Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Almost French by Sarah Turnbull

Unlike a lot of us, including those of us that participate in the Paris In July event, freelance journalist Sarah Turnbull wasn’t all that desperate to visit France when she was spending a year backpacking through Europe back in the mid 90s. She was mainly spending her time in the eastern European countries. In her travels, she meets a French lawyer named Frederic a couple of times and when he asks her to come and visit him in Paris, she agrees.

What starts out as a week long visit turns into a month long holiday affair and then into more and, after a brief separation while Sarah finishes her travels, she moves to Paris to be with Fred. Moving to a different country requires adjustments for anyone, let alone when there is a different language and very different cultural values involved. For a relatively laid back Aussie, the rules that permeate French society are difficult to understand let alone to follow, and that is before you throw the fact that Sarah needs to learn the language quickly and to find a way to break into the freelance journalism market so that she can start to earn some income. Being a freelance journalist means that she must work from home which is a way that the author is isolated from others, and she must find ways to counteract this loneliness.

Turnbull takes us through some of the well known French clichés but also some of the less well known quirks as well. She writes about the French obsession with food, talking not only of the lunch that she ate in a Michelin star restaurant but also of her joy at eventually moving to an area of Paris where there is still a fresh food market. She tells of starting most days with a café crème at her local café, and attends dinner parties where it is expected that there will be numerous courses and if they aren’t right there will be criticisms made - very different to the barbecue in the backyard that most Australians would be used to.

One of the other things that Turnbull talk about included fashion, and the way that seeing seeing how the French dress influenced her to dress better. At one point, she and Frederic had a conversation about how no French person would wear their tracksuit pants to the bakery for fear of upsetting the baker. A few days later I thought about how I would manage in France as I just popped down to the shops in my trackydacks, old smelly trainers and jumper! Non, non, non!

Other subjects to be examined include making friends, the French concept of home (wherein Frederic returns to his small town in Normandy on a very regular basis), moving house to a fabulous sounding apartment in central Paris and the joy of living in the beautiful city but also the issues that brings, Frederic's first visit to Australia and more. All of the anecdotes are told with humour and with a candour that at times can verge on harsh (for example when she talks about how difficult it can be to make friends with French women), but I can also definitely imagine. One of the other fun stories was when Sarah and Frederic decide to buy a dog. Sarah is determined that there do Maddie is not going to be a pampered Parisian pooch, but it doesn't take long before Maddie goes everywhere with her and often provides entres into conversation that might not have otherwise existed.

One of the strengths of the book for me was that Turnbull not only observes as an outsider looking at French society but that she was trying to understand so that she could assimilate as much as it would be possible for an Australian moving to France could, especially someone whose partner is French and so she doesn't want to let him down at all. Also, she took the time to compare and contrast the two cultures and the way they approach everyday things like food or the service that they expect in shops or aesthetic beauty whether it be in their own home or in hotel rooms with terrible art on the walls for example.

One of the other things that was quite interesting to me was that Sarah and I were both travelling at around the same time and so there were some key events that were mentioned during the book that I remember quite clearly. For example, when France won the soccer World Cup in 1998, I remember watching the final and then seeing the news reports of the people of Paris celebrating whilst Sarah Turnbull writes about being there. Whereas she ended up living a fabulous life in Paris I ended up living for 5 years in the UK, and I obviously came back to Australia a lot sooner than she did.

While I was living in an English speaking country with a similar culture and so did not face a lot of the same difficulties as she did, I was involved with a Nigerian man whose friends were predominantly other young Nigerian men and so could really relate to the feeling of ostracism that comes with sitting around a table or lounge for a meal and not being able to follow the conversation because it was in another language that you either didn’t know or weren’t fluent in, to having no one make any effort to include you in the conversation, to that feeling of just filling a space rather than being an integral part of the gathering.

I listened to the audiobook version of this book which was narrated by Caroline Lee, who I am almost convinced is pretty much the only female Australian narrator out there. I know that isn’t true, but this is the fourth audiobook that I have listened to this year where she was the narrator, and she also narrates several that I have considered listening to. I did like her narration in this book. I think her voice is more suited to contemporary storytelling, or at least I didn’t like her as much when I was listening to historical novels, particularly ones where there was a wide variety of different accents.
This book was published in the early 2000's and it has taken all this time for a follow up book to be released. I am looking forward to finding out what happens next to Frederic and Sarah.

Rating 4/5


A delightful, fresh twist on the travel memoir, Almost French takes us on a tour that is fraught with culture clashes but rife with deadpan humor.

Sarah Turnbull's stint in Paris was only supposed to last a week. Chance had brought Sarah and Frédéric together in Bucharest, and on impulse she decides to take him up on his offer to visit him in the world's most romantic city. Sacrificing Vegemite for vichyssoise, the feisty journalist does her best to fit in, although her conversation, her laugh, and even her wardrobe advertise her foreign status.

But as she navigates the highs and lows of this strange new world, from life in a bustling quartier and surviving Parisian dinner parties to covering haute couture fashion shows and discovering the paradoxes of French culture, little by little Sarah falls under its spell: maddening, mysterious, and charged with that French specialty—seduction.
I read this book for following challenges/events:

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Visting Monet's Garden

Every year in the winter months there are a series of exhibitions which come under the collective title of Melbourne's Winter Masterpieces in conjunction with other galleries and museums. Last year, the National Gallery of Victoria exhibition was about Napoleon, and I shared my experience as part of the Paris in July blogging event which is hosted by Karen at Bookbath and Tamara at Thyme for Tea. This year, the NGV has been very accommodating in providing me with another French experience to post about as part of Paris in July, with the current exhibition being called Monet's Garden.

