Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Library Loot: November 28 to December 4

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!
OH my goodness! How on earth can we be talking about the December loot already! I am not ready for it to be the end of the year yet. Thank goodness I have some new loot so that I can continue to pretend I have plenty of time left!

Here's what I got:

A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare - The next book in the Spindle Cove series by Tess Dare

Aussie Rules by Jill Shalvis - My journey through Jill Shalvis' backlist continues. I am a little bit worried about this one becasue it does feature an Aussie character. The Aussieness could be fantastically portrayed... or it might not be!

Speak Now by Taylor Swift - I decided to get Taylor Swift's new album, Red, but then I realised I hadn't actually listened to her last album despite the fact that I listen to her first album quite often! I am in the queue for Red but this one was just sitting there waiting for me!

Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister - I have read and enjoyed by The School of Essential Ingredients and the Lost Art of Mixing so now I have to read Joy for Beginners, even though I had to get the book via interlibrary loan.

No Place Like Home by Barbara Samuels - I recently read a book by this author that was released under the name Barbara O'Neal. I was talking about it on Twitter and Aussie author Kelly Hunter recommended this book, so I requested this one via interlibrary loan too.

A Winter's Tale by Trisha Ashley - Someone reviewed a later book in this series recently, and it sounded like a fun read so I requested the first book in the series.

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

Monday, November 26, 2012

Fables, Vol 6: Homelands by Bill Willingham

Like a lot of the Fables collections, this graphic novel has multiple storylines going on. One of those storylines continues the narrative thread from the earlier novels - mainly that of the conflict between the Fables who live in our world and those that still live in the Homelands. In this instalment, we find out more than we have previously seen of what it is like for those left behind in the Homelands than we have in previous episodes, including the big reveal of who exactly is the Adversary.

The first part of the collection though is more of a jumping off point for the Jack of Fables spinoff series and features Jack (of the beanstalk fame, also of be nimble and many other adventures). He has a big plan of how to make his mark. He has managed to acquire some funds - best not to ask how - and heads off to Hollywood to start his own movie studios. His plan is to make the biggest selling fantasy movie trilogy ever. Jack being Jack, the stories to be told are, of course, his own. All goes swimmingly until the Fables powers that be catch up with him.

Whilst I didn't mind Jack's story, it really was the second part of the novel that really shone for me, and it may even be my favourite section of the Fables books I have read so far. In this group of episodes, we follow Little Boy Blue deep into the Homeland. His mission is to get close enough to the Adversary to assasinate him and maybe he might be able to find his true love, Red Riding Hood, while he is at it. At his disposal he has a whole arsenal of weapons all concealed in his blue cloke. Will his weapons and skill be enough to match against several different worlds of Fables characters who will do anything they can to stop him - particularly as he gets closer and closer to the Adversary.

I loved the humour in this whole section; the trolls talking about their human girlfriends serving up chicken and saying it tastes like snake, the birds having a conversation about how the female birds always fall for the crows - the bad boys of the bird world, the fights against the three horseman, and so much more! I was reading this part on the train and I am sure I spent the whole train ride smiling broadly as we got further and further into the adventure.

While it was no big surprise to me as to who the identity of the Adversary was (I had picked it a couple of books back as I think most readers would have) I did like the other twists that the story took as part of the big reveal.

The other thing that happened in this collection is that we were introduced to a new characters who I am sure will play a big role in future episodes, and that is Mowgli from the Jungle Book. I also really liked the hint that there are plenty of other fables characters and worlds to be explored with African, Asian, Indian themes. I wonder if they would ever do one featuring Australian fairy tales or Dreamtime tales, although it might be difficult to do so whilst still maintaining the necessary respect for indigenous Australians.

One other thing I would say about this volume - I really missed Bigby! Hopefully he isn't gone for too long.

I don't know if I have mentioned this or not whenever I have posted about the Fables series, but my library doesn't actually own any of these. If I want to read the series, then I have to request it via interlibrary loan from whichever libraries in the state have a copy and then wait for it turn up at my library. I am lucky in several ways. The first is that this service is still free, and that so far there is always at least one library that has had a copy of the next instalment - long may that continue!

The other thing about interlibrary loans is that once I do get the book, the borrowing period can't be extended, so between the transit times and the restricted borrowing times I am reading one Fables book every six to eight weeks or so. It feels like a pretty even and good pace to be reading them at. Expect the next review in six to eight weeks.

Rating 4.5/5


Over the Hills and Far Away

Have beaten back the Adversary's first advance into their world, the residents of Fabletown must now prepare themselves for the full-scale ware that is such to follow. For one particular Fable, this means skipping town to launch a new career as a venal Hollywood mogul - a path he hopes will be paved with gold and immortality. For another Fable, though, it means a journey down a much more dangerous road - one that winds thorugh the Fables' old Homelands into the very heart of enemy territory, where the mystery of the Adversary's identity will finally be revealed.
Other artists include Mark Buckingham, David Hahn and Steve Leialoha

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Library Loot: November 21 to 27

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 big library haul this week! I can't seem to stop myself requesting things despite the fact that I was very controlled for a while there! Here's my loot for this week:

 Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear - The next Maisie Dobbs book in the series.

This is How by M J Hyland - This was our bookclub book for last month but I didn't get around to reading it so I have reborrowed it from my library. After the discussion I am not sure whether I will actually read it or not.

Madam Will You Talk by Mary Stewart - There are a group of us over at Goodreads who are doing a readalong of this book in January.

Sydney Harbour Hospital: Lily's Scandal by Marion Lennox - I read Fiona Lowe's entry in the Sydney Harbour Hospital series a couple of weeks ago so figure I might as well start at the beginning now.

