Saturday, August 31, 2013

Weekend Cooking: Food Fight

Whilst I do have some other more serious Weekend Cooking posts kicking around my head, sometimes you just have to follow the muse, and today my muse is saying


The other night I had MTV Classic (the one where they actually play music) on and they were playing songs from the 90s. One of the songs that they played was Why Does it Always Rain Down on Me by Scottish band Travis. My favourite song by Travis is called Sing which features the band and friends at an elegant dinner party which then dissolves into a massive food fight, and thus a Weekend Cooking post was born!

When I was googling food fights to look for other examples, there were a number of worlds biggest food fight type links which lead to festivals around the world that involve throwing a variety of food stuffs around: a Battle of Oranges that is held in Ivrea in Italy each year: a meringue war in Vilanova, Spain: any number of tomato throwing festivals including La Tomatina which is held in Bunol, Spain each year; again in Spain, a wine throwing festival held in Haro and so many more (including more in Spain). I am not sure that I would necessarily like to participate in these fights from a getting clean afterwards perspective, but it would be fun! Has anyone ever participated in any of these types of festivals?

The other thing that searching for food fights lead me to was some famous food fights on film, which I thought I would share here. I think the first one is probably my favourite.

Every list I found included this clip from Animal House, but I don't think I had ever seen the whole film. Never really felt the need to.

And what would a food fight post be without a pie fight?

So, get your mash potato and cream pies ready. Food fight starts in 3....2....1.

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, August 30, 2013

The Returned by Jason Mott

August 15, 1966.  The day that life changed forever for Harold and Lucille Hargrave.

This place, here beneath the three trees that threaded together against the cloth of the open sky, this was where they'd found Jacob all those years ago. This was where he and Lucille came to know pain. This was where every promise of life that they had believed in came crumbling apart. This was where he'd held Jacob in his arms and wept, trembling, as the body lay lifeless and still.

Now in their 70s, the Hargraves are watching the events that are unfolding in the world with a sense of disbelief. Who could believe that people who have been dead for years could suddenly turn up looking the same as they did when they died

The last thing that they expected was that there would be a knock at their own door, and waiting on the other side is Jacob, still 8 years old, still their child. Can you begin to imagine the immediate reaction of joy, and the emotions that would follow? Shock and disbelief and who knows what else. The man who brings Jacob home, Martin Bellamy, is a government official whose task is to bring the returned home, and to determine if the family even wants to keep their returnee, but also to try and figure out the hows and whys of the phenomena. Does the returnee remember how they died? Do they remember anything about the time they were gone? How do they feel now? Why do some people come back and others don't? Are they really the same person as they were? So many questions, not all of which are answered neatly for the reader in the course of the book In some ways this is a good thing, because as a reader you have to piece parts of the story together for yourself, but in other ways I was left with questions that were either not answered until right near the end of the book or not at all. For example, I didn't get a grasp on who could return. Was it only people who still had emotional connections who were returning? If not, is it possible that someone who died 200 years ago could come back? Or how about 400 or 500 years ago?

For Lucille, Jacob's return is nothing short of a miracle, a blessing that she could never have even begun to imagine, but her husband, who is somewhat ornery in his old age at the best of times, is far more sceptical and more likely to hold himself at some distance from Jacob. He cannot accept that the little boy is really his son. There is no doubt that he is very much like their son but is he, but is there some small part of him missing?

Due to the growing numbers of returned, the fear that is being sparked and spread by fundamentalists and more the government decides to incarcerate the returnees and the Hargrave's home town of Arcadia is one of the places chosen to be home to what is basically an internment camp. When Jacob and Harold are arrested, Harold refuses to let the boy be alone and so he is placed in the camp too. What starts out as home for a few people with some rights very quickly disintegrates into an overcrowded, filthy and violent place controlled by a colonel who clearly has no respect for the people that he is in charge of. Add in the protests of malcontents from the town who don't like that their town has been taken over and you have a powder keg situation just waiting to explode.

Interspersed in between the chapters are glimpses into the experience of other people who have returned:  the Nazi soldiers who find themselves being sheltered by a Jewish family when there are a mob who want to hunt them down; a woman from Sierra Leone who finds relief in being imprisoned in America rather than in her home country; the French artist whose work came to acclaim posthumously who just wants to be with the woman who championed his work for so long. These glimpses were fascinating and, during the portions of the book that dragged a bit, they were almost as interesting as the actual story. There is so much storytelling possibility to be find in those one or two page sections. I have no idea if this is going to be standalone or if there are likely to be more books read in this world. If it is the latter then a lot of that groundwork could possibly have been laid.

Whilst the story was interesting, it was also thought provoking. Arcadia is located in Bible belt America, so there were plenty of characters in the book who were wondering if this was the end of days, so drawing in religious discussion. The fear of the unknown was also a subject that was explored, as was the environmental impact of suddenly having to support hundreds of thousands of additional people. So much to think about.

I have been trying to think of a book to compare this one too, and I think that the closest I can come up with is The Passage by Justin Cronin. I chose that book because I think that in the same way that Cronin took the shiny-sparkling vampire that was very much in vogue at the time and turned the trope on it's head, Mott has taken undead, a concept which is normally associated with zombies, and made the idea of them much more real in concept. There is also a lovely use of language which points to Mott's background as a poet. Some times the language and and pace of the book dropped off a little more than I possibly would have liked but overall I liked the book without adoring it.

Jason Mott has certainly given us a debut novel that packs a punch, and he looks to be starting with a bang with this novel already having a TV series made of it which will be shown in America early next year. You can see the trailer for the series, which will be called Resurrection, here. I will definitely be watching with interest to see both what Jason Mott comes up with next and the TV series.

In terms of ratings, I wavered somewhere between 3.5 and 4 out of 5, but having let the book settle a little more I think I will go with the higher grade.

Before I finish I just wanted to say what a great job the people who made the book trailer for this film did. It really captures the feeling of the book.

Thanks to the Australian publishers of this book for the review copy they sent me. I am also counting this book as my first read for the RIP VIII challenge hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Dropping.

Tour Details

Link to Tour Schedule:
Jason Mott's website.
Jason Mott on Facebook
Jason Mott on Twitter.

About the book

One summer’s day, Agent Bellamy of the International Bureau of the Returned arrives at the home of Harold and Lucille Hargrave with their young son, Jacob, in tow. Jacob, who drowned on his eighth birthday almost fifty years before, is among the many long-dead who have been reappearing around the world, exactly as they were when they passed.

