Monday, April 29, 2013

Bookish Quotes: To Reading

This is the kind of conversation that I would love to have with some guy someday, who turns out to be more than some guy. Most days I feel as though I have given up that it will happen, but apparently there are other days when I do feel more hopeful.

"Fact number one: I was born at the commune."

"No kidding? How long did you live there?"

"I didn't. My mother used a midwife and the birth didn't go well. As you might imagine," he spread his hands, "I was a pretty big baby, almost ten pounds, and although my mother is six feet tall, it was too much. She ended up hemorrhaging , and they rushed her to Santa Fe and we both nearly died. That was that, for her, so she moved to town and bought the bookstore, and that's where I grew up, over the store."

Tessa feigned swooning. "That would have been my ultimate dream come true as a ten-year-old - access to all those books whenever I wanted."

"It was great. It's still great." He raised his beer. "To reading."

She toasted with her glass. "What do you like to read?" She asked, and drank deeply. It was actually very good for Guiness not in Ireland."

"Mostly fiction. Mysteries, science fiction, horror, big history sagas, you know, like kings and battles and things like that. How about you?"

"Literally everything." She laughed, a little ruefully. "I always read everything when I was a kid - and I do mean everything, from Nancy Drew to Dickens to my dad's John D MacDonald - but then I went to regular school and the English teachers started telling me to read 'real' books, so I tried. And you know, I kind of went off reading for a while. I had already been reading literary novels and the classics mixed in with whatever else but-" She waved a hand. "So I went back to reading whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to - reading had been my greatest pleasure in all the world. I mean, I never really watched all that much television, because we were moving around, never really had solid digs until I was thirteen, so reading was everything."

Vince leaned in, looking happy. "Me, too. Not the moving around, but the reading. I didn't read nonfiction, and I didn't really like mysteries in those days, but I read everything else. Everything.'

"Are you nearsighted?"


"Me too!" She slapped the hand he raised. "What were some of your favourites?"

He leaned on the table, and the edge of his tattoos showed beneath the sleeves of his T-shirt, a pale earth color with There's no place like roan on the front. "Big on Stephen King. Asimov, of course, and those big, juicy sagas that they used to have in the seventies and eighties, you know, like The Adventures and - "

"Oh, yes," she cried. "And Sidney Sheldon."

He made a face. "He was okay, but maybe too romancey for me, that guy."

"Yeah, he's probably more of a writer for women. Like Tolkien is more for guys."

"You think so? I know women who like him."

"Mostly tomboys, I bet."

He grinned suddenly. "Probably." He winked. "And they say reading is dying."

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sunday Salon: Stuck in a series vortex

This morning I finished reading Notorious Nineteen by Janet Evanovich, part of the long-running Stephanie Plum series. I find myself in a pensive mood thinking about why it is that I keep reading series beyond the point of pure enjoyment. Whilst this post is not going to be a review of the book as such, it may contain thoughts about this book, the Stephanie Plum series as a whole, and reading series in general.

I have a tendency to have a really hard time to make a conscious decision to let a series go, in much the same way as I struggle with DNF'ing a book. There are tons of series that I have let drop off, but that was never actually a conscious decision because I wasn't enjoying the series anymore. It is more likely to be that I just didn't request the next book in the series from the library, or I borrowed it and didn't get to read it so had to be returned unread.

The idea of saying 'that's it, no more' to a series like Stephanie Plum is difficult because there was a time when I loved this series. I used to buy the books as they came out, and did this up to book 12, which is about when I decided that I didn't want to buy the books anymore but I was still happy to keep borrowing them from the library. Notorious Nineteen was marginally better than the last couple of books, but I still hadn't gotten to the point yet where I couldn't add my name to the request list once it was added to the library catalogue.

When I think about this series in particular, there are a few things that I think about.

I wonder if someone picked up this book as their introduction to the Stephanie Plum series if they would find it hysterically funny in the same way as I found the first few books in the series. Is it just not laugh out loud funny anymore because there are so many familiar scenes that seem to play out in each book: the cars that blow up, the whole Babe vs Cupcake thing with Ranger and Morelli, the fact that Stephanie couldn't apprehend a fly most of the time, Grandma Mazur's quips and Lula's constant state of hunger. The only element that is normally present that was missing this time was the animal humour - thank goodness! There's only so many times that a monkey giving someone the finger is funny - and for me that number was zero.

As an aside, I can't imagine ever picking up book 19 in a series without having read the previous ones, but apparently it happens!

I also wonder what impact if any the movie has had for readers of the series. In my imagination, I think I do see Katherine Heigl as Stephanie but the same isn't true for the characters who play Ranger and Joe. I still have my own image of what it is that they both look like.

I have contemplated rereading the few books of the series to see if they are actually as funny as I remember them being. The first time around, I would be laying in bed reading the books literally crying with laughter. And that wasn't just once, it was multiple times per book. I encouraged people I knew to read them and I know that they passed them onto their friends too.

I guess I am a little reluctant to try the reread in case it really does turn out that either they aren't as good as I remember them being, or that as a long time reader of the series I am now a little jaded by all the repetitive shenanigans. Whichever way it is, I don't want to spoil the memories that I currently associate with the earlier books.

Perhaps if I knew there was an end in sight for the series it would make it easier to go back to the beginning with a less pessimistic attitude, but as far as I can see the plan is for this series to keep going and going. All good books have a beginning, a middle and the ending. Perhaps the issue with this series in particular (but there are some other series where the same can be said to be true) is that the middle has been going for so long now that it is sagging badly, and the fight to get to the end is just going to be too uphill to make it.

What about you? Do you find yourself getting sucked into the series vortex where you just can't quite let go? 

Currently Reading

The Hypnotist's Love Story by Liane Moriarty, A Lady by Midnight by Tessa Dare and listening to A Taste for It by Monica McInerney.

