Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunday Salon: Best of 2012

And is the end of another year. It doesn't really seem all that possible that a whole year has gone by, but I think I say that most years and time still keeps rolling along.

The end of the year means not only looking forward to the new year but also looking back to the year that has just gone, so today I will look back to the books that I loved so much this year that I gave them a rare grading of 5/5. Over the next few days I will take a look at my reading stats and then look forward to my reading resolutions for 2013.

Last year, Jojo Moyes appeared on my best of list with her book Last Letter from Your Lover. This year, I have read two more of her books and while I really liked The Girl You Left Behind, it is Me Before You that I really, really loved!

I love that this is the kind of book that you literally laugh and cry at. It deals with a big issue but does it with so much heart and dignity. Highly recommend this book.

You can read the discussion I had with Bree from All the Books I Can Read about Me before You. The first half is here and then I have the second half of the conversation here.

The other book I rated as a 5/5 read was

I have long heard how fabulous this book was, and finally this year I got to read it. To be honest, I wasn't expecting to love it anywhere near as much as I did because I am a bit Tudored out and it is a huge book but once I started it I was surprised at how fresh it felt to be reading it even though I know Queen Elizabeth I's story pretty well.

I have a lot of books that I rated at 4.5/5, far too many to list so overall it was a pretty good year reading wise!

Currently Reading

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister, The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley and listening to Addition by Toni Jordan.

Next up

Falcons of Montabard by Elizabeth Chadwick and Vanity Fare by Megan Caldwell

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Weekend Cooking; The Chocolate Thief and The Chocolate Kiss by Laura Florand

A month or so ago I shared a quote from Laura Florand's Blame it on Paris for a Weekend Cooking post. That book was a memoir of her time in Paris and meeting her French husband. Now Laura Florand has moved onto writing contemporary romances that are set in Paris (which is really what I thought I was getting when I started Blame it on Paris) and that feature lots of delicious sounding treats and delectable French heroes. While I am reading a fair bit of contemporary romance at the moment, most of them are either set in big Australian or American cities or small country towns in those same countries. I can't think of many other contemporary romances that are set in other countries or places, so the fact that Florand is choosing to set her romances in Paris is a unique point of difference, and definitely a selling point for this reader.

There is a novella that forms the first part of this series, which I haven't read yet, but I have read both of the full length books that followed that first entry. Today I am going to write about both of them, The Chocolate Thief and The Chocolate Kiss.

Breathtakingly beautiful, the City of Light seduces the senses, its cobbled streets thrumming with possibility. For American Cade Corey, it's a dream come true, if only she can get one infuriating French chocolatier to sign on the dotted line. . .


Melting, yielding yet firm, exotic, its secrets are intimately known to Sylvain Marquis. But turn them over to a brash American waving a fistful of dollars? Jamais. Not unless there's something much more delectable on the table. . .

Stolen Pleasure

Whether confections taken from a locked shop or kisses in the dark, is there anything sweeter?

Cade Corey is the closest thing to a Chocolate princess that you will ever meet. She is from the famous Corey family who have made their fortune on mass producing chocolate bars that are sold for 33 cents at places like Walmart, that filled the ration packs of American soldiers during World War II and whose name is a household brand name across the country.

Of course, if you are a French artisan in chocolate, you barely think that such 'chocolate' is worthy of carrying the label of chocolate. So when the chocolate princess, who also happens to be the heir to the company and is currently an executive of the Corey company, comes to his shop offering to put his name on a new range of gourmet chocolate under the Corey name, it shouldn't be a surprise when Sylvan Marquis refuses to even consider the offer, no matter how much money Cade is offering. When none of the other chocolatiers she approaches either, Cade has to rethink her approach.

While Sylvan may not be a billionaire, he is a very successful chocolatier. He is world renowned, with the rich, powerful and famous spending hundreds of dollars for small tastes of his creations, even if that means that they have to have them shipped halfway around the world. He doesn't need to put his name on the Corey chocolates, and doesn't quite get why Cade thinks it is such a good idea, especially seeing as her main selling point seems to be how much money he will make.

What Cade doesn't reveal in the early encounters is that while she is in Paris for business, there are personal aspects to the visit. One reason is the possibility of spending time in Paris itself, the home of many of the best chocolatiers in the world and for the city, and the other is that she has a little crush on Sylvan!

The attraction is mutual - as much as Cade might drive him crazy when it comes to understanding his passion for his hand made creations, he is also drawn to her for herself.

When there are a series of breakins to his shop but nothing is stolen, it doesn't take long for Sylvan to realise that it is Cade who is trying to steal his secrets and it fast becomes a secret game between the two of them. However, when an influential food blogger finds about the secret, it is he who labels the thief as The Chocolate Thief.

I really enjoyed how much chocolate in it's many forms filled the pages of this book. Whether it be the most simple mug of chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) to the most intricate of designs that Sylvan comes up with to tempt his customers and Cade, you will be left craving just a taste of some exotic chocolate. Or if you don't have any of that..a block of Cadbury chocolate (which I what I equated the Corey brand with).

While I don't think I necessarily connected all that well with Cade, I did appreciate the way that she was written. She is a successful businesswoman who is trying to take her company in a new direction and who must fight against the more staid stakeholders, like her father. Her grandfather understood her need for time in Paris and for her desire to discover the secrets of Sylvan's chocolate, but as far as her father was concerned her work in Paris was done, and it was time to move onto the next project, which would take her away from Paris and Sylvan. Cade in many ways was trying to find what her future could be, walking the line between the family she loved, the business that she also loved and the passion that she had for fine chocolate, Paris and Sylvan. Florand did a great job of portraying the fact that in many of the big decisions that we have to make in life, it is often not very clear cut and there are compromises to be made in order to make things work for us.

Sylvan was just as dreamy as you might imagine a French hero would be, even more so considering that he knew a thing or two about chocolate and what it could do to a woman! He was seemingly strangely shy around women, which was at odds with his confidence in his work and his appearance. The reasons for this were hinted at, but I felt that there could have been a little more time spent on this particular aspect of his past.

While I am talking about the major characters in this book, it would be remiss of my not to mention the city of Paris. The city comes alive in this book, some of the more obvious tourist destinations but also the hidden Paris, normally known only to those who live there.

As I mentioned above there is a novella that forms the first part of this series, but this is the first full length novel and, for me, it was a fun and tasty way of being introduced to the series. It definitely left me wanting more.

Rating 4/5

Luckily, the second book was already available so I quickly requested it from Netgalley.

