Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Library Loot: October 31 to November 5

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!

After a quiet few weeks in terms of loot, this week is a bumper haul in more ways than one.

Here's what I picked up

The Wedding Party by Robyn Carr -  Even though this author's standalone books haven't worked for me as well as the Virgin River books I am still working my way through the backlist that is available from my library.

The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall - The second Vish Puri mystery.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo - Getting ready for the readalong that we are hosting at Historical Tapestry.

Fables 6 by Bill Willingham - The next Fables graphic novel

Dream Lake by Lisa Kleypas - Lisa Kleypas' latest release.

Share your Library Loot by  adding your link to Mr Linky below:

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Meet Vish Puri

Today I am going to share a quote with you from The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall. This is the first book in a series featuring Vish Puri, a private detective who lives and works in India. He has some Poirot-like tendencies when it comes to problem solving as well as a strong cast of secondary characters who all have nicknames like Tubelight, Facecream and Handbrake who all help him solve his cases. Oh, and an interfering Mummy as well!

The reason why I started reading this series is because of the title of the third book The Case of the Butter Chicken. Butter Chicken is one of our favourite mild curries in this house, and with a title like that I instantly thought of Weekend Cooking possibilities! I can't knowingly read a series out of order so I had to start at the beginning with this book! Having said that, there were plenty of times when I was reading this book when I found myself salivating at the sound of the Indian food that was being described.

Vish is a man of hearty appetite, with a taste for extremely hot chillis which he grows himself. At one point he acknowledges that "he had turned into a capsicum junkie and occasional dealer" in his quest for hotter and hotter chillis!

Anyway, here is the first glimpse that we get of Vish:

Vish Puri, founder and managing director of Most Private Investigators Ltd. sat alone in a room in a guesthouse in Defence Colony, south Delhi, devouring a dozen green chilli pakoras from a greasy takeaway box.

Puri was supposed to be keeping off the fried foods and Indian desserts he so loved. Dr Mohan had 'intimated' to him at his last check-up that he could no longer afford to indulge himself with the usual Punjabi staples.

"Blood pressure is up, so chance of heart attack and diabetes is there. Don't do obesity," he'd advised.

Puri considered the doctor's stern warning as he sank his teeth into another hot, crispy pakora and his taste buds thrilled to the tang of salty batter, fiery chilli and the tangy, red chutney in which he had drowned the illicit snack. he derived a perverse sense of satisfaction from defying Dr. Mohan's orders.

Still, the fifty-one-year-old detective shuddered to think what his wife would say if she found out he was eating between meals - especially 'outside' food that had not been prepared by her own hands (or at least by one of the servants).

Keeping this in mind, he was careful not to get any incriminating grease spots on his clothes. And once he had finished his snack and disposed of the takeaway box, he washed the chutney off his hands and checked beneath his manicured nails and between his teeth for any tell-tale residue. Finally he popped some sonf into his mouth to freshen his breath.

All the while, Puri kept an eye on the house across the way and the street below.
Expect to hear more about Vish Puri in future Weekend Cooking posts.

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, October 26, 2012

Because of You/Until There Was You by Jessica Scott

When it was announced that the Loveswept line was being relaunched last year, they started with a number of rereleases, but there were a couple of debut authors too. One was Ruthie Knox (whose books I have loved so far) but the first was Jessica Scott with this book.

Sergeant First Class Shane Garrison is about to ship out to Iraq again. Shane has been Army for 13 years, a lot longer than he managed to stay married. Smarting from his recent divorce he is looking forward to getting back into the environment he is familiar with - leading from the front, ensuring that his men are looked after with one aim and one aim only - bringing all of his men home alive.

On the last night he is begrudgingly convinced to go out on the town, mainly to look out for his men and make sure they don't get into any trouble before they ship out. He meets Jen St George and they share a scorching kiss. Jen is a nurse in the army hospital and is mainly only involved in life on the base through her friend Laura who is married to Shane’s commanding office, Trent. Jen is also a breast cancer survivor, so she has had to fight her own battles in life but mostly she lives a quiet life. When she looks the other way during a medical examination and passes Shane fit to ship out, they both know that there is a glimmer of a bond between them and for Shane that is enough to provide some emotional sustenance during his time in the battle zones.

It is only when Shane is injured and shipped back to the hospital that the bond between them can grow, albeit in difficult circumstances. Shane is not the best patient to begin with, and that is even more true when he is concerned about the fate of the men under his command who were also repatriated back to the hospital. There is also a slimy lieutenant who is investigating the circumstances behind some missing weapons who seems to be looking to pin the blame on people in Shane’s company. Shane is also suffering from something of a loss of identity. If he is stuck in a hospital bed how can he be the person he knows himself to be – the leader of men, the one that they all look too.

Jen is able to reach slowly to reach Shane and show him that he still has something to give, but the road is a rocky one. Jen also has her own issues. For reasons that aren’t really explored in the book Jen has chosen not to have reconstructive surgery after her mastectomy and she struggles with issues relating to her femininity. They both work together in helping each other and this aspect worked for me, as long as you look away from the ethical issues of a nurse having a sexual relationship with a patient.

While it is not uncommon to have a hero who has returned from war as a hero of a contemporary romance, most of the time we only ever see the after effects of their service - usually in the form of a few scars and some bad dreams. Where this book differs is that we meet Shane just before he is deployed, we spend time with him whilst he is in the war zone and then, yes, we get to see the aftermath as he has to try and put himself back together again. The action feels authentic due in no small part to the fact that the author is a serving soldier herself.