Poppy Comes Home by Gabriel Wang - the fourth and final episode of Poppy's story in the Our Australian Girl series.

The Twelve by Justin Cronin - Feels like we have been waiting for this follow up book to The Passage forever!

The Cook by Wayne Macauley - Heard a lot of good things about this book.

Claire has Mr Linky this week so head on over to share your loot!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Spotlight on Escape Publishing

Today, I am excited to welcome Kate Cuthbert here to visit with us all in her capacity as Editor of Escape Publishing, a newly launched digital imprint of Harlequin.  I am excited about the prospect of seeing what is published on this imprint, especially seeing there is a strong focus on Australian authors!

Welcome Kate!

Kate Cuthbert
Hi Everyone! I'm so happy to be here. Thanks for your interest in Escape Publishing. We've been working behind the scenes for ages now, so we're super excited to get to put it out into the world and set it free!

Marg knows that I've been talking up our launch books for the last week, so she decided to go in a slightly different direction and asked me to talk about our launch authors, which is a fabulous idea because they're all such fabulous people. I'll let you know a little bit about each of their books, but probably the most important thing for you is that they are all on sale right now for a very limited time to celebrate the launch. You can get Chaos Born, Christmas Wishes, Grease Monkey Jive, and In Safe Hands for $0.99 each, and Chains of Revenge, our erotic fantasy novella for free! So if you're interested in seeing what we've got, then now's the time to take advantage! Hop on our website for all the details.

On to introductions!

Ainslie Paton is not at all used to being on this side of the camera – she works in a corporate setting in marketing, public relations and advertising. If you're wondering if she knows the dance scene first hand, the answer is yes, though she only dances for herself now. Ainslie lives in Sydney, and her launch title Grease Monkey Jive is her debut novel. I loved it because I love big stories with ensemble casts and relationships outside the main love interest and lovely, long, building relationships. Plus ballroom dancing. And a hot surfer hero. Really – what's not to love? You can learn more about Ainslie on her website:

Keziah Hill used to work in the criminal justice system (though I imagine she never had 'justice' quite like it pans out in her launch novella Chains of Revenge!). Needing a tree change, she decamped to the Blue Mountains north of Sydney to focus on writing. As well as steamy erotic romance, Keziah also writes romantic suspense and takes care of her garden. Chains of Revenge is an erotic fantasy novella, and I loved it because even though the hero and heroine were always at odds power-wise, their relationship and their feelings for each other also meant they were always on even footing. Also, it was hot. You can find out more about Keziah here:

Lee Christine revealed to us during the launch celebrations that her first stories were actually songs – when she was a teenager, she dreamed of being a singer/songwriter. Which naturally prompted us all to plan a karaoke outing quick smart. Lee lives in Newcastle with her husband, and has two grown children. She's worked in a number of settings including law and software training. In Safe Hands is her first novel and did very well on the contest circuit before I snapped it up for Escape because it's smart, it's savvy, it's suspenseful, it's sophisticated, and it scared the pants off me. You can find out more about Lee on her website here:

Rebekah Turner works as a graphic designer and admits to an addiction to stationary (which, honestly, is a vice I share). She lives in Brisbane with her husband, two kids, and a dog that you can see pictures of if you follow her on Twitter, which you should. She also loves 80s action movies. She calls them trashy. I substitute 'awesome'. Chaos Born is Rebekah's debut novel and I couldn't accept this manuscript fast enough. The world-building is incredible, complex, deep, dark, sinister, yet familiar. Her heroine, Lora, limps but in a total bad-ass way. And, while there's technically a love triangle, I'm currently recruiting everyone I know to Team Roman. Rebekah's website is here:

Rhian Cahill will already be familiar to readers who like things a little hotter – she's multi-published in erotic romance, and chose Escape Publishing when she wanted to take her writing in a different direction. Rhian lives in Sydney with her husband and those of her four children who have decided not to leave home yet. When she approached me with her idea for a holiday-themed novella that would still carry her trademark heat level but move away from explicit erotic romance, I made her send it to me the next day. Christmas Wishes is still steamy, but it's incredibly sweet, with a light-hearted touch and a sigh-worthy ending. Best of all? The sequel, New Year's Kisses is available from Escape in December. You can learn more about Rhian on her website: Cool Rhian fact: she also has her own app, which can be downloaded via iTunes or Google Play for info, new releases, and contests.

So now you know a little bit more about each of our launch authors – and Escape Publishing! Thanks for having me to visit.

The Escape Publishing team with the authors at the launch in Sydney last week.

Thanks for visiting Kate! I am read Rhian's story yesterday and I am especially happy to hear the news that there will be a follow up coming next month!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Salon: 2012 Virtual Advent Tour sign ups are open!

Merry Christmas!

There are a few ways that I know that Christmas is on it's way. First, I start having those 'for Christmas can I have ....' conversations with the boy (actually those start pretty much straight after his birthday in September), the decorations go up in the shops and it is time to start preparing for the Virtual Advent tour for this year!

A couple of days ago, Kelly  from The Written World and I announced that the sign ups for 2012 Virtual Advent Tour are open! This is going to be the seventh year that Kelly and I have co-hosted the tour where we invite people to share their holiday memories, recipes, traditions etc with us all, even for those of you who don't celebrate Christmas (we would love to hear what you do for the holidays). We have a separate blog for sign ups, buttons, and the daily posts talking about where the stops will be! We hope that lots of you decide to sign up and join in on the fun this year. If you would like to have a look at some of the posts in previous years, you will be able to find some links here I can't wait to once again visit all the participants and see what everyone comes up with to share with us all!