The Hargraves are no longer the young parents who lost their child that tragic day, but Lucille embraces Jacob as if it were yesterday, thrilled to have her darling son once again. The more sceptical Harold is not so sure. He was the one who found Jacob’s body in the river all those years ago; how could this little boy truly be his son?

From the Hargraves’ tiny Southern town of Arcadia to every corner of the globe, the Returned are appearing in increasing numbers, and their loved ones are both filled with gladness and alarmed by the implications. Questions of why the dead are returning remain unanswered—is it a miracle to celebrate or some portent of the end of days? Some, like Lucille, refuse to temper their newfound happiness with dark explanations, but many in Arcadia are fearful of the Returned. As public sentiment swings against them, the seemingly docile Returned are rounded up and detained in prisonlike camps. Their numbers continue to grow, and the camps become increasingly overcrowded and are targets for the brewing fear and hatred among the living.

When Jacob is interned, Harold stays with him, still confounded by what it all means. While one faction in Arcadia grows violent in its efforts to expel the Returned, others grapple with the sudden presence of those long absent—from an entire family murdered long ago under mysterious circumstances to the troubled first love of the town’s minister. As the skein of the once close-knit community unravels into a tangled “us vs. them” rhetoric and retribution—and similar public hysteria erupts around the world—the very definition of humanity will be called into question.

At once disquieting and poignant, The Returned is a remarkable debut work of fiction that blends elements of many genres—from the dystopian thriller to the classic Southern novel. Jason Mott has written a wholly original story that is sure to spark debate now and for years to come.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Tremble by Tobsha Learner

A couple of years ago now I won a giveaway on a blog of three books from Tobsha Learner's backlist. Like so many other books  on my shelves, I hadn't yet gotten around to reading the book so when I saw that TLC Book Tours have a blog tour coming up I jumped at the chance to finally get around to reading it.

It was also a chance for me to read some short stories which I haven't read many of over the last few months. The fact is that, even if I had been reading other short stories, the stories contained in this collection would have been very different anyway. While I was aware that these stories were meant to be erotic in nature, I wasn't really sure what to expect, and if I had to summarise my reaction to the book I would say my reactions were mixed.

In the course of preparing for this post, I did also go and look at a definition for erotica because whilst I read a bit of erotic romance I wouldn't say that I read a lot of erotica. So the definition that I found said

            'Literature or art intended to arouse sexual desire'

Whilst a lot of these stories had sexual elements, I don't think all of them met this definition. Then again, even when reading erotic romances I often find that it feels like the author is trying too hard to make the stories sexually arousing and it doesn't always work. As a reader, I find I need a well crafted romantic scene, which yes, has very sexy interactions in it, rather than just sex, in order to fully engage me.

I am not sure if Learner's books were originally released in the US or not, but this collection is being released there. I do think it is obvious both from the packaging of both this book and also Quiver (which is being reviewed on other blogs as part of the tour) and the timing that it is an attempt to cash in on the current acceptance of more erotic stories thanks to the success of books like 50 Shades and The Crossfire series but I don't think that this book will necessarily appeal to many of those infrequent readers who read those books. Maybe some, but definitely not all.

Overall I liked the writing and I liked the way that Learner combined sexuality and humour (albeit dark humour) with mythology and religion. There were a couple of stories that made me feel a bit uncomfortable, but I suspect that is what the author was trying to achieve, or if not trying, at least won't be disappointed at making readers feel a little uncomfortable.

I liked that the stories were in the most part standalone but that the author did give a one or two line acknowledgement to previous stories which was fun, but there were a couple that I have read so far that are connected.

The author has spent time living is various countries across the world, and I think that comes through in her storytelling, with some of the stories set in Australia, one in Greece (albeit featuring an Australian nun as the main character),  and in America.

As a result of taking the wrong book on the train with me not once but twice this week I still have a couple of stories to read, but here are a few thoughts about the stories in the book that I have read. I will come back and add my final thoughts in the next day or so.

The Root - Dorothy Owen comes from a long line of Owen women who are spinsters. Even most of the women who have children do so by leaving the village, finding a man and then coming back to the village to raise their child. Just before Dorothy's great aunt dies she hints at an inheritance but doesn't give her niece any more information. It is therefore something of a shock when the inheritance is revealed to be a mandrake root, of which legend suggests that a mandrake grows in the place where spilled semen falls when a man is hanged. This story features longing, vengeance, oh, and most notably a disembodied penis.

Rainmaker - A small town in country America has been in the grips of a major drought. Farmers are committing suicide or leaving town. When a rainmaker arrives in town, he promises to bring rain with him, but only if the town is prepared to pay the price. Whilst being prejudiced against is nothing new for the rainmaker, what does surprise him is the connection he feels to one woman in particular. I was quite shocked by the way this one ended and had to go back and read the last few lines again just to be sure I had read it correctly.

Echo - Gavin is a very successful Queensland property developer. He had everything - wealth, a successful business, a beautiful family and a lovely young mistress - or at least he did until his wife demanded a divorce and the price she wants is his pride and joy new development. After visiting a vacant block, Gavin becomes sure that he is being haunted on many levels, forcing him to consult with one of his most ardent environmental foes. This story explores the Green Man myth and I liked the cyclical nature of it.

Virgin - A young Australian nun is having a crisis of faith and so she is sent to spend time on a small Greek island. When she touches one of the island's holy relics a very strange phenomenon affects her. This is one of the stories that made me a little uncomfortable. I am not sure if it is because I found the fact that it was a nun being affected in the way she was a little disturbing or if it wouldn't have mattered who the woman was due to the not-quite-incest-but-very-nearly-so elements. I didn't really get how her faith was meant to be restored through the story either, so if someone could explain that to me it would be good.

The Snore - I think this is one of my favourite stories in the book. Is it a coincidence that this one isn't particularly erotic....not sure. Miriam is a Jewish woman who has only been married for a year or so before her husband dies while they are making love. In life, he was a very loud snorer and so she had trained herself to be need his snoring in order to be able to go to sleep each night, so she is worried that she will not be able to sleep without him being there. It soon becomes obvious that she is being haunted though as all she can hear each night are his snores. Why could he be haunting her? Does it have something to do with the insurance case that he was working on prior to his death? And how can they stop the haunting without getting the rabbis offside.