Through the difficulties that Jen’s friend Laura is experiencing the author manages to not only show the perspective of an injured soldier returning home, but also how difficult it is for the families of those who are left behind - the spouses who have to be both parents over extended time while their significant other serves their countries. Whilst this aspect of the background story felt really well done, there were other aspects like the storyline about the missing weapons and fighting against the bureaucracy was just one of the subplots that didn't really feel resolved, or as in one strand resolved so quickly that I found myself having to go back and see what it said again as it was such a part of the story that was just explained away in a sentence or two . I also couldn’t believe that the Laura and Trent story was left where it was but I have heard that these two may get their own story. I really hope so as I definitely was left wondering what the heck was going on with Trent. I guess being left wanting more is a good thing though.

If I had to summarise my reaction to this book I would say that it was a strong debut from an interesting new voice, but the book definitely had some weaker parts.

Rating 4/5


From the war-torn streets of Baghdad to the bittersweet comforts of the home front, two wounded hearts navigate the battlefield of coming home from war in this explosive eBook original from newcomer Jessica Scott.

Keeping his men alive is all that matters to Sergeant First Class Shane Garrison. But meeting Jen St. James the night before his latest deployment makes Shane wonder if there’s more to life than war. He leaves for Iraq remembering a single kiss with a woman he’ll never see again—until a near fatal attack lands him back at home and in her care.

Jen has survived her own brush with death and endured its scars. And yet there’s a fire in Shane that makes Jen forget all about her past. He may be her patient, but when this warrior looks her in the eyes, she feels—for the first time in a long time—like a woman. Shane is too proud to ask for help, but for Jen, caring for him is more than a duty—it’s a need. And as Jen guides Shane through the fires of healing, she finds something she never expected—her deepest desire.

I possibly made a mistake when I started this book. I don’t generally read two books by an author one after another, and reading this one straight after Because of You reiterated why I normally have this rule. I think part of the reason why I was disappointed by this book is that I was expecting the two stories to be linked (especially seeing as they are both being mentioned as being part of the Coming Home series) and I was really hoping to find out more about Laura and Trent. I guess I will have to wait for the next book for that! Given that there really is no link between these two books (that I can see at least) it would appear I could have not worried about reading a series in order in this case.

Once again Jessica Scott gives us real soldiers as main characters. In this case both the hero and heroine are Captains in the Army. Apart from one night years ago when sparks flew between them, Captain Evan Loehr and Captain Claire Montoya have clashed every time that they have been forced to work together. He thinks that she is a little too reckless and she knows that Evan is far too rigid, too worried about ensuring that the rules are followed rather than evaluating what is going on and making decisions from there.

They are both assigned to a training camp where they have to get a bunch of raw recruits ready for combat in a very short time. They need to be prepared for the combat conditions where they are being sent, so they need to be able to recognise hidden dangers, conduct house searches, escort convoys and more. Unfortunately, the commander of the training session has very strong ideas of how the training should be run and he is not going to bend for anyone even if his way means that there is no way that the new soldiers will be prepared for what they are going to be faced with upon deployment.

Whilst Evan and Claire initially clash about training, it is when they begin to spend time together and relations begin to thaw that the emotional growth between them can start. We are given glimpses into both their pasts that help the reader and each other to see why they are the way they are. Evan is terrified of losing control and Claire’s emotional legacy stems from her childhood. The supporting characters, particularly Claire’s friend Reza are used to provide glimpses of the kind of issues that both new and career soldiers face on a regular basis.

The hardest thing about this book is the way that the characters constantly fight their attraction to each other. Of course, it was was inevitable that it would happen between them (this is a romance after all) but the constant stepping away from each other just as they started to get together got a little frustrating.

Once again the military details were a strength of this book and it was interesting to see a mission which was integral to military success but wasn't actually on the battlefield.

It’s funny really. I didn’t think this book worked as well as it could have done while I was reading it, but as I sit here thinking about what to write I find myself wondering if I had of given this book enough space it would have worked better for me or if my state of mind affected my enjoyment. Or maybe it was the book? Who knows.

Rating 3/5


He plays by the rules, she’s not afraid to break them. Now these two strong-willed army captains will prove that opposites attract . . .

A by-the-book captain with a West Point background, Captain Evan Loehr refuses to mix business with pleasure—except for an unguarded instance years ago when he succumbed to the deep sensuality of redheaded beauty Claire Montoya. From that moment on, though, Evan has been at odds with her, through two deployments to Iraq and back again. But when he is asked to train a team prepping for combat alongside Claire, battle-worn Evan is in for the fight of his life.

Strong, gutsy, and loyal, Captain Claire Montoya has worked hard to earn the rank on her chest. In Evan, Claire sees a rigid officer who puts the rules before everything else—including his people. When the mission forces them together, Claire soon discovers that there is more to Evan than meets the eye.

He’s more than the rank on his chest; he’s a man with dark secrets and deep longings. For all their differences, Evan and Claire share two crucial passions: their country and each other
Thanks to the author for the review copy.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes

Helen Walsh has taken a long time to find a niche in life that she fits. She knows that she has can be somewhat abrasive personality wise and that she beats to a slightly different drum! Once she became a private detective, she was in a job that suited her perfectly. She was determined enough to do whatever it takes to solve her cases, relying on a mix of modern techniques like accessing bank accounts and phone records but also to use old fashioned gum shoe style techniques like stake outs, no matter how long it took. Life was good.

Or at least it was until the GFC hit the Irish economy hard (much harder than we experienced here in Australia). Suddenly the big firms weren’t hiring, rich spouses weren’t as keen to spend money spying on their most-likely-straying spouses and Helen’s work pretty much dried up. This coincided with a major depressive episode that saw Helen contemplating suicide more than once.

Now her flat and most of her possession have been repossessed by the bank, she owes money to everyone and she finds herself moving back home with her delightfully quirky parents. The only thing that keeps her happy at the moment is her relationship with her boyfriend Artie and even that is not without complications in the form of his children who either love or hate her and a very present, still very friendly ex wife.