As I think back, my favourites of the pictures were probably Roses, which was Monet's last completed work, Taking a Walk Near Argentuil and Rouen Cathedral at the End of the Day. There were also a couple of series showing various scenes in different light that I really liked too. Some of the other flowery ones were absolutely luminous too but I can't specify which ones they were now. Doesn't help that there must have been twenty paintings that were called Waterlilies, so you have to know which period you are talking about in order to specify exactly which painting it was that you saw!

One of the things that I was struck by in the exhibition was how few of the paintings had people in them. There was a portrait of his wife and one of his kids, one of his friend Renoir, but other than that from memory there were only a couple where there was a group of people walking in the country and another with people walking on the beach. Maybe that is just the way that it worked out given that this exhibition was specifically focusing on the garden but it was something that was noticeable as we walked around.

I went to see the exhibition with a group of friends and we went to the premium viewing session early on a Saturday morning. At first I wasn't thrilled at the thought of paying extra to see the exhibit but I have to say I loved it, and it was totally worth the extra money not to have to share the space with hundreds of other people crowding forward to look at the paintings and the descriptions. Because there were so few people in the galleries you were able to look at each painting up close and see the brush strokes and colours but there was also more than enough space to step right back and see the paintings as a whole, as they were meant to be seen and perceived. It also meant that we had time to walk through the rooms several times.

There were some paintings that, even with all the space and time we had, I just didn't really get but there were also lots that were beautiful. It was interesting to see the paintings that were done away from the garden at Giverny because they are what is so often associated with Monet - the paintings of London in the fog, of houses in Norway (not my favourites but still interesting) and others.

Having said that, it is clear that the garden was Monet's inspiration particularly in later life. The exhibition experience was rounded out with a film that was especially commissioned which showed life at Giverny over the course of a day. It was shown on a semi circular screen and showed some of the famous outlooks (the Japanese bridge and the ponds with the water lilies) as well as the interior of the house from sunrise to sunset and it was a lovely way to spend a few minutes. I am sure it is not the same as being there but it is the closest I am going to get for several years yet! I was glad to be sitting right at the back of the room though. If you were sitting in the heart of the semi circle you could have ended up feeling a little giddy I think.

As usual in these big exhibitions there are no photos allowed, but there was one place where you could take a photo of yourself in the garden outside Monet's house, so here I am picking a tulip from the garden, because I do really like tulips!

I really enjoy going to visit the NGV and other museums and galleries in the city, but it is not something that I do often. I tend to go to the big exhibitions and then spend time wandering around the other galleries rather than just going in with the intention of just wandering (if that makes sense). I thought I would just briefly talk about some of the other things that I found interesting during my visit to NGV that day.

After viewing the exhibition, one of the other ladies and I headed upstairs and indulged in a little morning tea. We could have stayed downstairs in the main cafeteria space which had all been decked out in a French provincial kitchen theme but it was nice to be able to sit and chat.

When I first saw this piece as I walked in, I was a bit perplexed by it. At first glance, and from a distance, it looked a bit like a giant Christmas decoration so I did wonder if they were doing a Christmas in July theme, which would have been a bit kitschy for an art gallery. It turns out that it is actually a deer that has been stuffed and then covered with spheres of all different sizes. It was certainly eye catching.

My favourite thing in my visit to the gallery this time was this installation by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot who "is a French artist and composer who creates large-scale acoustic installations and environments which draw upon forces of nature and the rhythms of everyday life to produce new forms of art and music." (description from the website). I was not the only person who sat for minutes at a time watching the porcelain bowls floating around the pool and creating resonating sounds as they bumped into the other bowls. At one stage there were a group of people watching as one bowl got stuck in a dead spot and cheered when it finally got moving into the current again. This whole piece was very soothing, and I could easily have watched it for much longer than I actually did but all up I probably spent more than half an hour just sitting and watching.

When I knew that I was going to the gallery, there was one painting that I knew that I wanted to make sure that I saw and that was Picasso's Weeping Woman. A few months ago we read a book for book club called Stealing Picasso by Anson Cameron which was a satirical take on the theft of this piece from the gallery in the 1980s. I didn't like the book much, but I was determined to go and see the piece. I have no idea why I took this photo on an angle. Picasso did a good enough job of seeing the world differently without me adding my own twist.

Finally, one of the fascinating displays that I stumbled onto by chance was a display of Jacobite glassware called Kings Over the Water. Authors like Diana Gabaldon and Susanna Kearsley have written fantastic books which tell aspects of the Jacobite supporters story - the dangers they faced, the exiles to various other countries and more so I found myself thinking of those stories as I wandered along the displays.  Some of the glassware displayed had hidden symbols to show where the owners political sympathies lied  but many of them were overtly displaying this through the engravings or inclusions. For example, there were a couple of glasses where there was a small coin that had been included in the stem which showed the 'true king'. For much better photos click through to the NGV website.

Currently reading

Persuasion by Jane Austen (audiobook), The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick and India Black and the Shadows of Anarchy by Carol K Carr

Up next

The Good Prince by Bill Willingham, A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Library Loot: July 24 to 30

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

Here's what I got:

The Tudor Secret by C W Gortner - I am supposed to be reading the second book in this series for a blog tour in the next couple of weeks but then I realised that I haven't read the first book yet! Need to rectify that soon!

Bridge of Dreams by Anne Bishop - Last week I read Anne Bishop's newest book and I loved it! I was reminded of how much I enjoy her books even though I haven't read one for years.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell - This book was on order when I first requested it.....more than a year ago! Finally, finally it came in!

Welcome to Rosie Hopkins' Sweetshop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan - reloot. I read a few pages but then had to return the book because someone else had requested it.