Up Next

Taking chances by Deborah Burrows, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Trifle Dead by Livia Day

Just like a good trifle, a good mystery has several different layers so that when you dig into the concoction it is full of the flavour and the texture that makes the whole spoonful taste delicious. For my Weekend Cooking post this week, I thought I would do a comparison of the components that make up a good trifle and a good mystery while talking about Livia Day's A Trifle Dead.

Firstly, there is the cake which in this analogy is the mystery that forms the basis of the book. Let's face it, if you say you are writing a mystery it doesn't really matter how good your characters are, or how unusual your setting because if the mystery is too weak then the rest can't wholly make up for that.

In A Trifle Dead, the cake layer revolves around cafe owner Tabitha Darling who is at the centre of a very eclectic group of people. She has been running her cafe for a year, and during that time she has built up a solid clientele. Among them are lots of members of the Tasmanian police force. They used to get their food at the police cafe when it was run by Tabitha's mother, but since she left town, they now gravitate to Tabitha's cafe. It also gives them an opportunity to keep protective watch over Tabitha, who seems to have a knack for getting herself into interesting situations. First and foremost on the list of police who seem to keep an eye on Tabitha is Leo Bishop, gorgeous and long the object of Tabitha's daydreams.

When a dead body is found strung up in a net on the ceiling of one of the apartments above the cafe, Tabitha can't help but become involved. For the police, it is apparently a fairly clear cut case, but it doesn't quite make sense to Tabitha. There are too many questions left unanswered. How does someone end dead in a net attached to the ceiling, and what does this death have to do with the other strange crimes that are happening around town? And how on earth does someone fill a fridge with hundreds of ping pong balls?

Assisted by Scottish blogger Stewart who has recently arrived in Hobart, Tabitha and her friends set about (definitely not) investigating the murder (because that would just upset dreamboat Senior Constable Leo Bishop more than he normally is!). Soon though, it seems as though these odd events are not unrelated and that somehow Tabitha is caught up in the middle of them all.

I have been known to have cake with custard for dessert, but it isn't trifle unless there is that added layer of jelly, which in this example I am equating with the characters.

Tabitha and her friends are very artsy and eclectic, and it would have been easy for the sheer personality size of some of them to overwhelm the story. For example, one of the key plot points is about Darrow, the missing owner of the cafe. Directly connected to him is the cat suit wearing ex-girlfriend who also happens to be Tabitha's high school (but no longer) best friend and his genius school boy younger brother. His grandmother is a delightfully quirky woman who makes anatomically correct human shaped meringues amongst other things. I haven't even talked about Tabitha's engineering student housemate with a penchant for cross dressing or any of the other characters. Given that there is so much colour in the characterisation of the people, it wouldn't have been a surprise if they distracted the reader from the story, but Day manages to give both the characters and the story the space they need to expand on the page.While I don't think I would necessarily be friends with all of them, they do make for interesting characters to read about, and I look forward to visiting with them again in the next book in the series.

As well as being a crime novel, this is also a humourous novel. With so many colourful characters to contend with, getting the dialogue right becomes even more important. There were plenty of times when I found myself laughing and smiling as the characters interacted with each other. Hopefully the quote I have included below shows this a little.

When you are building on the the layers of cake (mystery) and the jelly (characters), there is the creamy, smooth layer of custard.

In this book, the custard layer was the use of Hobart as the setting. Livia Day is a resident of Hobart and it is clear that it is a place that she loves. Hobart has long had a reputation of being a quiet city, but Day shows how the artistic scene is thriving in the island city. I went to Tassie a few years ago and stayed a bit out of the city, but I definitely appreciated the way that the author used well known landmarks such as Mount Wellington, which provides a dramatic backdrop to the city, and Salamanca Place, which on weekends draws the tourist crowds to the market that is held there as well as less well known features of the city.

The introduction of the Scottish journalist/blogger Stewart was a clever move, as it gave the author the chance to show the reader around Hobart using Stewart as the eyes and ears in addition to adding additional tension to the relationship between Tabitha and Bishop - yes, a potential love triangle. Stewart's job was to find stories that showed Hobart in an interesting and unusual light. It makes perfect sense to have to explain things to him that would have only been able to given to the reader in extended info dump sections otherwise. Oh, and I would have loved to have been able to see the mural that he paints for Tabitha's cafe. It sounded awesome.

The use of social media is also interesting. Day doesn't ignore the fact that Facebook and Twitter play such a big part in modern life for a lot of people. For example, every year Tabitha throws an Oscars party, where everyone has to dress up, eat fabulous food and watched the delayed telecast that we get here. During the day when the results are filtering through she avoids all Facebook and Twitter updates so that she doesn't find out who wins. I know people who do something similar, although I suspect that Tabitha's parties would be something special to attend just going on the description of her clothes. The place of social media is a topic that this author has has explored before in at least one short story in her other guise of Tansy Rayner Roberts, and I think it has a place in stories with a modern setting because the influence of social media does continue to grow and shape our modern society both in good and bad ways.

There are more elements that can be added to a trifle, including maybe a sprinkling of alcohol but the other major additional element that I expect in a trifle is some sort of fruit, which I am equating with the the foodie elements that are very present in this book.  The fruit pieces in a trifle are the extra flavour that give that extra burst of taste in every bite and that is definitely true in the book too. I was left very, hungry while reading this book and having drooled a lot!

As an example of this, I thought I would share a short passage from the beginning of the novel which gives some idea of the foodie feel of the novel, but also because it shows the voice of the author and the dialogue between some of the characters.

When I was growing up, a salad roll was a confection-like sticky bun filled with cheese, tomato, lettuce, beetroot and sliced egg, all glued together with a mock-mayonnaise. Good old Australian corner shop tucker. Now, if it didn't have cranberry sauce, gouda or red pesto on it, our customers whinged the roof down. Oh, and ham wasn't good enough for most of the hipster lunch set, even if it was triple smoked and carved off an organic local pig. Fat-free turkey and smoked salmon were where it was at - with a growing interest in grilled mushrooms and haloumi.