The Heart of Paris

Welcome to La Maison des Sorcieres. Where the window display is an enchanted forest of sweets, a collection of conical hats delights the eye and the habitues nibble chocolate witches from fanciful mismatched china. While in their tiny blue kitchen, Magalie Chaudron and her two aunts stir wishes into bubbling pots of heavenly chocolat chaud.

But no amount of wishing will rid them of interloper Philippe Lyonnais, who has the gall to open one of his world famous pastry shops right down the street. Philippe’s creations seem to hold a magic of their own, drawing crowds of beautiful women to their little isle amidst the Seine, and tempting even Magalie to venture out of her ivory tower and take a chance, a taste…a kiss.

Parisian princesses, chocolate witches, patissier princes and sweet wishes—an enchanting tale of amour et chocolat
Magalie Chaudron lives and works on one of the small islands in the Seine in the heart of Paris. She lives on the top floor of an apartment building, her two aunts sharing another floor of the building and together they work at La Maison des Sorcieres. This is a small tea house which would almost epitomise my definition of whimsical. Their window is always filled with a seasonal chocolate display featuring chocolate witches and famous tales, there is a delightful collection of hats and lots of mini treats. The thing that keeps the customers coming back though is the chocolat chaud which is made from the finest ingredients but also includes special wishes stirred right in.

When Magalie hears that the famous Philippe Lyonnais is opening a new shop in his franchise of pastry shops on their quiet island she is worried about the future of their little store. After all, how can they compete against his creations.

Philippe is pretty much instantly charmed by Magalie, but for her it is more of an antagonistic relationship. She feels something towards him, but she is determined that she is not going to be the zebra to his lion. When he offers her just a taste of one of his fabulous creations, she refuses and continues to refuse no matter how ornate, how personal, how gorgeous the creation is that he offers just her. And while she refuses to try his pastry creations, there is no way that he is going to try any of her chocolat chaud, no matter how much it calls to him. This antagonistic attitude between Philippe and Magalie continued for quite some time (probably too long in my opinion) but I did really like them as a couple once they got it together.

When I started reading this book I was very excited. The idea of the wishes being stirred into the hot chocolate and affecting the behaviour of the customers had me thinking that maybe what I was going to get a romance version of say a Sarah Addison Allen book. A touch of magic in an otherwise normal setting (although Paris is not a normal contemporary romance setting). Unfortunately, for me though, this seemed to be really overdone in the book and so I went from very excited to not so excited to a bit over it by the end.

Magalie had some issues about her sense of place and belonging and this was nicely balanced with Philippe's sense of belonging to Paris and his own sense of his worth. I liked the way that the author worked in some cameos from Sylvan from the previous book, but I didn't think that the inclusion of Cade worked as well.

Once again, the author made me hungry as I read the descriptions of the macaroons and the pastries and oh my goodness all of the food. I also really loved the description of life on the island that is within the heart of Paris but also had a completely separated feel to the city, a kind of remoteness that sounded idyllic. It also provided a cocoon of safety around Magalie that worked very well with her issues.

If I was to summarise my reaction to this book it would be that I liked a lot of the ideas but the execution didn't work for me as well as I would have hoped. A lot of the time it felt as though it was trying just a fraction too hard.. I still enjoyed Florand's writing and characters, and the use of Paris as a setting so I hope that continues in the future books in the series.

Rating 3/5

*I bought my copy of The Chocolate Thief and received a copy of The Chocolate Kiss from Netgalley for an honest review.

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all my fellow Weekend Cooking participants a very happy New Year!

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

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Stand-In Star by Rachael Johns

Holly McCartney arrives in Hollywood in order to attend a big Hollywood award ceremony on behalf of her dead sister Daisy. What she expects is that she will wander into LA International Airport, catch a shuttle to a hostel, find a dress, attend the Oscars, possibly pick up the award on her sister's behalf and then go home again.

Unfortunately, the media are intrigued by the story of the dead movie star and her family who have been estranged for years and so she is mobbed at the airport by the paparazzi. She is glad to be rescued by her sister's friend Nate Devlin, a photographer who unfortunately seems to have a less than stellar opinion of her, despite the fact that they have never met before.

Nate is a photographer now, but he is more than familiar with the ways of the Hollywood paparazzi. While he intended to only save her from the jackals at the airport, it is clear that once they arrive at the hostel that Holly is not going to be able to stay there, so he offers her his home to stay in and his protection.

Holly is a little naive about life in Hollywood. She has grown up in suburban Australia, always in the shadow of her older sister. While Daisy went on to have the glittering Hollywood career, Holly has forged her own identity as an anthropologist. She doesn't do the glamourous lifestyle at all, to the point where she hasn't even organised a dress to wear to the ceremony, assuming that she will be able to just pop into the shops on Rodeo Drive and pick something up.

Once again, Nate is able to assist Daisy, setting her up with his up and coming designer sister to make a fabulous dress, and then also hair and makeup ready for the big night. Even though he has made it clear that he doesn't think much of Daisy, she isn't actually what he expected her to be and he can't seem to help himself when it comes to assisting her and also he can't seem to stop thinking about her.

As they talk more, he begins to understand exactly what it is that caused the estrangement between Daisy and her family and has to reevaluate his feelings, while they both have to deal with their own issues. For Holly this is wrapped up in the idea that she was never enough compared to her sister and that she can never be enough for Nate given that he could have his choice of any woman in Hollywood and for Nate his family's past and a need to always be responsible for those around him cause him to have commitment issues. In the past he has only had superficial relationships with women, but he finds himself wanting more with Holly. He is just not sure how that feels, or what to do with those emotions especially as Holly has a life to return to back in Australia.

The chemistry between the two main characters was very strong. It took them a while to get going but once they did...phew!

I own a couple of Rachael Johns' books, one of which I bought months ago, but this was the first time I had actually read one, and I have to say I really enjoyed it! I thought it was a fun story that had a contemporary fairytale quality and had me crying, laughing and sighing in all the best ways as I read it. I started reading this late at night and ended up finishing it at 2am which might also explain my emotional reaction to the book.

I also really loved the way that Johns' was able to come up with an ending that still left plenty of scope for the characters to grow together.

If you are looking for a fun read, then keep this book in mind. Now I need to read the other Rachael Johns books I own!

Rating 4/5


As an anthropologist, Holly McCartney is more comfortable in a museum than shopping on Rodeo Drive. She isn’t prepared for the media frenzy on her arrival in L.A. to accept a posthumous acting award for her late sister….or for her sister’s gorgeous friend Nate Devlin to come to her rescue. Though he resents her for some reason, she can’t fight their irresistible chemistry—especially when the paparazzi force her to stay at his mansion.