Hair Shirt - The main male character in this book is Peter, younger brother of Gavin whose story was in Echo. He is a successful manager of a record label. Like his brother before him, he is married but has a mistress on the side.One of the women manages to gather enough hair from him to create a hair shirt and then discovers that she can cause pain and injury as a result (in a similar way that creating a voodoo doll in someone's image and then sticking pins in it is supposed to be able to cause pain.) I found this story interesting because we go to hear from all three of the main characters throughout the story. Once again, the male character is pretty much unlikable, thinking he is untouchable even though his wife has known about the other woman from day one.

Tour Details

Link to Tour Schedule:
Tobsha Learner's website.
Tobsha Learner on Facebook
Tobsha Learner on Twitter.

About the book

Erotica for the modern woman: nine tales of the dangerous and divine

From Tobsha Learner, the boundary-pushing erotica author of the international bestseller Quiver, comes TREMBLE: Erotic Tales of the Mystical and Sinister (On-sale September 2013/ ISBN: 9780142180372).

In Learner’s steamy collection, she explores the full spectrum of sexuality peppered with elements of the supernatural. Tremble blurs the line between fantasy and reality, depicting the pleasures of new and rediscovered love, lust, and obsession in a world where passion and magic are interwoven—and where boundaries are pushed beyond expectation.

In a Welsh village, a young woman’s sensuality is awakened by an outrageous inheritance; a drought-stricken Oklahoma town is offered salvation by a travelling rainmaker; a Sydney record producer struggles to satisfy his wife and his mistress—until one of them takes matters into her own hands…

The short stories span the eras, from an eighteenth-century biographer who discovers a magic, erotic ritual to a Sydney record producer struggling to satisfy his wife and mistress. Intelligent and highly imaginative, Learner’s brand of erotica will appeal to both first-time and more seasoned readers of the genre.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Melbourne Writers Festival: Enquire Within (Saturday)

I came home pretty tired from my Friday at Melbourne Writers Festival, but there was no time to sleep in and recover on Saturday as I was off to another full day of books and author goodness!

Sarah Turnbull, Jesse Blackadder, Ali Cobby Eckerman and
hot chocolate in a jar
Bree and I headed into the city early so that we could attend the free Morning Read session. These sessions are hour long and feature four authors who each read a portion from their books. Before I start on the post proper I thought I would mention how much I love that there are quite a lot of free events throughout the festival. Some of them might be a bit more obscure and not always the big name authors but if you don't have a lot of money you can still pretty much fill up a day with events, particularly on the weekends.

The Morning Read session we attended featured only one author that I had read before and that was Sarah Turnbull. The other three authors who read this morning were Jesse Blackadder, Teju Cole and Ali Cobby Eckerman. It is testament to the power of listening to an author tell even just a small part of their story that I was on the library website requesting the books of all of these authors. Only one of them was not available.

The next session for me was History's Script which was hosted by Michael Cathcart from Books and Art Daily on Radio National and featured Sarah Dunant and Jane Sullivan, author of Little People. I really enjoyed the session I attended on Friday where Sarah Dunant spoke so well about Lucrezia Borgia so I was extremely glad that I had the foresight to book into another session with her during the Festival. This session was also recorded for the Books and Arts Daily show and will be played on Tuesday. If I remember I will post the link so that if you are interested you can listen to the session yourself.

The host started by asking each of the authors how they came to history. For Sarah, it started in childhood reading authors like Jean Plaidy, Margaret Irwin and Anya Seton amongst others. Living in post war Britain, historical fiction was a gateway to a far more colourful, more exotic and romantic past and she became obsessed with history. That romanticised view of history was beaten out of her when she went to study history at Cambridge University for three years. It was interesting at Cambridge to see how men and women come to an interest in history differently, something that is often reflected in the way male and female readers come to historical fiction.

Sarah Dunant
Sarah Dunant came to a love of Renaissance History a lot later, it not having been a part of history that she had studied previously and therefore been deromanticised from (my made up word, not hers). Her interest in Renaissance history was piqued when she found herself living in Florence in the early 2000s. Florence is a city where the history is literally everywhere, rich with the past. This had Dunant wondering exactly what it was that happened 500 years ago that turned Florence into a cauldron of change. Even at the time, Florentines were proud of the history that was happening, of the art and more.

For Jane Sullivan, her love of history came through the literature of Tennyson and  Keats, or stories like Jane Eyre rather than through history itself. In fact, the thing that she remembers most about history from school is the cartoons that were in the history books. Jane is originally from the UK. When she did come to Australia she was struck by the way the cities must have been new, particularly a city like Melbourne which benefited from the gold rush and was at one point called the Chicago of the South because of how quickly it was growing up. She sees Melbourne as a city full of stories - not unlike Florence for Sarah.

One of those stories was how she came across the characters that were to people her book, Little People. She first found reference to a travelling show of dwarf performers when she was reading a book about poet Ada Cambridge.  When the troop of performers were in town, they were feted as rock stars, causing big traffic problems wherever they went. I should also mention that as Jane Sullivan was talking about how she found these characters there were images of them flashing up on the screen which was really cool.

Sarah Dunant's book In the Company of the Courtesan also has a dwarf as one of it's main characters and she shared how she actually found her dwarf in a painting. She knew that courtesans of the day often kept little people as exotic pets and so her main character was born. The moderator noted that often looking at people on the margins help define the centre or norms of a situation. Dunant agreed that this was the case for her book as Bucino was also able to be the eyes and the ears for the courtesan and so was able to expand what the reader could see. For Jane Sullivan, her narrator was a normal sized person but still was in that role of outsider given that all the other members of the troop are little people.

The discussion then moved onto a discussion of what writing historical fiction enables you to do that straight history or narrative non-fiction does not. The first response was around limits of information available, especially seeing as sometimes there can be constructed or controlled history, such as in the case of the travelling troop given that P T Barnum was basically a spin doctor trying to entice the crowds in to the show. It also enables you to make up stuff that is still consistent with what you know.

For Sarah, the narrative comes first from history and then there is the story. History is rich and complex and you need to get the complexities which is sometimes difficult when you are going back 500 or more years. Sometimes you can find hidden bits of history - particularly in relation to women - but not necessarily the full story. For some of her earlier books, she sees it as putting the soil in place from what you know (for example, food, religion or culture) and then build the characters from there. It was different for Blood and Beauty because she had a known person from history as her main character rather than a made up characters, and in the Borgias case we believe that we know their history. She went onto touch on a couple of the issues that I mentioned in my post yesterday about the slander of Lucrezia Borgia's reputation.

