

Tuesday was the little chef's birthday, so we had a birthday excursion, birthday pizza and my wonderfully talented sister made him an awesome cake which perfectly reflects his current interest slash addiction slash obsession!

What I really wanted to post about though was a trip to the Royal Melbourne Show on Wednesday with the little chef, my sister and brother in law and my two nephews! It was a gorgeous day and I think everyone enjoyed themselves immensely.

Here are a few photos of the day:

Devonshire Tea at the CWA Cafeteria - perfect scones!

Apple slinky

One of the things that we did do was attend a cooking demonstration in the Paddock to Table pavilion. The two presenters called themselves the Butcher and the Chef because one was a butcher, and yes, the other was a chef. They demonstrated the following recipe for Vietnamese Lamb and I have to say, it smelt absolutely delicious!

As part of the demonstration, the butcher started off with a leg of lamb  that he then used to show where the rump steaks would come from and then got rid of most of the fat from the piece of meat and then cut that into steaks.

The chef then took over, demonstrating how to make this recipe which I have to say looks pretty easy as long as you have all the ingredients and have enough time to marinate the meat for the hour or two that was recommended.

Vietnamese Lamb Rump

 4 x 120g lamb rump steaks
The Butcher and the Chef
1 tablespoon ginger puree
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1/3 cup (80ml) Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 limes, juiced
1/4 long red chilli, finely chopped
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 medium brown onion, finely sliced
1 butter lettuce
1 cup each coriander and mint leaves

1. For the marinade, combine ginger, one clove of chopped garlic, turmeric, one tablespoon of sugar and rice wine. Trim any excess fat off the lamb and rub in marinade.

2. Sweet chilli dressing; whisk together the remaining sugar and two tablespoons of water, add the fish sauce and lime juice and stir to dissolve sugar completely. Add the remaining garlic and chilli.

3. Heat the oil in a large frying pan on a medium heat. Drain the lamb from the marinade and add to the frying pan. Cook for eight minutes, turning occasionally on all sides. Remove from the frying pan, add onion and cook for one minute or until just softened.

4. To serve, slice lamb and distribute along with onion in lettuce cups and pour on dressing. Add coriander and mint and top with chilli if you desire.

We collected a couple of recipe booklets and there are some delicious recipes included. You can see the lamb booklet here

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, September 28, 2012

Mr Chen's Emporium by Deborah O'Brien (review and Q and A)

As soon as I was offered this book to read, I knew that I wanted to do so! It ticks so many boxes for me! I enjoy Gold Rush stories, I love the whole dual timeline story concept (and have read quite a few over the last month or so) and the synopsis sounded interesting so there was a lot to anticipate liking.

Here's the synopsis:

In 1872, seventeen-year-old Amy Duncan arrives in the Gold Rush town of Millbrooke, having spent the coach journey daydreaming about glittering pavilions and gilded steeples. What she finds is a dusty main street lined with ramshackle buildings.

That is until she walks through the doors of Mr Chen's Emporium, a veritable Aladdin's cave, and her life changes forever. Though banned from the store by her dour clergyman father, Amy is entranced by its handsome owner, Charles Chen ...

In present-day Millbrooke, recently widowed artist Angie Wallace has rented the Old Manse where Amy once lived. When her landlord produces an antique trunk containing Amy's intriguingly diverse keepsakes - both Oriental and European - Angie resolves to learn more about this mysterious girl from the past.

And it's not long before the lives of two very different women, born a century apart, become connected in the most poignant and timeless ways.
The book opens with young Amy Duncan travelling from the thriving city of Sydney to the Gold Rush town of Millbrooke. She has been summoned there by her very strict, very narrow-minded father who is the town clergyman. For Amy, this means an end to a life with her aunt who lets her read scandalous novels (one of my favourite aspects of the book), buy pretty dresses and attend charming entertainments. In her new life, she will be expected to work hard by her mother's side looking after her siblings, acting as a type of governess to another young girl in the town and to behave properly at all times.

Life starts as expected but Amy is given a glimpse into a more exotic life when she visits Mr Chen's Emporium. He gives her some tea but like so much of her life, spirited Amy must hide this gift from her father who has a very poor opinion of men like Charles Chen. This is because Charles and his brother are of Chinese origin. Charles is a little different to some of the other Chinese in town because he was in effect adopted by one of the most influential families in town and so he has the benefit of a good English education as well as his Chinese ethnicity.

Amy is at once intrigued by Charles, and when his adoptive family facilitate a meeting between the two it becomes clear that those feelings are well on their way to being reciprocated. But it is the 1870's and whilst interracial relationships would have occurred, they would have been very unusual and would most likely have resulted in a young woman like Amy being shunned by her local community. Even with just this factor, life would have been difficult enough, but this is the goldfields where the antagonism between white miners and their Chinese counterparts is simmering just below boiling point at the best of times. Those tensions rise again in Millbrooke, potentially putting those more moderate people at risk of violence from those who want to see the Chinese forced off the diggings forever.