When her ex, Jay Parker, turns up and offers her a job Helen knows that this is likely not a good idea to spend time with him but a job is a job and the money is good so she has to take it. Former Irish boy band, The Laddz, are due to get back together for a reunion show very soon but one of the members, Wayne, has disappeared. Without Wayne (the wacky one in the band) there is no way the show can go on but there is very little in the way of clues to give some idea of where he might have gone. Helen must navigate between the various egos within the band who all want the reunion to take place for their own individual reasons, deal with his highly protective family and follow the trail to see where exactly he has disappeared to. If successful, this reunion show could provide them all with lucrative rewards. If it fails, then there are going to be some investors who will lose a lot and they are not happy at that prospect!

As Jay and Helen work together to try and find Wayne, sidetracked along the way by nosy neighbours and Jay’s interest in rekindling their relationship, Helen also has to try and fight the gathering storm of depression that she knows is coming her way again, figure out what is happening with her boyfriend and just generally get her life together again and more.

There was a lot to like about this book. Helen has an unusual point of view on life and that makes for interesting reading. We got to see Helen’s life both as it was currently happening as well has her looking retrospectively at the events that led to her last depressive episode including the breakdown of her friendship with one of her few close friends, Bronagh. At first, I wasn’t sure where the story of this friendship was going. We knew that Helen and Bronagh were no longer friends but it took a long time for the truth to come out about why. When the truth was revealed I was a little bit surprised at the reason, mainly because I guess I didn’t see why the friendship had to end between the two women. As I saw it as more the friendships between the other players that should have imploded but sometimes friendships do seem to end on the flimsiest of pretexts. There were some other things in the book that didn’t work for me too including some repetition and a bit of saggy middle where the search for Wayne got a bit bogged down in the chase. Oh, and the ending was all neatly tied up like a present with a lovely bow on top. I mean, I was happy for Helen, but how likely was that to really happen?

It’s hard to believe that we have been waiting nearly 6 years for the final installment in the Walsh sisters series from Marian Keyes. Given the way that Helen had been portrayed in the previous books, I always thought it was going to be a hard story for Keyes to write even without Keyes’ own not-so-secret battle with depression over the last couple of years where she struggled to write at all. The reason I mention that depression is that Keyes has always been very open about her own demons and has often used some of those battles as subject matter in her books (for example, in the past, she has written about alcoholism). Keyes has always had the ability to talk about difficult topics but doing so with characters that you wished you knew personally so you could sit down and have a good laugh with. She puts them in situations that are funny and touching and poignant, but never in a way that trivializes the particular topic of the book. Depression very much plays a huge part in the lives of Helen and other characters including the effect of that depression on the lives of the family members around them.

Speaking of family members, it was good to see the roles that the other Walsh sisters played in the book. Rachel (from Rachel’s Holiday) and Anna (from Anybody Out There?) both live elsewhere and were barely mentioned but both Clare (Watermelon) and Maggie (Angels) got at least some page time. I have read each of these previous books, but I must confess that I found myself trying really hard to remember what Maggie’s story was….and failing badly.

Now that each of the sisters has had their turn in the limelight, it is easier to look back over all the books a bit more objectively. There are elements from different books that stick in the mind (for example Luke and his friends the Real Men from Rachel’s Holiday) but if I had to pick only one book from the series to name as my favourite it would without doubt be Anybody Out There?.

Keyes has said that there may be more Walsh family books in future, maybe with the next generation. Whatever her next book is I will be keen to pick it up and once again immerse myself in the worlds that she creates that are full of humour and warmth but not afraid to talk about the big issues in life.


I employ this thing called The Shovel List.'

'A shovel . . . ?'

'No. A Shovel List. It's more of a conceptual thing. It's a list of all the people and things I hate so much that I want to hit them in the face with a shovel.'

Meet Helen - youngest of the Walsh sisters and a law unto herself. She's easily bored, has an inability to filter her thoughts and was fired from every job she ever had before she found her true calling as a private investigator. But times are tough for PIs and Helen's had no choice but to take on the search for AWOL boyband has-been Wayne Diffney - The Wacky One.

It's not all bad this game of Where's Wayne. It may have brought her charming crook of an ex Jay Parker back into her life, but it's giving her an excuse to avoid the usual Walsh family dramas and the intense looks from her gorgeous boyfriend Artie that make her heart beat wildly with lust and panic in equal measure. But most of all it's an excellent distraction from the huge swarm of black vultures gathering over her head. If she hides out in her target's empty house on Mercy Close for long enough maybe they'll go away . . .

But as Helen begins to unravel the mysteries secreted on Mercy Close she discovers a kindred spirit in a man unwilling to be found. Could someone be telling her to look a little closer to home . . . ?

Thanks to Lisa from ANZ Litlovers for this book. This review has been cross-posted at ANZ Litlovers

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Library Loot: October 24 to 30

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 with only one book being looted from the library! There will be more next week though because I already have several waiting to be picked up!

Clare has Mr Linky this week, so head over there to share your Library Loot link:

Here is the book I did get:

The Fine Colour of Rust by P A O'Reilly - I am not entirely sure why I added this book to my to be borrowed list. Could just have been that Paddy O'Reilly helped do a book launch that I went to a few weeks ago or maybe there was a review that prompted me. Whichever it was I have heard lots of good things about the book so I am looking forward to reading it.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan

I am a big fan of the Twelve Planets series that is currently being published by Australian small press Twelve Planets Press. I look forward to each instalment but I must confess that this particularly instalment was one that I was anticipating more than most! And, of course, given that it is Margo Lanagan telling us short stories, I wasn't disappointed!