Photographer Nate only agrees to help Holly survive Hollywood for her sister’s sake, but she soon gets under his skin in a way no other woman has. The more time he spends with her, the more his attraction grows and he finds himself opening up to her in ways he never expected. But will ghosts of the past stand in the way of their perfect Hollywood ending?

I was sent a copy of this book for review by the author. This did not influence my opinion of the book. The book will be released on 1 January by Carina Press

I read this book for the following reading challenges:

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Library Loot: December 26 to January 1

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 haven't actually borrowed a book from my library and by the time I get back to it again, I will actually not have borrowed anything in two weeks! Unheard of!

Hopefully you will have some loot to share. Add your link to Mr Linky below

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012

Voice of the Falconer by David Blixt

On Friday I reposted my review of Master of Verona by David Blixt. There were a couple of reasons for doing so. The first was that I hadn't finished reading this book (bad blog tour participant) but another reason was that I really, really loved that book.

When I read it back in 2009, I was super excited at the prospect of a follow up book. So I waited and waited, and there was no news and then there was bad news - Voice of the Falconer wasn't going to be published. That is until David Blixt decided to self publish the whole series.

Back in January I named this book as my my most anticipated new HF release and I bought it as soon as it came out! Luckily I still managed to read this book in the year I declared that, and I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the world that David Blixt has created.

Voice of the Falconer starts 8 years after the events of the ending of Master of Verona. Pietro Alaghieri (son of the famed poet Dante) has been charged with raising the illegitimate heir to the great Cangrande, ruler of Verona. There are very few people who know of Cesco's existence and that is the way that everyone likes it. The plan is for Cangrande to name his heir officially when the boy is 15 years old, but when Cangrande appears to be be dead it is necessary to bring forward the reveal, setting in motion a chain events that twists and turns all over the place. Revealing Cesco's existence is bound to lead to questions but also danger, especially seeing there are other members of the della Scala family who are trying to position themselves to be the next ruler of the city-state of Verona.

The members of Cesco's adoptive 'family' are all intriguing - Pietro who struggles with his status as an ex communicant and who is doing his best to train Cesco up to fulfil his destiny, the Moor named Tharwat who has more secrets than most not the least of which is where he learned the skills that he is now passing onto Cesco, the doctor Morsicato and the young boy Detto who is Cesco's companion and friend. While they are all interesting in their own right, they are often reduced to secondary roles in the presence of Cesco who is portrayed as being superior in intellect, in wit, in horse riding skills and so much more. it is hard to believe that a child of 11 or 12 would be able to be all that, but for the role that Cesco has to play in the book it works.

This is a complicated world filled with betrayal and intrigue, cross and then double cross, family rivalries, a famous prediction yet to be fulfilled, a curse and oh so much more. It is a book that you manage to get lost in but where you also have to work a bit while you are reading because of the twists and turns in the various nefarious plots and the sheer number of characters. There are lots of Shakespearean references, some of which are more obvious than others, but even if you don't recognise them, the writing is strong enough to still carry you forward. There are also lots of battles and even though this is not my favourite thing to read, the way that Blixt describes them I can see the action as it unfolds, watch the sword swinging, the adrenalin in the battle, the blood and dust. He makes this particular aspect of the story just as readable as the rest of the book, something that doesn't always happen with some authors where it can feel somewhat more mechanical than genuine.

One of the secondary plots that makes this story interesting to read is that David Blixt is choosing to give the reader a retelling of the famous story of Romeo and Juliet, but rather than just starting with the young lovers that we are so familiar with he takes us back to where the feud started. In Master of Verona we saw where the feud began between the families we now know as the Montagues and the Capulets. In this book we see how the former friends deal with their troubled relationship and the difficulties that it causes within the context of Verona society and for those who are friends with them both, and also get to meet Romeo and Juliet as toddler and babe respectively. Blixt is choosing to retell the famous story with added depth and within the Renaissance setting and it really, really works. Even though you know how this particular aspect of the story ends, I can't wait to find out more of the details that the author has included in the next book in the series, which is already available.

I may have had to wait to read this book, but now that I have read it I do not hesitate to recommend both Master of Verona and this one to readers of historical fiction everywhere.

Rating 4.5/5


It's eight years after the tumultuous events of THE MASTER OF VERONA. Pietro Alaghieri has been living as an exile in Ravenna, enduring the loss of his famous father while secretly raising the bastard heir to Verona's prince.

But when word reaches him of the death of Cangrande della Scala, the master of Verona, Pietro must race back to Verona to prevent young Cesco's rivals from usurping his rightful place. With the tentative peace of Italy at stake, not to mention their lives, Pietro must act swiftly to protect them all. But young Cesco is determined not to be anyones pawn. Willful and brilliant, he defies even the stars. And far behind the scenes is a mastermind pulling the strings, one who stands to lose, or gain, the most.

Born from Shakespeare's Italian plays, in this novel we meet for the first time Romeo, Juliet, Tybalt, the Nurse, as well as revisit Montague and Capulet, Petruchio and Kate, and the money-lending Shylock. From Ravenna to Verona, Mantua, and Venice, this novel explores the danger, deceit, and deviltry of early Renaissance Italy, and the terrible choices one must make just to stay alive.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Quotes: A Montmaray Christmas

Today's quote comes from pages 140-141 of A Brief History of Montmaray and is a quote from the main character's diary.

What else? Oh, Christmas. Well, Aunt Charlotte must have insisted Toby spend it with her. So much for Veronica's Christmas pudding wish - or mine, come to that. I'm pretty sure Simon spent Christmas at Aunt Charlotte's, too. As for us, we tried to put on a cheerful front for Henry's sake, but she was too miserable to appreciate it. To be honest, even I felt my festive spirits evaporate when I went to look for the box of decorations and found they'd been stored directly under a leaky part of the nursery ceiling. Toby's cardboard angels, my tissue-paper snowflakes, a dozen years worth of paper chains - all reduced to a sodden gray pulp. Even the gold-painted pine-cones seemed to have sprouted mould. And it was raining too hard to contemplate gathering any flowers or greenery outside, not that there's much about at this time of year anyway.

In the end, I followed the example of an arty governess we had a few years ago and set up a tall twisted bit of driftwood in the kitchen, with shells strung from the branches on pieces of leftover knitting wool. Henry contributed an angel she'd carved from a cuttlefish shell. And Veronica and Rebecca managed to cook Christmas dinner together without any major catastrophes. We had roast chicken stuffed with herbs, glazed ham and all the vegetables Henry could salvage from the waterlogged garden. The pudding was... well, it had a very interesting texture. Henry dropped her slice on the floor and it bounced. I think we boiled it too long. But Julia and the rest of the Stanley-Rosses had very kindly sent us a hamper stuffed full of mince pies and nuts and preserved fruit, so we had that instead. Afterwards Rebecca made egg-nog and I read A Christmas Carol aloud by the stove, while Veronica fixed the leaky tap over the sink and Henry mended a rip in her best fishing set. Uncle John stayed in his room throughout, of course, but the door was ajar, so it was almost as though he was there, too. So it wasn't such a terrible Christmas, after all.