In the modern day, recent widow Angie Wallace comes to the town of Millbrooke for the weekend and ends up staying. She rents the crumbling Manse from grumpy Richard Scott for a pitiful amount on the proviso that she will start doing some much needed renovations. For Angie, this is the chance for a new beginning away from the everyday memories of her life with her recently deceased husband. Her grown children do not understand her need to do this, and her friends are sceptical too. Angie, however, sees this as a chance to recharge her artistic batteries, and she soon finds herself drawn into the life of the town when she starts teaching art to a group of ladies who live in the town.

Millbrooke is a town that is still under the influence of gold mining and is again potentially going through a new transition period. This time though, it is a big international mining company that has it's sights set on the town. They are promising jobs and good times for the whole town, as long as they can get the necessary approvals that they need to start the process. The face of the mining company in town is American Jack Parker. It isn't long before the smooth talking Jack has taken up residence in the Manse as a boarder.

What links the two stories is a small trunk that Angie finds that contains small artefacts that have her searching the past for evidence of Charles and Amy Chen. While she searches the historical records related to Millbrooke, she finds herself drawn more fully into modern Millbrooke. I especially loved the idea of the art exhibition that she does with her painting class which focussed on the people and past of the town. The author is a visual artist as well as an author and you could really feel her passion for this side of her work shining through the pages in that section.

In terms of the characters, I was much more invested in the historical characters. I would have loved to have seen more about Amy and Charles and their relationship, but I did enjoy the glimpses that we did get to see, especially in later life. I am not sure that modern sensibilities didn't colour the relationship more than would have been possible in reality, but I suspect getting the balance right between those two differing perspectives would be quite difficult. I also really enjoyed Amy's relationship with Charles' adopted sister Eliza, who has very grand and ambitious plans for her life and I suspect that there could be an interesting story to be told about Eliza in future if the author wished to go down that track.

I was less enamoured of the modern characters. I liked the way that Angie's friendships were portrayed, and I loved seeing a 50 something heroine who brings all her experience to the novel. I really enjoyed seeing her search for the clues that she could find about Charles and Amy and the town itself. Where I really struggled was with the choices that she made and in the representation of the two main male characters - Jack and Richard. Richard in particular was a bit of a mystery. Initially he was portrayed as something of a drunkard but later as something completely different.

The dual storyline accent was very structured - much more than you would necessarily see in other similar books. For example, this week I read another book where the first third of the book concentrated on the past, and then moved forward in time with a look back over the shoulder at the past. In this book, in the beginning of each chapter we heard about Amy and her story and then we moved forward in time to see what was happening in Angie's life. I did wonder if the intention was to try and draw direct parallels between the two stories. If so, it didn't quite work for me especially in relation to correlations between Amy's relationship with Charles and Angie's relationship (not going to tell you who with, but I will say I was disappointed with this particular aspect of the story).

Whilst this book didn't work for me in all aspects, I was interested in the story that debut author, Deborah O'Brien, has brought to the page. In the notes, she mentions that she is writing a sequel  and in the Q and A below she says this is a modern setting only which I am not sure about but still.

This book counts for the following challenges

I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to ask the author, Deborah O'Brien, a few questions**:

Q. Let's start with the Emporium which is so important to the story. It sounds like a place that would have been both practical but also filled with exotic treasures. Did you find a place like this in the historical record or did this place come from your imagination?

During the second half of the nineteenth century there were many general stores and emporia run by Chinese merchants in Gold Rush towns, including my own, but Mr Chen’s Emporium is really more a product of my imagination than a real place. As an inveterate shopper, I’ve always loved the notion of an Aladdin’s cave of exotic wares, and that particular metaphor inspired the Aladdin thread, which runs right through the book.

On a figurative level, the emporium represents a storehouse of possibilities for Amy Duncan. Although the exterior, with its corrugated iron awning and Victorian parapet, looks much like any other shop from the 1870s, inside it’s a treasure trove. When Amy walks through the doors, her life changes forever. And it’s not just the wonderful merchandise that she finds intriguing, but the dashing owner himself.

Q. What is it about the goldrush era that still captures our imaginations today?

I like to think of the Gold Rush era as being Australia’s own Wild West period, a time of huge social change. As prospectors flocked to south-eastern Australia from around the globe, ‘tent cities’ sprang up overnight and small rural communities burgeoned into prosperous towns. We’re fortunate that many of them remain relatively intact to this day. If you visit a place like Beechworth, Gulgong or Braidwood, it’s not hard to imagine what it would have been like to live in those turbulent times.

The Gold Rush produced a diverse cast of characters. Among the most notorious were the bushrangers who roamed the countryside, holding up gold escorts. Although I was tempted to feature a gang of bushrangers in my novel, I decided against it. Instead, I gave Amy a bushranger fantasy at the start of the book. As for the diggings, they’re alluded to, but we only see them in a brief scene about two-thirds of the way through. Being a town dweller myself, I’ve explored the impact of the Gold Rush largely from the point of view of the townspeople.

Q. I love books where there is a modern storyline linked to a past storyline. How did this dual strand storyline come to you?

I think it began years ago with the stories my grandmother used to tell me about her childhood and adolescence in the Central West of NSW. Those tales provided the genesis of Amy’s storyline. Then, in the early 2000s, my husband, son and I discovered a little cottage on the outskirts of an historic country town. It was love at first sight, and suddenly I was what country people are wont to call a ‘blow-in’. Not only that, I had my concept for the book. A dual narrative about two women in the same rural town, then and now. A chance to explore the nuances of social change, particularly as they relate to women, and a reminder of the universal constants that exist no matter what the era, such as love and loss, grief and renewal.

