Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sunday Salon: Best of 2013

I don't know about you but I find it a little disconcerting to see how early some of the best of the year lists stay coming out.  I guess it is a bit like Christmas decorations appearing in the shops in October or Easter stuff starting to appear now. It just feels far too early to declare best books of the year in October! That's still a couple of months of potential awesome reads!  Now that there is just two days to go in the year I think it is safe to share my best books of the year!

These are listed more or less in the order I read them.

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

It is no great secret that I am a bit of a Susanna Kearsley fan girl.  I am not sure what it is exactly but her voice, the stories she chooses to tell, the dual time frames, the characters, the relationships and more really work for me. I actually started this book at the end of last year but I deliberately dragged the reading of it out because I wanted it to be one of the first books I finished this year!

Easy by Tammara Webber

I had heard a lot of good things about this book but I was still blown away by how much I loved it.  I have borrowed one of this author's other books but I had to return it unread!  Maybe next year!

The Best Man Kristin Higgins

Sometimes you just get lucky and read the perfect book for you right at that exact moment and I think that is what happened with this book. I have read most of Higgins back list and liked a lot of them but I must confess that I prefer her later books where she moved away from the first person narrative where you never got inside the heroes head to third person.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Well this is a first! This is a book that I had on my best of list last year. This year I reread it (unusual in itself) and still loved it even though I already knew the story!

Lighthouse Bay by Kimberley Freeman

A few years ago I saw that Paullina Simons blurbed one of Kimberley Freeman's earlier books but I didn't end up reading it. Last year I finally read one of Freeman's books,  Wildflower Hill, and liked it a lot,  but I was totally engaged with this book.  I have now read my way through her back list and have her latest book here to read soon.

On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

If I had to pick just one author as my discovery of the year it would be Melina Marchetta! I had been told to read her for a long time and all those people were right! I actually listened to this one on audio twice. I gave the first listen 4.5/5 because the first portion of the book was a bit confusing but on the second go around I was very impressed with the way that there were many important clues to what was going on.  Oh and there was a crush on a way too young character too!

The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta

In between Jellicoe I listened to Saving Francesca which I really liked. This book features the same characters that are in Saving Francesca but it was this story which had me feeling all the emotions on all three occasions that I listened to the audio!

I will hopefully be able to post all my 2013 stats next week. Might have to try and write at least some of that post when I go back to work so I can do all the analysis on something bigger than my tablet screen!

Currently Reading

Thornwood House by Anna Romer and listening to Finnickin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta (yes, her again)

Up next

I am not really sure. I really need to take a look at library due dates etc!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Weekend Cooking: Year in review

One thing that I like to do occasionally is look back through posts that I have written,  and that is particularly true of Weekend Cooking posts.  It is kind of funny what you remember posting and what you don't,  or what you think you first posted this year but really it was much longer than that.

I thought that today I would  do a little year in review type post covering a few different categories that I am going to make up as I go along.

Let's start with an easy category and that is most requested recipe!  I kind of feel like I am cheating a little bit by including it in this year's posts because I first shared the recipe last year but this is definitely the recipe that I have been asked for most this year.  Every time I make them and give them to people who haven't tried them before they want to know how to make them. The bonus is that they are really easy to make.  The hardest thing is really zesting the lemons!

Kate Bracks' Lemon Syrup Cakes

The where did that come from category goes to the Food Fight post that was inspired by a music video!

The next category is a two for the price of one deal. Not only is it the post that took me longest to put together, but I think it is also the Weekend Cooking post from this year that I am most proud of.  When I first thought of the idea of comparing the book A Trifle Dead by Livia Day, I thought it was a fun idea but it did take me forever to write that post (although this one might overtake it given that I am having to write it on my tablet!)

One thing I did start doing this year is watching some foreign foodie movies which has been mostly enjoyable.  If I had to pick a favourite sequence it would be the last 20 minutes of Chicken with Plums which was based on the graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi.

A couple of stats based shout outs. The most visited Weekend Cooking post was my review of Jamie's 15 Minute Meals and the most commented on post (counting my responses to people) was early on in the year when I posted about Tim Tam Slams.

I haven't been quite as consistent with my participation as I have been normally or as I would like so for the last couple of categories I bring you the best post I have started but not managed to finish yet. That goes to my review of the delightful French movie Romantics Anonymous.  I have started the review,  and watched the movie several times in anticipation of finishing the review.  Maybe I will watch it again in a couple of days to refresh my memory.  It will be fabulous when I write it.