Jane Sullivan
In a discussion on truth  Jane Sullivan mentioned that there are 2 different types of truth. One is of fact - what is learned from research etc and the second is the truth of fiction where you try to create characters who are consistent, interesting and recognisable. This idea of historical truth is also embodied in the fact that historians will select from the various bits of evidence they have available to them to decide what is true, but it is just is likely that what they don't have will actually be the final truth. Novelists use this selection process when building their character but what they are aiming for is to be true to the grand narrative of history but bring them alive through characters and stories.

One of the interesting questions that was addressed during the session was the idea of history repeating itself. While the world moves forward technologically, the fundamentals remain the same. For example, when you are writing about the Renaissance you are talking about the rise of fundamental Christianity and many of today's world conflicts are born out of religious fundamentalism too. Nothing changes in the big roll of history - the hows might change but the big issues tend to be repetitive. The how is where authors needs to be careful because there are fundamental differences. The example given was about pain. Because we have easy access to pain relief our understanding of pain may well be completely different to someone from a couple of hundred years ago. While there are differences, Sarah Dunant pointed out that if you sink yourself in the past you can often find the similarities, but it doesn't necessarily work the other way around. No matter what you write though, your writing is informed by how you are now.

Throughout the rest of the conversation there were thoughts about whether fantasy is displacing historical fiction, particularly with things like Game of Thrones where it is fantasy strongly rooted in actual history, about the importance of afterwords in helping the reader understand which parts of the story were made up, about the difference between male and female gateways into historical fiction (apparently Hilary Mantel has made historical fiction something that men are more likely to read ..who knew!), about the idea of a historical fiction canon (suggested authors to include were Rosemary Sutcliff, Mary Renault, Rose Tremain and Umberto Ecco with the caveat that he is more imaginative than research driven), and about choosing real people as your central characters rather than making them up.

There was so much more that was talked about. Hopefully you might be interested enough to listen to the program when I add the link to the post at some point this week. There were times where I felt that the moderator was displaying a dislike (maybe too strong a word but there was something there) of the genre, so I might give it a listen to see if that comes through in the program too, and to see what I missed as I was madly scrambling away taking notes. You can read Bree's take on this session here.

Whilst I still have at least one more session to attend it will have to be pretty special to displace the sessions I have attended with Sarah Dunant. The Lucrezia Borgia session was absolutely fascinating and this discussion with Jane Sullivan was also very interesting.

After a couple of hours break and a brief catch up with Lisa from ANZ Litlovers it was time for my next session of the day which was At Home in the World featuring Sarah Turnbull and Brendon Shanahan. Whilst I have read Almost French by Sarah Turnbull and have All Good Things out from the library at the moment, Brendon Shanahan was completely new to me. I did briefly contemplate taking the library book to get signed by the author but decided against it in the end. One of the interesting things about this session for me was the fact that Sarah and Brendon were often coming from different perspectives, which I guess is born out of the fact that we all decide to do things for different reasons. The moderator set out saying that he wanted to touch on the ideas of place, home and belonging which I think he was mostly successful in achieving.

Sarah Turnbull
Both Sarah and Brendan have lived, or do live, in iconic places. For Sarah, she went from Sydney to Paris and then to Tahiti. Sarah started off by saying that no one moves countries for no reason. There were reasons for moving to paradise to do with her husbands work, but no place - no matter how beautiful - transcends real life because life is always complicated. The idea of living in picture perfect places is an illusion because it doesn't always have much of an impact after a while. Her books reflect the idea of being outsiders in these glamorous locations, although Paris is often more gritty than people expect. In Almost French, she was writing about the experience of being the outsider as she moves to the city to be with her husband, but in her second book, All Good Things, both of them are the outsiders as they move to the island and have to try and fit in and make friends with the locals, knowing that they would be leaving again in a couple of years. Later in the session talked about one of the motivations that people often have for moving from place to place is the idea of rejuvenation and fresh starts which I found interesting.

Brendan then proceeded to say that he moved to Las Vegas for no reason - he basically bought a house in Las Vegas on the internet without even seeing it and then moved there two weeks later. He moved there with no romantic notions of Las Vegas because it too can be pretty gritty but it was great to discover that there was a cool core community there particularly over the last couple of years when the housing downturn has caused the population to be less transient that the people who come and go from Las Vegas normally are. Where Sarah talked about trying to be part of a community, Brendan loves the fact that in Las Vegas if you want to escape from your past you can, and if you want to keep to yourself that's okay too.

There was a discussion about developing super senses when you travel, particularly in relation to the behaviour of Australians, particularly as you come back home, our over regulation whether it be in relation to formal or informal rules of behaviour was one thing that was discussed. At one point the phrase the Swiss of the Pacific was used to label us as a country

You can become immune to the things around you particularly when you see the bizarre all the time as you do in Las Vegas. Brendan sometimes has to remind himself to look for the unusual, but for Sarah she never took Paris for granted and grew to appreciate the beauty of the island the longer that she stayed, mainly because her initial reaction to arriving was along the lines of "what on earth have we done!"

Brendan Shanahan
The differences between the two authors continued to be explored when talking about their types of books. Both are journalists by trade but Sarah's books, especially All Good Things,  are more personal stories. She certainly wasn't setting out to debunk the paradise myth but there were things that she found very difficult about living there. Brendan's style is more observational in style.

Both agreed that you learned to appreciate Australia more through travel and that you notice changes. It is sometimes difficult to tell if there really have been large changes or if you have just noticed things now because of how travelling has broadened your horizons.

In the closing part of the session, the two authors talked about the idea of writing down a true story, touching on things like the changing of names and about how it is impossible to write a memoir with the intention of not offending anyone. It was also interesting to hear them talk about how trying to write down truth with the aim of creating a story is quite difficult because it is quite an artificial process, but by going through that process you can often discern quite powerful truths.

One of the reasons I chose this session is because I have done the travelling and coming home thing myself, dealing with all the pros and cons that are on both sides of that equation. There was one thing that was said right at the end of the session which really resonated for me. To paraphrase:

Sooner or later, you long for that one place that you don't have to explain yourself.

For Sarah, the place which she is describing is here but for her husband it is France. For me, it is definitely a feeling that I related to, that desire for home and belonging no matter how much I enjoyed my time in the UK.

I still have Sunday's sessions to write up, which I will probably do later in the week!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Melbourne Writers Festival: Enquire Within (Friday)

This weekend was the start of one of my favourite times in Melbourne. Melbourne Writers Festival officially started on Thursday night and continues until next weekend and, for book lovers, there is plenty to see and do.