The Pretend Wife by Bridget Asher - I just finished reading one of this author's other books and loved it!

A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke - I might just have time to fit one more memoir about moving to France in to this month in honour of Paris in July!

The Tour de France: the good, the bad and the just plain weird by Paul Hansford - I love watching Le Tour and miss it when it finishes each year. This book might help me through for another few weeks at least.

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

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Weekend Cooking: Visiting the patisserie

For today's combined Weekend Cooking/Paris in July post, I thought was would share a passage from the Provence Cure for the Broken Hearted by Bridget Asher.

As a bit of background, Heidi is going to spend a few months in France. She used to go regularly as a child with her French mother but she hasn't been for many years. Two years ago, her husband died and she is taking a very long time to be able to get back into what other people consider to be a normal life.
The Julien referred to in the passage below was the boy who lived next door to their house in France. 

The quote comes from pages 206 to 209.
We stepped out of the car and into the small patisseries-boulangerie, a stone building with a green awning, which sat at the end of a row of houses with their big wooden shutters. A bell on the door alerted the baker, who was a lean man in his mid-sixties. He stood behind the domed display cases, wearing a crisp white shirt and a fine chain with a delicate silver medal, plain and circular, with an inscription too small to read. He spread his broad hand on the counter and leaned on it, bantering with Julien, the medal glinting now and then.

I gazed at the glass-encased flans topped with berries, the croissants spotted with chocolate, the miniature glazed cakes. 

"We came here as kids," I said. I remembered Veronique and my mother bickering over who would pay for what.

"Yes," Julien said, "we had your birthday party."

Once - it was that last visit, when I was thirteen - we'd arrived in France early enough in June to hit my birthday and had a small party. This was where we'd bought the goodies for it. I remembered thinking I was too old for a party with little cakes.

But still, I remembered this shop exactly. And now I knew what all of the cakes were. I knew some of them quite intimately. Suddenly I wanted to hear the words in French. I pointed at one of the beautiful, exquisitely detailed desserts,. "Qu'est-ce quec'est?" I asked. What is it?

"Americaine?" the baker asked.

"Oui," I said.

The baker grew serious then. He looked at me and then at Julien. He seemed to want to ask a question - something about Daryl Hannah? - but he didn't. Instead he described the framboise, a raspberry mousse with pistachios and two layers of genoise soaked in a raspberry syrup.

I pointed to the next and asked again.

He described, patiently and reverently, the tarte citron, a lemon curd in a sugar pie crust.

I asked about the next and the next - the tiramisu, where the almond jacond was soaked in coffee syrup; a pear pin-wheel, poached in white wine; a hazelnut meringue with buttercream and chocolate ganache; a white circular mango-topped cake that involved rum, sauteed mango, and toasted coconut; truffles with spongy layered centres and bitter dark-chocolate ganache; and tarts, one with chocolate, nut, and marzipan.

I repeated the words in a quiet voice, almost mouthed them. I loved the feel of the words themselves: framboise, mousse, pistaches, citron, coco....

I remembered working in the kitchen with my mother, after her lost summer when she'd come home, her hands dusted in confectioners' sugar as she rolled out fondant, whipped cream, separated yolks with the delicate back-and-forth between cracked shells. My mother worked frenetically until I dipped around her elbows. Elysius disappeared with her friends, but I stayed with my mother in the steamy kitchen as much as possible, dizzy from the scents of the cocoa, caramelized sugar, and cakes, all of it billowing around the kitchen in gusts.

There was a bakery not far from the house I grew up in, the white cardboard cake boxes tied with string, curved, clear display cases, and little glass figurines that you could buy to put on top of a birthday cake, women in white uniforms who took our orders and wrote our names on the cakes in swirling letters right in front of us. And eventually, when my mother's obsession with baking came to its end, we went there only for birthday and graduation cakes. But I always had the desire - so strong and fixed on each beautiful cake, my hand pressed to the chilled glass - to be back in the kitchen with my mother, to witness what must have been part of some kind of healing process, to witness a woman who'd come home, yes, but who was then returning slowly to herself.

I wasn't sure what had come over me here in this little French bakery. I felt light-headed and hungry - but in a way I hadn't felt in a very long time - a hunger as restless as my guilt. I nodded along with the baker and found myself saying, "Une of those. Trois of those. Deux of those. Non, non, quatre."

The baker kept glancing at Julien as if asking if I really had permission, if I was sane. Julien kept nodding. Yes, yes, do as she says.

I felt absurd driving home. With the backseat filled with bags from the Monoprix, I had to stack the boxes of pastries on my lap. They were so high, they blocked my vision. I wedged loaves of bread between the door and the passenger's seat. "It's part of our French education," I said.

"No need for a rationale," Julien said. "But that was..."

"What?" I said. "It's just my contribution."

"Exactly," he said. "I understand. But that was..."

"Joyful," I said. "It was joyful. I'm working on joy, right? That's what people are supposed to do, according to you, when they're miserable."

"It was.."

"What," I said. "What was it?"


"I raised my eyebrows. "Don't be so French about it," I said, smiling a little.

"I'm not being French. That was the international language. It was erotic."

I sighed. "I was overcome."

"Yes," he said. "That's what it was. It's a start."

"A start of what? Am I living a little?"

"Yes," he said, "just a little, but a start."

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.

Paris in July is hosted by  Tamara at Thyme for Tea and Karen at Bookbath.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Library Loot: July 18 to 24

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!
Claire has the Mr Linky link this week so head over there to share your loot.

Here's mine for this week:

Almost French by Sarah Turnbull (audiobook) - I am beginning to think that there is only one female audiobook narrator in Australia. This is the fourth audiobook this year that I have listened to that has been narrated by Caroline Lee and there are at least a couple of other books that I might listen to that she narrates too!