My final category is the recipe that I need to post so I don't lose it,  and that is a recipe for Spanish Style Tuna Bake. There was another recipe that I made a few times that meant to post too but now I can't remember what it was. Better post that tuna recipe soon before I forget that one 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, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all my blogging friends, near and far!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Quotes: Christmas on Rue Tatin

Today's quote comes from On Rue Tatin, which is a book about the author moving to a small town in France. It wasn't all smooth sailing, especially with some of the neighbours!
A couple of weeks later Michael began decorating the house for Christmas. He hung cedar boughs over ever door and window, then wove tiny white lights through them. He lit up our gnarled apple tree and hung multi-coloured lights in the two tiny-paned windows in Joe's room. I made and hung a giant wreath on our gate, festooning it with gold beads and a big red bow and we put candles at all the windows. Since our house is right in the centre of town across from the church we felt a certain obligation to decorate sumptuously.

Once the outside of the house was done we put a tree (which we didn't buy at the florists because we were too cowardly), decorated it and the rest of the interior by hanging decorations and boughs from the raw beams, on the ragged brick fireplace and on the not yet plastered walls. Our windows have tiny panes in them and most are curtainless, so the golden glow within was easily observed from without, and the house looked like a fairy tale dwelling, standing out starkly from the shops and apartments around it, which were more modestly decorated. We knew it was appreciated because we saw cars slow down and necks crane, and more than one person came with a camera and stood out front clicking away.

I have always baked a variety of cookies for Christmas and being in France didn't change that, even with the wealth of bakeries at our fingertips. I am a firm believer in tradition - ours and others - and I didn't see how it would be Christmas without Christmas cookies. Joe and I took an afternoon to mix, roll and decorate. Then we filled several gaily decorated cellophane bags and delivered them to the florists, the cafe owners, the crew at Chez Clet, Brigitte from the gift shop, and the family who ran the real estate agency across the street, along with an explanation of their place in our Christmas tradition. I was taking Claude's suggestion seriously.

Two days before Christmas, while I was baking, Michael was working and Joe was playing in the chilly entryway, Joe ran to get me. "Mama, there's someone at the door, those two ladies," he said with his lisp. I went to the door, wiping my hands on my apron. Michael, in his studio, had heard Joe and he emerged as well. It was dark already, and I switched on the outdoor light and opened the door. There, framed by the light in our doorway, were the twin sisters, a huge bouquet in their hands. They didn't say anything and just stood there. I was stunned and unsure of what to do, so we had a stand off for a moment, then they handed me the bouquet.

I had tears in my eyes and they did too. Michael, standing back just a bit, was equally moved. We didn't say anything. Finally, I said, "Merci," and they said simply, "Bon Noel." They handed Joe a little gift, shook our hands and were gone. We stayed in the doorway looking after them.

I looked at Michael, who looked back at me. "The rolls and the cookies. They worked," he said, smiling. We all felt as if a miracle had occurred, a cultural breakthrough that would improve the quality of our daily lives. Our first Christmas on Rue Tatin could not have offered us more.

That Christmas was a watershed, and none of us has ever looked back. Over subsequent years we've developed a close relationship with the florists, and found them to be warm and loving neighbours. Year round they bring us bouquets of flowers that they can't sell but still have many days of life in them. I take them cookies, or cakes, or whatever I am baking when it's something really special. Their grandchildren come over occasionally to play with Joe and even nice to Jonquil, their German Shepherd, though in my heart of hearts I am sure she is going to attack me one day.

Ironically, last Christmas found us urging them to store their Christmas trees in our backyard, as their usual storage area was damaged. It's easier now, of course, since we all know and appreciate each other, but still I had a quiet laugh about it.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sunday Salon: Yes, it is a first world problem but...

I am a little bit upset today because yesterday my laptop stopped functioning.  Whilst this doesn't mean that I am entirely without resources,  it does mean that for the foreseeable future I am going to be blogging from my tablet,  the prospect of which doesn't precisely fill me with joy.

While I will most likely take it to a shop to get looked at to see if it can be repaired the reality is that it is about 6 or 7 years old and had been chugging along for a while now. The other reality is that I can't afford to just go out and buy a new one and it is probably going to be a while before I can.  Santa certainly won't be bringing me one because even though I practically live like a nun (well except for my potty mouth) that isn't enough to qualify me as a good girl!

I use my tablet for all sorts of things but blogging is not normally one of those things.  I tried to do the Virtual Advent post last night but trying to copy and paste text was a nightmare so assuming that I do keep posting I may have to change the way I blog. Even
just getting the Sunday Salon badge into this post was difficult.  I ended up having to copy the whole of the HTML  for my last SS post and then delete everything else in order to just be left with the image I wanted!