Q. Which characters did you find first - the modern storyline with Angie or Amy's story in the past?

Amy came first, inspired in part by my grandmother and her stories. Angie’s narrative contains some aspects of my own. But even though we share certain interests – gardening, cooking, reading, painting, sketching and classic movies, we are very different people. That’s the freedom of being a writer. You can take your characters to places where you might never go – in a physical and a psychological sense. And you can allow them to make their own choices and then watch the consequences unfold.

Q. I loved the idea of the art project which Angie set for her art classes where all the students did something related to the town either past or present. Have you been involved in something similar in your town or was this an idea that you came up with just for the book?

Yes, I was once involved in a local exhibition which required us to create ‘Visions’ of our district. I painted a series of scenes that I called ‘Forest Fragments’. A detail from one of them appears as the banner on my website. I also enjoy sketching historical buildings. That’s why I gave Angie the task of sketching the series of buildings related to Amy. I actually did some rough drawings of them myself, trying to capture the images I could see in my mind’s eye. It was an interesting exercise.

Q. Your own love of animals shows through the pages particularly for platypuses and alpacas. What is it about these two animals in particular that you love?

I’d never seen a platypus until the day the real estate agent took us to inspect a property on the banks of a spring-fed creek (it was the place we went on to buy) and there he was, duck-diving in the middle of the day as if he knew he was required to provide the ‘wow’ necessary to clinch the deal.

I feel incredibly privileged to be able to wake in the morning, look out the window and spot the concentric circular ripples which are the evidence that a platypus is feeding below the surface. Whenever we have friends to stay, they can’t wait to see the platypus. But he’s an enigmatic creature. He doesn’t appear on demand. Quite the opposite. And when he actually does turn up, he doesn’t stay in the same place for long. One minute he’ll be there, the next he’s gone, leaving only a few bubbles on the surface to remind us that he’s been a real presence and not simply an apparition.

What do I love about alpacas? Their huge eyes, the soft bleating sound they make, their long necks and woolly coats, and their environmentally-friendly padded feet. I don’t own any, but I can always dream …

Q. The book includes an interracial relationship. Whilst that wasn't unheard of at the time the book was set, it was rare and it would have been very difficult for those involved. How difficult was it to balance the historical story against modern sensibilities when you were writing this particular relationship?

In dealing with that relationship, there was always the danger of writing the past from a twenty-first century perspective and imposing a contemporary imperative on the story which wouldn’t have existed at the time. It was a balancing act and I’m not sure whether I’ve succeeded or not. I wanted to convey the prevailing view among the white colonials that a close, personal relationship of that kind was unacceptable. Of course, there were progressive citizens in nineteenth-century society who thought otherwise and we meet some of them in the book, but they would have been in the minority.

Q. In the notes at the end of the book you mention that there will be a sequel to Mr Chen's Emporium. Can you give us a bit of a clue as to where the story goes next? Does the sequel have a title yet?

I’ve finished the first draft of modern-day sequel, tentatively called WOMEN OF A CERTAIN AGE. There are two female protagonists, one of whom is Angie Wallace who’s fighting a battle to save Charles Chen’s emporium.

Thanks for the insightful questions, Marg.

**Thanks to the publisher for the book and the opportunity to ask Ms O'Brien a few questions.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Library Loot: September 26 to October 2

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!

Coming Undone by Lauren Dane - The second book in the Brown Siblings series.

Falcons of Montabard by Elizabeth Chadwick - My second to last book that remains unread out of Elizabeth Chadwick's backlist.

The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphreys - In The Gilded Lily, which I read a couple of weeks ago, there was a fair amount of plot revolving around a winter when the Thames froze. It reminded me that I have been meaning to try this book for a while now.

Fool for Love by Beth Ciotta - first in a new contemporary romance series that has a foodie bent.

Claire has Mr Linky this week so head over to her blog to share your Library Loot link.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina

When Aarti from BookLust announced the More Diverse Universe reading tour, I knew straight away that I wanted to read an indigenous Australian author. I really didn't even consider any other options as possibilities. Then I started to think about possible reads and couldn't come up with any options of books to read that were written by indigenous authors that fitted into the spec fic genre classification. I ended up putting the call out on Twitter for suggestions but in the end there were only a couple which kind of proved the point that Aarti was making in starting this project.

One was Carpentaria by Alexis Wright which I tried to read a few years ago and DNF'ed (and considered to be Literature with a capital L).  The other was this book, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina, which was only published in Australia a couple of months ago and I do not recall having heard of before. I promptly bought the book, and I am pleased to say it is a really good read. I am also pleased to announce that the author is going to be guest posting on Sunday as part of this event!

Anyway, enough intro! Let's talk about the book.

There will come a day when a thousand illegals descend on your detention centres. Boomers will breach the walls. Skychangers will send lightning to strike you all down from above, and Rumblers will open the earth to swallow you up from below.... And when that day comes, Justin Connor, think of me.