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green - I have listened to the last 3 John Green books I have read so it is a bit of surprise to actually have to read read this one!

Luca's Bad Girl by Amy Andrews - next book in the Sydney Harbour Hospital and a potential Friday night read.

The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness - Reloot.

The Garden of Happy Endings by Barbara O'Neal - The last book on the Barbara O'Neal backlist, although she does have a lot more written as Barbara Samuels.

Gold Dust by Kimberley Freeman - The last book in Kimberley Freeman's backlist. She too has a backlist under another author name though, this time Kim Wilkins.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Own the Wind and Fire Inside by Kristen Ashley

One of the changes I have noticed in my recent romance reading is the rise of the dominant, hard assed, tattooed hero. Apparently this comes under a new label of Extreme Romance within the romance genre. Authors like Lauren Dane introduced me to this type of hero (although to be fair her heroes are tattooed and pierced but are fundamentally normal guys) and then I ventured a bit further to Cherrie Lynn (Seth 'Ghost' Warren - be still my beating heart) and then to Kristen Ashley, one of the strongest authors in this particular corner of romance land, who has provided the reader with men who might speak like they come from the gutter, are ultra dominant when it comes to the relationships they have, covered in tattoos, pierced (anywhere and everywhere), who might be members of biker clubs, undercover cops or whatever. In short, they are men that I can’t imagine ever being attracted to or in a relationship with but oh boy, I do enjoy reading about them!

Ashley was originally a self published author who gained a very strong following and she has now been picked up and published by one of the big name publishers. This following has grown despite the fact that there were undoubtedly issues with her self published books, or at least the ones I read. They were probably longer than they needed to be, at times the men are closer to arrogant dickheads than romantic heroes, and the pages were filled with repetition of specific words and phrases. For example, in one of the Mystery Men books I lost count of how often the heroine thought the word ‘whoosh’. Now I like a good ‘whoosh’ as much as the next person but over and over and over again was very, very noticeable. In short the books needed a good editor. The danger though of getting a good editor was that the voice that is so distinctly Kristen Ashley would be lost in the more polished product that was the result. Fortunately, it seems with these two books, and in particular Ride the Fire, the product was more polished, but you definitely hadn’t lost that Kristen Ashley factor.

Before I look at each of the books in the Chaos series, I thought I would add a little more background to where this series evolved from. My introduction to Kristen Ashley’s writing came when I bought and read the first book in the Mystery Man series that she self published. As soon as I had finished that book I had to buy the next, and the next, and the next. The hero of the first book (Mystery Man) is Hawk Delgado, a commando that skirts the edges of the underworld society in Denver, then there was Brody (Wild Man), an undercover narcs cop, then Mitch (Law Man), another cop (and the closest I would say to a man I could imagine meeting) and finally Tack who is head of the Chaos motorcycle gang and whose book is therefore called Motorcycle Man. These men all inhabit dangerous and violent corners of the world who, when they fall, fall hard and who have pretty definite ideas about the roles of the ladies in their lives!

When I read romance I am pretty much mostly about the hero, but that doesn’t mean that the female characters are invisible to me. The females provide each other with support and understanding given that they know some of the same dangers that their men face in their everyday lives, and the portrayal of the strength in the female friendships is really good. My favourite female character is not one of the heroines though. My favourite is Elvira – a very colourful character who pops up when the women need her most – usually with fabulous food and lots of alcohol! She is also very forceful and I think that I lot of the big, tough men she comes into contact with on a regular basis are just a little intimidated by her, which is fun to see. I was so glad to see that Elvira had her own hunk to keep warm with at night and would love to read more about that relationship at some point in the future.

Part of the reason why I thought it was important to provide that background is that the main characters in both Own the Wind and Ride the Wind, in particular, are closely related to Tack’s story. Whilst I am sure that you can read Own the Wind and Ride the Fire without reading Motorcycle Man it will make for a stronger reading experience if you have read it.

Now let’s talk about the individual books that make up the Chaos series so far.

Own the Wind

Too hot to handle...

Tabitha Allen grew up in the thick of Chaos--the Chaos Motorcycle Club, that is. Her father is Chaos' leader, and the club has always had her back. But one rider was different from the start. When Tabby was running wild, Shy Cage was there. When tragedy tore her life apart, he helped her piece it back together. And now, Tabby's thinking about much more than friendship...

Tabby is everything Shy's ever wanted, but everything he thinks he can't have. She's beautiful, smart, and as his friend's daughter, untouchable. Shy never expected more than friendship, so when Tabby indicates she wants more--much more--he feels like the luckiest man alive. But even lucky men can crash and burn...

Tabby Allen is the daughter of biker club leader Tack Allen. What this means for her is that she was always looked after the members of Chaos – and her main protector when she was a teenager was Parker ‘Shy’ Cage. Shy was very much aware of the rules though. No one, and that means no one, is allowed to touch Tabby or risk earning the wrath of Tack and his wife Tyra.

Fast forward a few years, and Tabby is making her own way in the world. She is studying to be a nurse, engaged to be married to a nice man (who is not a biker) and things seem to be going well, until her husband-to-be is killed in a car accident and her life falls apart.

Shy was an orphan who was looking for a place in the world when he found Chaos and joined the club. Finally, he had found his ‘home’, even though that home would not be everyone’s choice. He is not shy around the ladies (have to love an ironical nickname) but he has always had a soft spot for Tabby, even though he knows full well that she is off limits. When Tabby is hurting, he is there for her and gradually both of them realize that the attraction they both have felt, and ignored, over the years is growing again. However, as far as the rest of the club is concerned Tabby is still off limits and so the relationship must be kept secret. Of course, when it does get out...well, all hell breaks loose!