I realised I had reached the point of no return when I put 'tofu and ricotta salad roll, deconstructed' on the menu, and it became my biggest seller. After that, I started really having fun. If food isn't creative, what's the point?

Unfortunately, I still had a very vocal (if minority) group of customers who were firmly attache to the Gold Old Days, and relied on me to provide the basic staples of Man Food. Steak, friend potato products and pies. I never had this much trouble with the uni students when I was working at the cafe on campus. At least students appreciated an ironic sprout when they saw one.

Well, no more. The old guard were going to have to find their pies somewhere else. I had hipsters to feed. The customer bell twanged loudly in the cafe.

'In a minute,' I protested as Nin's eyebrows became stern and judgmental. 'Egg emergency.'

As I picked up the phone, a tall, dark and handsome police officer in street uniform put his head through the swinging doors. 'Tish, the natives are getting restless.'

I rolled my eyes at the old nickname, and handed the phone to Nin. 'Call Monica. We're going to need another three dozen. Might require grovelling.'

She dialled, knowing a good deal when she saw one. 'So,' I said to Senior Constable Leo Bishop, 'by natives, you mean the usual gang of reprobate?'

Bishop grinned his gorgeous grin at me. 'The accepted term is still police officers, you know.'
Of course, the final element in any trifle is the beautiful glass bowl that enables you to see the various layers once they are all assembled together, without distracting the eye. In this case, I think that the cover is very effective and eye catching.

Okay, I think that I need to give the trifle/mystery comparison a rest now!

It is no surprise that the week that I was reading this book, I suddenly found myself craving trifle. How fortuitous for me that I managed to stuff up making a never-failed-before chocolate cake so I was able to make a basic trifle just for me! Of course, it wasn't as exotic as the two recipes that are included in the back of the book. The publisher ran a contest asking readers to share trifle recipes and the two that are included sound absolutely fantastic - Chocolate Lime Shot Trifles and Death by Trifle: Cherry and Marzipan Trifle.

I have been a fan of Australian small publisher Twelfth Planet Press for a few years now. They mainly publish spec fic novels including the fantastic Twelve Planet series, which are short story collections from twelve Australian authors. Given that I already was a fan, I knew that I would be reading this book which is the first book that has been published under their new crime imprint, Headlines Deadlines. It didn't hurt that I knew that Livia Day was a pseudonym for Tansy Rayner Roberts whose short stories I have previously enjoyed.

This fun, cosy style novel is the start of a new mystery series which features a quirky Australian voice, memorable characters and delicious sounding food. I am looking forward to the next one, and also to see which other Australian voices the Headline imprint manages to uncover.

Rating 4/5


Tabitha Darling has always had a dab hand for pastry and a knack for getting into trouble. Which was fine when she was a tearaway teen, but not so useful now she’s trying to run a hipster urban cafe, invent the perfect trendy dessert, and stop feeding the many (oh so unfashionable) policemen in her life.

When a dead muso is found in the flat upstairs, Tabitha does her best (honestly) not to interfere with the investigation, despite the cute Scottish blogger who keeps angling for her help. Her superpower is gossip, not solving murder mysteries, and those are totally not the same thing, right?

But as that strange death turns into a string of random crimes across the city of Hobart, Tabitha can’t shake the unsettling feeling that maybe, for once, it really is ALL ABOUT HER.

And maybe she’s figured out the deadly truth a trifle late…

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, April 26, 2013


While I haven't been putting many blog posts up here, I have still been blogging elsewhere!

Last week I was honoured to attend the inaugural Stella Prize award presentation. You can read my write up of that event over at the Australian Women Writers Challenge site.

Also at that site I have written up a roundup of the historical fiction books that have been read for the challenge during the month of March. Come to think of it, I don't think I ever posted the links for January or February here before.

Finally, I was the Triple Choice Tuesday guest at Reading Matters this week. Head over to see my choices for a book that I love, a book that changed my life and a book that more people should know about. Given that Kim from Reading Matters is hosting Ozlit Month during April, all my choices are from Australian authors.

Normal service will hopefully resume here soon.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Anzac Day 2013

Today it is Anzac Day here in Australia, and in New Zealand, where we remember the landing of our troops on the beaches of Gallipoli and then later on the battlefields of the Somme during WWI It is a day that has come to mean so much more than just remembrance of all our soldiers who have fought and died for our freedom but also in many ways these events shaped our cultural identities.

Over the years I have shared a number of different posts on Anzac Day from songs, books, explanations of two-up and, last year, a conversation with one of my favourite Kiwi bloggers Maree from Just Add Books.

This year, I thought I would share just one paragraph from Tom Keneally's book Daughter of Mars. I remember reading this paragraph numerous times when I came across it in the book, and even after having read it so many times I do find it quite a powerful passage.

The men arrived with a word on their lips - Pozieres. It might have been a village but it was vast in their minds: the birthplace of their pain. The English newspapers had a name even broader than Pozieres. The name of a bloody river previously unremarked in the earth's imagination. The Somme ran scarlet and was vaster than the Nile or Amazon now in the imagination of all those in France. It was the altar on which Abraham did sacrifice his son, and no God spoke out to stay the knife.

Lest we forget

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Guest Post: Fiona Lowe on Independent Heroines

Today I am pleased to welcome Aussie romance author Fiona Lowe with a guest post on independent heroines! I just read her new book, Saved by the Bride, and I am hoping to have a review up later this week (although that would mean sitting down and doing it which I don't seem to be all that good at currently).

Welcome Fiona!


