Saturday, March 31, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Earthly Delights by Kerry Greenwood

As a longtime reader of Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series set in 1920s Melbourne, I knew that I would eventually get to her other series. The Corinna Chapman books are set in contemporary Melbourne and features baker Corinna who finds herself investigating, in a purely amateur capacity, a series of mysteries that involve her and her friends.

Corinna is an interesting character. She is a proud larger lady who has been single for a couple of years after divorcing her slimy ex husband James. At the same time she gave up her corporate life as an accountant and started her own small bakery (called Earthly Delights) located in the centre of the city, and conveniently her apartment is just upstairs!

Along with Corinna and her bakery, the building is filled with interesting side characters - there is Madame Dread who owns a specialist leather shop (yes, the kind you are thinking), Meroe who is a witch and sells lots of herbs, spells, potions etc, the three Lone Gunmen - techie geeks who rarely ever see daylight, Kylie and Goss two practically anorexic women who work in Corinna's shop and live in an upstairs apartment and more.

Everyday Corinna starts the day at 4am, ready to start baking all the bread and muffins that she needs to fulfil her contracts and then open up the shop for all the city workers who grab breakfast on the way past each day. She wakes up one morning to find a girl who has overdosed lying on her ventilation grate. After performing CPR and calling the authorities, Corinna goes back to her normal day never guessing that she has been drawn into a spate of overdoses - someone is killing the drug addicts of Melbourne.

Things take a turn for the worse though when Corinna and the other ladies of the apartment block start receiving threatening letters and graffiti and vandalism targeting the women is also left in and around the building. Add in the search for a missing teenage girl and it is busy, busy, busy. The big question though is are these events connected? And what does the contemporary vampire culture that seems to be thriving in Melbourne have to do with everything?

One good thing for Corinna that does happen as a result of all of these events is that she meets Daniel  - man of mystery, intensely private but gorgeous and seemingly attracted to Corinna, much to her surprise (and gratitude, if that is the right word).  He is the heavy on the local soup run and therefore has more than passing acquaintances with many of the people who are now threatened by the risk of dying at the end of a needle. She also meets Jason. He is a young homeless boy who she initially helps out by doing a little work for her but he soon shows a remarkable talent for muffin making.

I would love to work near a bakery like Earthly Delights nearby. I was salivating as I read the book. I would be most likely to gravitate towards Jason's muffins rather than some of the breads but that is okay. Food has a strong role to play in the book, whether it be the baked goods or the various dinners that are picked up from the Greek family restaurant nearby or the local Japanese shop, or the herb omelets that Corinna sometimes whips up.

I don't think that you can really read this book without knowing where Corinna (and the author) stand on a lot of political and social issues. There is a strong sense of being aware of social justice issues and the fate of the homeless in the pages. I suspect that Kerry Greenwood would be very interesting to chat to because even her short author bio makes it clear that she leads an interesting life juggling between writing, being a legal advocate and also being the partner of a legally registered wizard. This book is littered with references to music and literature but it was all done in such a way as to not make the reader feel uneducated if they didn't get all the references. She is also clearly a cat lover, as the references to the three cats that Corinna owns are numerous - I might not be quite so keen to talk about that particular topic with her! I suspect though that I might be a bit too boring to keep her attention for very long.

Some of the repetition of daily routine got a bit monotonous but I get why it was there as it served to further draw Corinna as a character, but for a first book in the series I am sufficiently invested to want to read more. I am looking forward to reading more about all of the characters who live at Insula, the apartment block that features in the book. Oh, and if anyone knows where I can get a Daniel, just leave a comment!

Baking is an alchemical process for Corinna Chapman. At four am she starts work at Earthly Delights, her bakery in Calico Alley.

but one morning Corinna receives a threatening not say "The wages of sin is death" and finds a syringe in her cat's paw. A blue-faced junky has collapsed in the dark alley and a mysterious man with beautiful eyes appears with a plan for Corinna and her bread. Then it is Goths, dead drug addicts, witchcraft, a homeless boy and a missing girl and it seems she will never get those muffins cooked in time.

With flair, chutzpah and a talent for kneading, Corinna Chapman will find out who exactly is threatening her life and bake some beautiful bread.
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.

In addition, this book also counts for the Aussie Author challenge and Australian Women Authors Challenge.

P.S. Apologies to those of you who saw this in your feeds on Thursday. Apparently pre scheduling when you are barely awake isn't a good thing, especially if you apparently have no clue what the date is on either Thursday or Saturday!

P.P.S I just picked up the next book in this series from the library and had a quick look at the recipes in the back and there is an awesome sounding recipe that I might just have to try before I review the next book!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

2012 Miles Franklin longlist

Yesterday the longlist for the 2012 Miles Franklin award was announced.

The Miles Franklin is the most prestigious literary award. Of the list, I have read two, which isn't many but it is better than I have been in the last few years. One of the books, All That I Am, I liked but didn't love and the other, Foals Bread was a struggle for me. Click on the links to read my thoughts.

Blood by Tony Birch
Spirit of Progress by Steven Carroll
Spirit House by Mark Dapin
The Precipice by Virginia Duigan
All That I Am by Anna Funder,
Sarah Thornhill by Kate Grenville
Five Bells by Gail Jones
Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears
Autumn Laing by Alex Miller
Cold Light by Frank Moorhouse
Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett
The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman
Animal People by Charlotte Wood

I have every intention of reading Sarah Thornhill, Past the Shallows and The Street Sweeper in due course. Maybe I will try to read the shortlist... or maybe not!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Library Loot: March 28 to April 3

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

I know that I am not the only person whose library holds all come in at once, but this week it was my turn to return from the library laden down with books. And I already know that there are four books waiting to be picked up, three of which were interlibrary loans. Oh dear! I need to spend some time just reading I think!

Here's the loot I picked up this week:

The Year After by Martin Davies - Cat from Tell Me a Story was talking about this book a few weeks ago and it sounded really good! Set in 1919, it looks back on the events of World War I, so it will be perfect for the War Through the Generations challenge.

Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik - Yay! New Novik. Let's hope it is better than the last one which was a bit of a disappoint.

Rainshadow Road by Lisa Kleypas - Yay! New Kleypas. We made it through a whole year without a new novel from her!

The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller - Another book that will qualify for the War Through the Generations challenge.

The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons - I have borrowed this a couple of times since it was released. I  was reminded to request it again when Carrie from Books and Movies announced a readalong.