I liked the way that the author used a time lapse style to show the relationships moving forward although in the beginning the jumps forward in time seemed a fraction too long. Often you will see the two main characters meet and fall in love to happily ever after but it feels as though that transition happens really quickly. By fast forwarding the action, sometimes by a couple of weeks at a time, some times by months, means that it didn’t feel as rushed and that the relationship as given the chance to develop.

I also liked the fact that because Tabby had grown up in this world, she knew exactly how women could be treated and how she could be treated if she didn't put the ground rules down early.

I'd had a lifetime of watching biker babes and the way they got on with their badass bikers. I knew this was a minefield, and I knew that Shy was not the only badass biker who went gonzo like he did that night we discussed why I'd disappeared for two weeks and like he had again two hours ago when he confronted me about leaving.

As far as I could tell, there were three options for going the distance with a biker and after that kiss that was what was on my mind.

Going the distance with a biker. With Shy.

The options were, one, give up and let them roll right over you.

I didn't think that was me, or I hoped it wasn't.

The next was become a biker bitch, like my mom had become. Mom was just a bitch, so it was bound to happen that she'd let her bitch light shine through. But sometimes when the boys were the boys, bossy biker badasses, instead of setting the boundaries right off, I'd seen women go over the top with attitude, butting up against their man all the time and not talking to him so they did nothing but fight. Loudly. Publicly. Nastily.

I didn't want that either.

Not at all.

The last option was the way Tyra was with Dad. I didn't know how she balanced it, but they were who they were and somehow that clicked. She didn't let him roll all over her even though he had a dominant personality, the kind that pushed out all other personalities unless you were able to hold your own against him. Still, Tyra had to find that middle ground where she gave Dad what he needed to be,, well...Dad. A little over, he'd butt heads with you and the results wouldn't be pretty. A little under, he'd take advantage and then lose interest, especially in women, because as much as Dad was about control, he didn't want to control his woman. He liked a challenge. Just not too much of a challenge.

One element that didn't work so well for me in this book is the suspense sub plot that weaves through the background of this book and also Ride the Fire. The story is that there is a crook who is trying to creep onto Chaos ground. Tack and his men have spent years making the area immediately surrounding the clubhouse into a clean area - no drug deals, no prostitutes etc - but now someone has decided that he wants that ground, therefore setting themselves up in direct conflict with Chaos. Whilst the men of Chaos are no angels, they are proud of how well their clean up worked over the years and they will do whatever they can to stop their enemy, especially when someone that Chaos counts as one of their own becomes a pawn in the conflict. The only thing is that it seems as though this aspect of the story is underdeveloped in both of the books. In order to make sense it is going to require some serious page time in book 3 of the series.

Rating 3.5/5

Fire Inside

Lanie Heron isn’t looking for love—no surprise, considering her last serious relationship nearly got her killed. So when Lanie propositions Hop Kincaid, all she wants is one wild night with the hot-as-hell biker who patrols with the Chaos Motorcycle Club...

For Hop, Lanie has always been untouchable. She’s too polished and too classy for his tastes. But when she gives Hop the once-over with her bedroom eyes and offers him a night in paradise, he can’t say no. And he doesn’t regret it when he finds that Lanie is the best thing that’s ever happened to him—in or out of bed. Now the trick will be to convince her of that
Ah, Hop! I think he is now my favourite Ashley hero after Tack.

Before we go any further, I should give a spoiler warning. Some of the things that I mention below could be considered to be spoilers for the events in Motorcycle Man.

Years before Lanie had been engaged but it led to terrible tragedy resulting in her friend Tyra being stabbed, Lanie shot and the man she loved ended up dead after having gotten on the wrong side of the Russian mafia.

In this book we move forward several years. In all that time Lanie has been single and she is determined that she will never love again, and most certainly not with a man whose life skirts the edges of violence on a semi regular basis. But after years of being celibate, she has an itch that needs scratching and she has decided that Hopper Kincaid is just the man that she needs to scratch it. Whilst flattered, Hopper is initially reluctant to take Lanie up on her offer. After all, she is best friends with the head honcho's wife and he doesn't want to cross Tack Allen in anyway. After Lanie insists that it is going to be a one time deal, Hop acquiesces, however it only takes that one time for him to know that this is going to be much, much more than a one time only occurrence. Within days Lanie and Hop are inseparable, but both are insistent that their relationship should remain secret, which of course leads to issues when it does eventually become public knowledge.

I thought it was really interesting when it was announced that Lanie and Hop were going to be the main couple in this book, mainly because in previous books Hop had been portrayed as a bit of a douchebag, getting it on with one of the bikie groupies even though as far as everyone knew he was still married to his ex, Mitzy, who is the mother of his two kids. Whilst those actions are not completely glossed over, there is an attempt at justification on his part.

As you would expect given that he is this book's hero, we got a much more rounded picture of Hop the man, rather than just Hop the Chaos club member. We get to see Hop as a loving father despite the antagonistic relationship that he has with his kids mother, Hop the former front man of a band (hello Bob Seger songs on repeat) and most importantly as Hop, the man who will fight to keep Lanie, no matter how hard she tries to shut him out.

“I’ll wear you down. You won’t let me in, I’ll break in, sneak in, blast in.”

“You won’t get in.”

“Let you in on a secret, babe. I’m already in. Just gotta wait for you to realize it.”

The relationship with Lanie is passionate and at times volatile. Lanie has a bit of a reputation for being a drama queen but Hop is able to take this in his stride and, more importantly, is willing to accept that as being part of who she is. There are arguments and separations and reunions. Ultimately you know that Hop is somewhat amused by Lanie and her quirks,which seems to be a pretty healthy way to deal with them.