One year I will go to the keynote addresses, which this year were Boris Johnson and Tavi Gevenson, and I will consider doing some of the Melbourne walks or even some of the workshops, but for this year my focus is on attending some of the fantastic sessions that are available to festival goers (it was unintentional that there were so many authors named Sarah in my choices). I am going to seven sessions, with most of those being this weekend. Today I will tell you about the sessions I attended on Friday and then at some point in the next week I will post about my sessions on Saturday, today and next weekend.

My first session of this year's festival was located at the auditorium at the National Gallery of Victoria Art Galley (NGV) and it was a perfect venue to host Sarah Dunant, author of books like The Birth of Venus and her latest book Blood and Bloody, and Carl Villis, paintings conservator at the NGV talking about Lucrezia Borgia and Italian Art.

The session started with Sarah Dunant talking about Lucrezia Borgia, about how the Borgia name has been slandered through history and how if you look past the gossip at what evidence there truly is about her life, you will see a picture of a very different woman than that we usually equate with her name. As part of her talk she showed a picture of a very young Lucrezia Borgia which until recently was thought to be the only known image of her in a painting.

Dunant talked us through how she first became interested in writing about Lucrezia Borgia. Her first three novels, during which she wanted to answer the question of what it would have been like to be woman in the Renaissance, had taken her on a journey from Florence (The Birth of Venus) to Venice (In the Company of the Courtesan) and then to Ferrara. It was at this point that I realised that I had completely missed reading her novel Sacred Hearts. Whilst researching in Ferrara, she came across a tomb slab dedicated to Lucrezia Borgia and praising her piety. Knowing that the woman had ended her life in a convent and was generally considered by her contemporaries (not her enemies) to be both beautiful and pious, how was it that her name is synonymous with poison, murder and incest 500 years later.

In giving us some background to the Borgia family, Dunant explained part of the reason for the level of vitriol against the Borgia family is that they were outsiders, a Spanish family that was trying to infiltrate a world that is dominated by powerful Italian clans. When Rodrigo Borgia was made pope, he was ambitious, determined and had four marriageable children which he was happy to use to build alliances with these families, including 12 year old Lucrezia who is married into the Sforza family. It is when that alliance is no longer necessary and the pope needs to marry Lucrezia into another family that the incest story starts after an annulment is granted on the grounds of impotence, something that the husband vehemently denies. A comment made by a man scorned soon wings it's ways all through the courts of Europe and it takes very little time for the story of Lucrezia being a whore and in incestuous relationships with her father and brother makes it into common usage. Mud sticks.

Sarah Dunant
A second marriage follows, once again for political reasons,  in which Lucrezia gives every appearance of being happy, but once again political alliances shift and her family wants Lucrezia to be married elsewhere, but she fights it. Given that she will not give up the marriage, her husband is murdered, leaving the still young woman to marry again, this time into the court at Ferrara.

Lest it sounds as though Dunant is a Borgia fan through and through, she does make it clear that there is no doubt that Rodrigo is an unashamed womaniser, comparing him to former Italian prime minister Sylvio Berlusconi during the question and answer section of the presentation, and that Cesare was pretty much a sociopath, but that the evidence just doesn't add up to support Lucrezia's vile reputation.

The second part of the session was focused on a painting that is housed at the NGV (click on the link to see the painting) which was for many years the subject of much speculation around who painted it, when it was painted and who the sitter was including whether they were female or male After many years of painstaking research and analysis, Carl Villis has been able to identify exactly who the painter was, and more importantly for the purposes of this talk, that the sitter was in fact Lucrezia Borgia.

Villis talked us through the evidence that he has found to suggest that the painting was done by Dossi Dossi, court painter only at the court of Ferrara during the years that Lucrezia was Duchess, including the type of preparation he used on the canvas, and the shape of the painting which is very unusual for that time in art history. In addition, there were the clues in the painting itself - the hairstyle which identifies the sitter as female, the dagger which seems to be representative of the Roman story of Lucrezia, the myrtle bushes in the background which are symbolic of virtue and beauty as well as the inscription on the painting.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Villis' talk was when he talked about the facial recognition technology that was undertaken by Victoria Police to compare the painting to a bronze medal which was cast for her second wedding. By comparing various points in the faces on the painting and the medal, the evidence confirmed that there was a very high probability that the two faces were portraying the same person. Fascinating, fascinating stuff! Whilst I wouldn't normally buy a non fiction book on the identification of a painting, the presentation was so interesting I will most likely be keeping an eye out for Carl Villis' book on this painting when it comes out.

During the question and answer section that followed, there were correlations made between the bad PR or spin that the Borgias received and the idea of modern celebrity where we love someone until we don't any more and how it is difficult to rehabilitate a personality once the mud slinging starts, about the Borgias TV series (which Dunant isn't a fan of), about how authors have to make a psychological decision on a character based on the evidence they have available and more. I seriously could have listened to these two speak for another hour quite easily and there was so much more content in what they did say that I haven't even touched on yet in this post!

Of course, after hearing this absolutely fascinating talk I had to go and look at the painting for myself, housed in a part of the gallery that I didn't previously know existed even though I have visited the building many times before.

Sarah Wendell
The next session I attended was Digital Women, which featured Jane Caro and Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches Trashy Books. Whilst this was a very different topic from the session I have recounted above, it was again very interesting, focusing on the power of digital women specifically as it relates to women and how it gives women a voice.

Part of the reason that the digital world is so empowering for women in particular is that it removes the gatekeepers that are still present in many traditional media environments whereas digitally women, and other outsiders, can directly access, participate and influence the conversation. Jane Caro gave examples of appearing on panel discussions where there are so often a token woman, but very unusual to have more than one. Statistics reveal that once there is more than about 30% women representation then the males begin to feel quite nervous.

Sarah Wendell was able to talk about the idea of shaming by relating it to the offline experience of many romance readers who are told that they shouldn't read romance, that there is something to be ashamed off or hidden, mainly because it relates to emotions, relationships and, yes, sex. What the online experience for romance readers, who have long been early adopters of social media tools, is that once a voice and community becomes strong is that shame is able to bounce back, not least of which is because the individual reader is no longer alone, and they know this. She also talked about how, for people outside of the romance community, writing the two books that provide commentary on romance gave the Smart Bitches more legitimacy but to those within the community they were just an added bonus.

It was interesting to hear of examples of when social media shows the force it has become. Jane Caro has recently compiled a book called Destroying the Joint which came about from the furore late last year when a radio shock jock here basically said that putting women into positions of power in Australia was basically "destroying the joint". The backlash on social media was pretty much immediate and led to boycotting of the advertisers on the radio program. It was also a time which proved that when both men and women talk about something being unacceptable then it is enormously powerful.