The Appeal Of The Independent Romance Heroine By Fiona Lowe

I was raised to be an independent woman. Education was considered very important as was financial security. There was never any talk of me finding a husband or marrying for money, which is why I nearly fell off my chair at dinner the other night when a guy my age said of his highly intelligent, 21 year-old daughter who has dropped out of college and isn’t certain what she wants to do with her life, just yet, “Let’s hope she finds a rich husband.” He was NOT jesting. Not in the least. Given the social circles they associate in, chances are, she will find a very rich husband, but I digress.

Paying my own way and earning money to contribute to our family has always been important to me, and it still is. I find it hard to accept someone offering to pay for my coffee or a meal although I feel quite comfortable, “shouting” (paying) for them.

I think that some of my beliefs about what it is to be a woman in the 2010’s has trickled into my writing. I like to think I write independent, free-thinking women who, although they love having a man in their life, they are still their own person. On reflection, this also impacts on favorite heroines I enjoy most in novels.

Here are my top five:

Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With The Wind. As much as she thinks she needs to be looked after, Scarlett is far too independent for this.

Rachel from Dream a Little Dream by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Homeless, penniless and on a mission, Rachel fights for her child and for herself.

Maddie Timms from Flowers in the Storm by Laura Kinsale. Maddie’s Quaker beliefs, education, independence and humanity help bring the Duke of Jervaulx back into the world.

Beth Hansen from Undeniably Yours by Shannon Stacey. Pregnant by a man she barely knows, it takes a lot of convincing that life with Kevin is going to be a shared life of equals.

Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. In a time when a woman had no way of earning a living and her future was dependent on her husband’s income and predisposition, Elizabeth held out until she met a man who was not only her intellectual equal but also a man she loved. And the fact he had more than £10,000 income per year is a bonus!

My current heroine, Anni from Saved By the Bride is fiercely independent to the point of poverty but handouts are not her style. She wants to work and be paid a fair wage for a fair day’s pay. I think that represent’s most of us, don’t you?

Who are some of your favorite heroines?

Fiona Lowe is a RITA® and R*BY award-winning, multi-published author with Harlequin and Carina Press. Whether her books are set in outback Australia or in the mid-west of the USA, they feature small towns with big hearts, and warm, likeable characters that make you fall in love. When she's not writing stories, she's a weekend wife, mother of two 'ginger' teenage boys, guardian of 80 rose bushes and often found collapsed on the couch with wine. You can find her at her website, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Library Loot: April 17 to 23

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!
I was at my sister's tonight for dinner and one of the things I got to do was bedtime story reading. After a few different stories, the conversation turned to the school library with my sister asking me if I ever borrow the same book over and over. Apparently my nephew has picked the same book three weeks in a row and everyone is a bit tired of it, except him of course. I went on to extol the virtues of the library - so many books to choose from - but I am not sure that I convinced him to pick a different book! Of course, I did have to offer up the clarification that I only reborrow books if I didn't get around to reading them, but that might have been a bit difficult to explain to a five year old.

Here's what I got this week, and not a reloot among them!

India Black and the Shadows of Anarchy by Carol K Carr - The next India Black book. I really enjoy this series which is set in Victorian England and features a brothel madam as the amateur spy.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan - Got this one on audiobook. I was hoping to get Paper Towns but that seems to be temporarily misplaced at the library - at least I hope it is temporary.

Finding Jasper by Lynne Leonhardt - I saw a couple of reviews of this book which made it sound really good so I requested it via interlibrary loan. My library decided to buy it instead!

Armageddon by Guy Sebastian - Feels like I have been in the queue for this album for months! Really enjoying it so far.

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

I thought that given the events in Boston earlier this week, I would share this song from Guy Sebastian, not because I am suggesting that anyone in particular is responsible but because the sentiment applies.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Clover House by Henriette Laziridis Power

When Calliope Brown's Uncle Nestor dies, he leaves her all of his personal belongings - his papers, photos, some cash and the things that he has collected over the years. In order to collect her inheritance Calliope must travel back to Patras, and sort through them. She hasn't been back to Patras for quite a few years and she is eventually convinced that she should return, albeit reluctantly.

What is clear from the beginning is that Calliope's mother Clio doesn't want her daughter to come back to sort through Nestor's belongings. And once Calliope is there, Clio does her best to put roadblocks in her way. It is just as clear that there is something that Nestor wanted Calliope to know, and, whatever it is, the secrets are to be found in the belongings that he has left to Calliope. But what could he be trying to tell Calliope through the old photos, letters and other knickknacks. Whatever it is, it is to do with Clio and the past, something that the two siblings were fighting about even on his deathbed.

This visit also gives Calliope the chance to find out a little more about her family's past. Once, they were a well to do family who lived in a beautiful house and had a farm, and now they don't. It's all just gone. Once, the Notaris family was well known on the island, but now they are just another family and Clio doesn't know how it was that they lost everything.

There was a lot to like about this novel. I really liked the contrast between the current time and the past Calliope happens to be visiting Patras during Carnivale, a time of parades, of partying especially the Bourbouli dances where the men all dressed up in their finery and the women all wore masks and cloaks to "hide" their identities, of feasting, and most importantly of family gatherings. When compared to the austerity of a town under occupation during World War II, initially by the Italians and then by the Germans, the contrast was marked. The author had me wanting to visit Patras during Carnivale, to see the colour and the pageantry for myself, and I liked how she showed some of the progress that was being made to modernise. It is interesting to note that the modern part of the story was set in 2000, so just before all the economic difficulties that have really affected Greece over the last few years.

There were also some beautifully imagined scenes included. For example, I had never heard of clover houses before, but the way they were described sounded like perfect places for the young Notaris children to play, and the scene where Clio's mother created butterfly wings out of the parachute of a fallen Italian airman was beautifully written.