You can also follow us on Twitter @VirtualAdvent

This year I am not sure if I will be having a specific date for people to visit my blog, but I will again be posting quotes from books I have read most days, both here and at the Advent Tour blog and a couple of the quotes might find their way over to Historical Tapestry as well.  I have been preparing for this since January when I started collecting quotes about Christmas in particular. As soon as I saw a mention, I looked at it as a possible blog post. It is kind of surprising how few mentions there really are, but I think I have nearly enough.

Last year I read quite a few Christmas themed romances and that is true again this year. I would have said that was kind of out of the ordinary for me but given that is has happened two years in a row, and I still have a couple left to read as well, maybe this is my new normal! Who knows!

To be honest, I am not the biggest fan of Christmas and I am more than a little apprehensive about it this year given that I am planning to head back to Adelaide to have Christmas there for the first time in more than 10 years. The boy will get to spend some time with his dad and half siblings which he hasn't been able to do before, so I am sure that it is time, and it is the right thing to do, but that doesn't stop me from dreading it just a little bit.

 I watch other people talk about the fantastic time they have had since their childhood and their family traditions. It really wasn't the case for me, especially from the age of about 10 on when we moved away from my father's side of the family. My sister and I have worked at trying to make it a more special time, especially for the kids, but it does feel like an effort! The Advent Tour has become a huge part of my build up to Christmas each year, helping to get me just a little bit excited about the holidays, and I love reading about everyone's traditions, favourite food, music and films!

I hope that you enjoy all the posts that I put up starting from December 1. We will get to then end of the Virtual Advent tour and then I will be beginning to save quotes again ready for next year! 

Currently Reading

The Fitzosbornes in Exile by Michelle Cooper

Reading Next

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and maybe something else.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister

Earlier this year I read and thoroughly enjoyed  my first book by Erica Bauermeister - The School of Essential Ingredients (you can see my review here). This book, which is due to be published early in 2013, sees the return of some of the same characters from School plus the introduction of a few new characters.

I should warn that there are a couple of the relationships that will be mentioned in this review will be spoilers for School. Sorry about that! Can't be helped if I a to talk about this book at all!

Where School focused on the individual recipes that the characters were being taught which helped to reveal their stories and teach a few life lessons as well. This time around, the cooking lessons aren't as present even though there are still plenty of foodie moments to savour.

The main parts of the story focus on Lilian, the chef who owns the restaurant where all our characters met, her employees Chloe and Finnegan, her accountant Al and his wife Louise, and Isabelle who is an older woman who appears to be losing her faculties and who shares her house with the much younger Chloe.

For me, the strongest aspects of this book were the stories relating to Chloe and Finnegan, Lilian, and Isabelle and her family. When I think about it now, with the exception of Finnegan, they are all the characters that we had already met. In the previous book, Chloe had come out of a bad relationship experience, and that has left her somewhat skittish about boys, or I guess I should say men. Finnegan is the kind of man that you would think it would be difficult to miss given that he is six foot seven tall, but he tends to blend into the background leaving him free to observe the behaviour of those around him. It is only after Finnegan gives her a blue exercise book to write whatever thoughts she wants to write down that Chloe really notices him but she is nowhere near ready to fully trust another man.

Isabelle is fighting a battle on a couple of fronts. She is losing her faculties and she knows it. With Chloe's help she is able to put strategies in place to help her cope on a daily basis but everyone is aware that it is only a matter of time before these coping mechanisms will be insufficient. Her children all live away from her, but her daughter in particular is determined that her mother needs to move out of her house and into care right away. I thought the way that Bauermeister addressed this issue was very touching. Yes, Isabelle's daughter has her mother's best interests at heart, or at least what she thinks the best interests are, but it is a fine line between doing the right thing and trampling on what little dignity Isabelle knows she has. There was a scene with Isabelle's grandson that was so lovely - a small moment in a few pages but so strong emotionally, especially when his mum realised the effect of her actions as a result of the interactions with her own son.

I haven't said a lot about Lilian yet. In School, we met Lilian and got her history, really she was the facilitating character. Not a lot happened for her personally but rather we got her observations of the lives of the other characters. The same cannot be said in this book. Here she is fully part of the story and she has her own section of the plot to navigate. Lilian has now been seeing Tom, the widower from the first book, for some time, but it is something of a surprise to her when their relationship takes an unexpected turn. The biggest issue for the two is whether Tom is over the death of his wife (which was the key factor in why he signed up for cooking lessons in the first place). To be honest, as a reader, I am not sure that I believed that he was totally ready to move on either, or maybe you are never really ready after an experience like that. Rather you just need to make the decision to get on with your life in whatever form that takes.

If I had to pick my favourite part of this book, it was Finnegan and his blue books. Whilst there was a misunderstanding with Chloe that could have been easily resolved with some basic communication, I loved the idea that Finnegan was collecting the stories of the people that he has met, the people who often don't have people left to share their stories with.

Given that I have touched on the things I did like, I guess I should mention what didn't work for me as well, namely the stories of Al and his wife Louise. I just didn't feel as though I connected with either their emotions and their actions, some of which were more than a little odd. I did get that Louise felt invisible in her relationship, and could relate to that feeling, I didn't get the reactions. And the way we were introduced to Al was just a little strange!

Bauermeister is one of those authors whose writing just draws you in so that you are smelling the same scents as the characters, you are savouring the taste of the food with them and when you connect, you are with them as they ride their own emotional roller coasters. 