Jane Caro
The conversation then moved onto the power of social media to reach other people with a common interest and often that can be quite subversive. As an example the panel talked about the It Gets Better Youtube campaign that reached out to young gay people who were feeling suicidal about being outsiders. Because the message was on social media and so could be received without being filtered through school teachers or parents who might have made their own moral judgements against homosexuality and therefore blocked that kind of emotional reinforcement that the young person required.

During the question and answer section of the session topics that were touched on included things like how to make money in the digital world as well as the more negative aspects of being active online, including the dramas which envelop different parts of the blogosphere on a semi regular basis. In response, Jane Caro talked about the fact that whether it be online or not, people don't often attack those that have more power than themselves, it is usually people who are their equals or lessers who they feel threatened by and therefore need to attack. In order to stop the dramas,  people need to feel more confident within themselves so that they are not threatened. One thing that I found interesting was that both Jane and Sarah talked about the need to engage with people who have different opinions (not trolls who shouldn't be engaged with) but not because you are necessarily trying to change the other person's mind but mainly because other people will be watching and listening who could benefit or be influenced. We should also remember that women are not an amorphous lump with only one thing to say, but many individual voices.

Stay tune for my recap of Saturday's session which includes more from Sarah Dunant, another Sarah (this time Sarah Turnbull) and more.

Currently Reading:

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

Up Next

The Garden of Happy Endings by Barbara O'Neal

What I Wish I Had Time to Read Next

Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant

Friday, August 23, 2013

Bookish Quotes: From The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O'Neal

Barbara O'Neal is rapidly becoming a must read author for me. I love the combination of her voice and her stories, of the way she includes books and food in particular in her stories among other things.

For today's Bookish Quote I thought I would share a couple of passages from a book I read a while ago now, The Lost Recipe for Happiness.

This first section is from pages 48-49 of The Lost Recipe for Happiness

Elena, the little girl born on a windy moonless night, was left a lot to her own devices. Donna was a party girl who left Elena with her own mother, Iris. All three lived in a little apartment nearby the roadhouse where Iris worked, and Elena had her own bedroom overlooking the river. Mexico was there on the other side, looking much the same as America. But it was different. Everyone said so.

She went to school with migrant workers and played jacks with the children of soldiers and learned that she was very smart. Every year, she was the smartest girl in the class, and there was one reason why - they lived right around the corner from a library.

Elena's grandmother Iris loved reading, especially big sagas by the likes of Sidney Sheldon, and historicals and gothics by the thousands - Victoria Hold and Mary Steward and Norah Lofts. It was her escape. She didn't drink and she didn't like people very much and thought television was idiotic, so she would sit on the porch and smoke cigarettes and read novels. To this day, when Elena heard someone cough in that rattly, heavy-smoker way, she had a flash of Iris reading, her breasts spilling over her ribs and down her sides beneath a housedress, a light shining over her shoulder, smoke rising in a blue cloud around her.

The pair of them went to the library every week to check out books. By the time she was seven, Elena could read chapter books, and she read them by the zillions.

and from page 50, after her grandmother had died and her mother had left her with her other grandmother:

All she had with her were the clothes she'd worn, a pair of extra underwear, and a Victoria Holt book her grandmother had been reading when she died, The Mistress of Mellyn, which Elena was ashamed to have stolen from the library.

and finally from page 51

Every night, Elena curled around the book and buried her face in a blanket and cried silently. It was like she had a whole in her heart, or maybe even worse, like there was a hole in her chest where everything she loved had been cut out. She couldn't breathe with it.

I am really looking forward to reading Barbara O'Neal's next book which is about a group of food bloggers apparently.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Library Loot: 21 to 27 August

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!

A bumper haul this week with a mix of books and DVDs.

Here's what I got:

 Dark Knight Rising Trilogy - This is actually for the boy, although I did sit down and watch the first movie with him.

Entwined with You by Sylvia Day - The next Cross Fire book

Chased by Lauren Dane - The next Chase book

Children of the Storm by Elizabeth Peters - Following Elizabeth Peters recent death, I realised that I haven't read an Amelia Peabody book for years, an oversight that I need to rectify.

Downton Abbey season 3 - I had a bit of an issue because two TV series came in at the same time which meant a lot of TV viewing for me in addition to the stuff I had to watch already. I managed to watch this series over the weekend (and cried for most of the time!).

The Newsroom season 1 - I have heard so many good things about this series. I think I am going to have to reborrow it though as there is no way I am going to have time to watch any of it this weekend.

The Sigh by Marjane Sartrapi - I recently watched the movie adaptation of Chicken with Plums. My library doesn't have that graphic novel but they did have this one.

The Illusion of Separateness by Simon van Booy - I really liked Simon van Booy's previous book so I was eager to read his new one now that it is out!

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

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Weekend Cooking: Chicken with Plums

This week I discovered the World Movies channel on our version of cable. I probably shouldn't quite put it like that. I mean, it isn't like I am the first person ever to find it. More the discovery was that when I take a little time to look closely at the schedule I find numerous movies that I think I might like to watch!

Perhaps unsurprisingly a number of them had food type connections and several of them are French. I therefore thought I might start an irregular and possibly infrequent series of posts about some of these movies. It could be even more irregular than I anticipate because my ability to watch these movies that I have recorded is somewhat impeded by the fact that I would need to actually be in charge of the TV for long enough to watch the movies but we will see how we go!

The first movie that I am going to focus on is the French movie Chicken with Plums. The movie is based on Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel of the same name. Whilst I read and loved her Persepolis graphic novels I had never read this book, and in fact it was only as I got part way through the movie that I realised that this movie was based on a book, let alone a graphic novel. In addition to writing the book, Satrapi was one of the directors.

Here is the trailer for the movie

Nasser Ali is a world famous violinist. He travelled the world for many years before returning to his home in Tehran, marrying and having children.. He is a somewhat morose character, as evidenced by the fact that when his beloved violin is broken and he can't find another to replace it, he simply decides that he wants to die.

Over the course of the next few days we get to know Nasser's life story as narrated by Azrael, the angel of death. From his childhood to his true love, his marriage, the lives of his children (including glimpses of their future lives), his relationship with his family and so much more.