One of the things that may be harder for a reader to connect with is the characters. Calliope's relationship with her mother could only be described as difficult. Clio is clearly an unhappy woman. When she married Calliope's father and moved to America, she was desperately unhappy and the marriage was volatile. Even after returning to live in Greece, Clio was still somewhat estranged from her brother and sisters. She was included in family events but always on the periphery, never fully embraced in the same way as her sisters were, and it all goes back to the events of the past.

Whilst it would be easy to blame Clio for all the difficulties in the mother-daughter relationship, it is also clear that Calliope has many issues of her own. They initially stem from her unhappy childhood, from that feeling of distance that she has from her mother, of being unloved. During her childhood, the best parts were the summers that she spent staying in Greece. There she knew that she was loved by her aunts, and especially by her uncle,  and by her cousin. But as an adult Calliope struggles to draw people in, and that's when she is not actively pushing people away! Her fiance, Jonah, wants to visit Greece with her, but Calliope is not at all convinced that he loves her enough to stick around so won't even tell her family about him, but then it is things that Calliope does that sabotages the relationship, things that make it difficult to fully respect Calliope as a character.

As a grown woman who has a difficult relationship with the difficult woman that is my mother, I could relate to a lot of the feelings that Calliope expressed. Despite being a grown up, despite knowing what she is like and knowing what to expect, that doesn't stop it from being disappointing when yet again she doesn't act or react in the way that you believe a normal parent should. I think I could particularly relate as my mother arrives in town for a couple of days this week and so I could absolutely relate to the way that Calliope viewed their interactions with a sense of duty rather then the excitement of seeing her mother.

The story is split between modern and WWII narrative with it probably being about a 60/40 split. I do like the dual narrative being used as a tool to tell this kind of story. The writing was smooth, and I found it easy to fall into the pages of the story and stay there and as a result it was quite a fast read.

Whilst not perfect, I did enjoy this book a lot, and I hope to read more from the author in the future.

Rating 4/5

Tour Details

Link to Tour Schedule:
The Clover House on Amazon
Henriette Lazaridis Power's website
Henriette Lazaridis Power on Twitter
Henriette Lazaridis Power on Facebook


Perfect for fans of Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key,this stunning debut novel brings to life World War II-era and modern-day Greece—and tells the story of a vibrant family and the tragic secret kept hidden for generations.

Boston, 2000: Calliope Notaris Brown receives a shocking phone call. Her beloved uncle Nestor has passed away, and now Callie must fly to Patras, Greece, to claim her inheritance. Callie’s mother, Clio—with whom Callie has always had a difficult relationship—tries to convince her not to make the trip. Unsettled by her mother’s strange behavior, and uneasy about her own recent engagement, Callie decides to escape Boston for the city of her childhood summers. After arriving at the heady peak of Carnival, Callie begins to piece together what her mother has been trying to hide. Among Nestor’s belongings, she uncovers clues to a long-kept secret that will alter everything she knows about her mother’s past and about her own future.

Greece, 1940: Growing up in Patras in a prosperous family, Clio Notaris and her siblings feel immune to the oncoming effects of World War II, yet the Italian occupation throws their privileged lives into turmoil. Summers in the country once spent idling in the clover fields are marked by air-raid drills; the celebration of Carnival, with its elaborate masquerade parties, is observed at home with costumes made from soldiers’ leftover silk parachutes. And as the war escalates, the events of one fateful evening will upend Clio’s future forever.
A moving novel of the search for identity, the challenges of love, and the shared history that defines a family, The Clover House is a powerful debut from a distinctive and talented new writer.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Library Loot: April 10 to 16

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 had a bit of a panic attack this week. I went to request an interlibrary loan and computer said no! because it said that I had exceeded my limit. Did that mean I had exceeded my limit of ILLs out right now, or books out in total, or ILLs for the year and if so did it go on financial year or calendar year! Oh no, what would I do without interlibrary loans.

Once I stopped freaking out, and returned a couple of books, including a couple of ILLs, it turned out I could request again so it seems I may have panicked unnecessarily but I was definitely panicking quite a lot at first!

Here is the loot I picked up this week:

The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted by Bridget Asher - I have been meaning to read this book for a couple of years now. I also still need to read Pure and Fuse which are written under a different name but are by this author! One day.

Between the Lines by Tammara Webber - I recently read and loved Easy by this author, so time to read her other books!

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion - Can't wait to read this book! Lots of buzz about it here at the moment!

A Gentleman Never Tells by Juliana Gray - The next book in this series!

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

Monday, April 08, 2013

Daughter of the Sky by Michelle Diener

Elizabeth Jones is travelling back to England following the death of her parents in China when she is shipwrecked off the coast of South Africa. She is rescued by Lindani, a Zulu, and she is adopted by his family, spending years living as a Zulu who is now known as Inyoni. With the coming of the British invaders, her English language skills will come in useful if she could spy for the Zulu, which Elizabeth is eager to do. Her loyalty now is to her Zulu family and not to the country of her birth, which she feels played a significant role in the deaths of her family years before.

Relying on the fact that most people don't look much past what seems obvious, Elizabeth cuts off her hair and dresses in a stolen uniform. The only man to see through her disguise almost straight away is Jack Burdell, but he believes Elizabeth's story of searching for a lost brother and so employs her as his batman in order to try and protect her secret identity from being discovered. Whilst living in such close quarters, the attraction between the two of them grows. Elizabeth's loyalty to the Zulu is not so straight forward once she knows that the information that she passes on, or the sabotage she performs, may directly impact the men she has come to know, especially Jack.

Daughter of the Sky features a trope that is often used in historical romance - a young woman dressing as a man - and does it well. What makes this so fascinating this time is the setting. I don't think I have read many books which are set during the Zulu wars in South Africa. I am not sure that I would necessarily classify this book as historical romance though. There is a love story, and it was one of the very well written aspects of the book, but this is no romance with a wallpaper historical setting. There are battles and death and drama aplenty and the author has kept as close as possible to the historical facts, even using quotes from actual correspondence at the opening of each chapter.