The collection opens with The Duchess Dresser. A young man picks up a duchess dresser from the side of the road and decides it will be the perfect piece of furniture for his room in the share house he lives in. The only thing wrong with it is that the drawer doesn't open.... oh and that same drawer rattles and shakes all night, and then there is the spectre of a young woman that seems to call it home. What I thought was interesting about this story is that while the story goes in a certain direction the reader is kind of lulled into thinking they know what is going on until suddenly it ends up somewhere differently but it still makes sense! Then again, that is pretty much trademark Lanagan and I should know that by now!

The next story is called Isles of the Sun and very much evokes the feeling of summer life by the beach. The kids are out playing, the beach is nearby and life is pretty relaxed. When a young boy sees some light beings, he feels called to follow them, and he just knows that they will teach him to fly! As he takes various steps to feel lighter, his convinces his friends and their friends to do likewise and suddenly there is a whole town of kids who are determined to follow and learn. The emotional punch of this stories comes from his mother's view of these events, knowing what she has seen but not being able to believe, and knowing that no one else could possibly believe her version of events either.

Lanagan has the reader questioning how they would react to the unusual when Don and his wife are catching the train to a friend's social event in Bajazzle. When a group of Sheelas sit near Don and his wife in a crowded train carriage he is clearly uncomfortable with the overt sexualisation of these young women and even more so when they start to 'sing' their story. When he comments that he doesn't find their performance entertaining, Don's wife suggests that "Maybe that’s ’cause it’s not put on for your entertainment."

Don is a man who is stuck in the past. He misses the woman his wife was now that she has taken to a much more feminist inspired lifestyle. The reader might hope that when he is tempted into a dilapidated house by a beautiful young woman that his good moral strength will shine through, but that is certainly not the only thing that he leaves behind.

With imagery in the story including inspiration from sheel na gig (according to Wikipedia "figurative carvings of naked women displaying an exaggerated vulva") and succubi this story is not only fascinating and challenging but also quite disturbing. There was also a degree of sensuality in this story that I found quite surprising, until it was changed into something completely different in the course of a couple of pages.

The final Significant Dust and takes as it's inspiration the Mundrabilla UFO encounter which happened in the middle of the Nullabor Plain in 1988. Rather than focus directly on this event, we instead meet Vanessa, a young woman, who has come to work in the isolated roadhouse in order to get away from a terrible accident that has basically changed her whole family. With the only interactions being with her misfit co-workers and travellers who pass through, Vanessa looks for ways to assuage her guild about the accident but also the truth about the strange people who sometimes stop in the roadhouse and the odd lights that illuminate her small room late at night.

What makes this collection different from previous short story collections by Lanagan is that there are only four stories, each approximately the same size, and that the setting for these stories is much more clearly Australian in setting than most of her other short stories. For these differences though, there are many similarities. Lanagan's writing is, as usual, pitch perfect and her ability to tell a complete story within such a small landscape is amazing.

I still have a few of Lanagan's stories to read which I must get to. Then again, I could quite easily reread this collection time and again and I am sure I would find something new each time. I think this is particularly true of the final two stories.

Rating 4/5

A presence haunts an old dresser in an inner-city share house. Shining sun-people lure children from their carefree beachside lives. Sheela-na-gigs colonise a middle-aged man’s outer and inner worlds. And a girl with a heavy conscience seeks relief in exile on the Treeless Plain.

These stories from four-time World Fantasy Award winner Margo Lanagan are all set in Australia, a myth-soaked landscape both stubbornly inscrutable and crisscrossed by interlopers’ dreamings. Explore four littoral and liminal worlds, a-crackle with fears and possibilities.
I read this short story collection for the following challenges

PS If you want to find out more about the Twelve Planets series check out my previous reviews which includes details of the collection as a whole.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Virgin River series (part 2)

About 18 months ago, I did a recap of the first 14 or 15 books in the Virgin River series. Despite my best intentions, I never did get around to reviewing the next books in the series, so I thought I would go through and do the same kind of summary post again for the next few books in the series.

If you haven't read the Virgin River books, you are in for a treat. I credit this series with converting me to a contemporary romance reader. Before I inhaled this series, I never really used to read much contemporary romance, but since then I have gone on to read numerous other fabulous authors like Shannon Stacey, Jill Shalvis, Sarah Mayberry, Kelly Hunter and so many more! Carr has her pet issues which make an appearance in lots of her books which makes these an interesting mix of pure contemporary romance and women's fiction which I think is part of makes this still a really strong series even after this many books.

The thing that I find the most about reading this series is that it is just so comfortable to read and they are of a pretty consistent standard. Of course, some are better than others, but I mainly rate them as either a 3.5 or 4 out of 5 read every time. I can easily start one of these books late at night and just keep reading until I am finished. Even though I might be tired the next morning, I am unlikely to regret that because the reading experience is one that leaves me feeling happy. I have read a few of the author's other books, including the more clearly defined women's fiction titles, and I don't necessarily find myself falling into the writing in the same way I do when it is a VR book.

The other thing that tends to happen is that I find myself wanting to reread the series even though I am not much of a rereader at the best of times. Given how long the series is (there are currently 20 books in the series) I am not sure that is a great idea, but it is seriously tempting.

So I will start with Bring Me Home for Christmas which is the 16th book in the series. If you are interested in finding out about the beginning of the series, check out my original post here.

Bring Me Home for Christmas

When Denny Cutler shipped out for his second tour of duty, he left behind an ex girlfriend that he had broken up with more as a reaction to a number of emotional factors rather than the fact that he didn't love her anymore. Becca Fitzpatrick had tried to move on to a new relationship with a much more socially suitable man (in her mother's eyes at least) but she couldn't get Denny out of her head.

Denny is still friends with Becca's brother Rich, so she invites herself along on a boy's weekend to Virgin River in the hope that she could get some closure in relation to Denny, which obviously doesn't necessarily work! When she injures herself she is forced to spend an extended period of time in the town, and in close proximity to Denny.