I was wondering though about the various apps that are available. Is anyone using any apps like the Blogger app in order to help them blog using their phone or tablets.  Looking at the reviews the official Blogger app had terrible reviews so maybe there is something else out there that is better.

I was intending to do a best books of the year list today but that will have to wait until next week now.  Maybe by then I will have figured or an easier way to do this blogging thing!

Currently reading

Right as Rain by Trish Stringer. Listening to Finnickin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Next up

Thornwood House by Anna Romer

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Quotes: Henry and Anne

Over the last couple of weeks I have been listening to the audio version of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, and have loved the audio version! I know, I am about 3 years behind every one else in reading this book but what can I say....better later than never! I won't be waiting 3 years to read the follow up book!

Today's quote comes from this book and, of course, features Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

At Whitehall - York Place, as it was - the builders are still in. For Christmas, the king had given Anne a bedroom. He led her to it himself, to see her gasp at the wall hangings, which were of cloth of silver and cloth of gold, the carved bed hung with crimson satin embroidered with images of flowers and children. Henry Norris had reported to him that Anne had failed to gasp; she had just looked around the room slowly, smiled, blinked. Then she had remembered what she ought to do; she pretended to feel faint at the honor, and it was only when she swayed and the king locked his arms around her that the gasp came. I do devoutly hope, Norris had said, that we shall all at least once in our lives cause a woman to utter that sound.

When Anne had expressed her thanks, kneeling, Henry had to leave, of course; to leave the shimmering room, trailing her by the hand, and go back to the New Year's Feast, to the public scrutiny of his expression: in the certainty that news of it would by conveyed all over Europe, by land and sea, in and out of cypher.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Quotes: Christmas at Morland

Today's Christmas quote comes from The Chevalier by Cynthia Harrod- Eagles, the seventh book in the Morland series which follows the fortunes of the Morland family through from the days of the Plantagenets through to the 20th century.

I liked this passage because I like the idea of being able to watch such a scene unfold. Wouldn't like to be the cook, or live like this all the time, but just once it would be fun!

Everything was done in the best of style, and the food was both lavish and elegant. Most of the servants liked and admired India, but the cook positively worshipped her, for under Clovis's direction, during Matt's minority, there had been little scope for his skills. Food at Morland Place had been plentiful, but plain and wholesome, no canvas for a great artist. This Christmas, inspired by India, he excelled himself. The centrepiece of the whole season's feasting was the colossal Twelfth-Night cake, which was three feet in diameter and decorated to be a perfect miniature of Morland Place in beautiful detail, right down to the marzipan peacocks who spread their paper tails on the sugar drawbridge.

As well as the feasting, there was of course music and entertainment of all kinds, all the favourite Christmas games and, every night, dancing. India danced with the best of them, and Matt, though he could hardly get a dance himself with his own wife, stood at the side of the room and watched with pride and love as she flew tirelessly up and down the sets, conspicuous in her peacock-blue satin, with the Queen's Emeralds glittering at her throat.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Weekend Cooking: Sue's Christmas Pudding

As I have done in previous years, I am sharing some Christmassy quotes that I have saved up throughout the year. Given that this quote has a bit of a foodie related feel to it, it is doubling up as a Weekend Cooking post as well. For today's post I am sharing a passage from Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole. This is an epistolary novel, so the quote is part of a letter from David, a young man who lives in Chicago to his friend Elspeth (who he calls Sue... you will need to read the book to find out why) who lives on the Isle of Skye

If you are interesting in finding out more, you can read my review of this book here. A couple of years ago now I shared my sister's recipe for Christmas Puddings if you are interested.

Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A
January 12, 1914

A Happy New Year to you, Sue!

You're right, you do make a marvellous Christmas pudding! It's similar to the fruitcake my mother insists on making for us each Christmas. The woman doesn't set  foot into the kitchen all year, unless it's to make a last-minute change to the menu. But every year, as the Christmas season approaches, she dons a lace-edged apron about as effective as a paper cake doily and waves all the staff out of the kitchen. Mother emerges hours later, air floured, a smear of molasses on her cheek, and a shine in her eyes that could only be brought about by "sampling" the brandy, but victoriously bearing a fruitcake. It generally has the appearance, texture, and taste of a paving stone, but we must all eat a hearty slice on Christmas Eve.

The joy we had this year, Sue, was eating your delightful Christmas pudding. Both Evie and Hank insisted on examining the box you'd sent, to make sure I wasn't holding out on them. Even my father begged for more. When my mother asked, with the air of a jealous mistress, how this pudding compared to her fruitcake, we were quick to reassure her. "Oh, the Christmas pudding is good, but it's know... British." We left it to her to to interpret just what that meant.
Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Blog Tour: The Tribe series by Ambelin Kwaymullina

Today I am super excited to welcome Ambelina Kwaymullina back to my blog as part of the blog our to celebrate the release of The Disappearance of Ember Crow, the second book in The Tribe series. Last time she was here, Ambelin wrote an awesome guest post on diversity. This time, I got the opportunity to ask her a few questions!