One of the other things I loved about this book were the thoughts of Jack's father. Jack receives his journal during the course of the campaign and he starts reading the journal while sitting in the tent waiting for the battle to start. There is a poignancy reading the thoughts of a man who is writing before his son signs up as soldier, wishing that his son would see something other than glory when he is thinking about doing so. It is also poignant to see the way that history is repeating itself, with many of the same mistakes that were made in battles in India a generation before being made in Africa, not the least of which is underestimating the locals and how hard they will fight for their homeland. These thoughts also have echoes in Jack's own disillusionment with the army and with the war that he finds himself in the middle of.

I have long been partial to books set in Africa, so when offered this book by the author, I was more than happy to accept. Then I saw that there was a virtual book tour, I volunteered for that so that I would have to read it! Once I started, it wasn't an imposition.

This isn't a book that I could necessarily see as being published by any of the big name publishers. With the constantly changing world of digital publishing it is exciting to see small publishers taking chances to publish unusual stories, or when authors can publish the books of their heart themselves. Michelle Diener grew up in the area where the battles portrayed in this book took place, and you can tell that this is history that has come alive to her!

The challenge for readers is to find those small press or self published gems among some not so gem-like books. If you like strong historical fiction with romantic themes and an unusual setting, this could be the book for you. I truly enjoyed it!

Rating 4.5/5

Tour Details

Link to Tour Schedule:
Twitter Hashtag: #DaughterOfTheSkyVirtualTour
Michelle Diener's website.
Michelle Diener on Facebook
Michelle Diener on Twitter


The Victorian Empire has declared war on the Zulus if they don't accede to their outrageous demands. The clock is ticking down to the appointed hour. With no idea why the British are marching three massive columns of men and guns towards them, one Zulu general is prepared to take an impossible risk. But the life he's gambling with isn't his own . . .

The sole survivor of a shipwreck off the Zululand coast, 15 year-old Elizabeth Jones is taken in by the Zulus, the people of the sky. Six years later, her white skin becomes useful to the Zulu army as they try to work out why the Victorian Empire has pointed their war-machine at the Zulu nation. Elizabeth is suddenly Zululand's most important spy.

While infiltrating the British camp, Elizabeth's disguise as a young soldier is uncovered almost immediately by Captain Jack Burdell. However, he believes the tale she spins of searching for a missing brother and shields her from discovery, allowing her to bunk in his tent and giving her a job as his batman. Burdell is war-weary and disillusioned - no longer willing to follow regulations at all costs.

But as Elizabeth and Jack explore their growing attraction to each other, the two armies move towards their inevitable clash. Elizabeth is torn between the guilt of betrayal and her fierce loyalty to her Zulu family, and when Zulu and British meet on the battlefield, both she and Jack find their hearts and their lives caught in the crossfire.
This book counts for the following challenges:

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Sunday Salon: March Reading Reflections

If you were to ask me how my reading month was going to be half way through the month and I would have suggested that it was going to be a pretty average month, but in the end it turned out to be a pretty good month. Not only did I get tor read quite a few books, but there was also some pretty amazing reads in there, in particular I wanted to spotlight Easy by Tammara Webber which I gave a rare 5/5 grade to.

Here's what I read:

Sydney Harbor Hospital: Lily's Scandal by Marion Lennox 4/5
Motorcycle Man by Kristen Ashley 4.5/5
Aussie Rules by Jill Shalvis 4/5
Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear 4/5
A Winter's Tale by Trisha Ashley 4/5
Starlight by Carrie Lofty 4/5
The Turncoat by Donna Thorland 4/5
Hope's Road by Margareta Osborn 4/5
The Perils of Pleasure by Julie Anne Long 4/5
Just One Day by Gayle Forman 4.5/5
Big Boy by Ruthie Knox 4.5/5
Lush by Lauren Dane 4/5
Easy by Tammara Webber 5/5
Paper Chains by Nicola Moriarty 4.5/5
The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth 4.5/5
The Secret of Everything by Barbara O'Neal 4.5/5
The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau 4.5/5
Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison 2.5/5
Back on Track by Donna Cummings 3.5/5
Tight Quarters by Samantha Hunter 4/

Challenge Update

Australian Women Writers Challenge - Sydney Harbor Hospital: Lily's Scandal by Marion Lennox, Paper Chains by Nicola Moriarty, The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth, Hope's Road by Margareta Osborn

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge: The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

Once Upon a Time VII: The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

Currently Reading

Stealing Picasso by Anson Cameron and The Chevalier by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Up Next

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Saturday, April 06, 2013

From the Kitchen of Half Truths by Maria Goodin

After a few weeks off, I am back for Weekend Cooking. I actually had a book that I intended to review last weekend but I got a bit obsessed by something else so now that book will be up for next weekend....or at least that is the plan anyway!

When this book was first released on Netgalley I requested it straight away because I knew that it would be a perfect read for Weekend Cooking. When the invite to participate in the publisher organised blog tour came, I jumped at that opportunity as well because it would give me that additional impetus to actually read and review the book, and here we are! It worked!

Everything that Meg May knows about herself comes from the stories that she has been told for years by her mother. She knows that her father was a French pastry chef who died soon after her conception after an unfortunate pastry making accident, that she was caught in a frying pan when she was born, that she was so small that she was left on the window sill to ripen, that the scar on her head came from a crab's pincer that was accidentally left in a crab cake.