Ashala Wolf has been captured by Chief Administrator Neville Rose. A man who is intent on destroying Ashala's Tribe - the runaway illegals hiding in the Firstwood. Injured and vulnerable and with her Sleepwalker ability blocked, Ashala is forced to succumb to the machine that will pull secrets from her mind.

And right beside her is Justin Connor, her betrayer, watching her every move.

Will the Tribe survive the interrogation of Ashala Wolf?
Set three hundred years in the future, Ashala Wolf's world is one that is very different from now. There had been an environmental catastrophe that caused the world's geography as we know it to be transformed. The population of the world has in effect scaled back from the reliance on technology all in the hope of maintaining the all important Balance in the world. For the powers that be Balance is quite easy to define. Anyone who is 'normal' is part of the Balance. Anyone who shows any sign of having a special ability is deemed to be an illegal and must be locked away in detention camps and have their powers neutralised. The world is highly regulated, mostly through a series of accords which dictate rules on everything from population, to the use of technology, the use of natural resources and more.

The powers that some people might have are many and varied. They may be sleepwalkers like Ashala, or Rumblers, Skychangers, Runners and so many more other types of power. Some, but not all, are dangerous but all are feared by large portions of the general population thanks to a pretty effective propaganda machine. If a family suspects that their child may have powers then they need to be assessed and the whole family unit could well be destroyed - traumatic for everyone concerned.

Ashala is the leader of a group called The Tribe who live in the forest of tuart trees known as Firstwood. She has gathered together a group of people who all are Illegals because they all have special talents and together they are trying to build a community that respects the forest and the animals around them. As well as each having their own abilities, they may also have a special affinity with an animal. For Ashala, this is a wolf, but for others in the group it might be spiders, or the fierce saurs that also roam the area. Her friends are well developed and incorporated into the story and I am really looking forward to find out more about Ember and Georgie. I especially enjoyed the storyline that features Jaz, an exuberant young man whose journey is very surprising throughout the book.

Things are a little unsettled within the group because recently a detention centre has been build near Firstwood, and that centre is being led by Neville Rose, a man with a reputation for thoroughness when it comes to the investigation of Illegals that are in his care. When Ashala is captured after being betrayed by an outsider who has infiltrated the Tribe, she is taken to be interrogated by the machine but only after her sleepwalking ability has been neutralised. Ashala can perform amazing feats of power and strength as long as she dreams them and so steps must be taken so that she cannot escape from the detention centre. The aim for Neville Rose is to be able to access all of the secrets that Ashala holds dear, about her past and especially about the Tribe. The person who managed to infiltrate the Tribe and to ultimately betray Ashala is Justin Connor and now he is her jailer, her shadow, a perfect example of the kind of people that Ashala has come to hate in her short life.

There are several really clever things in this book. One of this is the incorporation of Dreamtime motifs into the new world. Another thing was the way that the plot unravels throughout the course of the book. There were so many plot twists that completely changed the way that the reader might be understanding the book and yet those twists all seemed to make sense. Ashala believes that she knows exactly what is going on, but with each twist the truth changes. The biggest question are will Ashala find the truth or will she reveal all of her secrets to the machine and how will the Tribe cope without her to lead them.

This book is an intriguing mix of dystopian society and fantasy with a Dreamtime twist. Sounds complicated, and it is, especially with the way that the plot twists and turns it way to the conclusion. It is ultimately a fascinating and enjoyable read, both complex and nuanced.

I was also glad to see that the cover very clearly shows a young Aboriginal girl and clearly reflects the tone of the novel.

I am glad that by participating in this event, I was introduced to the writing of Ambelin Kwaymullina. I very much look forward to reading the next book in this series.

Rating 4/5

Read the book for the following challenges:


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday Salon: Blood Song by Rhiannon Hart

Blood Song is the debut novel from Australian author Rhiannon Hart. I was interested in reading it when it first came out, but I hadn't quite gotten around to it yet. A couple of weeks ago I received the second book in this series for review, but I can't knowingly do the whole reading out of order thing so I borrowed this book from the library.

Shortly afterwards, the author offered me the chance to participated in a blog tour for the two books. Given that I read so much better to a deadline, I agreed to review this first book, so here it is!

Our main characters, Zeraphina, is a princess from the House of Amentia,  a noble but poor land where even just the daily struggle to survive is getting harder and harder for the people. Luckily there is every likelihood that life is going to improve even just a little thanks to the fact that Zeraphina's older sister, Lilith, is betrothed to a handsome prince which should lead to trade agreements and so much more. However, life can change in a heartbeat and when suddenly Lilith is once again single thanks to the death of her fiance the Queen, Renata, knows that she much move fast to find another husband for Lilith.

Where Lilith is golden haired with fair skin, Zeraphina is almost her complete opposite - her hair is only a couple of shades away from blackest black and her skin is pale. It is however not only her external appearance that makes our heroine as being different to everyone else. There is also the small matter of the thirst for blood that comes up on her, the odd pets that she owns (Leap the cat and Griffin the eagle who just about steal the limelight every time they appear on the page) and an almost unnatural talent with the bow and arrow. What Zeraphina doesn't know is why she is different. Her mother insists that she is the natural daughter of the deceased king, and that she changed as a result of a childhood illness, but why is she so different to everyone else, and why does she feel a strong pull towards the northern lands.