Slow Heat by Jill Shalvis - The next Jill Shalvis book in my trek through her backlist!

An Enchanted Season anthology - I have recently read the first two Psy-Changeling novels by Nalini Singh. There is a short story in this anthology which is next in order before I can get to the next book.

Claire has Mr Linky this week so head on over to share your link.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Teaser Tuesday: Earthly Delights by Kerry Greenwood

I have been reading the Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood for a number of years now, although to be honest it has been quite a while since I read the last one. I really need to get back to the series. I was aware that Greenwood had another series that she was also writing but didn't really intend to read it just yet. You see, I had a plan. Once I was all caught up with Phryne, then I would start reading the Corinna Chapman books.

My book club which is due to meet on Friday night decided that the March books would be the first one in both series - Cocaine Blues being the first Phryne Fisher book and this book, Earthly Delights, being the first in the Corinna Chapman books. I don't think I will actually be able to attend this week, but it has given me the impetus to actually read this book.

There is the same sense of fun and a Melbourne setting but other than that the books are very different. Phriny's world is 1930s Melbourne - all glamour and glitz - and she is now a professional investigator. In contrast, Corinna is a larger sized woman who is a baker and therefore starts her morning at 4am every day and is in bed by 8pm. She spends her days in her work clothes and then in her track pants rather than any glamourous costume!

So far I am liking Earthly Delights, although it did take me a few pages to get used to the tone and humour. One thing that definitely helped though was finding references to another favourite author, Terry Pratchett, in the pages.

The quote comes from page 23 to 24 and sees Corinna visiting her friend Meroe:

"Looks like fate is taking an interest in your life at last, Corinna. And about time, I might add, though the ways of fate are inscrutable. I do wish they weren't. I spend my whole life trying to make them more scrutable. with only a little success."

"Any peep into the future is bound to be a bit fraught," I sympathised, hardly at all.

"I've been looking into the crystal ball," she said soberly, all traces of a twinkle vanishing from those disconcerting black eyes. This is the second overdose in a week. None fatal so far. But there will be another. Something horrible is happening in the city."

I could have told her that. It's a city. It stands to reason that something horrible is happening in it somewhere. I sipped in silence.  She has a gift of stillness which is very attractive. If she hasn't anything to say, she doesn't say anything. She has no small talk, which for such a dedicated gossip is surprising. Like the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, she considers that a person who does not know the word on the street before it hits the street is just not trying.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Showtime by Narrelle M Harris

Showtime is the fifth of the Twelve Planets books to be released, and the third that I have far.

Don't know about the Twelve Planets series? Here's a very brief summary from the publisher's website

The Twelve Planets are twelve boutique collections by some of Australia’s finest short story writers. Varied across genre and style, each collection will offer four short stories and a unique glimpse into worlds fashioned by some of our favourite storytellers. Each author has taken the brief of 4 stories and up to 40 000 words in their own direction. Some are quartet suites of linked stories. Others are tasters of the range and style of the writer. Each release will bring something unexpected to our subscriber’s mailboxes.
Last year I read and reviewed Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Nightsiders by Sue Isle, and other authors are involved in the project include Margo Lanagan, Cat Sparks and more! The best news that has happened since last year is that the books that have previously been published are now available on ebook so people outside of Australia can get hold of them. If nothing else, I would suggest getting hold of Love and Romanpunk at the very least (mainly because that is where I started) if you are interested in trying some different Australian spec-fic authors.

Whereas the two previous Twelve Planet books I have read had a similar structure in that the four individual short stories were linked through either narrative or characters, Showtime featured four stories that were not connected at all with each other. It also doesn't feature the same types of paranormal creatures in each story. We do have a couple of vampires, but there are also ghosts and zombies found in the pages.

The first of the stories in the collection is Stalemate and I must confess that, at first, I was a little perplexed because it doesn't actually seem all that speculative in nature, but the reader does gradually get to see how this  particular story very definitely sits within the remit of a speculative fiction collection. The story is quite mundane  to begin with - a woman who has been unwell has had her mother staying with her to help look after her. The stay is getting to the point where it has been too long and the house guest is not quite as welcome as she initially was or could be and every little thing is becoming intolerable. (I totally related to this particular aspect of the story!). There was a very satisfying twist in the tale in this story.

If I had to pick an absolute favourite of the collection (you know, picking just one!) then it would be the second story, Thrall. Dragomir has been a vampire for several hundred years. He is struggling a bit now. In this modern age, the blood he ingests just isn't as pure as it once was, he keeps on getting filmed and ending up on the news and Youtube, and truth be told he is kind of short and his physical presence is not as dominating of the general population as he once was. Even ordering a cup of tea is nowhere near as simple as he would like it.

He returns to his ancestral home with a view to taking refuge away from the modern world. In order to do this, there are certain requirements that must be fulfilled and so he sends a summons to the family who have been sworn to do his bidding for centuries. They always send the strongest man so he is not best pleased when the person who answers his call is a middle aged woman called Erszebet, but beggars can't be choosers.

Zombies are the focus of the third story, The Truth About Brains, and from a pure, smiling-while-reading it perspective, this was nearly my favourite mainly because I really liked the voice of the teenage protaganist, Amy. She is supposed to keep her eye out on her younger brother Dylan, but that gets a bit wearing after a while so she sneaks off with her friends, leaving him to his fate. As a result of some misadventure, he becomes a zombie. Amy knows that her mum is going to be VERY annoyed when she finds out and so she has to try and work out how it happened, and how to fix it fast! There is also a hint of an older story in the pages, one that it would also be interesting to read.

Here are a couple of quotes from early on which give a good idea of the tone of the story. Firstly, the opening paragraph:

My little brother Dylan is dead, but that doesn't stop him from being a pest. He still follows me everywhere, and Mum still makes me take him with me when I go to the shops.

and then a couple of paragraphs later:

He's only been like this for a few days. I thought it would be cool, having a zombie for a brother, but it's not. The fact is that it stinks. Literally. And it's getting worse every day. Maybe it's okay in Europe or whereever, but Australian summers are bad news. Nothing's fallen off him yet, but it's only a matter of time. I hate to think what's going to happen when school starts again in February. I don't think Mr Browning is going to let Dylan on the school footy team this year.
The final story, and the one that gives the collection its title Showtime, is connected to Narrelle's previous novel called The Opposite of Life which features a less-than-enthusiastic vampire, Gary and his human friend, Lissa, who is a librarian in her day job. I haven't read The Opposite of Life and, given the choice, I would not normally read a series out of order, but sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. I do now have the book waiting for me to pick up from the library after having to get it sent over by interlibrary loan.