The other thing she knows is that most of what her mother, Valerie, tells her is not true. She learnt this the hard way when she was a young girl and was ostracised by other children due to some of the stories that she repeated at school. Now Meg is as far from being like her mother as she can be. Whereas Valerie lives in a dream world where making toad in the hole is difficult because the toads won't stay put, or where runner beans run, Meg is a scientist. She wants everything to be backed up by solid data and proof and has no time for whimsical stories. Fortunately her scientist boyfriend Mark is also everything solid, sensible and logical. Of course, to the reader, he is also rigid and boring. After all, this is a man who thinks that Meg's top priority should be to question her mother, and so he buys her a book called TALK! saying "It's by some guy who used to be in the Special Air Services. It's all about interrogation techniques."

When Meg learns that her mother is terminally ill, she knows that it is her responsibility to come home and look after her. It may also be her last chance to find out once and for all who she is, if only she can get her mother to give her some facts. Valerie is, however, in denial, at least to Meg, and is determined to make the most of the time she has with her daughter and wanting to share her recipes with her daughter.

She apparently decided, during her short period of bed rest, that the time has come for me to learn her recipes, and she's on a military-style mission to teach me.

"I could put off teaching you for another year, and then another year, but what's the point?" she said yesterday. "I don't want to wait until I'm an old lady to teach you." I came down this morning to find the work surfaces packed with ingredients and a schedule of what we will be cooking over the coming week stuck to the refrigerator. She has literally crammed the next seven days full of cooking lessons. I'm not sure I understand the schedule correctly, but she doesn't seem to have left us any time to eat or sleep.

"I'm really tired. Can we have a rest?"

"We can rest once we have made the maple-syrup-and-pecan muffins."

"But I don't need to know all this stuff," I say wearily.

"Cooking is not a matter of need, Meg. It's a matter of desire, of passion. You don't just cook because you have to: you cook for the pure joy of it. Now, have you sliced the potatoes?" "But maybe we could just cook one thing a day." "That's not going to teach you anything.. There are so many lovely recipes I want you to learn. We have so many to cover."

"Couldn't you just write them down?"

"That's not the same! I need to show you personally. You need to know how to make the perfect passion fruit cheesecake and the sweetest grape-and-white-wine jelly. It's all in the mixing: it's all in the blending. How can I write that down? I can't. I need to pass it on properly. I need to show you myself!"

My mother is scaring me. She seems frantic, crazed, grabbing the celery and the knife from me and chopping at a hundred miles an hour, sending pieces of celery flying through the air and scattering across the worktop.

"You need to listen to me, Meg. You need to watch and learn." "But why do I?"

"Because you need to, that's why! You need to know how to do these things. You need to know all the things I have learned. You need to remember!"

She bangs the knife down on the chopping board, frustrated, suddenly looking close to tears.

"Remember what?" I ask.

She is breathing fast, her face flushed and full of distress. She stares at the tiny pieces of celery scattered across the chopping board as if she is trying to decipher some sort of patter. I gently touch her shoulder. "I will remember," I say softly. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, the tension slowly leaving her body. Then she turns to me, searching my face as if she doesn't understand what I have just said, as if she can't remember what just happened.

I carefully pick up the knife. "Tell me what to do next."

The opportunity for Meg to find out more about who she really is comes when she finds an old flyer for a band that includes an address. Suddenly Meg is afraid of what it might be that she will find out if she starts asking questions, but encouraged (or more precisely bulldozed) into it by Mark, she does. And she doesn't necessarily like what she finds out.

As well as being full of foodie moments, this book also addresses the power of story to help people cope with terrible events in their life, and to explain life in general. One of the key components in the story that helps with this is the gardener, Ewan. When Meg first meets Ewan, she assumes that he is something of a lazy man who is taking advantage of her mother, but she comes to learn that just because he doesn't meet her own definition of being successful, what he does know is how to be true to himself. At first Meg is dismissive of him and completely uninterested as he starts to tell her some of the Greek legends, for example the one about Pandora and her box, and eventually she begins to see how these myths have helped humankind explain life for hundreds of years.

This was a very enjoyable read. I loved the stories of the food coming to life (so much fun), and the way that the food that Valerie made drew the people around her both to her and to each other in due course.

There were elements that were a bit more problematic. Mark, for example, was pretty much a one dimensional character, and the romance was a little bit obvious but it was still a very pleasant and easy to read book!

It is interesting to note that this is a book that has several titles. It was originally published in the UK under the title Nutmeg. In Australia, it is called The Storyteller's Daughter and in the US, which is the version I read, From the Kitchen of Half Truth. Of those titles, I that the Australian title is the most representative of the book, but possibly the least imaginative of the titles.

In the synopsis of the American version (shown below), this book is compared to Chocolat by Joanne Harris and School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. While I can see how you might compare the three books, this one is not quite magical realism which I have seen in Chocolat, and yet it is far more whimsical than Erica Bauermeister's books. Another author that might be an apt comparison is Sara Addison-Allen. What this book does have in common with those two books is the idea of the power of food to bring people together and to ignite the senses.

Rating 4/5


Infused with the delicious warmth of Chocolat and captivating feeling of School of Essential Ingredients, FROM THE KITCHEN OF HALF TRUTH is the warm, tender story of Meg, who can’t convince her cooking-obsessed, fairy-tale loving mother to reveal a thing about their past, even as sickness threatens to hide those secrets forever. Driven to spend one last summer with her mother, Meg must face a choice between what’s real and what we make real, exploring the power of the stories we tell ourselves in order to create the lives we want.

Tour Details

Check out the other stops on the tour below:

April 1 – Luxury Reading
April 2 – Laura’s Reviews
April 4 – A Bookish Affair
April 5 – Mrs. Condit Reads Books
April 6 – Adventures of an Intrepid Reader
April 8 – Cocktails and Books
April 9 – Library of Clean Reads
April 10 - Broken Teepee
April 11 – Dew on the Kudzu
April 12 – Raging Bibliomania
April 15 - Daystarz
April 16 – Chick Lit Plus
April 17 – Peeking Between the Pages
April 22 – Books and Needlepoint
April 23 – Write Meg
April 26 – Bookmagnet

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, April 05, 2013

Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall by Bill Willingham

Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall is part of the Fables series that I have been reading for a year or so. The difference with this book is that you can read it either as an introduction to the series or you can read it part way through the series. Kelly's guide to the series recommends reading it between volumes 8 and 9 of the Fables books which is exactly where I am reading it.