I mentioned before that this movie was based on a graphic novel. This is a live action movie (with one short animated section) but you can definitely see the graphic novel influence. The setting is Iran prior to the revolution, but it is mostly a picture book rendering of the city of Tehran and the countryside. The action varies from over the top humour to deep poignancy, with perhaps some magical realism thrown in. It is a compelling mix as you don't necessarily know what is going to come next. And yet as a whole, the movie feels cohesive.

The final 20 minutes of the movie is an amazing montage of Ali Nasser's life over the last 20 years. Whilst it repeats some of what we already know from the film, these are often displayed from different perspectives and there are other revelations too. Visually it a gorgeous feast for the eyes and I ended up watching that section of the movie several times because it was just so beautiful, so touching, so well done. In fact, I might have to go and watch that last 20 minutes again right now.

While the whole movie is worth watching, I would strongly encourage people to try it out just so that they can get to that last 20 minutes too, and probably watch it multiple times like I have!

Of course, given that this is a Weekend Cooking post, I do feel as though I need to tie it back to food. The title of the story is a reference is a fact that Nasser Ali's favourite dish is Chicken with Plums. Whilst Nasser and his wife are pretty much in an unhappy marriage, she tries to snap him out of his depressed funk and to show that she does care by cooking his favourite dish. It did have me wondering what kind of dish it is. Obviously, without the author confirming which dish it is precisely we won't necessarily know, but I did find this video which I thought was interesting and the dish looks quite tasty too.

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

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Library Loot: August 14 to 20

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 couple of questions in the comments of a previous Library Loot so I thought I would take the opportunity to post the answers in a post in case anyone else was wondering the same thing.

When should you post your Library Loot post?

Whenever you like. Claire and I generally post on Wednesdays so that we are consistent in when the Mr Linky is put up, but you don't have to post on that day. Any day is fine.

Do you need to include the Library Loot blurb?

No, we do so that hopefully there are clear instructions, but you can just post the badge. We would like it if you linked back to either one of us so that people know where to find us as hosts, but that's it really.

Other than feel free to post as little or as much as you like about your loot! The only thing we ask is that you have fun sharing the loot that you got!

If anyone has any other question just ask in the questions and I will post a response to them in future weeks.

Claire has Mr Linky this week so head over to her blog to share your loot link. Here's what I borrowed this week

All Good Things by Sarah Turnbull  - I recently read Almost French by Sarah Turnbull so I am eager to find out how life is treating Sarah and Fred. I gather from the blurb that they aren't living in Paris anymore. This author is also coming to Melbourne Writers Festival and I have bought tickets to that session.

Lilla's Feast by Frances Osborne - I saw this mentioned on Kate Forsyth's blog and thought it sounded like my kind of read.

Departures by Bernard Fanning - Bernard Fanning was the lead singer of Australian band Powderfinger before they split up. His first solo album is one that I love to listen to on a regular basis. This is his second solo album. I thought I would share one of the songs off the album in this post.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Fables, Vol 10: The Good Prince by Bill Willingham

Before I get started on this review, I will mention that this is volume 10 in the Fables series. I am pretty sure I have managed to keep it spoiler free but at 10 books in, there may well be something that slipped through so

**************SPOILER WARNING**************

I am so glad that this collection was pretty much all about the Flycatcher. The overall story did move forward and there were some other interludes but mostly this was the story of Fly's transformation from secondary character, and in some ways comedic relief, to a character with a full and fulfilling storyline - a transformation which was enabled by the fact that we learnt his back story in the 1001 Nights collection which I read a couple of months ago.

With Sir Lancelot's help, the Flycatcher is transformed from humble janitor to gallant prince and he goes off in search of his people. His search takes him away from Fabletown down into the Well where most fables are banished to as punishment or when they die. Using a special magic, he is able to give the ghosts new forms which will stay in place unless they get too far away from him. Fly, or perhaps I should call him Prince Ambrose now, leads his new followers across the desert at great risk to himself, until he gets back to his own homeland, which will henceforth be known as Haven.

As the book progresses, we see that the development and strengthening of Haven is part of a grander plan which enables the forces of the dreaded Adversary to be weakened in anticipation of a future battle. There was one particular aspect of this weakening that I liked - the fate of the wooden soldiers.

I found the revival of characters that were previous gone as ... interesting. As soon as two of them were introduced my reaction was uh-oh, with good cause, and I can't help but think that these two will still manage to cause some havoc in future episodes. There were other more welcome returns as well.

In terms of the total storyline arc for the series, this felt like quite a transitional book, once again getting all the pieces lined up for when the main battle finally happens. I do hope that is soon because this build up has been happening for quite some time now. I also wonder what happens when the Adversary is defeated once and for all. Will there be another big build up to conflict against another enemy or will the focus change? This issue did also introduce, or reinforce, questions that will need to be answered over the coming issues. Questions like exactly what is Frau Totenkinder up to. I guess I will just have to keep reading to find out.

In terms of the other stories in this collection while I loved the small story that revolved around Snow and Bigby (sigh!) and their brood of kids, the illustrations on that one threw me for a bit, particularly in the portrayal of Snow. She didn't look anything like she has looked in previous stories. I know that one of the strengths of the series is that there are so many artists involved and therefore there will be differences at times, but to be so totally different was a bit disconcerting.

I have just requested the next Fables book via interlibrary loan. I wish that my own library had them, but I think I can still read the whole series from other library systems so it is all good.

Rating 4


Collecting issues #60-69 of the hit series, collecting the epochal "Good Prince" storyline. Flycatcher is drawn into the spotlight as he discovers the startling truth about his own past as the Frog Prince. At the same time, he learns that the Adversary plans to destroy his foes once and for all. How can the meek Flycatcher stop this deadly foe?

Other contributors to this volume include Steve Leialoha, Aaron Alexovich and Andrew Pepoy.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Tudor Secret/The Tudor Conspiracy by C W Gortner (The Spymaster Chronicles)

I have long been a fan of C W Gortner, not only because of how much I enjoy his books, but also because of the gracious way in which he interacts with his readers. I really enjoy the way that he has previously focused on not necessarily unknown characters but rather lesser known characters from European history like Juana, queen of Spain (sister to Catherine of Aragon), or Catherine de Medici. Right from when I first read him I have enjoyed his voice and his portrayal of powerful, flawed women.

Both The Tudor Secret and the sequel The Tudor Conspiracy bring something new to Gortner's established readers. This time his canvas is the Tudor court of England, a picture that has been painted many times before. Rather than straight historical fiction this is mystery, and his main protagonist is a male character although there are plenty of female characters in the mix, including Queen Mary and Princess Mary.