I should point out that Hop is not by any means perfect. For all the talk of how he treasures Lanie because she is a real lady and he has never had such a classy woman before, he also talks regularly about the expectations of the 'old ladies' of the club, he is bossy and domineering and he also has a chequered past, which is something that Lanie struggles with.

In terms of the timing, the events in this book run concurrently with those in Shy and Tabby's book. Interestingly, I didn’t find the time lapse worked as effectively in this book, mainly because I kind of felt as though it was introduced unnecessarily halfway through the book. It may have been sooner than half way but that is about when I remember first noticing it.

I mentioned in the intro part of this review that Ashley is guilty of some repetition in her writing. The editing and production of these books have sorted that out to a fair degree but there was one example of it in this book that did push my buttons a little bit. I did find it incredible grating when Lanie kept on called Tyra Ty-Ty. Sounds so babyish but then again when I looked back through the last book that particular name was there too.

I really enjoyed this instalment in the Chaos series and I can't wait to find out more about the next book! In the mean time I still have quite a few other series that I haven't even started yet from this author. Or maybe I will just go right ahead and reread this book!

Rating 4.5/5

* In the interests of transparency....I bought Own the Wind and got a copy of Riding Fire from Netgalley.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Captivation by Nicola Moriarty

Juliette's husband Danny was a successful novelist, enabling them to live a very comfortable lifestyle. What all that fame and wealth couldn't do, however, was ensure good health, and Danny was struck down young, dying approximately six months before this story is set.

Juliette has, of course, been grieving and has barely left the apartment that they shared, but she has started to find a way out of her grief. One of the ways that she does this through baking, to the point where she couldn't possibly eat everything that she was making, and there is a lovely idea where she decides to deliver baked goods to all her neighbours in the middle of the night so they wake up to a delicious treat. She also likes to read, with a constant stream of new books being delivered to her from the local bookshop, and when the wrong order is left for her, she even manages to go to the shop herself to fix the issue - a huge step forward for her.

Gradually though, Juliette begins to occasionally hear Danny's voice, to feel as though someone is with her and she begins to regress. As the sense of Danny being with her gets stronger, Juliette once again stops leaving the house, stops cooking, stops eating, stop communicating with those few people who she was still in touch with on a regular basis.  The bond between the two of them continues to gain strength until Juliette can feel and see Danny, literally feel him which leads to some very interesting sexy times. Even the delivery of the baked goods stops when they realise that the bond is stretched to almost breaking point whenever she leaves their home.

Of course, this is not a healthy way to be and so gradually it becomes clear to Danny, if not to Juliette, that something has to change as she is unravelling to the point of contemplating what the options are to enable them to be together permanently.

Over the last year or so I have read both of Nicola Moriarty's previously released novels and enjoyed them very much so I was pleased to see that she had something new coming out. I was, however, quite surprised that Captivation was going to be a romance, but in a way I quite liked that this was an author who has a successful fiction career (with her books having romantic themes) who was prepared to give something new a go. Having read the story though, I was a bit disappointed.

The reason for my disappointment is that I don't believe that this story fits within the romance genre. For me, in order to be a romance there needs to be one thing - a HEA...a "and they lived happily ever after". At the very least there needs to be a happy for the foreseeable future. I just can't see how this can happen when one of the two lead characters is already dead. It is therefore interesting to me that this novella has been published by Random Romance, the digital first romance imprint. The other books that I have read from the imprint previously so I can only hope that this non-romance romance is an aberration. Of course, maybe I am just reacting to something that was being done deliberately to bring something different to the genre.

It's not that I didn't like the writing because I did. But for me this was more a look at the psychological impacts of grief and what can happen when the person left behind doesn't find way to cope, with some kind of odd sex scenes added in than the paranormal romance that it is being marketed as.

If you go into this expecting a romance with some paranormal themes, I think it will be disappointing, but if you want to read an interesting snapshot of loss and grieving then this maybe appealing. Either way, I would definitely recommend reading Nicola Moriarty's previous books for a really good introduction to her writing style.

Rating 3/5


The first paranormal addition to the Random Romance series, Captivation is an intoxicating ghost story . . . True love never dies.After Juliette lost her beloved husband Danny, she closed herself off from the world, tormented by her grief. But now, just as she is finally preparing to move on, she senses he has returned. Is he trying to come back to her?How can Juliette say no to the man she loves more than life itself? And why would she want to when Danny's methods of persuasion have her weak at the knees . . . ?Yet there is always a price to pay. And when their passionate love starts to turn sinister, will she find the strength to finally let him go for ever?
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for my copy of this novella

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sunday Salon: January to June in review

Here we are halfway through July. The year just seems to be flying by. Before you know it, it will be time to start thinking about Christmas, which for me usually starts with the Virtual Advent tour, and then celebrating and then another year begins again. One of the things that will be exciting for me this year is that one of my friends from the UK is coming to Melbourne at the end of the year so I have to think of some cool things to do. We haven't seen each other since I left the UK 14 years ago, so I am sure at the very least there will be lots of talking to do. I am both anticipating and a little bit nervous though.

Anyway, before I get too carried away thinking about the end of the year, I thought I would have a look at my reading year so far, and so I will start with a few stats.

As at the end of the June, I had read 137 books, most of which fell into either the historical fiction or romance genres. Let's break those down a little bit into a few key criteria

Gender balance

Of those 137 books 25 were written by male authors and the remaining 122 by female authors. One of the conversations that happen quite regularly in blog land is about gender imbalance and a lot of people identify with those who say that they read predominantly male authors and have to make an effort to read female authors. For me, it is very much the other way around. That is most likely because the two genres that I do read most from are dominated by female authors (especially romance) but even in other genres I find myself reading more female authors than male.