I liked this one a lot, but it did take a long time to work through the back story their original relationship (how they met, how in love they were and why exactly they broke up).

Hidden Summit

Connor Danson witnessed a shocking crime and as a result is in a kind  of witness protection program. He has been placed in small town Virgin River where he gets a job with Haggerty Construction. He is happy to work hard, keep a low profile until the trial is over and then he can be reunited with his sister, Katie, and her kids who he misses desperately.

Leslie Petrusco is also new to town having transferred to Virgin River to becomes the office manager at Haggerty Construction's Virgin River branch. She is after a new start too, and a life away from her sleaze ball ex-husband who is now parading his pregnant new wife in their home town.

Connor and Leslie have both been hurt by love in the past, so they are happy to keep things casual, but sometimes life has other plans.

Aside from a few small issues, like the fact that Connor's new identity is to merely change his name around (his real name being Danson Connor), this was another satisfying entry in the series. It was great to see Brie Valenzuela gets some page time too!

Redwood Bend

Katie Malone has a lot to deal with over the years. Her husband was killed in combat, her brother Connor witnessed a violent crime and as a result moved Virgin River and she moved as far away from Sacramento as she could to ensure that both her two boys and herself were safe. But the move to Vermont hadn't quite worked out as planned and after a brief and unfulfilling romance, she is heading to Virgin River to see her big brother and his new love Leslie.

When she breaks down on the mountain side roads, she is at the end of her tether. The kids are tired and hungry, she is tired and hungry and she can't change the flat tire. When a group of bikers stop on the way to help her she is initially scared but then very grateful.

Dylan Childress and his buddies are on the biker holiday of his dreams. Good company, riding their motorbikes and the open road are all he has in mind, but when he meets Katie he is immediately attracted to her, and she to him. It is difficult not be for her. After all, he is a former teenage TV heartthrob but he has been out of the limelight for a while now. Now he runs a charter plane business but the economic downturn is really biting and he is looking at what his next options might be.

Both Katie and Dylan are up for a fling, but for different reasons. For Dylan, his past is a litany of broken relationships. His parents have both been married numerous times and there are half siblings and step siblings, some of whom are only interested in what Dylan can do for them. He also knows what it was like to have various men floating in and out of his life when he was a kid and he is determined not to do that to Katie and her kids.

Sunrise Point

Nora Crane has always had to fight hard just to survive. A tough childhood, a romance with a drug addicted loser who dumps Nora and her two kids in a dump of a house in Virgin River before he skips town. What Nora needs is a chance - a chance to hold down a job and to prove that she can support herself and her children and do a great job of it.

When she applies for a job at Tom Cavanaugh's orchard, he is extremely doubtful at her ability to do the physically taxing work, and really is only convinced to take her on by his grandmother who recognises her situation. Nora is determined to take this chance and prove him wrong even if that means having to work to each day and leave her kids in the hands of her new found friends and neighbours.

Tom is a former serviceman who has returned home to Virgin River after a long time away and has taken over the orchards that his grandmother has capably run for years. He knows that in order to keep a family run business in the family you need ... well... family so he has decided that it is time for him to marry. He has a woman in mind, and it most certainly isn't a single mother with a bad past like Nora Crane. Now if only he could get her out of his head.

Nora was a really good Virgin River heroine. Yes, she had a past, but she was trying her best to put her past behind her and to make a good future for herself and her kids in a town that she is beginning to love. Tom was a bit of an idiot at first, particularly in relation to the woman who he was dating and some of his reactions to Nora  but he came round in the end.

My Kind of Christmas

After some time away from the main families in Virgin River, the focus swings firmly back on them in this book.

Jack Sheridan was the first Virgin River hero and there has not been a book since where he hasn't made an appearance, usually as a pillar of the small community that he is at the heart at. When his niece Angie LeCroix comes to stay for the holidays, she just wants a chance to decide what she wants to do with her life. Everything has always been very clear to her - study hard and become a doctor - but after being involved in a serious car accident which nearly killed her things are not quite as clear cut as they used to be. However her overbearing mother can't accept that just because Angie is less driven than she used to be that it doesn't mean that she is not still suffering mentally from the trauma of the accident.

Patrick Riordan (the last remaining single yummy Riordan brother) is also in Virgin River trying to clear his head. He is on an extended period of leave from the Navy after his best friend Jake was killed in combat and he needs to decide if he is happy to go back to the Navy of if it is time for him to move on. He is also very much conscious of a responsibility to his friend's widow, Marie and her small child. He has promised that he will visit them for Christmas and so he is only in Virgin River for a short time and then, well let's just say he has a very odd idea of what it means to look after his friend's widow.

When Patrick and Angie meet and it becomes obvious that there is something between them, Jack does his best to warn her away from him. He is too rough around the edges, he is too much a warrior, too old for her....too everything really. For Angie though, he is someone who seems to see her for who she is and is accepting of the questions that she is asking of herself. Part of the charm of these books is the humour and depth that Carr manages to inject around serious subjects. For example, at one stage Jack tries to warn Angie away from Patrick by saying he has PTSD and Angie looks at him and basically say 'so do I. Did you think only vets could have it?'  (paraphrasing of course!)

With both the whole Sheridan clan sticking their noses in and the Riordan brothers as well, there are plenty of people to tell Patrick and Angie what they should and shouldn't be doing, but when it comes down to it these two need to decide what it is that they want out of life, and whether they can do that together. And their strong family groups are there to interfere and support them every step of the way.

One thing I did like is that whilst there are definitely patterns of behaviour for her characters throughout the series (like the fact that there are so many ex servicemen, so many people who are just in town for a short time, people only making it so far out of town before they have to come back to declare their true and forever lasting love etc) Carr recognises that and even at one point in this book even has the other characters placing bets on one of these aspects.