Weekend Cooking: How to Make Gravy

Paul Kelly is one of Australia's top musical storytellers. A lot of his songs tell a story, whether it be about famous sportsmen of Australia or a couple trying to get back together or whatever. This song about a man missing his family at Christmas is one that showcases this storytelling ability.

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all my fellow Weekend Cooking participants a very Merry Christmas!

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, December 21, 2012

Master of Verona by David Blixt (AKA my blog tour failure!)

Earlier this year when I was asked to name my most anticipated Historical Fiction new release for 2012, I didn't have to go too far. There were the obvious candidates (like Susanna Kearsley) but another was Voice of the Falconer by David Blixt, the follow up book to Master of Verona which I read a few years ago and really loved!

As soon as it came out I bought it, and that's as far as I got. Then I saw that Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours had a tour for David Blixt books and so I jumped on board. Ten days to go until the end of the year and I would still have read it in the year it came out. Or that was the plan anyway!

Unfortunately, life has got in the way (insert relevant excuses here) and so while I am currently reading it and really liking it, I am not going to have it read in time to post for my slot on the tour! I am so sorry Amy and David!).

So that I am not posting nothing, I thought I would repost my original review (I think this is perhaps the third time I have posted the review here, but who's counting?) and then I will be back with the review for Voice of the Falconer soon.


In 1314, seventeen year old Pietro Alighieri travels to Verona with his father, the infamous poet Dante, at the invitation of its leader, the legendary Francesco “Cangrande” della Scala. A sneak attack from Padua leads Pietro into his first battle, fighting alongside the charismatic Cangrande, and into a tight friendship with Mariotto Montecchio and Antonio Capulletto. Behind the scenes, repeated attempts are made against the life of a child believed to be Cangrande’s illegitimate son and possible heir.

Pietro is drawn into the web of intrigue around the child and the tension building between Mariotto and Antonio over a woman betrothed to one and in love with the other – a situation that will sever a friendship, divide a city, and ultimately lead to the events of the best known tragic romance in the world.

Inspired by the plays of Shakespeare, the poetry of Dante, and the events of history, The Master of Verona is a compelling novel of politics, loyalty, conspiracy and star-crossed romance.

Sometimes it happens that I really love a book, but I still don't get around to writing a review for it straight away (or at all, but we won't think about all those unwritten reviews just now!). This is one of those books.

My interest was initially drawn to the idea of setting a book at the time of Romeo and Juliet, but this is much more than a retelling of that famous tale. It isn't even the main action within the novel, but it is an important component.

The story is more about Pietro Alighieri, son and reluctant heir to his father, the famous and controversial poet Dante Alighieri. I say reluctant because for many years Pietro was the second son of a famous man, not really expected to do much in terms of continuing his father's legacy, but with the death of his older brother, Pietro finds himself fulfilling a role that he is ill suited for.

He is given the chance to shine when he unexpectedly gets to fight with Francesco "Cangrande" della Scala, charismatic leader of Verona. This engagement also brings him into contact with his new best friends, Mario and Antonio. The boys are friends, but they are also competitors both in the contests of the Palio and for two of them, in love. This very first fight begins with a flying leap off of a balcony onto horseback - a very telling sign of the type of swashbuckling to come throughout the book!

Blixt skilfully deals with the historical figures of Dante and Cangrande, Shakespeare's famous love story, an intriguing suspense subplot plus provides the reader with an engaging, exciting and engrossing story with a large cast of well written characters.

There is lots of action in the pages between the battles and the pageantry associated with medieval Italy. For me, the highlight of the book is definitely the day of the Palio. The colour, the spectacle and the pageantry are incredibly detailed but also very readable with the naming of the new knights, the speech of the oracle where it is declared that "Verona will always be remembered for love" and the crazy midnight foot race where the participants all run naked through the streets coming to life vividly through the words on the page!

This is an excellent historical fiction debut, and I for one, am very much looking forward to reading the next book from David Blixt, which will pick up where the action of this book left off!

When it comes to grading books I think that I am an easy grader when it comes to 4/5 books, but very, very hard when it comes to 5/5 books. This book is one of only three 5/5 books so far this year! I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves to read historical fiction

Originally posted 2009

Tour Details

Link to Tour Schedule:
Twitter Hashtag: #DavidBlixtVirtualTour

About the Author

Author and playwright David Blixt's work is consistently described as "intricate," "taut," and "breathtaking." A writer of Historical Fiction, his novels span the early Roman Empire (the COLOSSUS series, his play EVE OF IDES) to early Renaissance Italy (the STAR-CROSS'D series, including THE MASTER OF VERONA, VOICE OF THE FALCONER, and FORTUNE'S FOOL) up through the Elizabethan era (his delightful espionage comedy HER MAJESTY'S WILL, starring Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe as inept spies). His novels combine a love of the theatre with a deep respect for the quirks and passions of history. As the Historical Novel Society said, "Be prepared to burn the midnight oil. It's well worth it."

Living in Chicago with his wife and two children, David describes himself as "actor, author, father, husband. In reverse order."

For more about David and his novels, visit

Christmas Quotes: Second Christmas in Ravensbruck

As with yesterday's quote, this one is from A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead.

Towards Christmas, one of the transports brought a piano to Ravensbruck. Watching it being unloaded, a young Russian girl exclaimed, 'My God! If only I could be allowed to play?' The chief sorter that day, a German girl called Sophie, asked the SS guard in charge. He found the idea of a young Russian Jew able to play the piano absurd. But the piano was moved on to flat ground and the girl sat down. She was an accomplished pianist. All over the camp, as far as the notes reached, the women prisoners stopped what they were doing to listen.

This was the second Christmas the group of French women had spent in a German camp. Once again, they gave each other little presents that they had made, stolen or saved up. The news of the war, transmitted by the women working int he SS offices and translated into a dozen languages, was getting better all the time, and there were real hopes that it might be their last Christmas in captivity. A Christmas tree was brought from the forest and the women stole little bits of wire and thread and material from the factories with which to decorate it.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Quotes: First Christmas in Ravensbruck

Both today's and tomorrow's quotes come from Caroline Moorehead's A Train in Winter, a non fiction book about female French Resistance workers who are captured by the Germans and spend time in some of the most infamous prison camps during WWII. Whilst they are kind of bleak I think they also demonstrate the strength of the human spirit in difficult circumstances.