How I read

One noticeable change in my reading this year is that I have gone back to listening to audiobooks. This started last year but has carried on more this year with 13 completed audiobooks so far (although I should note that I actually listened to one of those books three times - Venetia by Georgette Heyer as narrated by Richard Armitage. Aural bliss......... (Cue gratuitous Mr Thornton image now)

The ratio between the number of books I read in print and ebook has also changed this year. In previous years I have been averaging around 1 ebook for every 4 print books which reduced to 1:3 last year, but at this stage it is more like a 1:1 ratio. I still love my Sony ereader but I am actually considering getting a proper Kindle (as opposed to a Kindle app) at some point in the future as there are times when it is just too hard to read on the phone or to snaffle my son's Ipad to read on there (and some times not necessarily appropriate depending on how steamy a read it is!)

Australian authors

At this stage I have read 39 books by Australian authors which isn't a bad effort. Last year I ended up reading around 50, so I am well on track to read more than that this year.


Last year was a bit of anomaly for me as I ended up rereading 18 books. This year I am back to around my normal ratio of rereads, having reread 3 books so far (one of them being the audiobook I mentioned above).

Next I am going to talk about my favourite reads of the year so far and I am going to mention a book which was a reread. In what I am sure is a first for me, I am going to have a book on my best of list for the year that was also on my best of list for last year. It didn't matter that I already knew what was coming, it was still an amazing, amazing read for me!


So far I have given four books a 5/5 grade this year.

The Best Man by Kristan Higgins - I think that this may have just been the perfect book for the day that I read it as this book got very mixed reviews, and in retrospect I can possibly see why. On the day that I read it, I closed the book with a very contented smile. I need to hurry up and read another book from this author as I still have a couple of books left from her backlist.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes - this is the book that was a reread and I can still see myself reading it again at some point in the future. It's funny and sad, uplifting and yet dealing with a very difficult subject matter. I have recommended this book to a number of people now, and will continue to do so. You can read my original discussion style review with Bree starting here.

Easy by Tammara Webber - I really loved this book which sits in the new New Adult genre. I haven't yet read more from this author, but I will at some point. Or maybe I should just get this one again?

Lighthouse Bay by Kimberley Freeman - I was a little surprised by how much I enjoyed this reading experience. I have read her previous book, Wildflower Hill, and liked it, but didn't love it as much as lots of other readers did. I was drawn into this dual storyline book right from the beginning. Since then I have listened to one of her earlier novels on audiobook and just got the last remaining book from her backlist out on interlibrary loan to read in the next few weeks.

And now, I look forward to the next six months reads.

Currently reading

Listening to Almost French by Sarah Turnbull and reading Written in Red by Anne Bishop

Up Next

Not sure, but most likely The Provence Cure for the Broken Hearted by Bridget Asher

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Chicken and Onions Braised in White Wine with Mustard and Tiny Baked Potatoes

Last week I posted about Susan Hermann Loomis' memoir On Rue Tatin. This week I thought I would share a recipe from the book. This is one of the recipes that caught my attention. I think it is one that my son will eat, when I get around to actually trying to make it!

Chicken & Onions Braised In White Wine with Mustard

1 cup of white wine, preferably something light & perfumed like a Sauvingnon Blanc or Friuli but use whatever you have around
3-5 Tbsps Dijon mustard
About 2-3 Tbsps olive oil
6 bone-in chicken thighs or 1 (whole) cut up chicken
2 yellow onions, peeled, cut in half through the root and sliced into thin half circles
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh Italian parsley, chopped, enough to garnish (about half a handful)

1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. In small bowl, whisk together wine and mustard and set aside.

2. In a Dutch oven or an oven proof pan over medium heat, brown the chicken pieces on both sides in a little olive oil until the skin is golden and crisp. Transfer chicken to a plate.

3. Add the onions to the pot and cook until tender and lightly browned. When the onions are softened, return chicken to the pot and season with salt and pepper. Pour the wine mixture over the chicken and onions.

4. Put the pot in the oven, uncovered. Roasting time will depend on what you are using -- chicken thighs cook more quickly than breasts do (maybe 30 minutes). A whole chicken will take a bit longer, closer to 45-50 minutes. Don't forget to turn the chicken pieces once or twice to keep everything moist and give both side a chance to get some crisping heat. You can add more wine if things are getting too dry.

5. Once the chicken is cooked through (when the juices run clear when pierced with a small knife), transfer the chicken to a serving platter. If the onion sauce is already thickened to your liking, pour it over the chicken. If not, place it back on the stove and cook the sauce until it reaches the desired consistency. Once it has cooked down to the way you like it, pour the remaining sauce over the chicken. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve with Tiny Baked Potatoes.

Tiny Baked Potatoes

1 dozen small potatoes, scrubbed
1/2 cup (125 ml) crème fraîche
The leaves from 1 large bunch chervil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet and bake in the center of the oven and bake until they are tender, about 30 minutes.

2. While the potatoes are baking, mince the chervil and fold it into the crème fraîche. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. When the potatoes are baked, remove them from the oven and split each one down the center. Gently push the ends of the potatoes together to open them up, and season them inside with salt and pepper, and a large dollop of crème fraîche. Serve the remaining crème fraîche alongside.

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.