I have been looking for information to see what is coming next in the Virgin River series in 2013 but I haven't been able to find much at all. I did find an interview which seemed to indicate that the author is starting a spinoff series that will be set along the nearby coast. Close enough so that a few VR characters might drop by but mostly new characters to go with the new location. In some ways I am looking forward to that but in other ways I will miss the old friends that we have come to know and love who now call Virgin River home. I am certainly not tired of visiting with them just yet.

*Sunrise Point and Down by the River were both read for the What's in a Name Challenge for 2012

Currently Reading

The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall and Caressed by Ice by Nalini Singh and still listening to A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon (up to disc 14 of 49).

Up Next

Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren and I Shall Not Want by Julia Spencer-Fleming

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Pancakes

Not a picture of my pancakes!
Today I am posting a recipes for pancakes. Now you may wonder why I would do so when pancakes is a pretty basic recipe, however I have only started making pancakes from scratch for the last year or so. Previous to that we used to buy the add-water-and-shake type prepared mixes which were fine, but obviously given how easy the pancake mix is to make from scratch it is better to do so.

The second reason for posting is so that on the odd occasion when I do decide to make pancakes, I have to hunt around wondering where the heck the recipe is, so by posting it here, I will only have to look on the blog to find it!

So here's the basic recipe for pancakes that I have been using. I can't remember where I originally found it.


2 cups self-raising flour
2 cups milk
2 eggs, lightly whisked
Dash of milk (extra)

1. Sift the flour into a large bowl.
2. Combine the eggs and milk in a separate bowl.
3. Pour the combined milk and egg mixture into the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined.
4. If necessary, to make the batter a little smoother, add a dash of milk then using a whisk, beat until smooth and there are no more lumps.
5. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes
6. Heat a frying pan on medium heat. Add a small amount of butter or spray the pan with a little cooking spray (we use butter). Using a half cup measure scoop batter and pour into the pan (this helps to ensure that your pancakes are all an even size). When air bubbles form, check the pancake by lifting slightly with a spatula. Turn when golden, and cook the other side. Set aside on a plate sat on a bowl of boiling water to keep warm.

Where I am looking for a little inspiration is in terms of toppings that people use on their pancakes.

When I am organised enough (or it is a special occasion) I really like to have fresh berries mixed with a sprinkling of caster sugar and then served with mascarpone cheese. When I am less organised I might have them with a squeeze of lemon juice and sprinkled with sugar, or even just spread with jam.

What is your favourite pancake topping?

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, October 18, 2012

Winner of Falling Together

Congratulations to Laura who has won the giveaway of Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos.

I hope you really enjoy the book Laura!

Thanks again to TLC Booktours for facilitating this giveaway!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Library Loot: October 17 to 23

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

My post this week should be Library Unloot because I have actually done something a little unthinkable this week - I have returned a lot of library books, and unfortunately most of them have been unread! I do feel a bit better though because I don't have so many books clamouring to be read. I still have too many out, but just not as many! In the spirit of that reduction in books, I actually only borrowed one book as well.

Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa - Sometimes I still get surprised by the books I can find at my library. I saw a review of this at Sam Still Reading and I thought I might have to request this by interlibrary loan, but no, it was onthe shelf just waiting for me to pick it up!

What loot did you get from the library this week? Share your link below:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fables 5: The Mean Seasons by Bill Willingham

This is the fifth volume of the Fables series, and unfortunately I don't think that it is possible to talk about at least some of the aspects of this book without spoiling those earlier volumes. I will try and warn you first though before we get into that territory and I will not be spoiling for the action in this volume.

The action starts in this volume with all three of Prince Charming's ex-wives getting together for a lunch. You have to know that there are going some stories swapped when they do, but really it is a ruse for one of them, lying a trail of crumbs to cover up exactly what it is that she is really up to. This was a fun story that showed that some of the characters still have plenty of stories to be told, which can only be a good thing for the future of the Fables series.

Speaking of stories not yet told, during this volume we get to find out more about the somewhat normally terse character of Bigby Wolf. Memories of the big battle from the last book and the need to visit one of his former comrades (one of few mundies who actually know what he really is) has us revisiting his activities during World War II. There is no doubt that someone like Mr Wolf would make a great warrior, especially given his heightened senses (what with him being a wolf and all) and the story that we are told shows those skills, but also his capability to be a leader and a friend. The other thing that we do begin to see a bit more than we had is exactly how it is that Bigby keeps law and order in Fabletown. His methods are not always straight forward or perhaps even legal, but he does get results.

Heading into spoiler territory now.....

The main reason why we get to learn more of Bigby's method is that the results of the election are in (the campaigning started in the last book) and unfortunately there is going to be a new mayor, Prince Charming. Old King Cole is out and Prince Charming is in. With Snow White due to give birth any day now, her role will be taken by Beauty and the new sheriff will be The Beast assuming that Snow White and Bigby decide that they can't work with the new mayor. The decision is effectively taken out of Snow's hands when her children are born. Given that some of them will never pass as human, there is no option but for Snow to retire to the farm. Only problem is that Bigby is not banned from the farm, meaning that the new family has no choice but to be separated. Fortunately for Snow, she gets assistance from an unlikely source, one that can hopefully help train her children with their special gifts.

With the new administration in place it soon becomes clear that things are not necessarily going to go smoothly. Charming can't meet his election promises, Snow's skills as administrator are sadly missed and the Beast is clearly out of his depth even when he things he is doing the right thing.

End spoilers

Once again, the story takes the familiar characters that we know and put them into everyday and not so everyday situations. The imagery and stories are quite graphic, the humour is grown up, and yet the emotions are very recognisable. Some of my favourite scenes in this book including Snow White and her sister Rose Red discussing men and the babies are nnnnaaawwww, so cute!