If you read School of Essential Ingredients (which was also published under the title Monday Night Cooking School in some countries) then you will be glad to revisit these characters. I would suggest that it is best to read School before picking this book up, but then again I have never made any secret of the fact that I strongly believe in reading connected books in order!

Rating 4/5

Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of the book via Netgalley

Tour Details


National bestselling author Erica Bauermeister returns to the enchanting world of The School of Essential Ingredients in this luminous sequel.

Lillian and her restaurant have a way of drawing people together. There’s Al, the accountant who finds meaning in numbers and ritual; Chloe, a budding chef who hasn’t learned to trust after heartbreak; Finnegan, quiet and steady as a tree, who can disappear into the background despite his massive height; Louise, Al’s wife, whose anger simmers just below the boiling point; and Isabelle, whose memories are slowly slipping from her grasp. And there’s Lillian herself, whose life has taken a turn she didn’t expect. . . .

Their lives collide and mix with those around them, sometimes joining in effortless connections, at other times sifting together and separating again, creating a family that is chosen, not given. A beautifully imagined novel about the ties that bind—and links that break—The Lost Art of Mixing is a captivating meditation on the power of love, food, and companionship.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Library Loot: 14 to 20 November

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 no loot week last week (and hence no Library Loot post) I am back with a fair haul. The scary thing is that I have even more books waiting to be picked up. I had been very controlled about what I was putting a request on but that seems to have gone by the wayside this week! Oh well....

Add your link to Mr Linky to share your Library Loot post:

Here's what I got last week:

One Was a Soldier by Julia Spencer-Fleming - The next book in the Rev Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series. I really enjoy this series and while I am looking forward to reading it, I also am conscious that I am getting to the point where I am all caught up.

A Half Forgotten Song by Katherine Webb - I had no idea that Katherine Webb had a new book out until just a couple of weeks ago.

Blue Monday by Nicci French - I got given the second book in this series as a review book but I really don't like reading out of order, so I am going to read this one first.

Miracle and Other christmas Stories by Connie Willis - I heard about this book last year but didn't get to it. This year I will!

Both Sides of the Gun by Ben Harper - On the weekend I went to see Ben Harper do an acoustic concert and it was amazing! Before going though, I really wanted to brush up on some more of his music. The only problem was that I forgot to unlock the CD case and so I couldn't end up listening to it! Didn't matter in the end but after going to the concert I think I am going to reborrow this so that I can actually listen to it this time! One of the songs that he played was Morning Yearning, which he said was a difficult song for him to sing, and one that he doesn't sing often, because the video was directed by his friend, the late Heath Ledger

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sunday Salon: October Reading Reflections

When I look at my October reads I am struck by a few things. the first is that I read quite a few books! Part of the reason for that is that I had one weekend where I did nothing but read all weekend which was great, although the house showed the ill effects of such indulgence. The other thing that was odd is that I reread 4 books in October, which is very strange behaviour for me as I don't normally do a lot of rereading.

The first book I reread was The Boat, which was for bookclub. The others were the first three Virgin River books. I have talked before about how that series makes me do things I don't normally do, and now I can add rereading to the list! I have actually gone onto reread another 5 of the books in the series in November. The strange thing is that the first time I read the Virgin River series I read something like 11 books in a month (not something I would normally do) and that was almost years ago exactly. I am wondering if there is something going on mentally with me that causes this kind of reading to be necessary every couple of years.

Here are the books I read during October along with the links to reviews if I have written them.

The Boat by Nam Le 4/5
Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos 4/5
Cracking the Dating Code by Kelly Hunter 3.5/5
Inside Out by Lauren Dane 4/5
Playing to Win by Jaci Burton 4/5
Omamori by Richard McGill 4.5/5
Fables 5: The Mean Seasons by Bill Willingham 4/5
Saved by Cake by Marian Keyes 4/5
Flirting with Intent by Kelly Hunter 4/5
A Moment on the Lips by Kate Hardy 4/5
My Kind of Christmas by Robyn Carr 4 /5
Lola's Secret by Monica McInerney 3.5/5
The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis 4/5
The House on Olive Street by Robyn Carr 3/5
Bared to You by Sylvia Day 4/5
Tigers and Devils by Sean Kennedy 4.5/5
Caressed by Ice by Nalini Singh 4/5
The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall 3.5/5
Reflected in You by Sylvia Day 3.5/5
I Shall Not Want by Julia Spencer-Fleming 4.5/5
Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren 3/5
Lean on Me by HelenKay Dimon 3.5/5
All He Ever Desired by Shannon Stacey 4/5
Virgin River by Robyn Carr 4.5/5
Shelter Mountain by Robyn Carr 4.5/5
Whispering Rock by Robyn Carr 4/5
The Garden Intrigue by Lauren Willig 4/5

For reading challenges I made a little progress:

Australian Women Writers Challenge: Cracking the Dating Code and Flirting with Intent by Kelly Hunter, Lola's Secret by Monica McInerney, Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren

Aussie Author challenge: As above but also adding in the The Boat by Nam Le and Tigers and Devils by Sean Kennedy

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge: Omamori by Richard McGill, The Garden Intrigue by Lauren Willig and Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

RIP VII: Fables 5 by Bill Willingham, I Shall Not Want by Julia Spencer-Fleming, Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren

What's in a Name: The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. I only have one category left in this challenge which is Creepy Crawly and I have NO idea what I am going to read for that!