This post also counts for my participation in the Paris in July event hosted by Tamara at Thyme for Tea and Karen at Bookbath.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

If you had of asked Margaret Dunn she would have sworn that she knew her mother Elspeth fairly well. Sure, she had questions about the identity of her father, and why her mother would never talk about him, but she knew for sure that Elspeth was the type of woman who lived a very regimented life, never leaving her adopted home town of Edinburgh. She knew that Elspeth grew up on the isle of Skye but Margaret had never even been to visit her family that still lived there, such was her mother's reluctance to leave Edinburgh.

All of the known things were challenged when, in the aftermath of a bomb that hit near their house, Margaret finds a letter addressed to someone named Sue from a young man named Davey. Who is Sue, and why has mother saved the many letters between the two of them? When her mother disappears not long after, leaving only one letter, Margaret needs to try and find out more about where she has gone and in the process about the person that her mother was when she was younger.

Before she disappeared though, she cautioned Margaret about falling in love during war, particularly with a young man who is destined to head to the front. Margaret is corresponding with her close friend Paul who has signed up as a pilot, and it is clear that their feelings are getting stronger, very quickly. We follow Margaret and Paul's story through their correspondence, as they talk about their lives but more particularly as Margaret shares all that she learns about her mother's earlier life.

As much as I liked Margaret and Paul's story and letters, really the heart of this novel is about Elspeth/Sue and Davey's romance. Their relationship started when David sent a fan letter to one of his favourite poets, Mrs Elspeth Dunn who lives on the Isle of Skye with her husband and family. When she writes back to him, there is little clue of the importance and depth of the relationship that will grow between the two of them despite the fact that Davey lives in faraway America. Soon the two are sharing everything from stories about their lives, favourites memories, books and so much more. It is clear that there is a very strong connection between the two of them but it is only when Davey signs up as an ambulance driver on the battlefields of France that there is any chance of them actually meeting.

I found the details of Davey's life as an ambulance driver quite fascinating. Because America had not yet entered into the war, Davey and his friend had to make their own way to France, and then, in theory, they were supposed to be behind the battle lines. Despite this, Davey often finds himself much closer to the bullets and thus gives Elspeth much more to worry about. When they do get the chance to meet up, the interludes are often bittersweet, but they do force her to face her fears. Before Davey, she was terrified of leaving her small island, but in order to see him she can and does get on the boat, more than once.

One of the things that I couldn't help but dwell on as I read the book was the tragedy of seeing two generations in a row facing war and the associated impacts. There was a definite sense of history repeating itself. As Elspeth and Davey carry on their romance predominantly through letters with Elspeth back in Scotland and Davey working as as ambulance driver on the battlefields of France, so too did Margaret and Paul romance each other years later. It is a very poignant reminder that the war to end all wars really wasn't that at all.

It may seem to be an obvious comparison to make, but I couldn't help but think of the The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society book that made such a big impact when it was released a few years ago. That doesn't mean to say that they are very similar but the epistolary nature of both of the books, along with the, albeit different, islands and WWII setting lend some similarities. There is a different feeling, but if you liked Guernsey, then there is a fair chance that you will like this one too.

Poignant, romantic, surprising, heartbreaking and optimistic, this was a nice read that brought a tear to the eye and a smile to the face.

Rating 4/5

Tour Details

Link to Tour Schedule:
Jessica Brockmole's website.
Jessica Brockmole on Facebook
Jessica Brockmole on Twitter.

About the book

A sweeping story told in letters, spanning two continents and two world wars, Jessica Brockmole’s atmospheric debut novel captures the indelible ways that people fall in love, and celebrates the power of the written word to stir the heart.

March 1912: Twenty-four-year-old Elspeth Dunn, a published poet, has never seen the world beyond her home on Scotland’s remote Isle of Skye. So she is astonished when her first fan letter arrives, from a college student, David Graham, in far-away America. As the two strike up a correspondence—sharing their favorite books, wildest hopes, and deepest secrets—their exchanges blossom into friendship, and eventually into love. But as World War I engulfs Europe and David volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western front, Elspeth can only wait for him on Skye, hoping he’ll survive.

June 1940: At the start of World War II, Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, has fallen for a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Her mother warns her against seeking love in wartime, an admonition Margaret doesn’t understand. Then, after a bomb rocks Elspeth’s house, and letters that were hidden in a wall come raining down, Elspeth disappears. Only a single letter remains as a clue to Elspeth’s whereabouts. As Margaret sets out to discover where her mother has gone, she must also face the truth of what happened to her family long ago.

Sparkling with charm and full of captivating period detail, Letters from Skye is a testament to the power of love to overcome great adversity, and marks Jessica Brockmole as a stunning new literary voice.
I am also counting this book as a Paris in July read, particularly because of the fact that a lot of of the WWI explores the life a WWI ambulance driver on the battlefields of France.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Library Loot: July 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 never did get around to doing my Library Loot post last week, so this week I am sharing two weeks worth of loot! Here's what I got: 

Game for Anything by Bella Andre - I have been hearing lots of good things about the Sullivans series by Bella Andre but my library doesn't have any of that series on it's shelf. It did have this book, so I thought I would try this one and see if I like it.

If I Should Die by Amy Plum - The next Revenants book and a perfect read for Paris in July....if I get to it in time.

Fables: The Good Prince by Bill Willingham - The next book in the fables series.

Looking for Alaska by John Green (audiobook) - This will be the third John Green audiobook I have listened to this year and, once again, I really enjoyed the listening experience.

Game of Thrones Season 2 - I spent most of last weekend watching this. Now I can't wait for the library to order in Season 3.

Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser - Reloot.

Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts - The romantic suspense novel by Nora Roberts.

The Whole of My World by Nicole Hayes - I requested this one after reading Bree's review. Aussie Rules football plays a significant part in the book so it will be interesting to see how well this works!

Share your loot by adding your loot to Mr Linky below:


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