The main concept of this whole volume is pretty simple - Snow White is sent as an ambassador to a powerful Sultan. Due to some cultural misunderstandings (not the least of which is the acceptability of sending a woman as an ambassador) and quite a few delays, Snow finally gets her chance to speak with the Sultan. He is, however, a man who has been betrayed by women before and so to protect himself from betrayal he marries a new woman each night and then has her killed before daybreak. Little does Snow know before she goes to him, her number is up. However, we know that Snow is quite a resourceful woman, and she begins telling him different stories and manages to catch his interest so that he wants her to keep coming back night after night.

Really, this set up is pretty much only a frame for the real business which is the chance for readers to get to see the earlier stories of many of the Fables characters that we are now familiar with. For example, the first and longest story in the book, is Snow White's own story - not so much the whole wicked queen and poison apple business - but what happened after she married her Prince Charming, with particular note on what happened with the dwarves after. These were definitely not your Disney style dwarves! (Sneezy, Dopey etc would have been safe in this telling. Can't say the same for these dwarves necessarily).

One of the other stories that is told to the Sultan is that of the Frog Prince. A beautiful princess kisses a frog and a handsome prince appears. They are married and very happy together, raising a thriving family with many children. The fact that the prince reverts to his frog form on occasion is only a small problem, until his home is invaded and his wife and children are killed and he is unable to do anything to stop it. This was only a short story compared to some of the others, but it was quite graphic (as in sexually violent). And yet, it was also the story that gave me my biggest a-ha moment as it kind of explains why the character in the previous books in the series firstly likes to eat flies, and secondly is the way he is, which is that he kind of exists in a perpetual state of shell-shock.

Another of the origins we got to explore was that of Bigby. Who would have thought he was the runt of the litter! We get to see how determined Bigby is, fighting his way up from awwww...Bigby as a cub to ewwww...Bigby as a malevolent killer. You can see much of these early lessons in the man who is one of my favourite Fables characters.

We also got to find out about the witch and how she came to be in the new world, about how it was that Old King Cole became the mayor of Fabletown and why it became necessary to create the farm which is what started the tensions that led to him being ousted as mayor in the later books in the series. I think from a purely aesthetic perspective, the witch's story and how she came to meet Snow and Ruby Red was my favourite.

While I enjoyed the stories, particularly the whole back to the beginning vibe, there were a couple of things that bothered me this time.

Snow is telling the stories to the sultan with a view of keeping him from marrying her and then killing her before daybreak, and this apparently goes on for 1001 nights. That therefore means a different story every night and I think that this idea of different stories was part of the reason why each story had different illustrators. However, to me, the different stories didn't feel cohesive, because each of the stories felt really, really different from the others in terms of the artistic style, the dominant colour palettes etc. Now this happens to a degree with a normal Fables collection but usually there is one overarching story that is continuing the main Fables storyline, as well as a couple of other stories, with the main thread feeling pretty much cohesive from one edition to the next.

The other thing that happened at the very end where Scheherazade is next to be in turn to go to the Sultan after Snow White has survived for 1001 nights, and Snow White tells her the secret of her survival - it kind of felt as though it was undercutting the whole Scheherazade story as an individual tale.

On to the next Fables book then!

Rating 4/5


Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall is set in the early days of Fabletown, long before the FABLES series began!

Traveling to Arabia as an Ambassador from the exiled FABLES community, Snow White is captured by the local sultan who wants to marry her (and then kill her). But clever Snow attempts to charm the sultan instead by playing Scheherazade, telling him fantastic stories for a total of 1,001 nights, saving her very skin in the process.

Running the gamut from unexpected horror to dark intrigue to mercurial coming-of-age, FABLES:1,001 NIGHTS OF SNOWFALL reveals the secret histories of familiar FABLES characters through a series of compelling and visually illustrative tales. Writer Bill Willingham is joined by an impressive array of artists from comic book industry legends to the amazing young painters of the next wave.

FABLES:1,001 NIGHTS OF SNOWFALL is both a welcome entry point to the critically acclaimed series and an essential part of Willingham's enchanting and imaginative Fables mythos.
Other contributors to this edition include Esao Andrews, Brian Bolland, John Bolton, Mark Buckingham, James Jean, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Derek Kirk Kim, Tara McPherson, Jill Thompson, Charles Vess, Mark Wheatley)

This book counts for the Once Upon a Time challenge.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Library Loot: April 3 to 9

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!
It was such a relief to get to the library again tonight! I don't know about your library system but ours was closed for four days over the Easter weekend. Despite the fact that I have more than enough library books to keep me reading and that's before I talk about books I have bought or review books, I went through withdrawals from not being able to drop in like I normally do on Saturday!

Here are the books that I got before that enforced absence:

Rose on Wheels by Sherryl Clark - Moving on to the next Our Australian Girl series. I read the first one of these last year.

The Puzzle Ring by Kate Forsyth - Over the last couple of months I have read and loved both Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl. Time now to start working my way through Kate Forsyth's backlist.

The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny - This was one of the books that was on the longlist for the Stella Prize award. It sounds like a really interesting read, and I knew that I had to give it a go once I read Bree's gushing review.

Like No Other Lover by Julie Ann Long - My library has books 1, 4, 6 and 8 in this series, so I had to get this, the second book, via interlibrary loan.

On Rue Tatin by Susan Loomis - Another interlibrary loan! Paris and food...sounds like a great read to me!

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