Currently Reading

Poppy and the Thief by GabrielleWang, This is How by M J Hyland and listening to A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon (disc 24 of 49)

Up Next

How to Bake a Perfect Life by Barbara O'Neal

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Chocolate and Friends

I have been on something of a contemporary romance binge over the last couple of weekends, and to be honest when I started this book I thought I was getting more of the same but instead of a small town America setting it was set in Paris. Turns out that even though my library has this book catalogued as fiction it is actually a memoir. In it the author talks about living in Paris (and not really loving the experience) and meeting the man who eventually became her husband. Along the way there are struggles with bureaucracy in France and then again in America, cultural differences, and more. All in all, it is a fun memoir, particularly when it comes to the multiple weddings, and the families and the food!

When I read this section, there was one section in particular that caught my attention but the whole section had some elements that fit the theme so I have kept the whole section, even though that makes it quite a long quote. The quote comes from pages 37-41:

"So," Adela said when I got home from work that day. I had followed the dancing promise of the Eiffel Tower down to the Metro, into whose depths I had descended for a packed and smelly ride home with some man standing behind me singing odes to my butt. "It's a good thing you know this cute guy."

"What?" We were sitting on the cheap, burnt orange blanket that covered my bed. Some students bought decent comforters to replace the dorm's linens, but I was thrifty. I only believed in the most essential of expenses, like chocolates from the various luxury chocolate houses whose beautiful boxes and tins currently decorated the two long shelves that circled the tiny room. My pink Fauchon one was still there, although Adela gave it a dirty look. My orange teddy bear sat at one end of the bed and studied us. He was French, brought back from a trip for me when I was toddler, and very Gallic - that is, obsessed with food, feisty, and argumentative - probably because he had grown up in America surrounded by my stereotypes. Programs and theaters flyers littered the long board of a desk, amid stacks of books. I was studying the prelims I would have to take soon after I got back to the States in order to continue my Ph.D. studies. There were some four hundred works of French literature to memorize, along with the principal theoretical analyses of the same, so I'd been reading nothing but French classics for a couple of years now in preparation. I wanted to do my dissertation on the cultural renaissance in French-speaking, tropical, smiling Tahiti, but my department wouldn't let me do that until I'd survived the capital of France and passed my prelims. Above my bed was an enormous map of seventeenth-century Paris, torn in one corner thanks to that yellow tacky stuff that's supposed to hold things up. Cheap white toile veiled a window looking down at the picnic tables in the dorm's courtyard, a major center of gossip.

Adela peered through it. "You're so lucky," she sighed enviously, not for the first time. "I can barely even see the courtyard from my window. Now look at that! Why didn't you tell me that Marina and Jack were sitting at the same table?" She turned back from the window and opened my mini-refrigerator to discover the narrow, long mint-green box of eight small macarons I had just brought back from Laduree that afternoon. I sighed. That girl sure could sniff things out. She took a bite of a chocolate one, which made me feel as if her teeth were sinking directly into my heart, and switched back to her original subject. "Because we're going to need a cute guy around here."

"What?" I decided she must be talking about some other guy, one who wasn't tall, dark, and gorgeous and who might even recognize me if he saw me again. I knew a few cute guys, honest. I mean, ones that knew me back and with whom I'd actually exchanged names.

"You know that blond witch, Candy?" Adela was stuffing my macarons down her throat at an alarming speed, favoring the chocolate and pistachio flavors. I grabbed one for myself. There are two kinds of friends: those who admit their addiction to chocolate openly and therefore buy chocolate from time to time themselves, and those who claim others are chocoholics while eating all of the other's stash. Adela was the latter. And if you tried to hoard your chocolates under your bed because you knew she might pop in, she found some totally logical excuse to look under your bed and then went and told everyone in the dorm you were selfish and didn't share. I don't know how she managed this. One minute she'd be sitting on my bed chatting to me about the most recent fight with her professors, and the next she'd be under the bed hauling things out, and I'd be the one smiling weakly and feeling guilty. "She smiled when she passed me in the hall."

"Damn her," I said. "I hate it when people smile at me." Maybe that was why people ducked in terror when I smiled at them in the street. It was a deadly insult in Europe.

"And you know why," Adela said bitterly.

"Because she's a witch," I remembered. Candy, with her perfectly straight blond hair and blue eyes, lived in the same hall as Adela and had featured in her conversations before. "And she sleeps around. So she smiles at people. It's really nasty of her."

"Because he told her!" She gripped a macaron in a hot little fist, unnerving me. It was bad enough she was eating them; she'd better not start crushing them to crumbs.

"He did? When?" Who was he? What did he tell her about? Did I dare reveal my ignorance.

"Probably right after it happened!" Poison was clearly eating at her wounds. "He kissed me and then ran to brag about it to all the girls in the hall to say how easy I am! And what a player he is!"

I blinked a few seconds. "Adela, we aren't still talking about the guy you kissed when you both were drunk at the last party two months ago, are we?"

She stared at me. "Of course we are! How many people do you think I've kissed? I'm not like that Candy. Oh, he thinks he's so cute. To kiss me and never even call me the next day. Well, I'm not one of his girls, that he can jilt when he wants to, and he's going to learn it."

"Yeah, but - Adela. You were both drunk, and you only kissed. He might not even remember it or think anything about it." Adela stared at me with pure venom in her eyes, and I backed down. "The scumbag." Well, I still needed her to go with me to a certain restaurant occasionally.

"So what we're going to do," Adela said firmly, to keep me on track, "is this. Our next dorm party is coming up. We all have two invitations we can give out. You haven't given one of yours out yet, have you?" she checked sharply for insubordination.

"No." Pretty much everyone I knew already lived there, expect Valerie and Giulia, who wouldn't want to come.