It doesn't take Renata long to set her sights on Prince Amis of Pergamia as a potential husband for her eldest daughter and so the family travels north. Zeraphina hopes that she will be able to find out more about her own strange yearnings and also about the land of Lharmel. She just knows that this place is important and given that nearly every reference to the land has been moved from the texts of her homeland this is her chance to learn.

One of the first people she is introduced to on arrival is Rodden Lothskorn. He is advisor to the royal family of Pergamia and he and Zeraphina instantly dislike each other.
Then I remembered what Renata had said about protocol. Maybe it was written in stone that arrogant jerks had to lead the younger sisters of future queens of the nation through to dinner.

It was rather hard on younger sisters, I thought.
It soon becomes clear that Rodden has secrets of his own, and if he would only share some of his knowledge he may well help Zeraphina learn more about who and what she is.

As I was reading this book I was trying to figure out which author I was reminded of, and in the end I decided that it was the Study series by Maria V Snyder. Some of the reasons why I think that is the that the kind of faux-medieval world that is not all that much different from our own world albeit with pretty modern language, an interesting female lead character plus a touch of romance. I guess the phrase that I am grasping for is fantasy-lite.

I liked the world that the author created. The Lharmellian's are suitably horrible creatures, and the journey that Zeraphina and Rodden undertake is epic in scope, with danger and drama on every page. As individual characters, both Zeraphina and Rodden are interesting. Whilst Zeraphina does occasionally make decisions that have the reader shaking your head in disbelief, she does recognise that  in herself and is suitably self-chastised. The other good thing is that once they start to work together, the two of them are clearly partners and it is not a case that Zeraphina needs to be saved by a hero.

At 290 pages, this book is an easy, quick read which is great if you just want a fast, entertaining read. I found myself wanting a little more depth in the interactions between the various characters and a little more world building. Thankfully, the book doesn't end on a major cliffhanger, and I am intrigued enough to want to keep reading the next book in the series.

Rating 3.5/5

To visit other people on the tour and to find out more about the author and her books, check out the following links

Tour Schedule
Rhiannon Hart's Facebook page
Rhiannon Hart on Twitter
Rhiannon Hart's blog
You can read the first chapter of the second book, Blood Storm, at the following link:

Thanks to Rhiannon Hart for inviting me to participate in the blog tour.


I wanted to turn but I was held captive by the song on the wind. I’m coming, I told the voices. Please, wait for me.

When her sister becomes betrothed to a prince in a northern nation, Zeraphina’s only consolations are that her loyal animal companions are by her side – and that her burning hunger to travel north is finally being sated.

Already her black hair and pale eyes mark her out as different, but now Zeraphina must be even more careful to keep her secret safe. Craving blood is not considered normal behaviour for anyone, let alone a princess. So when the king’s advisor, Rodden, seems to know more about her condition than she does, Zeraphina is determined to find out more.

Zeraphina must be willing to sacrifice everything if she’s to uncover the truth – but what if the truth is beyond her worst nightmares
This book counts for the following challenges:

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Here's to Weekend Cooking!

A few weeks ago I was overflowing with ideas for Weekend Cooking posts. This week though, I didn't have anything specific planned.  I have numerous books that will qualify as Weekend Cooking posts in future but you need to read them to post about them, so I am a few weeks away from then.

As I was contemplating what I would post about this week, I noticed something momentous. This week's post will be my 100th Weekend Cooking post - or the 100th time I have used the Weekend Cooking post label at least!

My first Weekend Cooking post was in August 2010 (which means I haven't missed too many weekends since I started). That first post was a recipe for Anzac biscuits. Since then I have shared quotes, recipes, book reviews, movie reviews, stories about my son's adventures in cooking, foodie experiences, songs and so much more.

Now as I read books I find myself wondering if the few paragraphs I have read about food might be a potential post. As I read through book recommendations if there is the slightest suggestion that it might be slightly applicable it gets added to my TBR list so that I can post about it. Another thing that has changed for me as a result of participating is that I now take lots of photos of my food when I go out, just in case I decide that it might be something that I post about. My friends are used to it now, but it took them a while!

Weekend Cooking is one of my favourite categories to revisit on my own blog and on other peoples. I can't tell you how many times I have read through my previous posts and enjoyed them all over again! I also thoroughly enjoy visiting other people's weekend cooking posts and have learnt lots by doing so. There are all these ingredients that I have either never heard of but start to notice after reading posts about them (like quinoa) or those ingredients that I have still never seen in our shops, as well as those pesky ingredients (not to mention measurements) that have different names here in Australia than they do in other countries around the world!

So in honour of my 100th Weekend Cooking post, I really want to say thanks to everyone who reads and comments, who write up their own posts each weekend and provide us all with entertainment and inspiration!

I especially want to thank the ever fabulous Ms Bethfishreads, illustrious host of Weekend Cooking! Thank you for your gracious hosting, for providing a home for all these fabulous posts and for being an all round fabulous person!

And now, I can start thinking about what I might post about for post number 101!

thank you note for every language

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, September 21, 2012

The Gilded Lily by Deborah Swift

As readers we first met Ella Appleby in the pages of The Lady's Slipper. In that story Ella was portrayed as a somewhat conniving young lady who would let nothing and no-one step in the way of what she wants. And what Ella wants more than anything is to be a fine lady, sleeping in expensive linen, dressed in gorgeous clothes.