Gary is somewhat different to the other vampires that you read about. He doesn't enjoy being vampire. He likes Lissa because she reminds him what it means to be human, really human. What could be more human than spending the day at the show (kind of like a big country fair in the city in case you don't know about the show). There's so much to do - you can see the cake decorating, the wood chopping, look at the animals (although they do tend to react badly to a vampire being in their midst) and not forgetting the sideshows with the rides, including the haunted house.

I can't remember the last time I went to the show, and I wouldn't normally spend a lot of time down Sideshow Alley even if I did go. Let's just say I would be even less likely to visit Sideshow Alley after having read this story because there could be all sorts of nefarious dealings going on down there!

This was another fun collection of stories from the Twelve Planets series. I definitely can't wait to see the next books when they arrive in my mailbox!

Rating 4/5

Family drama can be found anywhere: in kitchens, in cafes. Derelict hotels, showground rides. Even dungeons far below ruined Hungarian castles. (Okay, especially in Hungarian dungeons.)

Old family fights can go on forever, especially if you’re undead. If an opportunity came to save someone else’s family, the way you couldn’t save your own, would you take it?

Your family might include ghosts, or zombies, or vampires. Maybe they just have allergies. Nobody’s perfect.

Family history can weigh on the present like a stone. But the thing about families is, you can’t escape them. Not ever. And mostly, you don’t want to.

"It’s a beautiful collection of pieces, each one utterly classic and completely new at the same time… In Narrelle’s hands, everything old is new again, and everything new has the weight of age. There’s magic in that, and in this book." — Seanan McGuire

I read this book for the Aussie Author Challenge and The Australian Women Writers Challenge.

If my review has piqued your interest, there are currently a couple of giveaways happening of this collection at Goodreads. If you are an Australian interested in reading the book click here, and for US, Canada or Britain this is the link. Good luck!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday Salon: May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favour

After waiting for what seems like an eternity, The Hunger Games movie is finally out! Yesterday, my friend plus my son and his friend purchased our tickets and got comfortable, ready to see the book come to life on the big screen. The cinema was pretty full, and it was interesting to see the mix of ages and cultures who all had come to the movie. I have to say though... no idea why you would bring a four or five year old child to see this movie, but I guess it is up to the parents.

My overall reaction is thank goodness they didn't screw it up. As a stand alone movie, there were a few issues, but it wasn't completely terrible and to be honest, I think that is a fan's greatest fear.

Let's start with the casting. I think that Jennifer Lawrence does a terrific job as Katniss Everdeen, and I can't really imagine anyone else paying her. Similarly, I thought that Liam Hemsworth was good as Gale with the little screen time that he had. Stanley Tucci was awesome as the TV host of The Hunger Games - all teeth and hair and smarmy charm. Woody Harrelson was good as the drunken mentor, Haymitch, and bought a little lightness to some of the scenes that was necessary. I can't remember where but somewhere, someone said that Lenny Kravitz as Cinna was really just Lenny Kravitz  without his trademark sunnies, and that is possibly a fair assessment, but that limitation didn't detrimentally affect the scenes that he was in.

Did I mention that I recently went to see Lenny perform at an early morning freebie performance in the city. The man is like the ultimate rock god! Yum! a bit distracted there.

You will notice that I haven't mentioned Josh Hutcheson as Peeta yet. While I came around to his portrayal of  Peeta, it took me a long time. For the first half of the movie, I just couldn't see it, particularly given that I have read the next two books and therefore know where the story is going. In the end though, I did think that his easy acceptance of his fate and his limitations masked his own emotions and strengths. Part of the reason for that is a visual thing - he's just so much shorter than both Jennifer and Liam!

There are, of course, limitations between the depth of storytelling that you get when you read the book compared to watching the movie but in order to bring the movie at a reasonable length, cuts had to be made. I think that we missed the explanations of things like why Peeta started out in the alliance, we missed District 11 sending a package to Katniss, and the true face of the terror of the creation of the wolves at the end, and I think that the true oppression of the Capitol on the districts didn't come across as well on the screen as it did in the book.

I did think that there were a couple of really good additions that weren't in the book. I really liked that we got to see Haymitch beginning to campaign on behalf of his tributes, and I thought that the control room where the game was run from was really great too!

I am not a huge fan of shaky camera work and I did think that there was way too much of it in the first half of the movie. I expected that kind of thing during the actual games itself, but not before hand. I did also think that the pacing was a bit slow in parts and that it was possibly a fraction too long, but for the most part those are the worst things I can say about it.

I am trying to encourage my non-reader son to read the book. If I didn't think that it would send the wrong message, and if I didn't have dozens of other books to read, I would seriously consider a reread of The Hunger Games about now!

I guess the litmus test of your reaction to a movie is would you watch it again. For me, I would definitely watch this again, either on the big screen or most likely when it is on cable or DVD. The ending definitely left plenty of scope for the sequel. Maybe we will all be anxiously waiting for the release of Catching Fire in 18 months or so.

Speaking of anxiously waiting for a movie, I was pleased to see the first trailer for the movie of Stephenie Meyer's The Host came out at the end of last week. It doesn't have any of the movie in it and won't be out for another year, but I still had to send it to my friend who I know loved the book too. Maybe the next announcement will be a release date for the follow up book that we have been waiting for for so long!

Currently Reading:

Earthly Delights, the first book in the Corinna Chapman series by Kerry Greenwood, Dangerous in Diamonds by Madeline Hunter, Thief of Lives by Lucy Sussex.

Up Next:

Either The Island by Victoria Hislop or Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate) by Amy Thomas

Last year I very nearly tormented myself due to the strength of my longing, palpable longing, to renew my acquaintance with Paris. I read books, watched movies, participated in blogging events. I am pretty sure I dreamed of Paris. This year, I have managed to back away from that a little bit, which is probably a little more mentally healthy, but I very nearly had a relapse reading this book!

This book is the story of blogger turned author Amy Thomas swapping her fabulous life in New York for fabulous life in Paris for a year. Amy has a self confessed sweet tooth and so a lot of the focus on the book is about finding the best French desserts on offer.

The food descriptions in this book are fabulous. I was certainly left wishing that I had a cupcake or a cookie, a macaron or one of those delectable little cakes that seem to be popular in Paris by my side as I read through the pages.