"So you have two. I have two. And I can get more. Not everyone uses theirs, there are people in this dorm who spend their time studying." She said this on a note of incredulity. The only time Adela studied was when she wanted to get out of doing something, and then she didn't really study; she called me on the phone and told me how so-and-so's light was still on across the dorm courtyard but he wasn't answering his phone when she called him, what did I think that meant? "So what we're going to do is: I'm going to invite Eva and Pilar and all my prettiest friends."

"Check," I said, wondering where we were going with this. Was it a scheme to show the jilting heartthrob that we were all lesbians so that Adela couldn't care less about that kiss? Wow, my friends never talked me into doing this kind of stuff back home.

"And they will use the extra invitations I come up with to invite all their cutest guy friends. And there we will be, all these beautiful guys. And that will show him."

"Right," I said. The scary thing was, she explained this with such conviction that it almost made sense. It's the same way she kept up ending with my chocolates, which is not that easy to do.

"And the person who knows the cutest guy here is you."

"What? Who?"

"The guy at the restaurant!" Adela exclaimed, out of all patience. "The one you keep dragging me back to see every week!"

I cleared my throat. "I think 'know' might be considerably exaggerated in this context." I wouldn't say the waiter actually broke into a smile, but his eyes crinkled up and warmed when I walked into the restaurant, and he seemed to enjoy helping me choosing things on the menu. This brazen flirtation was as far as I'd got.

"Laura," Adela said, and my heart quailed, and I almost dove under my bed myself to haul out my Christian Constant chocolates. It was that tone of voice. "I have been patient with you, But that patience is at an end. You have been going to that restaurant for three months, and if you do not ask him out the next time we go there" - her eyebrows formed menacing, curly crags - "I will never eat with you in that restaurant again."
The author does now have some a series set in Paris feature chocolate and luuurrrvvvee. I have bought the first one so you may well see some mention of her books 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, November 09, 2012

Bared to You/Reflected in You by Sylvia Day

One of the inevitable consequences of a massively successful book or series is that it opens doors that might otherwise have been closed for other authors and books. We have seen it happen time and time again - for example with the success of The Hunger Games came a whole slew of YA dystopian novels. In this case, the book that I usually refer to as ‘the book that shall not be named’, Fifty Shades of Grey, has opened the door to mainstream publishing of erotica for books like Tiffany Reisz’s Sinner series and these two books, Bared to You and Reflected in You, that form the start of the Crossfire series. I was at a bookstore recently and there were also lots and lots of other books and authors that were shelved together.

Let’s look at the two books individually and then I will make some general observations:

Bared to You

Our journey began in fire...

Gideon Cross came into my life like lightning in the darkness—beautiful and brilliant, jagged and white-hot. I was drawn to him as I'd never been to anything or anyone in my life. I craved his touch like a drug, even knowing it would weaken me. I was flawed and damaged, and he opened those cracks in me so easily...

Gideon knew. He had demons of his own. And we would become the mirrors that reflected each other's most private wounds... and desires.

The bonds of his love transformed me, even as I prayed that the torment of our pasts didn't tear us apart..

When Eva Tramell meets Gideon Cross she is literally knocked off her feet, and then figuratively knocked off her feet at how good looking and how sexually appealing he is! Gideon is the head of Cross Industries and owner of the Crossfire building in which Eva works. It doesn’t take him long at all to find out who she is and where she works and to manipulate things so that they meet again. Gideon’s business interests are varied and he isn’t afraid to use whatever he can to manufacture meetings with Eva, no matter how coincidental she thinks they might be. Yes, it is a bit, make that a lot, stalkerish.

Eva has just moved to New York and started a new job in an advertising agency. She is keen to work hard, to be successful on her own merits and to find her place in the city. She has a disturbing and troubled past but she has done the hard work of trying to get herself into a good place mentally and now she wants to build on that to make a good life for herself.

The attraction between them both is strong and instantaneous and it isn’t long before the two are involved in mind blowing, passionate sex. Even from early on though, it is clear that the two of them are developing unhealthy tendencies. Eva is jealous, Gideon is controlling and there are times when they inadvertently say or do exactly the wrong thing to set each other off with their individual issues. While the sexual attraction between them is white hot and explosive, there is every chance that within their relationship they could well implode from one moment to the next. They are on a roller coaster road of emotions – one minute they can’t live without each other and the next they are on the brink of disaster.

Whilst Gideon is uber-successful in business and at most things he attempts, it is clear that he is just as emotionally damaged as Eva is. The difference is that as a reader we are exposed to at least some of her history. Gideon’s history is very much a closed book. We know that he has difficult family relationships but we don’t really know why. I did find myself wondering how on earth Gideon and Eva functioned physically in their jobs given that they were constantly up half the night having sex!

I think it really depends on how you react to Gideon and Eva as to whether you like this book or not. I have seen reviews which talk about the fact that the reader could not like Gideon or could not like Eva and therefore could not like the book. I was warned that Eva’s story could push my own hot button issues, but I did feel like I could relate just a little bit to the way that she had reacted to her past.

Reflected in You


Gideon Cross. As beautiful and flawless on the outside as he was damaged and tormented on the inside. He was a bright, scorching flame that singed me with the darkest of pleasures. I couldn't stay away. I didn't want to. He was my addiction... my every desire... mine.

My past was as violent as his, and I was just as broken. We’d never work. It was too hard, too painful... except when it was perfect. Those moments when the driving hunger and desperate love were the most exquisite insanity. We were bound by our need. And our passion would take us beyond our limits to the sweetest, sharpest edge of obsession...