I originally found the first book in The Tribe series when I was specifically looking for a spec fic book by an Aboriginal woman writer. My search was was much harder than I expected it to be as I could find very few books that fit into those criteria. How difficult was it to sell this series to a publisher?

Not difficult at all – but I went to the right publisher. I knew some of the people at Walker Books, and because of that I knew that they would understand and embrace the story.

Stereotypes of Aboriginal stories, and people, are an issue, both in writing and in everyday life. I know I’m far from the only Aboriginal person to have encountered an odd phenomenon whereby random non-Aboriginal people – often people I’ve just met – feel they have the right to aggressively interrogate my identity, as if they are the self-appointed administrators of some kind of Aboriginality test. It’s distressing – and it’s ridiculous. I know many people from many different cultures and countries, and I can’t say it’s ever occurred to me to criticise my Scottish friends for failing to wear kilts, or to expect anyone who comes from Sweden to be able to direct me to the nearest Ikea store. Yet a surprising number of people seem to have somehow gotten the idea that they are entitled to tell me who I am and who my people are, generally within five minutes of first meeting me.

A couple of my Aboriginal friends have asked me if I was worried about how the book would be received, precisely because it doesn’t fit the mould of what some people might expect an Aboriginal story to be. I never had any concerns about my teenage readers; I did wonder a bit about the grown ups. I needn’t have. The story has been wonderfully well received and for that I feel I must chiefly thank the bloggers. Aussie bloggers have universally assessed the story on its own terms and not by reference to any preconceived stereotypes; and to have the chance to discuss the cultural aspects of the story with some of them has been a privilege and a joy.

So to all the bloggers: a heartfelt thanks from me.

What came first for you - the characters of Ashala Wolf and her friends or the plot?

I heard Ashala’s voice, and I followed it, and her – through the cold hallways of the detention centre, and amongst the trees of the Firstwood. I walked at her side, feeling what she felt and seeing what she saw; she and I experienced the story together.

I love the way that the plot twists and turns in your books? There are definitely "I didn't see that coming" moments for me as a reader but those moments all still make complete sense in terms of the plot and the characters. Does that happen to you as you are writing and how do you keep track of all the twists?

There’s a couple of moments, especially in The Disappearance of Ember Crow, when even as I was writing them I was freaking out a bit in my head. Because I wrote the books in the order that you read them, I am often discovering something when the reader does – there where lots of occasions when I knew something had to be in the book but I didn’t know the reason why until much, much later. For example, I knew, from the very first chapter of The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, that Ash never calls Justin Connor ‘Justin’; he is always Connor, to her. And I knew that he never, ever shortened her name; she is always Ashala, to him. But I didn’t know why, and in many ways the reason for that – which doesn’t come out until much later in the book - defines their entire relationship.

You have written a lot of childrens books and picture books before this series. How hard was it to make the transition into dystopian YA?

I think the picture books really helped me, because picture books are a hard lesson in telling a story in not a lot of words; and that ability to convey meaning in fewer words is marvellously helpful when it comes to keeping up the pace in a longer story. I guess I didn’t find the transition that difficult because I’ve been working on various novels for a long time; I have an entire box full of half finished books in my wardrobe (they’re all rubbish. Trust me). So in my head I was always writing longer books – even when I didn’t have anything finished to show for it!

In your dystopian world some of the characters have special skills. What would your special skill be? And what would you miss most about your current life if you had to live in the Firstwood?

If I was living in the Firstwood … I would miss books, I think. It’s a hard place to have a library, although I would have Ember to tell me stories. As to a special skill – I’m Ashala, when I write, so I have to be a Sleepwalker, like she is. I guess that means I have the power the change the world in my dreams; to remake it into what I wish it could be. Perhaps my books are my dreams, and in them, I imagine an unjust world transformed by an alliance of good-hearted people. Ashala speaks of fight at the end of The Disappearance of Ember Crow that is more important than any that has gone before, only it is not a battle between the Citizens and Illegals of her world. It is a battle between those who want to stop hating, and those who do not.

We have that fight in this reality too. I know which side I’m on.

I am so excited to see that books 3 and 4 in the series have titles. Can you give us a bit of a clue of what comes next for Ashala, Ember and their friends.