Initially, Ella is convinced that the best way to achieve that goal is to become mistress to Thomas Ibbetson, but that plan goes awry when Thomas falls seriously ill and dies. Ella knows that she has to leave the small village that she has always lived in and quickly but she can't possibly leave her sister, Sadie, behind. The two girls take everything of value in the house and flee to the relative anonymity of London but the dead man's twin brother is hot on their trail and it isn't long before there are wanted posters scattered throughout London.

When they get to London the two girls quickly find work in a perruquier (which is our obscure word of the week at work thanks to reading it in this book), also known as a wig maker. Sadie fits into the group of girls, being quiet, patient and talented with her hands when it comes to needlework. Ella is not such a good fit. She tends to be a bit mouthy, too impatient to perform the precise work required to make a good quality wig for the gentry and too desperate to get out to be something better.

After a couple of close brushes with their pursuers, Ella's luck changes when she literally catches the eye of Jay Whitgift, man about town. After failing at her task to make him a wig that fits, Jay offers Ella a chance at the kind of life she always wanted. She is to become the face of The Gilded Lily, a female alternative to the coffee houses that the men of Restoration flock to. Her job will be to convince the quality ladies of the ton to purchase creams and potions to enhance their beauty. Before long, The Gilded Lily is the place to be seen and Ella is the talk of the town.

What Ella doesn't initially know is that the Lily is a front for a much more lucrative, and dangerous, business. Jay's father was originally a pawnshop owner and he has trained his son with the intention that he will take over the thriving business. Whilst that business is now technically illegal, the demand for such services is high. Where Mr Whitgift senior is honest to a fault, Jay is, well, Jay is not. For just like Ella, Jay wants something more from life, and he is prepared to do anything to get it. He is a magpie, collecting all manner of expensive trinkets from the people he does business with usually acquiring them through backhanded means. As Ella gets more involved with Jay's world, she sets her sights high, but this world is not only one of glamour, it is also dangerous, especially for two young girls. This is even more true given that they are wanted by the law and that there are several parties who are trying to track them down, all vying for the generous reward that will be paid on their capture.

The biggest issue for the two girls is that Sadie has a port-wine birthmark on one side of her face which makes her pretty much instantly recognisable and so Ella decides that she must remain hidden at all costs, especially seeing as Sadie refuses to wear the paint that Ella brings home from The Gilded Lily. As a modern reader, it is a bit sickening to know what the effect of using such lead based cosmetics would have had, but at the time it was the height of fashion to use such cosmetics, and Ella wants nothing more than to be fashionable.

Fortunately Sadie has been able to make several friends who are concerned enough about her for if she had to rely only on the increasingly selfish Ella she would have been left to languish in a lonely room without enough food and heating in one of the coldest winter's in history. The author uses the Thames river freezing over to great effect during the novel, particularly in setting at least some of the action during the frost fares that took place.

Where the author excels is in making the reader care for the two girls. I was drawn, as I suspect the reader is meant to be, to the fate of the unfortunate Sadie who has escaped from one hell-hole to what turns out to be anything but a better life. It is difficult to say that I liked Ella, but she was certainly an engaging character to read about, especially as the plot speeds up towards the resolution.

As I got closer to the end of the book, I did find myself thinking that there were 50 pages left and I still had no idea how the author was going to get the two girls safely to the end. I am not entirely convinced about the method of that resolution, but I am not sure where else the story could have gone.

It should be noted that The Gilded Lily picks up towards the end of the story that is told in The Lady's Slipper (Deborah Swift's debut novel). It is being marketed as a companion novel. Whilst the novel does standalone fairly well, it is undoubtedly enhanced by knowing exactly what it is that the two girls are running from, and why, as well as some of the implications of their actions.

I have enjoyed both books over the last couple of days. I do think that you can see a degree of confidence that the author has gained in her writing from one book to the next. Once again, it was a pleasure to read a book that concentrated more on the life away from the court of Charles II, although there were a couple of mentions of high ranking members of society in the pages, although not in the most flattering ways.

I thoroughly enjoyed this tale that explored the darker side of Restoration London. I am really looking forward to seeing whose story Deborah Swift tells next.

Rating 4.5/5

Thanks to the publisher and Historical Ficton Virtual Book Tours for sending me a copy of this book to review.

This book was read as part of the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

Winter 1661

In her short life, Sadie Appleby has never left rural Westmorland. But one night she is rudely awoken by her older and bolder sister, Ella. She has robbed her recently deceased employer and is on the run. Together the girls flee their hoe and head for London, hoping to lose themselves in the teeming city. But the dead man's relatives are in pursuit, and soon a game of cat and mouse ensues amongst the freezing warren that is London in winter.

Ella is soon seduced by the glitter and glamour of city life and sets her sights on the flamboyant man-about-town, Jay Whitgift. But nothing in the capital is what it seems, least of all Jay Whitgift. Soon a rift has formed between Ella and Sadie and the stisters are threatened by a menace mroe sinister than even the law.