One of the differences between this book and others, is that not only does Thomas talk about the new experiences that she is having in Paris, she also compares and contrasts those experiences with her New York memories. For example, in one of the early chapters she talks about how cupcakes are crossing the Atlantic from New York to Paris, but also that macarons have made the opposite journey and where to find the best of each in both of those cities.

If you had the good fortune to be heading to either city, you could use the author's experiences as a guide to finding some of the best indulgences, especially seeing as there are handy maps and also lists of websites, contact phone numbers, addresses etc for many of the places that were mentioned in both cities.

There was a point where I was a little concerned about the direction the narrative was taking when Thomas started lamenting her lack of a love life. Whilst I have no doubt that it was a very real preoccupation, I wasn't sure that I wanted to read yet another I moved to Paris/Tuscany/choose-your-own-destination and had a fabulous life and fell in love with a fantastic guy too! Fortunately, that was a short aberration!

One thing that I did think the author did a great job of was in explaining the feelings that come when you are living overseas for an extended period of time. I spent five years living in the UK, and I could totally relate to the feelings of knowing that you were lucky to be able to live where you are, but also wishing you were back at home some times too. And then when you do go back, you miss your life in your new location! It's like you are living in two places, never fully in either one! Even when I returned home, it took about 18 months to feel like I was fully at home again, and then within six months of finally achieving that feeling I ended up moving to a different city in Australia.

If you have a sweet tooth, if you want to live vicariously through the eyes of Amy Thomas as she spends time in both Paris and New York, then this may be a good choice for you. She certainly had me wishing that I could spend even just a couple of weeks in Paris exploring some of the culinary highlights!

Rating: 4/5
Forever a girl obsessed with all things French, sweet freak Amy Thomas landed a gig as rich as the purest dark chocolate: leave Manhattan for Paris to write ad copy for Louis Vuitton. Working on the Champs-Élysées, strolling the charming streets, and exploring the best patisseries and boulangeries, Amy marveled at the magnificence of the City of Light.

But does falling in love with one city mean turning your back on another? As much as Amy adored Paris, there was part of her that felt like a humble chocolate chip cookie in a sea of pristine macarons. PARIS, MY SWEET explores how the search for happiness can be as fleeting as a salted caramel souffle's rise, as intensely satisfying as molten chocolate cake, and about how the life you're meant to live doesn't always taste like the one you envisioned.

Part love letter to Paris, part love letter to New York, and total devotion to all things sweet, PARIS, MY SWEET is a treasure map for anyone with a hunger for life.

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, March 23, 2012

Putting Alice Back Together by Carol Marinelli

Sometimes you get a pitch for a book to review that just seems so perfect for you as a reader. Just from reading the blurb you think that you can connect with the characters. Then you find out the book is set in your home town - always an exciting thing to read as you can recognise the places and feel of the setting. And, as the final bonus, it is an author that you have heard of, but not actually tried before. In this case, Carol Marinelli is a successful category romance author, and this book is her first crossover title into contemporary women's fiction.

So, no one is more disappointed than was to find that this book really didn't work for me at all than me.

Let's work through some of the things that made me say yes to this book. First, Alice herself. This is predominantly Alice's story and so I think your reaction will pretty much depend on how you like Alice. The blurb says "Alice is the friend you wish you had." I have to say that Alice is the kind of person that I would have chosen to not be friends with pretty early on. She has drinking and drug issues, and quite frankly, she's not all that nice to the friends that she does have.

As a reader, it is clear from the very beginning of the book that there is a big secret that has impacted on her from her early years. I did feel sympathy for Alice as we watched her life unravel, both as an adult but also as a young girl. I definitely related in some ways to Alice (the job that is not as stimulating as it used to be, a tendency towards depression and an alarming tendency to hope that money troubles will just go away are just three examples) and maybe that was part of my issue. That and the fact that my reaction to my problems is just about the total opposite to Alice externally - instead of constant drinking, I only rarely have a drink and it has been quite a few years since I did it to the extreme of losing control: instead of numerous, meaningless relationships with men I have been alone in every sense of the word for nearly 10 years. Of course, I don't have a fabulous wardrobe, shoes, haircut or any of those things either. Maybe I am a bit jealous!

As I mentioned, another factor that caught my attention was the fact that it was set in Melbourne, but really it could have been any city, anywhere. There was also a significant portion of the book that was set in the UK. It will be interesting to see if the book is also released in the UK on the back of this duel setting.

When it came to the 'secret', it was clear from very early in the book what the secret was but the author did do a relatively decent job of drawing out the details, although there were times when it was hard to tell which time period we were in, current Alice or teenage Alice. The story slowly unraveled not only in terms of what happened but also the impact that the resulting secrets that not only Alice kept, but also that were imposed on the people around her. And I have to admit that even despite the fact that I didn't like Alice, I was still moved as it all came together at the end of the book, especially in relation to the secret from the past.

I should mention that there are some romantic undertones to the novel, but not only did I not quite buy into the  relationship, I definitely did not buy into the crisis point between the guy and Alice.

There are, of course, plenty of people who do like the book, and here is a video from the publisher explaining what they thought was fantastic about the book. It is unfortunate that I couldn't be as enthusiastic.

Rating 2/5

Alice is the friend you wish you had. The girl who makes a party more fun, pulls a funny face to make you feel better, drinks wine out of a mug and makes you laugh while you're crying over an ex.

Alice is totally happy, everything is amazing, and there is nothing at all to worry about... except, well:

Her job was really great 10 years ago;
The sexiest guy alive doesn't want her...because he's gay;
Her credit card bills are under her bed - unopened

But maybe the biggest problem for Alice is that she has a secret. A secret so big she can't tell anyone. How do you keep a secret like that when everything is starting to fall apart? And once it's out there, how do you ever begin to put yourself back together again?

I read this book for the Aussie Author Challenge and also the Australian Women Writer's Challenge. Thanks to the publisher and the publicists for sending me the book. Sorry I didn't enjoy it more.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Once Upon a Time VI

Spring has sprung in the Northern Hemisphere. For those of us in the Southern Hemisphere we are coming to the end of the warm weather, the nights are getting longer and it isn't long before we will be coming home from work in the darkness once again. Another sure sign of the change of seasons though is that Carl has just put up the announcement post for the Once Upon a Time challenge. This is the sixth time that we have been challenged to read anything that has mythology, fantasy, fairy tale or folklore!

Among the decisions to be made - which books will form my pool of reads, to readalong or not readalong and of course one of the hardest things this year is choosing which buttons to choose as they are all gorgeous!