Today's quote comes from page 239

On Christmas Eve, the women were permitted to stop work at four. Plans had been made for a dinner of celebration: women still alive despite all the odds celebrating the simple fact that they were not dead. They realised with delight that their hair had grown back a bit and they helped each other to wash it and brush the new tufts and strands that covered their heads. A few of the women had acquired stockings from 'Canada', and shirts had been 'organised' and cut up to make a clean white collar for each of them. With sheets as tablecloths, the refectory tables were formed into a horseshoe and decorated. Paper was crinkled into flowers, and the chemists had fashioned rouge and lipstick out of powders in the laboratory. Food, saved from the parcels from France and vegetables pilfered from the gardens were made into a feast of beans and cabbage, potatoes with onion sauce and poppy seeds. The women ate little, having lost the habit of food, but the sight of so much to eat made them cheerful. They drank sweet dark beer, stolen from the SS kitchens. After they had eaten, they turned out the lights, lit candles, and the Polish women sang hymns and ballads, saying to each other Do domou: back home. presents were exchanged: a bar of soap, a rope woven into a belt, a teddy bear found near the gas chambers and exchanged for two onions.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Quotes: Lola's Christmas

I am just about to head interstate and might even manage to find myself spending some time in the small town of Clare, which is where Lola's Secret by Monica McInerney is set. Here are the opening paragraphs of that book:

Even after more than sixty years of living in Australia, eighty-four-year-old Lola Quinlan couldn't get used to a hot Christmas. Back home in Ireland, December has mean short days, darkness by four p.m., open fires and frosty walks. Snow if they were lucky. Her mother had loved following Christmas traditions, many of them passed down by her own mother. The tree decorated a week before Christmas Day and not a day earlier. Carols in the chilly church before Midnight Mass. Lola's favourite tradition of all had been the placing of a lit candle in each window of the house on Christmas Eve. It was a symbolic welcome to Mary and Joseph, but also a message to any passing stranger that they would be made welcome too. As a child, she'd begged to be the one to light the candles, carefully tying back the curtains to avoid the chance of fire. Afterwards, she'd stood outside with her parents, their breath three frosty clouds, gazing up at their two-storey house transformed into something almost magical.

She was a long way from Ireland and dark frosty Decembers now. Sixteen thousand kilometres and about thirty-five degrees Celsius to be exact. The temperature in the Clare Vally of South Australia was already heading towards forty degrees and it wasn't even ten a.m. yet. The hills that were visible through the window were burnt golden by the sun, not a blade of green grass to be seen. There was no sound of carols or tinkling sleigh bells. The loudest noise was coming from the airconditioner behind her. If she did take a notion to start lighting candles and placing them in all the windows, there was every chance the fire brigade would come roaring up the hill, sirens blaring and water hoses at the ready. At last count, the Valley View Motel that Lola called home had more than sixty windows. Imagine that, Lola mused. Sixty candles ablaze at once. It would be quite a sight. Almost worth the trouble it would cause ...

I am hoping that it won't be 40 degrees celsius this year on Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Quotes: Christmas in the Trenches

Today's quotes come from the Daughters of Mars by Tom Keneally. It is hard to imagine how difficult it must be for people who are serving their countries far from home during the holiday season and so today I am taking a moment to think of them and posting these quotes in their honour.

The first quote comes from page 281:

Outside the mess tent the orderlies were unloading Christmas billy cans - stamped with a kangaroo and a boomerang and full of chocolate and minute puddings in cloth. A letter inside was addressed to 'Dear Soldier of Australia'. Ten days to Christmas, and intact men were landing on Lemnos each day in numbers suddenly too big for the rest camp. Sally and Slattery - shopping from peddlers - watched them march by. Their faces were gaunt and stained with weariness. The eyes seemed not yet aware that they had been brought back into the living world. There was too much continuances of geography between Gallipoli and here.

And from later in the war (page 483).

Lady Tarlton's chateau was decked for Christmas and kept warm at least in patches by army stoves. Naomi and the nurses made up Christmas boxes for each patient - simple things such as chocolate and tobacco, shortbread, a writing pad. Symbols of homely renewal. She had bought Matron Mitchie some lace in Boulogne. This was one of those Christmases Naomi had read of - when joy is a simple achievement. Her sister now wrote to her weekly and Ian at least each second day. Yet even with the Americans now in France, no one dared speak anymore of the coming year as the conclusive one.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas Quotes: A Colonial Christmas

Today's quote comes from Farewell to Lancashire by Anna Jacobs, which is about a young girl who finds herself living in Western Australia during the early days of colonisation. How strange it must have been to find yourself suddenly celebrating Christmas in the heat of summer!

The quote comes from pages 396-397

Two days later, Reece drove Kevin the long way round to join the celebrations.

"I'm still surprised they invited me," he said as the ugly mare clopped up the gentle slope to the farm.

"Mrs Southerham invited you.. Mr Southerham usually does as she tells him."

Kevin grinned. "Well, I'm glad to have some company, I am indeed, not to mention a good meal. And if you and your young lady will speak to me from time to time, I'll be satisfied to sit quietly and try not to upset my host too much."

When Reece helped him down, Kevin took the bottle of port wine he'd brought as a gift and presented it to his host with a small bow.

"Thank you" Francis said stiffly.

"Just what we needed to crown our celebrations," Liva said.

It was the strangest Christmas he'd ever had, Reece thought. A hot day, still too warm for coats or wraps even after the sun had gone down. They ate outside a the table, spread for the occasion with a white cloth. There were no church bells pealing, only the rustling of trees and the occasional call of a boobook owl, which sounded more like a cuckoo than an owl.

Reece joined in the hymn singing, his eyes meeting Cassandra's and their voices blending well together.

"It gladdens my heart to see those two," Kevin murmured to Livia as the song finished. "He's a good man, Reece is."

"Yes. They're well matched, I think."

As the two men drove back through a moonlit landscape, Kevin said quietly, "I like your young lady."

"So do I! I just hope I can make a good life for us here."

"If hard work will do it, you'll succeed."

"Sometimes fate won't let you succeed."

"No." Kevin fell silent, staring ahead, clearly lost in his own thoughts, and Reece could have kicked himself for making that remark.

"It's all right, lad." Kevin patted Reece's hand. "It's not what you said that's upsetting me. Christmas always brings back memories. It was the last meal I shared with my family, you see. I only saw them once afterwards, and that was across a courtroom.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmas Quotes: A Paris Christmas

This year I again indulged my love of reading about Paris. Paris in Love by Eloisa James was one of the books that helped me visit Paris because I know that I am not going to actually be able to do so for many years to come!