Set in brilliantly realized Restoration London, The Gilded Lily is a novel about beauty and desire, about the stories we tell ourselves, and about how sisterhood can be both a burden and a saving grace.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty discussion

Earlier this week, I shared a Q and A with author Jaclyn Moriarty. Today, I am pleased to be sharing a conversation that I had about A Corner of White, the first book in the Colours of Madeleine trilogy.
This is the second part of the conversation between myself and Shelleyrae from Book'd Out. You can read the first part of the conversation over at Shelleyrae's blog and she also has a chance for Australian readers to win a copy of the book.


Most of what we learn about Cello comes from the Princess’s letters during their tour of the Kingdom, what did you think of these missives?

Marg: At first I wasn’t that sure about the role that they were going to play in the story. Were they there to inject some humour, especially in the early parts of the book where the Kingdom of Cello seemed like a kind of dour place? Was there a purpose to including them, and if so what was it? It was fun to see the two princesses fairly fanciful descriptions of the people and places they met and the somewhat patient corrections from the editor.

The Sheriff of Bonfire was really keen to get the princesses to visit the town, mainly to show the rest of the Kingdom of Cello that there was more to the Farms than just deftball (the very popular sport in which Bonfire was about to play in the finals), which I must admit sounded like it could be fun. I wasn’t quite sure how a pyramid of pumpkins was going to achieve that initially!

Without giving too much away, I loved the way that this particular aspect of the story came together at the end! The ending really saved this book for me, but I am sure we will get back to that in due course.

For me the crux of the book really came in the letters between Elliot and Madeleine though. I loved the imaginative way that Moriarty was able to develop the connection between the two worlds and between the two main characters. One of the things that became clear is that while noone in Madeleine’s world knew anything about the Kingdom of Cello, the reverse was not true.

Why do you think the people in the Kingdom of Cello knew about our world, but not the other way around, and why was the punishment for being in contact with our world so drastic?

: I also loved the idea of a letter being passed between a parking meter and a sculpture. Elliot writes of it being more than 300 years since a crack has appeared that is large enough for a person to slip through and that any cracks are quickly repaired, though of course we later learn that may not be entirely true.

I can only guess that the separation between the Kingdom of Cello and the World came about as magic was crowded out of industrialised society, which is a common fantasy trope, and with that theory, I assume the barrier between worlds is a magical, rather than natural, construct which the Kingdom of Cello maintains. Therefore while the World has forgotten Cello, the Kingdom is forever reminded about the World.

I would assume that travel between the Kingdom of Cello and the World would be problematic for both societies for any number of reasons, I can’t imagine what a Cambridge scholar would make of being attacked by a vicious swathe of lemon yellow for example. Allowing movement from Cello into the World would especially endanger the Kingdom, hence the harsh punishment.

However with no real clues it is all speculation on my part and Moriarty may well later reveal a completely different reason for the division.

Was there any particular aspect that we haven’t touched on yet that you really liked?

Marg; One of the things that I did enjoy about the story was the fact that Moriarty had Madeleine and her friends learning about historical figures like Lord Byron and Isaac Newton and then incorporated that learning into the story.

Shelleyrae: I thought that was a fun aspect of the story as well, particularly when that information is put to good use by Elliot in Cello. I also liked the storyline involving the Twickleham’s as I was surprised by the way in which it played out.

What did you think of the way in which A Corner of White ended, do you have any expectations for what will happen next?

Marg: To be honest, the ending saved this book for me. As we have touched on before the concepts in the book were at time difficult to follow. I was liking the story lines. I found the two worlds interesting, I loved the way that the two worlds were interconnecting but it took a lot longer for me to read than I would normally have expected for a book this size.

Then we got to the last couple of chapters where there was a big reveal (obviously not going to spoil) and I was left thinking but I want the next book now! I want to know what happens next with the royal family, and with Elliot. I want to know if he and Madeleine will get to meet and what happens if they do! I wanted more!

How did you find the ending?

Shelleyrae: Like you I was left wanting more by the promise of some exciting adventures that perhaps Madeleine and Elliot will be able to share. I’m eager to explore more of Cello and it’s quirky environment too and I’m hoping for a few answers to the ambiguities in A Corner of White.

In one sentence provide a jacket quote for A Corner of White.

Shelleyrae: "Imaginative, original and Colourful, A Corner of White is a magical story that leaves "a trail of light" for the reader to follow.."

Marg: Oh no! An in 25 words or less question!

How about “In a world of colour, A Corner of White invites the reader on a fun, imaginative and intriguing journey”


She knew this.
That philematology is the science of kissing.
That Samuel Langhorne Clemens is better
known as Mark Twain.
That, originally, gold comes from the stars.

Madeleine Tully lives in Cambridge, England, the World – a city of spires, Isaac Newton and Auntie's Tea Shop.

Elliot Baranski lives in Bonfire, the Farms, the Kingdom of Cello – where seasons roam, the Butterfly Child sleeps in a glass jar, and bells warn of attacks from dangerous Colours.

They are worlds apart – until a crack opens up between them; a corner of white – the slim seam
of a letter.

Elliot begins to write to Madeleine, the Girl-in-the-World – a most dangerous thing to do for suspected cracks must be reported and closed. But Elliot's father has disappeared and Madeleine's mother is sick.