The readalongs for this time around are Mistborn by Brenton Sanderson which I haven't really had much interest in reading before and the second readalong will be Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, which I would join in on but my library doesn't have it! I might request it via interlibrary loan once we get closer to the readalong time.

I am signing up for

I am therefore aiming to read five books that meet any of the four categories. Normally when it comes time to make a pool to choose from I usually have a lot, but there doesn't seem to be that many on my shelves at the moment.

One option is Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth and another is Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan. An added bonus with both of these options is that they both also qualify for the Australian Women Writers Challenge. I am sure that I will think of others eventually.

I am also thinking that I might try to do

I am thinking that I will try to read Bad Power by Deb Biancotti, which is one of the Twelve Planet Press books. I am not 100% sure that it will qualify for the challenge but I guess I won't really know until I start reading. I also want to get back to Sprawl which I started for last year's Once Upon a Time challenge but got waylaid on. Another option might be The Firefly Dance which features a new story by Sarah Addison Allen.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Library Loot: March 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!

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott - This one has been on my reading horizons for a while now, but we are going to be doing a Titanic special at Historical Tapestry so I needed something to read for that so I had to borrow it.

The Briny Cafe by Susan Duncan - For the Australian Women Writers challenge. I had actually read about 50 pages of it previously but had to return it.

I Shall Not Want by Julia Spencer-Fleming - The next book in the Reverend Clare Fergusson and Russ van Alstyne mystery series.

What loot did you get from the library this week? Add your link to Mr Linky below

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Teaser Tuesday: Shalimar by Rebecca Ryman

Earlier this year, I read Olivia and Jai by Rebecca Ryman. It was a book that had been recommended to me as being good for anyone who enjoyed reading historical fiction set in India, particularly during the days of the English Raj. I really enjoyed the book but was disappointed to find that the sequel, Veil of Illusion, was not available through my Inter Library Loan system. I have been told though that the sequel is disappointing compared to the first one though, so maybe it wasn't a bad thing that I couldn't get it.

What was available through ILL was Rebecca Ryman's only other book - Shalimar. Once again, we visit the exotic locales of India, and I have to say I am enjoying it very much, particularly the interactions between the two  main characters, Emma and Damian.

For my teaser today, I am sharing a scene that is pretty pivotal in the book, but isn't really a spoiler given that you know what is going to happen by reading the book's blurb. It does actually read a bit like a scene from a historical romance, which is right up my alley anyway, but the book really is drama-filled historical fiction with exotic locations, daring deeds and plenty of intrigue!

The teaser comes from page 101:

"As you are evidently aware," he said, his eyes never leaving her face, "I live in Kashmir. I do not know if you are at all acquainted with the Vale, but it is wild and beautiful, endowed by nature as no other place on earth. I live surrounded by everything a man could possibly want - material security, a fertile estate, a home arranged and furnished to my own taste with every creature comfort I require. I live as I please. I call no man master." His dark eyes were alive with pride. "There is, however, one vital component that my life still lacks." He hesitated a minim. "A woman."

The words took an instant to register. Emma stiffened, her cheeks flooded with colour to match the crimson of the curtains and her gaze buried itself in the floor. Continuing to observe her intently from behind his desk, he allowed her a few moments of silence. Her sense of shock finally receded; she thrust her trembling hands beneath her poche.

"If I understand your drift correctly, Mr Granville," she said in a voice acceptably steady. "I find it unworthy of comment. Indeed, I find both you and your proposition contemptible."

"Oh? Just what do you think my proposition is?"

"That in exchange for the cancellation of my brother's debt I should agree to become your mistress," she said, bluntly refusing the refuge of euphemism.

"My dear Miss Wyncliffe!" He threw his hands in mock horror, a model of outraged innocence. "You astonish me more and more. I find it difficult to believe that a pure, untouched English rose like you could even be aware of such dreadful creatures as mistresses." He laughed and crossed the length of the room to where she stood, his thumbs tucked in the armholes of his waistcoat. He halted so close to her that whiffs of his tobacco-tinged breath fanned her face.

"No, Miss Wyncliffe," he said, "mistresses I have galore. I doubt if I could accommodate more without inviting serious damage to my health. You will therefore be relieved to know that I do not want you for a mistress." His manner was casual but his eyes held a curious, piercing intensity. "I want you for a wife."

For an eternity, it seemed, the words remained suspended between them. The silence expanded and then thickened, punctuated only by the tick-tock of the clock. Emma stared at him wide-eyed and incredulously, unaware in her astonishment that she had folded back into a chair.

"So, Miss Wyncliffe," he murmured. "It appears that I do have the capacity to surprise you, after all."

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson

Recently, there have been several lists of books going around which aim to provide reading ideas for fans of Downton Abbey. I would like to suggest that this book may be a contender. Yes, Anna isn't really a servant, but she spend a lot of her time downstairs as such, and so you do get to see the contrast between the two sets of people who live in Mersham, both below and above stairs, as well as their interactions.

Anna, her brother Peter and their mother basically escape Russia with only a few possessions. Even their jewels that would have given them a comfortable lifestyle have disappeared along with one of their most trusted servants.

Going from a grand lifestyle to sharing the house of her former companion, Anna and her mother are determined to shield Peter from just how destitute they are. He goes off to school blissfully ignorant of their precarious financial situation and Anna finds a job so that she can help meet their living costs. It sounds unusual, but many Russian aristocrats fled from their homeland only to find themselves doing menial, low paying jobs just to keep a roof over their head and food on the table.

Anna is employed to be a maid at Mersham, a grand house owned by the Earl of Westerholme. While Anna is ill equipped to be a maid (she relies on an outdated housekeeping manual to learn how to perform common tasks and how she should interact with other servants) she quickly wins over the staff at the house through her willingness to work hard and her endlessly cheerful disposition. The butler and the housekeeper are fully aware that Anna is not who she appears to be, but they aren't exactly sure who she is.

The reason why the house needs additional staff is that the Earl of Westerholme is returning to the house for the first time since he was wounded during World War I, and he is bringing his new fiancee. Rupert was the younger son and he had planned a life of archaeological digs in exotic locations, but when his older brother died, Rupert is elevated to the title. He needs to marry and marry well. Muriel Hardwicke is beautiful and, more importantly, independently wealthy, bringing much needed funds to the estate. She does, however, bring her own ideas of how Mersham should be run, and who should be staffing the estate and it isn't long before she starts making unpopular changes.