In terms of my process of writing this post, I have written the intro and general thoughts, and then my specific thoughts on Bared to You leaving my specific thoughts on Reflected in You as the last part to be written. I have suddenly got to the point of writing about Reflected in You and realised that I could just say … more of the same. That would be an over-generalisation though because the story does move forward, but there are plenty more examples of Gideon’s controlling nature and Eva's jealousy. As an example, Eva goes to a hotel in Las Vegas and when she starts talking to another man the security staff come and escort her away making Eva realize that Gideon is controlling her even when they are apart. There are more examples of Eva running away from Gideon as soon as issues arise between them and then yet more examples of Eva being crazy jealous. To be fair though, Gideon has his own jealousy issues, as emphasized when Eva runs into an old boyfriend and things get just a little out of hand all round. The fact of the matter is that they are both as obsessed as each other which makes it a bit easier to deal with the way that both of them act.

Even though they have only been together a few weeks, Gideon and Eva end up going to see her therapist which I found kind of eye opening. I haven’t been in a relationship for years (no exaggeration) so I know that I am not the best person to judge other relationships but to me if you end up going to couples therapy within weeks it doesn’t seem like a functional, healthy relationship to me. Then again, I didn’t do couples therapy at all in the long term relationship I was in so what do I know!

We do get to see some more glimpses into Gideon’s history but it is just glimpses. There is presumably a lot of ground to be covered in the next Crossfire books when it comes to his past.

Where this book does vary from the first is that there is a point in the story, Gideon backs completely away from Eva, starts spending time with other women and Eva is totally confused about what is going on. This is especially true as there will be other times when Gideon asks her to trust him and to trust them but then he then pushes her away again. Talk about mixed messages.

My biggest issue with this book is the ending. It would be a huge spoiler to tell you why so I won’t but it left me shaking my head wondering how it could be thought to be okay. I get that what was done was done out of a desire to protect but still….. I have discussed this aspect briefly with a couple of people who have read the book but it’s not something that can be discussed openly in this kind of blog post. Even with these kinds of issues, I am on board for the next Crossfire book. I can’t imagine that it will ever get to the point where Eva and Gideon will have an even-keeled, happy, healthy and functional relationship, but I want to be reading on to see if they can at least become a little bit more normal!

*Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for my copy of this.

General Thoughts

So, some general thoughts about both books.

It is difficult not to compare these books to Fifty Shades of Grey, especially given that the cover and marketing are very much targeted in this direction as well. I guess I should issue a disclaimer at this point though. My comparison is based on having read both of Sylvia Day’s books, but I have actually only read the first Fifty Shades book and I have no intention of reading more (even if this intention has my sister calling me a book snob!) because I just didn’t like it and I didn’t think it was well written at all.

The similarities are definitely there. The main male character, Gideon Cross is a multi millionaire, successful businessman, knee jarringly good looking, very controlling with stalkerish tendencies, emotionally damaged. Sounds very similar to Christian Grey in a lot of ways.

The main female character is different to Ana though. Where Ana is all virginal innocence and naivety, Eva is very much a damaged woman and she has spent some times in her life reacting to that damage and so at times has been promiscuous and undertaken addictive behaviour. She has spent time in therapy, which is where she met her also-messed up best friend Cary who shares her apartment. Eva is the step-daughter of a wealthy business man and her mother and step father are now determined to always ensure that she is protected and so she lives in a big New York apartment and has quite a well-to- do lifestyle with expensive clothes and spa days quite normal for her. Eva is also independently wealthy but it is only as the story progresses that we find out where at least some of that wealth comes from. She does at least know to appreciate her life though as her father is more middle class and in some ways he provides a touchstone for Eva, but he doesn’t know about her past so it is only a partial touchstone.

When you put Gideon and Eva together on the page, the chemistry is explosive, but they both have significant emotional and sexual issues to work through, and this is where most of the conflict in the novels comes from.

In case you are wondering though, there are differences. Whilst Gideon is very much controlling and at one point in Reflected in You he talks about being Eva’s dominant, there is none of the BDSM-lite that features in FSOG – no red room of pain, no spanking, none of that kind of stuff.

The writing in these two books is much better than that we see in FSOG. No repetitive phraseology all the time, no inner goddess squealing in delight, or any of the other things that annoyed me. The story is tight, with strong characterization and plots that made this a much more pleasurable reading experience for the most part.

I would definitely recommend these books, and the Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz (which I must get around to reviewing soon and are more BDSM oriented) if you are wanting to give this new genre sensation a go but don’t necessarily want to go down the Fifty Shades route.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead (includes international giveaway)

The whole title of this book is A Train in Winter: A Story of Resistance, Friendship and Survival in Auschwitz. I don't read a lot of non-fiction but I knew I wanted to read this one as soon as it came out. I think part of the reason I was so interested is that I do find reading about people's experiences in big conflicts like WWI and WWII fascinating. I am aware that I could probably read non-fiction about WWII exclusively as there is a lot out there but I need a hook to catch my attention. In this case, the hook was the fact that the book was about a group of women who were active in the French Resistance and ended up being captured and then sent to the death camps like Auschwitz and Birkenau, among other places. The book follows a group of 230 women, all French political prisoners, from their activities in the Resistance to their capture and initial captivity in the French prisons and their eventual secret deportment to Auschwitz on Le Convoi des 31000, one of the only trains to contain female resistance prisoners. Of these 230 women, only 49 returned.

Broken into two parts, the first part provides the reader with background to life in France during the early days of the German invasion, the formation of the Vichy government, and then the initial resistance activity. We meet communist intellectuals who put out anti-Nazi newspapers, the couriers who deliver messages and copies of the newspapers, women who helped host people fleeing from the Nazis including other activists as well as Jewish people. While a lot of the people we meet lived and worked in Paris, there were also groups of people who were working in cities and towns in rural France. There were young women who were still in their teens, and older women with grown children, mothers with young children and so many more.