Today's quote from pages 81-82

And then came December in Paris. Overnight our neighbourhood covered marked, Marche Saint-Quentin, was transformed into the movie set for a Dickens musical, complete with garlands and strings of lights. Our favourite fromagerie put out boxes of tiny quail eggs and three hitherto unfamiliar kinds of chevre, produced only for the Christmas season. I was staggered by a mound of fresh mushrooms, big and ruffled like hats for elderly churchgoing fairies. It was only when the marchand de fruits asked me if I was quite sure I wanted that many that I realized this particular fungus cost the same as our rent.

Paris is always a materialist's playground, but December is in a class by itself. One day I wandered into the gourmet department of Galeries Lafayette to find that it had sprouted tables piled high with decorative flourishes for holiday baking: jars of edible gold leaf, silver stars, candied violets. The display was designed to tempt the unwary shopper not to gluttony per se - but rather to the pure beauty of food, to the ways it can be decorated and dusted and presented, turned into something that can take your breath away. I instantly succumbed to a wild desire for Staub mini-cocottes, enameled in a shiny burnt crimson. I bought eight of them, kissing the dream of an austere kitchen goodbye. Surely antioxidants taste better in cocottes.
This is also a good post for Weekend Cooking so I am going to be a bit cheeky and link up two Weekend Cooking posts this weekend! Consider it my gift!

Weekend Cooking: The Cook by Wayne Macauley

The Cook by Wayne Macauley was released here in Australia last year by Text Publishing. I had certainly heard of it, and I had meant to read it before now but I just hadn't quite managed to do so yet. I borrowed it from the library a few weeks ago. When it was named as the most under-rated book of 2012 I knew I had to make an effort to actually read it. The award "aims to shine a light on some of the fantastic titles that are released by independent publishers and members of the Small Press Network (SPUNC) that, for whatever reason, did not receive their fair dues." (source)

The book tells the story of Zac, a young boy from the rough end of town who has been given one last chance to straighten himself out by being sent to Cook School. This is no ordinary cooking school though. A group of boys, all with troubled backgrounds of some type or another, are sent to a farm in the country. Here they will not only learn about cooking but also where food comes from. The school is ostensibly run by a celebrity TV chef but he is only occasionally present, and all is not necessarily well in the school itself.

Zac is one of the few boys in the group who shows any real passion for food, and any ambition to use cooking as a way to get out of the bad place that he started in. He becomes almost obsessed with the process of learning to cook starting with the very raw ingredients. He quickly forms a friendship with the local farmer, and soon he is handraising the livestock that one day will be the ingredients for his increasing complex meals. Zac is soon dreaming of a future where he will be the head chef in a famous restaurant and he is prepared to put in the hard yards to attain that dream.

Eventually, Zac is given the opportunity to put his skills to the test when he is taken to a big mansion in one of the best areas of Melbourne and becomes the cook to the family. There are Master and Mistress and their two daughters, Melody and Jade. Here he gets the opportunity to learn about suppliers, from the fancy butcher and local specialty store where he can basically buy any ingredient and use it to make some amazing sounding food - not food that I would eat for dinner every day of the week but for the rich and fabulous maybe it is normal! There are several parts of this book where I wished that I was able to be able to smell and taste the food that Zac was cooking. In my imagination, it was divine!

There are a few more things that I can tell you about The Cook, but there are also at least a couple of things that I am choosing to not tell you, because this is one book where you want the surprises to be a surprise, and I am not sure that everyone will see them coming. I certainly didn't! The clever thing about the big revelation is that the clues are there, but it is much easier to see them in retrospect than it is while you are reading the book.

The first thing to mention about this book is the way it is written. It is written in Zac's voice, and there is an alarming lack of punctuation in the narrative which is jarring at first. Whilst this maybe something that might turn readers off, I would argue that it is best to keep reading because you do get used to it, and it does fit the character of Zac. It's hard to imagine that the book would be as powerful if it was written in any other way.

It is also worth mentioning that this book is a satire. While I don't think I get satire as much as some other people might, it was darkly funny and also provided very effective commentary on the fact that most of us don't really care to think about where the ingredients we eat have come from. The fact that there are lamb chops on the supermarket shelves is somewhat removed from the fact that it was once a lamb running around in a paddock after it's mother.  Macauley is very in your face about this in the book - there are several quite gruesome scenes so it might be fair to warn that this is a book that may affect you particularly if you are squeamish or vegetarian. Other topics that fall into the path of Macauley's satirical eye is the current obsession that we have with celebrity chefs, the idea of class within Australian society and the here-today-gone-tomorrow nature of food trends. All of this is set against the global financial crisis which also provides some of the dramatic impetus within the story.

This is an intensely readable book, confronting and shocking at times, but also entertaining and I am glad that I gave this underrated book a go!

Rating 4/5


You have been chosen, said Head Chef. Of all the young people wasting their lives you and you only have been chosen.

At Cook School, Zac dreams about becoming the greatest chef the world has seen.

He thinks he's on his way when gets a job as house cook for a wealthy family - the Mistress and Master and their daughter's Melody and Jade.

But when things start to fall apart, Zac knows he must take control.

The Cook is funny and sad, strange and satirical, and weirdly moving. Wayne Macauley is a bewitching writer.

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

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Poems: A Bush Christmas by CJ Dennis

Today I thought I would share an Aussie Christmas poem. I can't remember where I came across this earlier this year, but I am glad that I did and that I remembered to save it!


A Bush Christmas by CJ Dennis

The sun burns hotly thro' the gums
As down the road old Rogan comes --
   The hatter from the lonely hut
   Beside the track to Woollybutt.
      He likes to spend his Christmas with us here.
He says a man gets sort of strange
Living alone without a change,
   Gets sort of settled in his way;
   And so he comes each Christmas day
To share a bite of tucker and a beer.

Dad and the boys have nought to do,
Except a stray odd job or two.
   Along the fence or in the yard,
   "It ain't a day for workin' hard."
Says Dad.  "One day a year don't matter much."
And then dishevelled, hot and red,
Mum, thro' the doorway puts her head
   And says, "This Christmas cooking, My!
   The sun's near fit for cooking by."
Upon her word she never did see such.

"Your fault," says Dad, "you know it is.
Plum puddin'!  on a day like this,
   And roasted turkeys!  Spare me days,
   I can't get over women's ways.
      In climates such as this the thing's all wrong.
A bit of cold corned beef an' bread
Would do us very well instead."
   Then Rogan said, "You're right; it's hot.
   It makes a feller drink a lot."
      And Dad gets up and says, "Well, come along."
The dinner's served -- full bite and sup.
"Come on," says Mum, "Now all sit up."
   The meal takes on a festive air;
   And even father eats his share
      And passes up his plate to have some more.
He laughs and says it's Christmas time,
"That's cookin', Mum. The stuffin's prime."
   But Rogan pauses once to praise,
   Then eats as tho' he'd starved for days.
      And pitches turkey bones outside the door.