Eva Ibbotson's books are often referred to YA novels. Whilst some of them started out that way others, like this one, have morphed into that classification more recently. I can see why because they are very clean reads and there is a fairy tale like quality to them, but this book was originally published as an adult novel and as such there is complexity lurking beneath the fairy tale including touching on issues like anti-semitism.

Whilst this book was a delight to read, there were some issues with it. It may be part of the fairy tale but the good characters were all very good and the bad guys were all very bad! In this case, the bad guys were the fiancee I mentioned earlier, Muriel Hardwicke, and her dodgy eugenics doctor (albeit with a self proclaimed honorific) Lightbody. Muriel is beautiful and wealthy but there was nothing else to redeem her - she was mean to small children and animals alike - and Lightbody was almost maniacal in his pursuit of the ideals of eugenics which is the idea that advocates the improvement of the human race through selective breeding (obviously a very simplified definition).

One of the strengths of the novel is the fully realised cast of secondary characters ranging from the cook Mrs Park (I recently posted about her creation of a swan for a Weekend Cooking post), the butler Proom to Anna's cousin Sergei, who is working as a chauffeur and has all the ladies swooning over him and not forgetting the snobbish dog Baskerville! I am sure that I am not the first reader to be captivated by young Ollie Byrne, a young lady from a neighbouring family whose sunny disposition and attitude more than make up for her perceived difficulties in life due to her disability.

You may notice that I haven't said much about Anna and Rupert and that is mainly because the book is somewhat predictable when it comes to this particular aspect of the story. There are times though when predictability and comfort are exactly what you want in a story. That predictability is more than made up for in the quality of the exchanges between the two characters. A glance here, the slightest touch, the awareness of each other's presence, knowing that there are shared interests and so much more build the relationship up in a gradual fashion until the characters in the novel learn exactly what the reader has known all along.

One of my favourite quotes in the book wasn't actually about Anna and Rupert at all, but instead was about Susie Rabinovitch, daughter of a local Jewish family and Tommy Byrne. I thought I had written it down so I could share it, but I can't find it. I guess that just gives me a good reason to revisit this book in due course, as I do think that it would stand up to a reread really well!

I keep a list of books that I want to read some day, and sometimes I even manage to remember to put down whose review I read that made me want to read it! For this book, I read Jennie's review 4 years ago and added it my list. Since then I have seen it mentioned quite a few times on other people's blogs and each time, I have thought that I must read this book!

It took a book club meeting to actually get around to reading it! Melbourne romance author Anne Gracie was a guest of the romance book club that I am a member of, even if I only attend semi-regularly. Her book choices were her latest release (understandably) and then this book! I am glad that I finally found the incentive required to read this lovely book.

I own at least three more books by this author that I haven't even opened once. Time to rectify that I think.

After the Russian revolution turns her world topsy-turvy, Anna, a young Russian Countess, has no choice but to flee to England. Penniless, Anna hides her aristocratic background and takes a job as servant in the household of the esteemed Westerholme family, armed only with an outdated housekeeping manual and sheer determination. 

Desperate to keep her past a secret, Anna is nearly overwhelmed by her new duties - not to mention her instant attraction to Rupert, the handsome Earl of Westerholme. To make matters worse, Rupert appears to be falling for her as well. As their attraction grows stronger, Anna finds it more and more difficult to keep her most dearly held secrets from unraveling. And then there's the small matter of Rupert's beautiful and nasty fiancée...

This book was also read for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sunday Salon: The Chaos Walking trilogy especially Monsters of Men (discussion/review)

Today, I would like to introduce Beth from Too Fond to my blog readers.

I have actually known Beth as an online friend for at least 5 years (maybe longer). We originally met at the forums that Sara Donati, author of the Into the Wilderness series, started as a spin off from her now defunct blog. There are a group of us that started chatting in those forums, and who now communicate regularly through Facebook. None of us have ever met in real life as we live all over the world (Canada, New Zealand, US, Australia and Beth is in France), but these ladies have shared many milestones, both good and bad, and they probably know as much about where I am at with life etc as my real life friends, if not more.

A couple of months ago, Beth happened to casually drop in conversation that she had started a book blog. When I rushed over to say woo-hoo, it turned out that it had been going for a while! Not sure how I didn't know but still. When we realised that we were both about to read the same book we decided to do a joint review of it!

Now that we have an introduction as long that is almost as long as a blog post, here are our thoughts on Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness, the third and final book in the Chaos Walking trilogy.

I have the first half of the conversation, and Beth has the second half at her blogs. Beth's thoughts are in italics.


M: In preparation for this discussion, Beth and I discussed the format we wanted to use. I didn’t review the first two books in the series so we thought we would start with a brief discussion of those and then move onto Monsters of Men.

B: The first book, The Knife of Never Letting Go, really blew me away--I haven’t been that affected by a book in a long time. I loved The Ask and the Answer, too, and thought the quality of the writing was just as good. The story progresses from being very focused on the development of the two main characters--Todd and Viola--and their relationship to encompassing other characters who represent different factions in the New World. I liked that because you really get to know Todd and Viola as individuals and then start to expand out and get a wider view of how they fit into the context of their world.

M: I am pretty sure that these books wouldn’t have caught my attention if not for the very positive reviews that I began to see around the blogosphere.

When I did start The Knife of Never Letting Go I was surprised to see the way that the author used language, and to be honest was a bit concerned about whether the speech patterns and deliberate miss-spellings would become wearing after a while or not, but it really didn’t. I was engrossed from beginning to end. This particular form of language followed through all three books, although to a much lesser extent in the last book as Todd learned to control his Noise and basically grew into a man. How did you find it?

B: I felt the same way when I started The Knife of Never Letting Go, as Todd’s rather ‘uneducated’ speech patterns are jarring. I also had a hard time with the Noise itself, how you could hear everything that everyone was thinking--which I imagine is how it must be for someone who is hearing it for the first time, as Viola is in the first book. I got used to it surprisingly quickly, though, and one thing I noticed about Monsters of Men is that there is much less of the nonstandard grammar and spelling that you find it the first two books. Like you said, it’s part of Todd learning to control his Noise, but also I think a reflection of the influence of the Mayor on his thoughts.