Can a stranger from another world help to unravel the mysteries in your own? Can Madeleine and Elliot find the missing pieces of themselves before it is too late?

A mesmerising story of two worlds; the cracks between them, the science that binds them and the colours that infuse them.

This book was read for the following challenges:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Library Loot: September 19 to 25

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!

Only 2 books for me this week and I think it will be a small haul next week too! (at this stage anyway).

Fables 5: The Mean Season by Bill Willingham - The next Fables book!

Superb and Sexy by Jill Shalvis - the third and final book in the Sky High Air trilogy

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James (includes international giveaway)

Theodora Saxby is a wealthy young woman and so you would have thought that she would have been in demand on the marriage market. She is, though, considered to be quite unattractive and so even with her wealth the pickings on the possible marriage market are slim.

What Theo doesn't know is that her odious guardian has not only managed to run his own estate into the ground, he has also 'borrowed' some of her own money. His handsome and accomplished son James is mortified when he discovers that his father is expecting him to marry Theo, or Daisy as he likes to call her, in order to keep his indiscretions undiscovered. It's not that James is reluctant to marry Theo because of her looks, but rather because she is his closest friends having shared the school room with him. He is also sure that when she finds out that James had to marry him, Theo will be extremely hurt which in due course is exactly what happens. I wasn't quite convinced on the need to hide the truth, or at least why it couldn't be explained to Theo couched in more acceptable terms.

Once they start to think of each other as possible marriage partners, the attraction grows. After being caught in a compromising position, James and Theo are married post haste and initially at least they are both very happy. The newspapers however were having a field day, quickly dubbing Theo the 'Ugly Duchess', however this is nothing compared to the scandal that is caused when Theo throws James and his father out of her life when she finds out the truth about her marriage. The fact that James and Theo were quickly realising that their feelings for each other were much stronger than they initially thought is not enough to save the marriage.

Here the two characters go there separate ways for an extended period of time, perhaps too long in my opinion, but still. Whilst Theo retreats to the country and starts working towards rehabilitating the duchy's financial situation, James takes the one asset that Theo said he could keep, a boat, and withdraws to the sea. Years pass and Theo emerges from her country life now comfortably wealthy and heads to Paris for an extended period and returns to becomes something of a trendsetter - she will never be considered beautiful but she has learned not to dress as per the frills and flounces that her mother chose to dress her in as a debutante and into stylish clothing that is designed to suit her figure and features. The word striking, handsome and spirited would probably be applied

James however has disappeared. When he took the boat, he became a pirate privateer with his cousin, but of course, like most romance hero pirates he is a good pirate privateer. He only kills men who truly deserve it, only has a couple of women in the years he spends apart from his wife, and gets rich from only stealing from other, badder pirates. Along the way he changes his name to a much better pirate privateer name and gains a tattoo and some scars.

Without giving too much away, a series of events finally sends James back to England and back to his wife. Whilst it's not quite an instant romantic reunion it really isn't all that long before we get to the inevitable ending.

I really enjoyed lots of things about this book - I liked Theo, I liked that for once the author made the heroine someone who you could imagine wouldn't be considered beautiful now but wasn't in the past because our definition of beauty has changed. I liked that she was good at business and was able to singlehandedly save the duchy. She possibly took a bit long to get to the point of moving on but this would have been a very different book if she had of moved on sooner.

I liked James both before the whole pirate privateer thing, and even as a pirate but I was kind of shocked that he expected to walk back into his old life with very few repercussions. I was also kind of disappointed that Theo accepted James back as quickly as she did. I think I needed him to grovel more because that man had years of absence to explain!

If I read back through the reviews I have written about Eloisa James books, there is a common theme. I mostly like them... but. Most of the time the but was because I felt as though the author was far cleverer than me and her books reflected back. I have to say though, I have felt that less the further her current Happy Ever After series has gone on, the more I am able to get lost in the book and not worry so much about that.

Now if, like me, the fact that I just said that this book is part of a series - it is in fact the fourth book - makes you instantly think I can't read this book until I have read the previous ones, don't fret. The four books in the series are not linked through the characters or even the story. They are all standalone. What they do have in common is that they are historical romance retelling of fairy tales.

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Rating 4/5

How can she dare to imagine he loves her…when all London calls her The Ugly Duchess?

Theodora Saxby is the last woman anyone expects the gorgeous James Ryburn, heir to the Duchy of Ashbrook, to marry. But after a romantic proposal before the prince himself, even practical Theo finds herself convinced of her soon-to-be duke's passion.

Still, the tabloids give the marriage six months.

Theo would have given it a lifetime…until she discovers that James desired not her heart, and certainly not her countenance, but her dowry. Society was shocked by their wedding; it's scandalized by their separation.

Now James faces the battle of his lifetime, convincing Theo that he loved the duckling who blossomed into the swan.

And Theo will quickly find that for a man with the soul of a pirate, All's Fair in Love—or War.
If this book sounds like something you might like to try, then enter the international giveaway that I am hosting! To enter leave a comment including your email address answering this question:

What is your favourite romance fairy tale retelling, or what would be your favourite fairy tale to be retold?

The giveaway closes on 30 September 2012