The sun burns hotly thro' the gums,
The chirping of the locusts comes
   Across the paddocks, parched and grey.
   "Whew!" wheezes Father. "What a day!"
      And sheds his vest.  For coats no man had need.
Then Rogan shoves his plate aside
And sighs, as sated men have sighed,
   At many boards in many climes
   On many other Christmas times.
      "By gum!" he says, "That was a slap-up feed!"

Then, with his black pipe well alight,
Old Rogan brings the kids delight
   By telling o'er again his yarns
   Of Christmas tide 'mid English barns
      When he was, long ago, a farmer's boy.
His old eyes glisten as he sees
Half glimpses of old memories,
   Of whitened fields and winter snows,
   And yuletide logs and mistletoes,
   And all that half-forgotten, hallowed joy.

The children listen, mouths agape,
And see a land with no escape
   For biting cold and snow and frost --
   A land to all earth's brightness lost,
A strange and freakish Christmas land to them.
But Rogan, with his dim old eyes
Grown far away and strangely wise
   Talks on; and pauses but to ask
   "Ain't there a drop more in that cask?"
   And father nods; but Mother says "Ahem!"

The sun slants redly thro' the gums
As quietly the evening comes,
   And Rogan gets his old grey mare,
   That matches well his own grey hair,
      And rides away into the setting sun.
"Ah, well," says Dad.  "I got to say
I never spent a lazier day.
   We ought to get that top fence wired."
   "My!" sighs poor Mum.  "But I am tired!
      An' all that washing up still to be done."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Library Loot: December 12 to 18

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 went to my main Christmas work party tonight. We have just moved into a new building and the party was held in a section where there is no one working yet and so there is no air conditioning, so it was sweltering! The food, the vibe and the company were good but I have come home feeling a bit wilted. As a result I didn't get to the library for my normal Wednesday night visit so only have a couple of loot items this week:

The House at Salvation Creek by Susan Duncan - After reading Salvation Creek for book club and really enjoying it, I am looking forward to seeing what happened to Susan next!

+ by Ed Sheeran - I seem to have a lot of music on request from the library at the moment but this was the first one to come in.

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

Just for fun here is a version of one of my favourites off the CD:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Quotes: Flavia's Christmas question

Today's quote come from page 104 of I am Half-Sick of Shadows, the fourth book in the Flavia de Luce mystery series. The sereis features a very precocious young amateur sleuth, and in this book she is determined once and for all whether or not Father Christmas is real or not.

"Did you celebrate Christmas in Germany?" I asked Dieter. "Before the war, I mean."

"Of course," he said. "Father Christmas was born in Germany. Didn't you know that?"

"I did," I said. "But I must have forgotten."

"Weihnachten, we call it. Saint Nikolaus, the lighted Christmas tree.... Saint Nikolaus brings sweet for the children on the sixth of December, and Weihnachtsmann bring gifts for everyone on Christmas Eve."

He said this looking teasingly at Feely, who was sneaking a peak at herself in the looking glass.

"Two Father Christmases?" I asked.

"Something like that."

I gave an inward sigh of relief. Even if I did manage to bring one of them down and keep him from his rounds, there was still a spare to carry out whatever was left of the long night's work. At least in Germany.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas Quotes: A Very Morland Christmas part 2

Like yesterday's quote, today's is taken from The Long Shadow, book 6 of the Morland Dynasty books by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles (pages 315 to 317)

Hugo was delighted, but somewhat surprised, that his mother remained at Morland Place for Christmas: he had expected her to take the opportunity to go to London. But she threw herself into the celebrations with a will, organising a large party to ride out on Christmas Eve and fetch the holly and ivy and mistletoe and bay to decorate the hall, and to drag back the Yule log. The day was sharply cold, dry and crisp; snow had been falling for a week, but on that day the skies cleared and were wide and curved and blue as a robin's egg, and the snow glittered like diamond dust, and crunched and cracked beneath them with a noise like dry twigs. the sun shone down on them, pale, brilliant and heatless, and their voices rang and echoed as if the sky were as close as it looked. It was a day of brilliantly contrasted colours - the bitter white of the snow, the heraldic azure of the sky, glassy green holly, red holly-berries like fallen drops of blood in the snow. His mother wore a cloak of Kingfisher blue, and its folds hung vividly across the burnished copper of Banner's rump. She was laughing all the time as she exhorted them to greater efforts; Maurice found her a pheasant's tail-feather, and she stuck it into her hair as if she was wearing a hat, and Hugo remembered how it swung against the blue sky as she turned her head this way and that.

When they reached home the servants ran out with cups of hot spiced wine, and Clement brought the brand preserved from last year's Yule log, with which the new one must be fired if good luck was to come to the house. The log was dragged indoors in procession while everyone sang the Yule-log carol, and was put into the hearth in the great hall; Clement lit the brand and Father St Maur blessed it and Martin fired the new log. There was a breathless silence while everyone watched and waited, and as the first smoky crackling flames jumped up a great cheer rang around the hall and set all the dogs barking madly. The cups were refilled, and everyone stood around drinking and laughing and talking. Annunciata crouched down by the hearth like a child to rescue the little creatures driven out of the log by the heat, and Martin teased her gently for her tenderness.

It was a lovely Christmas, twelve days of freezing sunshine and the house filled with the smells of delicious cooking and the sounds of merriment. Great fires burned in every room, and at night there were enough candles to light the house as brightly as day. The house was full of people , too: Maurice and Karellie were home, of course, and Daisy and John Ailesbury came for the season - Daisy was pregnant again, as was Caroline, so they had plenty to talk about. Sabine and Crispian came too, and they joined in cheerfully with everything, although Hugo thought that Sabine looked rather wistfully at the two women whose bellies were full, and at the two babies, Arthur and James Matthias.

Hugo had never known his mother in such a mad mood, and when Martin named Karellie as Lord of Misrule, he and his mother seemed to conspire to make it the merriest Christmas ever. Each of Karellie's pranks was wilder than the last, and Annunciata urged him on to still more lunacy, until Martin protested that they would not reach Twelfth Night without some broken limbs. Karellie acquired a long, striped cat's tale from somewhere, and had it sewn to the seat of his breeches, and he wore odd-coloured hose, one leg white and one yellow, 'To shew my authority,' he said.