M: Maybe in explanation we should talk about the world that the trilogy is set in, and explain Noise. The people in the novel are settlers from another land. They have landed on the planet and started to settle, but one particular aspect of this planet is that for males every thought that they have can be heard by everyone else including animals - there are no secrets...ever. This has obvious drawbacks but also has the effect of being mentally draining. Eventually, the women settlers all disappear in various ways, leaving a town full of men. Our main character, Todd, is the youngest boy and he is about to become a man, but only if he can pass the initiation test set by the Mayor, Mr Prentiss who controls basically everyone in the settlement.

B: I don’t know about you, but I don’t normally read a lot of science fiction, and the fact that the story is set on another planet and has its own, non-human inhabitants, was another thing that I was unsure about when starting the trilogy. The natives in New World are known as the Spackle, and it’s from them that the human settlers catch the Noise virus. We learn a lot more about Noise and how it works in Monsters of Men, and while the first two books alternate between Todd and Viola’s points of view, in the third book we finally get to hear the Spackle voice, too.

The Noise sets up this natural divide between the sexes, because men catch the Noise virus and women don’t. Women are Noiseless, silent “nothing,” as Todd calls Viola in the first book. This would be a difficult situation for anyone, but I think the fact that they’re teenagers, in that phase of life when you’re so unsure of yourself anyway and still trying to figure out who you are, to have to share your true self, your every thought, good and bad, must be hopelessly embarrassing. At yet, it’s ultimately what makes their relationship strong.

M: Let’s give a really brief overview of the first two books. So Knife of Never Letting Go is about Todd meeting a girl, Viola, who has just landed on the planet in a crash and is by herself. He has no experience of dealing with girls and she is not used to dealing with a male who can keep no secrets. Todd is being chased by the Mayor as he must perform the required initiation. Now, he needs to get away from the army that is chasing him and keep Viola safe as he learns that not everything he has been told is necessarily true. Along the way they find out that there are other settlements where things are different from how they were in Todd’s hometown

B: The Knife of Never Letting Go ends with a big cliffhanger, and second novel picks up right where the first one ends. At this point, we realize that there is no safe haven to be found in the capital city of Haven. A battle is at hand, and it’s not just between Todd and the Mayor, but involves all of the human settlement on New World. It’s a battle of ideologies but also of wills, and Todd and Viola find themselves caught in middle as two sides form--The Ask and The Answer.

M: I think it is important to point out that the battle of ideologies also includes the women of Haven (just in case anyone is thinking that it sounds like a very boy-centric book so far!)

B: Yes, the women play a really important role. It’s not strictly a battle between the sexes, but the policies of the Mayor deepen the divide between men and women in the settlement. A lot of men are deeply suspicious of women because they can’t hear their thoughts, and there’s plenty of bad history between them to make both sides wary of one another. Viola gets some strong female role models as she is introduced to the female community of Haven, in particular the healers.

Head over to Beth's blog to read the second half of our discussion where we talk more specifically about Monsters of Men, the final book in the trilogy.

Currently Reading:

Paris, My Sweet by Amy Thomas, Showtime by Narelle M Harris, Double Play by Jill Shalvis and Exit Unicorns by Cindy Brandner

Up Next:

Shalimar by Rebecca Ryman

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Weekend Cooking: How do you eat a cupcake?

Yesterday I reviewed How to Eat a Cupcake by Meg Donohue. I was just going to link up my review for Weekend Cooking, but then I couldn't resist asking this question!

In the early part of the book, Julia explains how she eats a cupcake:

It takes a person with a serious sweet tooth to hide desserts in secret stashes. Mine is that serious. The previous night, after trying one of Annie's cupcakes, I'd immediately walked into the kitchen, taken a mocha-flavored cupcake from a tray awaiting circulation, and hidden it behind a jar of wild-grain rice on a lower shelf in the pantry. Now, I walked to the kitchen, shut the pantry door behind me, retrieved the cupcake from its hiding place, and, feeling only the slightest mortification for my little covert cupcake operation, took a large bite.

I had, I'll admit, affected a certain style - a method, if you will - of cupcake eating. To begin, you remove the cupcake liner carefully so as not to unnecessarily crumble the cake, and set it aside. You then turn the cupcake slowly in your hand, taking bites along the line where cake meets icing, your mouth filling with a perfect combination of both components. Once you've come full circle, you gently twist off the bottom half inch of cake, a move that takes considerable finesse and leaves a delicate sliver of cake - the ideal size for lying flat on your tongue and allowing it to slowly dissolve, building anticipation for that final bite. To finish, you are left with the center cylinder of cake and icing, the cupcake's very heart, sometimes filled with a surprising burst of custard or jam or mousse, sometimes not, but always, always, the most moist, flavorful bite of the entire cupcake. Take a breath before diving into that final, perfect bite; it is to be savored for as long as possible. Finally, of course, you scavenge the crumbs from the cupcake liner you set aside during step one, then ball the liner into your fist and overhand it into the nearest receptacle. Make the shot? You get another cupcake.

But I've gotten ahead of myself. Back to that very first bit of hidden cupcake in the pantry: a soft cap of vanilla buttercream giving way to light, creamy mocha cake. I kept eating, turning the cupcake slowly in my hand. This was not rich, one-bite-and-you-couldn't-have-more chocolate. This was refined, complex chocolate cut with a hint of coffee and what else...Currant? Salt? A grown-up, masterful cupcake. it was perfect. I leaned back against the shelves in the cool, dark pantry and felt myself relax.

I am pretty sure that I have never seen anyone eat a cupcake quite like that. But then I wondered - exactly how do I eat a cupcake. There was only one thing for it. At lunch time on Thursday I headed to the cupcake shop that is conveniently located just around the corner from work and bought myself a red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting (the best bit!) so that I could see what my preferred cupcake eating methodology is!

It turns out that I like to cut my cupcake into quarters and then I eat the bottom part of the quarter, quickly followed by the top part which is a mix of the cake and the frosting, and then I repeat those steps with the next three quarters. Sometimes I will eat the decoration first (in this case a red heart made out of icing) but other times, like this week, I eat it last.

As much as I like the cupcakes from that shop, they are nowhere near as orgasmic as the one described above, and there isn't that much variety in the flavours, particularly compared to the other flavours that are described in the book which sound just divine!

So, my questions to you all....

What is your favourite flavour cupcake?

How do you eat a cupcake?

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, March 16, 2012

How to Eat a Cupcake by Meg Donohue

Julia St. Clair and Annie Quintana used to be close - very close. They practically lived in the same house, sharing the same treats, going to the same school. But really, they came from two different worlds. Julia belongs in the upper echelons of society. She is beautiful and smart and the beloved only daughter of the wealth St. Clair family. Annie is sassy and funny and is the daughter of the housekeeper. It is hard to imagine a world where the two girls wouldn't be friends for life but, in a devastating betrayal, a bond and a friendship, is destroyed.