The next volume has already been requested and I am looking forward to the next instalment in the Fables story.

I read for the RIP VII challenge

Written on the Wind

With the Battle of Fabletown won, and the surrounding city of New York none the wiser, the Fables have gained a little time for rebuilding and reflection - in between the interrogation of the Adversary's agent and the anticipation of Snow White's impending motherhood.

For Bigby Wolf, the father of her soon-to-be newborns, that means a visit with an old friend - and reminiscence of another, even deadlier war. For the Mayor of Fabletown, it means a rude awakening to the harsh realities of civic administration - and its conflicting demands. and for Snow herself, it means a long, painful labor - and a series or joyous, heartbreaking surprises.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Lola's Secret by Monica McInerney

A long time ago, back in my pre-blogging days (yes, that long ago) I picked up a book called The Alphabet Sisters. One cold, rainy Sunday afternoon I thought I would just read for a while. I was curled up on the couch, near the heater with a cosy blanket and I just kept on turning the pages, one after another. I laughed and I cried (oh boy, did I cry). It was my first Monica McInerney book, but since then I have read a few more, and bought even more that I haven't yet read.

When I heard that Lola, the indomitable grandmother from The Alphabet Sisters was going to be the main character in this book I knew that I would have to read it. I bought it when I was spending the day up at Bendigo but since then it has sat on my shelf unread, until I saw that there was a blog tour- finally the encouragement I needed to actually get the book off the shelf and read it!

Lola Quinlan is looking forward to her family going away and leaving her to own devices this Christmas. She is not, however, going to be by herself. Instead she has placed an ad looking for guests to come to stay at the family motel for Christmas and Lola will use any means at her disposal to have people around her at this time of the year. You have to wonder why she doesn't want her family around, and also who are these people who will come to a small town in country Australia instead of being with their families.

Among the prospective guests there is a young man who has lost his job, his girlfriend and his hope, who has a terrible plan for this Christmas. There is a also a couple who have been dealing with the aftermath of a terrible accident and the wife is at the end of her tether. Also at the end of their tether, three sisters who are growing up in something akin to a battlefield rather than a loving family environment.

Before Lola can even begin to worry about her guests though, she has plenty to keep herself busy. Despite being drawn closer together when their sister Anna was ill, Lola's granddaughters Bett and Carrie can't seem to get along. Both are struggling with getting the balance between the demands of their young children, keeping house, keeping their husbands happy and so much more. Anna's daughter is having trouble dealing with the fact that her father is looking to move on with his life. And then, there is the charity shop! Lola has been volunteering at the charity shop in town for years, but she doesn't feel as happy there since a new 'volunteer' has started who has very definite ideas which clash with Lola's own thoughts.

Along the way, there are revelations about the past and the future, and the rekindling of a friendship that Lola had thought long lost.

US Cover
In some ways I think this book suffers a bit of an identity crisis. Is it a book abut a family matriarch doing what she does best - pulling her family together despite their losses? Or is it a book about strangers coming together at Christmas? In the end it is very clearly one of those, but the story gets a bit distracted by the other things that are thrown in the mix.

One thing that did think was really well represented was the heat of an Australian Christmas. I know it is something that fascinates people from the Northern hemisphere, but a hot Chrismtas is a normal Christmas for us. The heat, the dust, the effort to fit all the traitional (winterish) aspects of the celebration into a very different environment and more. There is a chance that I might find myself near  Clare (the small town where this book is set) and if I find myself at a loose end for a few hours, I might even go and visit Clare, especially seeing one of my favourite wineries is near the town.

Rating 3.5/5

Tour Details

Tour schedule
Monica's website
Monica on Facebook


Magic can happen in every family.

At the Valley View Motel in South Australia's picturesque Clare Valley, eighty-four-year-old Lola Quinlan is up to her usual mischief. She's sent her family away for Christmas and invited a number of mystery guests to come and stay. But who are all these people, and why aren't they spending the festive season with their own loved ones?

As the big day draws closer and Lola's personal family dramas threaten to unravel her plans, she discovers that at a special time of year, magic can happen in every family – especially your own.

From the bestselling author of At Home with the Templetons comes a funny, sad and moving novel about memories and moments and the very meaning of life.
As an added bonus today, I thought I should mention that I have met Monica McInerney a couple of times now. The first was a couple of years ago when she was doing a publicity tour for At Home with the Templetons (you can read about that meeting here) but the last time was last week. Once again the author is on the publicity trail, this time for her new book The House of Memories which has just been released here in Australia.

In a very clever contest idea, the publisher asked the public to help build a house of memories and by doing so you got a chance to win the entire backlist by the author plus $1000 spending money! the way that the entrants hepled to build the house of memories was by each writing a memory on a small piece of paper to an outline of a picture. By the end of the day, all the pieces of paper formed a picture of a house which was based on the cover of the book! So clever.

Monica McInerney was also there with some of her family but I had to rush back to work so couldn't stay and chat! I did manage to get a few pictures of the house, to share my memory with her and to get my book signed too. If I could get the photos off of my phone I would share them with you, but I am being thwarted by technology at the moment! I will add them into the post later.

Early in the day

At the end of the day

I read this book for the following  challenges.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sunday Salon: It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

I was both surprised and not surprised to see Christmas decorations out in the shops when I was there last weekend. Yes, it is the beginning of October but it still feels way too early to be even thinking about it being nearly Christmas!