The second part focuses on their life within the camps, the constant stream of new arrivals and the daily horror that awaited them. Starved, beaten, sick, forced to stand for hours at a time in freezing condition, lice-ridden - the list of terrors go on and on. Forced to work in the infirmaries and to witness some of the medical experiments but it does also give them opportunities to try and save some lives where they can. One of the things that helps those women that do survive is their reliance on each other, their solidarity for want of a better term. It also touches on the difficulties of returning to 'normal' life, to the children who don't know the women who return, the memories, and more. One of the more telling quotes from the book comes from one of the survivors:

Looking at me, one would think that I'm alive....I'm not alive. I died in Auschwitz, but no one knows it.

The author does a good job of sharing just enough information about each woman, but there are a lot of them and there were times that there was just too many women that the reader had to try and keep track of. I am not sure if a couple of more in depth profiles of chosen people might have had just as big an emotional effect as so many smaller details. Even with this criticism, this book did pack an emotional punch. There were times that I cringed as I read about the terrible acts of inhumanity that these women were subjected to, along with millions of others who didn't fit the Nazi ideal of acceptableness, like the Jews but also other groups like gypsies, homosexuals, and so many more. I found the sections that talked about the fate of many of the young children and babies born in the camps to be particularly heartrending.

There are photos liberally spread throughout the book. Some of them included the children that the women left behind, some pictures of the camps and more. I must say one photo that did affect me was one of a group of German guards, mostly female, in the prison camps looking very happy. Given that it was strategically placed in the text in sections where they talked about how vicious some of these women guards were, it was hard to equate these happy, smiling faces with some of the sadistic punishments that were meted out.

One of the things that I found amazing about these women was that while a lot of them were politically active as individuals, there were others who took up roles in the various resistance organisations after their husbands/brothers/lovers/fathers were arrested and taken away by the Germans. They KNEW the risks they were taking, they did their best to avert those risks but they still took up the work of distributing anti-German literature, or helping people cross borders into safer areas or whatever it is that they were doing. Sometimes they were caught thanks to the work of the French police who worked with the Gestapo, other times they were just caught almost by accident. Other women were denounced by their neighbours for listening to the BBC, which was banned, and in a couple of cases there was no evidence that the women were actually involved in any way but they were still rounded up and ended up in the prison camps.

What I wasn't expecting was to find myself contemplating big questions about myself. We are lucky to live a pretty easy life in that there haven't been any major wars in Australia. I did find myself wondering if I would have the strength of conviction to be an active resister if we were invaded. Would I have the fortitude to physically survive the terrible conditions and the mental strength to come back and live my life after seeing the many terrible things that these women were subjected to and witnessed? Having contemplated it for a while, I think that the fact of the matter is that I would probably not be a resister but would be more of the keep your head down and do the best to survive kind of mentality. I most certainly would have struggled physically and mentally! Heck, I struggle now at times.

The other thing that I do find myself pondering is about how a country like France moved on from the effects of the war, particularly when you think about the collaborators, the police who followed the German orders, the judges who enforced German laws. For example, how do you look your neighbour in the eye if you suspect that they were the one who denounced you to the Germans? How long did these after effects impact on life in French society? In the final section, the author talked about the fact that the last of the collaborators were released from prison in the late 1960s, which isn't long before I was born. Is the past fully in the past  and if so how long did it colour daily life for the country as a whole?

I did think that the author drew some interesting conclusions. When looking at the women who survived there was an inference that it was only a certain age of woman who was likely to survive, and that they were most likely to be those with certain beliefs who were strong enough to stand the experiences that they were being subjected to. I am not quite sure why this was the conclusion that was reach, whether it was an agenda at the beginning of the process or if it was a more organic conclusion.

This is a very interesting book about a very important subject. After the war, there were only comparatively few women who were individually recognised for their bravery and their work in the resistance. This book attempts to redress that in some small way. It isn't a book that you can just get lost in or reading in a single sitting. The subject matter is confronting and distressing, and as you can see had me contemplating some pretty big questions in my own mind. I am glad that I took the opportunity to read this book as part of the tour.

Tour details

You can check out what other participants on the tour thought. The tour schedule can be found here.

Giveaway details

Thanks to TLC Booktours and the publisher I have one copy of A Train in Winter to give away, and the contest is open internationally! The giveaway will close on 18 November 2012.

To enter please complete the form by clicking on the link below


They were teachers, students, chemists, writers, and housewives; a singer at the Paris Opera, a midwife, a dental surgeon. They distributed anti-Nazi leaflets, printed subversive newspapers, hid resisters, secreted Jews to safety, transported weapons, and conveyed clandestine messages. The youngest was a schoolgirl of fifteen who scrawled "V" for victory on the walls of her lycée; the eldest, a farmer's wife in her sixties who harbored escaped Allied airmen. Strangers to each other, hailing from villages and cities from across France, these brave women were united in hatred and defiance of their Nazi occupiers.

Eventually, the Gestapo hunted down 230 of these women and imprisoned them in a fort outside Paris. Separated from home and loved ones, these disparate individuals turned to one another, their common experience conquering divisions of age, education, profession, and class, as they found solace and strength in their deep affection and camaraderie.

In January 1943, they were sent to their final destination: Auschwitz. Only forty-nine would return to France.

A Train in Winter draws on interviews with these women and their families; German, French, and Polish archives; and documents held by World War II resistance organizations to uncover a dark chapter of history that offers an inspiring portrait of ordinary people, of bravery and survival—and of the remarkable, enduring power of female friendship.


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