Whilst this post is ostensibly a review of The Tudor Conspiracy, I do want to talk briefly about The Tudor Secret, which is the first book in the series. Because I have to read a series in order, I made sure to read The Tudor Secret first but I am unlikely to write a whole post so I just wanted to touch on a couple of things before moving onto the second book. I will also try to avoid spoilers for the first book as much as I can.

The Tudor Secret was originally self published nearly a decade ago.The author has polished it up ready to be republished by a major publisher but, as someone who has read most of his books, I can definitely see improvements in his writing in his later books and particularly in relation to the second book in this series.

Whilst I didn't not like The Tudor Secret, there wasn't a lot that stood out for me. I have mentioned before that I often feel Tudored out and so when I do read something with a Tudor setting I want it to stand out. The Tudor Secret wasn't really that book for me. It was a good read, it introduced an interesting enough character, played with a question of identity in a way I have kind of seen before and we saw all the familiar players like Princess Elizabeth, Robert Dudley and wily Lord Cecil as well as some secondary characters like Peregrine the stable boy who quickly attaches himself to Brendan.

By way of introduction, Brendan Prescott was a foundling who was abandoned as a baby. He was entered into the Dudley household where the boy was educated to quite a high level, mainly because of his own curiosity and determination. He is called to court to perform the duties of Robert Dudley's squire and quicker than he could say "will that be all my lord?" he is drawn into a world of spies and subterfuge, and into questions like who will rule the realm should sickly King Edward die. With the Dudley's scheming to get Lady Jane Grey to be the next ruler and Lady Mary and Lady Elizabeth being kept waiting in the wings things are going to get very touchy in the Tudor court. And we haven't even talked yet about Brendan's search for his true identity!

Earlier in this post I said that if I am going to read a Tudor set book then I want something that stands out. Where the first book in the series fell a little flat to me, the second book, The Tudor Conspiracy most definitely did not.

After the events of the last book, Brendan has been living a quiet life in the country. When Lord Cecil calls for him to return to the court to help protect Princess Elizabeth, he doesn't hesitate for too long before agreeing to go undercover. His challenge is to infiltrate the court of Queen Mary and the employ of the powerful Spanish envoy who is exerting a great deal of power over her. The rumours are flying thick and fast that Mary plans to marry Philip of Spain, a prospect that scares the general populace as this will most likely mean that England will be expected to return to the Catholic Church and religious intolerance will spread even more. The possible marriage could also have dire implications for Princess Elizabeth who continues to defy Mary on multiple fronts, most especially to do with religion, and is thus incurring her wrath. Brendan must work to find out if Elizabeth is in imminent danger and protect her as best he can. In the meantime he must also be seen to work for the queen in proving that Elizabeth, Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon and perhaps others including Robert Dudley are involved in a conspiracy to bring Elizabeth to the throne. Gortner brings the conspiracy that leads to the eventual Wyatt rebellion to life with historically known details and imagination combining perfectly.

For Brendan, it proves very difficult to juggle two identities and to be serving different masters who all have different, competing agendas, and that is before we add the fact that he is still trying to determine exactly who he truly is as well!

There were two aspects of this book that felt more assured to me. Firstly, there was the writing and secondly the characterisation. While reading The Tudor Conspiracy I felt completely engaged in the action whether it be when Brendan finds himself trying to escape from deadly situations or feels that he is being watched as he crosses over the crowded London Bridge, I was there with him willing him to beat his opponents, gasping as he comes within a swords slash of being maimed or murdered, feeling his fear as he tangles with the scarred man who works for the Earl of Devon, Mr Scarsgill, grieving as he loses somebody close to him (I could not believe that the author killed off that character!) and screwing up my nose so that I can't smell yet another set of clothes that he has ruined! He is very hard on his clothes!

I think that the thing that impressed me most about the main character of Brendan Prescott in this book is the author has made him so human. Gortner is not afraid to have Prescott show his fears (which include water, confined spaces and more), his fallibility or his emotions, even as he continues to place the character in dangerous situations. There are things that Brendan did in this book that should not be glossed over easily, and they aren't, but the author has taken the time to make sure that the reader sees clearly Brendan's own thought processes and, in some cases, guilt as he works through the mystery that he is wrapped up in and tries determine who exactly is trustworthy in the pit of vipers that is the court of Queen Mary.

There are crosses and double crosses, murders, conspiracies, distrust and enmity between family members, secret identities and oh, so much more. Gortner manages to keep all of the various plot points deftly in hand, providing the reader with a heart in mouth reading experience as you try and race through to the end of the book just to see what happens next!

I liked that in the authors note, it is clearly spelled out what where history and imagination crossed paths, and I was glad to see that there will be more adventures featuring Brendan Prescott in future. There are surely many more adventures that await him in the complicated worlds of Queen Mary initially, and later with Queen Elizabeth. I am very much looking forward to reading them.


The Tudor Secret 3.5/5
The Tudor Conspiracy 4.5/5

Tour Details

Link to Tour Schedule:
Twitter Hashtag: #TudorConspiracyTour
CW Gortner's website.
CW Gortner on Facebook
CW Gortner on Twitter.

About the book

Hunted by a shadowy foe in Bloody Mary’s court, Brendan Prescott plunges into London’s treacherous underworld to unravel a dark conspiracy that could make Elizabeth queen—or send her to her death in C.W. Gortner's The Tudor Conspiracy

England, 1553: Harsh winter encroaches upon the realm. Mary Tudor has become queen to popular acclaim and her enemies are imprisoned in the Tower. But when she’s betrothed to Philip, Catholic prince of Spain, putting her Protestant subjects in peril, rumors of a plot to depose her swirl around the one person whom many consider to be England’s heir and only hope—the queen’s half-sister, Princess Elizabeth.

Haunted by his past, Brendan Prescott lives far from the intrigues of court. But his time of refuge comes to an end when his foe and mentor, the spymaster Cecil, brings him disquieting news that sends him on a dangerous mission. Elizabeth is held captive at court, the target of the Spanish ambassador, who seeks her demise. Obliged to return to the palace where he almost lost his life, Brendan finds himself working as a double-agent for Queen Mary herself, who orders Brendan to secure proof that will be his cherished Elizabeth’s undoing.

Plunged into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a mysterious opponent who hides a terrifying secret, Brendan races against time to retrieve a cache of the princess’s private letters, even as he begins to realize that in this dark world of betrayal and deceit, where power is supreme and sister can turn against sister, nothing—and no one—is what it seems.


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