Apparently though, my reading hasn't caught up to the fact that it is too early to be thinking about it yet! This week alone I have read four books that are set at or near Christmas and a couple of others that I have here to read soon are also set at or near Christmas. One of the books is deliberately marketed as a Christmas release but the others are books that I just went into not necessarily books that I realised shared this setting. Fortunately, all of the books are very different from each other. Here are the books that I either have read or I am currently reading with a Christmassy feel

Given that I don't usually go out of my way to read Christmassy books this synchronicity has been a little odd!

I guess this means that Kailana and I should also start giving some thought to the Virtual Advent tour for this year too !

Currently Reading

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis and Lola's Secret by Monica McInerney plus listening to A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon (up to disc 11 of 49)

Up Next

I am not entirely sure, but maybe The House on Olive Street by Robyn Carr or The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Saved by Cake by Marian Keyes

Can you remember the last time you laughed out loud when reading a cookbook? Admittedly when I am looking for a new cookbook it isn't at the top of my list of priorities, but it is an added bonus when it happens.

Irish author Marian Keyes has been a best selling fiction author for years but this book, Saved by Cake, is her first foray into writing a cookbook. As a reader, I hope that this isn't the last time she does so. As a fan, I really hope that she doesn't find herself in the same place as she was when she starting her cake making journey.

The title of this book is not just a fun title, it is a description of the role that cake played in Marian Keyes life. A couple of years ago Keyes found herself suffering with severe depression. In the introduction she talks about her depression and how baking gave her a lifeline. At one point she says "To be perfectly blunt about it, my choice sometimes is: I can kill myself or I can make a dozen cupcakes. Right so, I'll do the cupcakes and I can kill myself tomorrow." Keyes acknowledges that baking may not be the thing that saves everyone, but for her it was the thing that helped her be able to face one day at time. She went from not even owning a cake tin to having a Drawer of Dreams and so many cookie cutters. If you watch either of the videos that I have linked to above you will be able to see how much joy this new hobby that is turned into something much more has given her, which can only be  a good thing right?

I know that I said that this was laugh out loud funny but so far it doesn't sound terribly cheery but if you have read any of Marian Keyes novels, you know that she is not afraid to mix up important issues into humourous situations and her voice comes through loud and clear in this collection.  Even within the recipe you can feel her excitement and pride with the comments that are scattered through the instructions. For example, in the recipe for Lemon Curd and Pistachio Pinwheels one of the paragraphs is "When you take the pinwheels out of the oven, prepare to be amazed. They will look so professional and impressive and totally different from the last time you saw them."

In another example, in the recipe for Lebkuchen Hearts, when talking about the equipment needed - "Finally, as these are Lebkuchen hearts, you'll need some sort of heart-shaped cookie cutter. If you don't have any, you could try freestyling it with a sharp knife. Or you could simply use a different shaped cutter and change the name of the cookie to - oh, just off the top of my head - Lebkuchen Shoes. or Lebkuchen Handbags." You just know that she has done this herself before!

The recipes range from quite simple classics, where Keyes has had to resist the urge to mess around too much with the tried and tested, to more unusual recipes like a Balsamic, Black Pepper and Chocolate cake that she recommends be served with mascarpone cheese, fresh basil and balsamic vinegar which she admits sounds unusual but "at least I am not advocating anchovies".

The book is divided into sections which focus on classics, cupcakes, cheesecakes, liquid cakes, pastry, meringues and macaroons, biscuits and cookies, fruit and veg and chocolate and there is a good mix of easier and more difficult recipes in each section.

I got this book from my local library, and it is obvious that others before me have actually cooked from it, as I fully intend to do. One of the previous borrowers even left a few post it notes marking the recipes that they found particularly of interest. Their choices included Three Milks Cake, Mam's Apple Tart, Sean's Rosemary Truffles and Individual Chocolate Lava Cakes. To that list, I would add my own choices of Chocolate Cheesecake Cupcakes and Red Velvet Swirl Cupcakes (for which I have included both the recipe and the video of Marian Keyes making them) below. I left the post it notes in the book for the next library patron to discover too. I wonder how long they will last in there until someone takes them out.

I wouldn't have necessarily said that I was more interested in sweet themed cookbooks than savoury, but when I buy this, and I will be buying it, it will be the third such cookbook this year (I have talked about the other two here and here). They are all different in tone and content but I can see myself cooking from them all quite regularly going forward.

Red Velvet Cupcake Swirls

For the red velvet layer 

110g butter
170g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
40g cocoa powder
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon red food colouring
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
2 eggs
160g self raising flour

For the cream cheese layer 

200g cream cheese
1 egg
40g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


Line a 12 hole cupcake tray with paper cases and pre-heat your oven to 170°C/325°F/gas 3. 

First, make the cream cheese layer by beating the cream cheese with the egg, sugar and vanilla extract. Keep it standing by. 

Make the red velvet mix by melting the butter. Put into a bowl with the sugar and beat well. Next - in this exact order! Something to do with chemical jiggery-pokery that I can't explain, but must be observed - add the vanilla extract, the cocoa powder, the salt, the food colouring and the vinegar, beating between each addition.

IN a separate bowl, beat your eggs in a separate bowl and then add to the butter/cocoa mix. Sieve in the flour and fold through. 

Divide most of the mix among the paper cases, reserving perhaps a fifth, then dollop a lump of cream cheese mix onto each paper case on top of the red velvet mix. Then divide the remaining red velvet mix into the paper cases, on top of the cream cheese mix. 

Now, swirl. You can use a cocktail stick, but I used a bamboo skewer - something with a bit of length is nice because you can get right down into the red velvet mix and dredge up its murky depths - and twirl until the red and white mixes are beautifully striped. this is an extremely enjoyable exercise, so enjoyable that I never want to stop, but I must because if I don't, the two mixes will become one and the whole thing will be pointless.

Bake for 17 to 20 minutes. Cool fully on a wire rack.

You can watch Marian make these delicious sounding cupcakes in the video below:

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.  


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