Fast forward ten years and we find that Julia is everything that she was expected to be. Engaged to a wonderful man, living the high life, successful in business and in life, she has just moved back home to San Francisco to plan her society wedding. Annie is also successful in her own way - she is a super talented pastry chef and dog walker. If she is not running her own dream business, she is at least working for her dream boss.

When Annie is contacted by Julia's mother, Lolly, asking her make some cupcakes Annie knows that it is a mistake to come back to the house that holds so many painful memories for her, especially relating to her mother's death, but she does it anyway. Her main reason for doing so - the chance to find her mother's recipe book that has been missing since the day she died. Annie's cupcakes are a hit, and Julia decides that between the two of them they could open a fabulous cupcakery. With her business acumen and Annie's talent what could possibly go wrong?

As it turns out... lots. With a fractured relationship, secrets, old jealousies and not to mention an old beau who keeps on getting in the way there is plenty of emotional baggage to get through. Scarier though is the fact that there is someone who really doesn't want the cupcakery to succeed, and the question is, just how far are they prepared to go.

This book should come with a warning on the front - this book will make you want to eat a cupcake .... or three. The way that the cupcakes and the baking process were described made me crave them. I did manage to convince my work mates that we had to go and get some too! The only thing I wished is that we had some more exotic flavours to try at the shop that is near us.

I also liked that the book was set in San Francisco which is a place that I loved when I visited there many years ago.

For the most part I enjoyed this book. If you are looking for a book that you can read in a couple of sittings and make you crave something sweet then this is a good possibility. For me though, the book has one of those sweet after tastes that has you wanting to rinse your mouth out afterwards and I can't quite put my finger on why. The author touches on important issues about friendship and more, there were surprises and twists, some of which were more unexpected than others when the moment of the big reveal came round. It was an easy read, a fun read that once I started reading I sped through, but I wouldn't go any further than that. To use a cupcake analogy - it looks pretty and tastes good but you wouldn't want to be relying on it for your every day nutritional intake!

Before I finish though, a request to the author or publisher. I would love to have had a couple of cupcake recipes either in the book or on the website. Not that I would likely actually try and make them, but I would love to see how some of them are made.

Stop by again tomorrow when I will share a passage from the book and ask a very important cupcake question!

Rating 3.5/5

If you are interested to find out more information you can check out the following links for the author:

Website | Facebook | Twitter

To visit the other stops on the tour, check out the tour schedule

Also the author, Meg Donohue, will be joining Book Club Girl on Air on Tuesday, April 24 at 7pm ET:


Funny, free-spirited Annie Quintana and sophisticated, ambitious Julia St. Clair come from two different worlds. Yet, as the daughter of the St. Clair’s housekeeper, Annie grew up in Julia’s San Francisco mansion and they forged a bond that only two little girls who know nothing of class differences and scholarships could—until a life-altering betrayal destroyed their friendship.

A decade later, Annie is now a talented, if underpaid, pastry chef who bakes to fill the void left in her heart by her mother’s death. Julia, a successful businesswoman, is tormented by a painful secret that could jeopardize her engagement to the man she loves. When a chance reunion prompts the unlikely duo to open a cupcakery, they must overcome past hurts and a mysterious saboteur or risk losing their fledgling business and any chance of healing their fractured friendship.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Fault in our Stars by John Green

Despite the tumour-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.
Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green's most ambitious and heartbreaking yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.

When Bree from All the Books You Can Read and I realised that we were both about to read this book, it seemed like a good book to have a discussion style review about! I hope you enjoy reading our thoughts.

Bree has the first half of the review at her blog so head on over to see our discussion about our emotional reaction to the book and the characters.

Her thoughts are in blue and mine are in black.


Bree: How did you feel about the plot involving the book Hazel is obsessed with?

Marg: I loved the idea of that book (and quoted a section on my blog as a Bookish Quote). I am not, however, sure that I would have liked the book that much given the way that Hazel explained the enigmatic ending!

Heading a little bit into ****SPOILER **** territory now!

I loved that Hazel and Augustus went to Amsterdam (and that Hazel’s mum went with them!). I get a little frustrated with YA books where really young teenagers go tripping all over the place without a parent in sight.

However, I was a bit disappointed with the portrayal of the author, Peter van Houten (was that his name?).

How did you feel about this section of the book?

Bree: I think that was his name, yes. Although I did love that they got to go to Amsterdam, it was a bit of a let down, the interactions with this author, whom Hazel was so desperate to meet. I think it takes a real certain kind of person to treat them the way he did and the attempts made in the end to ‘make the peace’ as such didn’t change anything for me. I do love the idea that Hazel had a book that ‘got her’ and got everything she was going through. I think that sort of connection with a book is important for every reader - not just one in Hazel’s situation! I do like the way in which she spoke about the book, and I liked the ways in which Augustus spoke about the books he was passionate about. Giving each other their favourite novels to read was very cute, especially with the moments and discussions it led to.

I’ve never been overseas so I loved the descriptions of Amsterdam. And like you mentioned, it is nice to see PARENTS playing such a role in a YA novel. Too often there is a grand case of ‘disappearing parents/guardians’ syndrome. To have Hazel’s mother with them on the trip was a lovely, refreshing change from kids going gallivanting all over the place alone!

Marg: I have been to Amsterdam and so it was a nice trip down memory lane for me, although I didn’t go to Anne Frank’s house. Not sure why now but there was a reason at the time.

What did you think of the ending?

Bree: I predicted the ending from very early on (which I think many people will) but that didn’t particularly detract from the emotional impact of it. In a way, like van Houten’s book, there’s a lack of total closure as we’re left unsure of what happened to one of the characters. We can only assume, have a guess, but there’s nothing definitive. And I suppose that was the situation that character found themselves in, so it was sort of fitting. Even though I am the sort of girl who likes a very clear ending!

Did you think the ending was a strength?

Marg: I think so, mainly because whilst it is nice to have all the loose ends tied up, it’s not always necessary to do so. We know what is going to happen with the character you are talking about. It is a question of when, not if, and the reader didn’t necessarily have to be there to sit through that after everything else that we had already read about.

I am definitely looking forward to reading more from John Green now that I have finally read a book by him.

Bree: Same here. I get the hype now!

Grade 4.5/5


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