Then when everyone was exhausted with playing games and dancing and charades, there would be music and singing. Martin played to them, and Daisy and Maurice sang, and they all joined in the carols that everyone loved, 'In Dulci Jubilo', and 'Quem Pastores', and 'Green Groweth the Holly' and 'There is no Rose'. On Christmas Evening there was a special surprise for them all: Maurice had written a piece of music especially for Christmas night, and over the past week had taught Martin the second part, and they played it together on two cornetti for the assembled family. it was very beautiful: the cornetto was thought to be the instrument that most closely resembled the human voice in its range and flexibility, and Maurice played it exquisitely. Martin had never played a cornetto before, though he could play any reed instrument, but the second part was simple, and he managed it extremely well for his one week of tuition. When Hugo closed his eyes, it sounded like two voices, distant and pure, twining one around the other - it made him think of angels singing out in the clear dark night.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Sunday Salon: 2013 Reading Challenges (or making challenges challenging)

A few years ago I used to be something of a reading challenge addict - I used to sign up for a lot of them and then struggle to remember which ones I was reading for let alone completing them. A couple of years ago now, I took a step back and decided that I was going to only participate in a few challenges. It is a decision I have not yet regretted, so this year I am going with the same strategy.

I will, however, be making a couple of changes. A lot of the challenges that I have kept are not really all that challenging. For example, I love participating in the Historical Fiction challenge, not only because I am one of the hosts over at Historical Tapestry, but because I love historical fiction and I read a lot of it. So far this year, I have read 60 books qualified for the challenge, so not so challenging. Time to make some changes. Who knows, this time next year I might be lamenting the fact that I made it too hard for myself!

Here are the challenges that I am committed to so far for 2013:

What's in a Name Challenge (hosted by Beth Fish Reads)

Despite the fact that this is the only challenge I don't think I am going to complete this year (darn that creepy crawly category) I am back for another year. Here are the categories for 2013 along with some example titles from the challenge signup post

A book with up or down (or equivalent) in the title: Deep down True, The Girl Below, The Diva Digs up the Dirt
A book with something you'd find in your kitchen in the title: Loose Lips Sink Ships, The Knife of Never Letting Go, Breadcrumbs (Turning up the Heat)
A book with a party or celebration in the title: A Feast for Crows, A Wedding in Haiti, Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness (The Wedding Party)
A book with fire (or equivalent) in the title: Burning for Revenge, Fireworks over Toccoa, Catching Fire (The Firebird)
A book with an emotion in the title: Baltimore Blues, Say You're Sorry, Dreams of Joy  (Les Miserables)
A book with lost or found (or equivalent) in the title: The Book of Lost Fragrances, The World We Found, A Discovery of Witches (The Book of Lost Fragrances)

To see all the details, head to the sign up post at

Challenge website

Australian Women Writers Challenge (hosted at the challenge website)

I have been participating in reading challenges for years now, but I have to say that I don't think that one reading challenge has ever affected my reading in the same way as this challenge has. Nearly every year I have made it one of my reading goals to read more Australian authors, and I generally said I would be happy with reading 10 or so books by Aussie authors. Thanks to this challenge, I have read more than 50 books by Australian Women Writers this year, and a large number of those authors were new to me! As a result, it was never a question of whether I would sign up for this challenge again, and I am very excited to be involved in the challenge again in 2013.

I am signing up for the Franklin level (10 books read, at least 6 reviewed) but will probably read more.

Challenge website

Aussie Author Challenge - Hosted by Jo at Booklover Book Reviews

In a way the Australian Women Writers Challenge and this one were interchangeable to me this year, which meant that if I completed one then I completed the other. That's fine, but in 2013 I want to use this challenge to help encourage me to read books by Australian men! AWWC was created to address gender imbalance in reviewing but personally I have not great difficulty reading books by women, but I do read a lot more books by women than men. At the moment, I think only 13% of the books I have read this year have been by men.

I am therefore signing up for the Fair Dinkum level of the challenge. This means that I will be able to count four female authors to meet the criteria, but the remaining books need to be by men.

Have to say I love the button for this year's challenge too.

Challenge sign up page

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge - hosted at Historical Tapestry.

As I mentioned above this is a challenge that I finish pretty easily, so I will trying to think of how to make it make me work. In the end, I have decided that I will only be counting historical fiction novels by Australian authors for the challenge this year. I will still continue to read all the other authors, but they won't count for the challenge.

Because I am adding in this personal restriction, I am only signing up for the Medieval level this time around (15 books) which means that I should average just over a book a month for the challenge.

Alex did another fabulous job with the button this year too!

Challenge sign up post

Other than these challenges, I will most likely participate in Carl's challenges (Sci Fi Experience, RIP and Once Upon a Time challenges) and am waiting to hear what is happening with the War Through the Generations challenge. Who knows, I might decide to sign up for more, but I think this will be it.

What challenges have you signed up for next year?

Currently Reading

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, The Cook by Wayne Macauley, Home for the Summer by Mariah Stewart

Currently Listening

A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon (on audiobook - only 14 discs to go!)

Up Next

The Twelve by Justin Cronin, Voice of the Falconer by David Blixt

Christmas Quotes: A Very Morland Christmas Part 1

Today's Christmas Quote comes from pages 90-91 of The Long Shadow by Cynthia Harrod Eagles - Book 6 in the Morland Dynasty series. I will have another quote from the same book tomorrow.

Hugo had enjoyed Christmas at Morland Place more than any he remembered. At Martin's instigation Ralph had named Hugo Lord of Misrule for the twelve days, which meant that everyone had to obey him, whatever he told them to do and he and Martin had a great deal of fun thinking out absurd orders. He was also master of ceremonies in all the  games and festivities. Martin and George between them wrote a masque with music, and Hugo had the direction of it, which pleased him so much he even accepted it as reasonable that George should have the principal part. There was all the traditional feasting - the boar's head, the gilded peacock, the plum porrage, the mince-meat pies - with the poor at the gates coming in every day for the open table, and tenants and villagers bringing seasonal gifts for the master and staying for good ale and  good fare.

There were mummers and jugglers and travelling players and carol-singers forever at the door, and they too were brought in to the great hall, made festive with boughs of bay and rosemary and holly and ivy, to entertain the gentry. There was singing and dancing every night. At the Boxing-day hunt, Hugo was in at the kill and Ralph awarded him the antlers, and when the Twelfth-day Cake was cut, Hugo got the King's token and Daisy got the Queen's token, and he got to kiss her, which he did with a flourish that made everyone laugh. For the whole season everyone was kind to him and no-one slighted or despised him, and he was gloriously happy. His one regret was that his mother was not there to see what a fine and popular person he was.


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