Yeah, you don’t really want me to tell you that. Then where would the surprises be? But we are heading to the end now; the stakes are higher for all concerned, in the books that are to come. All of our existing friends are back, and there will be new ones as well. Things become more complex, more intense, and more dangerous. And Ash, in the third and fourth books, is going to face a test harder than any that has gone before. Her concept of leadership at this point is to stand between her Tribe and her forest whatever danger threatens. She is going to find it far more difficult to accept that others will choose to stand between her and danger – and pay the price for it.

And what comes next for Ambelin Kwaymullina?

After The Tribe? I have an idea for a trilogy set in the same world but with different characters, and once that’s done, a new, six book series set in an entirely new reality.

I’m not short on stories. Just time.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions Ambelin.

Be sure to check out the next stop in the tour which is at Lauren's Loquacious Literature or start from the beginning of the tour and follow it through.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Christmas Quotes: Christmas 1941 in Chefoo

Today's quote comes from pages 220 to 221 of Lilla's Feast by Frances Osborne. By way of introduction, Lilla's husband, Casey, has been arrested by the Japanese soldiers who have invaded China, along with many other Western businessmen. Not long after this all other allied nationals are also arrested and put into prisoner camps.

I often find myself drawn to quotes about how Christmas was for people during war times or other forms of adversity.

On Christmas Day 1941, as a gesture, as if clinging on to the idea that this was an honourable war, the Japanese let the businessmen go home briefly. Just long enough for a church service and Christmas lunch. Lilla, Casey, Mabel, Vivvy and Mabel's mother - Lilla's family in Chefoo - would have eaten together. Vivvy and Casey would not have a uttered a single word about what they were going through in the hotel, not wanting to worry their wives any more than necessary. But, looking at their husbands' pale, wasted faces, Lilla and Mabel would have known without asking that something awful was happening to them.

I am trying to imagine their meal. Lilla must have been living off peas, beans, lentils and peanuts, as everyone else in Chefoo was doing at the time. "Just as nourishing as meat," she later wrote, "especially if suet dumplings, bacon or fried bread are served with them." But on Christmas Day Lilla must have managed to lay her hands on at least a chicken, its flesh lean and taut from age. Her chef long since gone, she would have basted it again and again in its own thin juice, kept it well covered, not allowed a drop of moisture to escape. Still, it can't have been the same as turkey or goose. They must have chewed through their mouthfuls, puhsing a smile on to their faces between each bite. Trying to have a normal Christmas conversation, talking about anything they could think of except the war. If they could think of anything else at all. They they would have exchanged presents. Something small, a token. A favourite piece of embroidery. A drawing. A card. It was hard, almost impossible, to find anything new, so, like everyone else in Chefoo, they circulated their own treasures. Then tried to sing, Casey and Vivvy mustering all the enthusiasm they could, with Lilla accompanying them on the piano, striking chords.

When the soldiers came back that afternoon to take the men away again, they took Lilla's car with them. The car she'd boasted about to Ada. the car in which she and Casey had gone on so many picnics and dashes across the peninsula to see her brother Reggie in Tsingtao. Or even just out at night, when it was too cold or wet by far to walk. by Christmas 1941, there hadn't been any petrol for over a year. Still, the car has been sitting in the garage as if one day soon she'd take it out again. As the Japanese soldiers drove it off, they took that hope away too.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Library Loot: December 11 to 17

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!
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I am standing aside from co-hosting Library Loot. If you think that you might be interested in hosting with Claire, get in touch with her!

I didn't have very much loot at all this week. In fact that only thing I got out from the library was The Newsroom Season 1.

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

Monday, December 09, 2013

Fables Vol 12: The Dark Ages by Bill Willingham

What's this? A review. Why, yes it is! Apparently having reviewed every previous instalment in the series is incentive enough to make me sit down and write a review of this book!

Given that it is the 12th book in the series (well more than that, but we will go with that seeing as it is the official title) it is impossible to review these without giving away anything that might not be known if you are reading the earlier books in the series, so, as always....


At the end of the last book, you could have been forgiven for thinking that life was going to get a lot easier for the residents of Fabletown. After all, the Adversary had been comprehensively defeated and the Flycatcher's newly established land known as Haven is thriving. Time to recover from the recent war for everyone involved.

Of course, in true Fables fashion, you would be wrong.

The Adversary has been bought back to Fabletown but because of the terms of agreement he is not to be punished. The citizens of Fabletown are not happy, as in really, really not happy to have this man be able to live freely among them, especially as he displays no recognition of how evil his deeds are, let alone remorse of any kind.

One of the dangers that is posed when there is a void in who controls a situation is that someone else, or something else, will rise up and take the place. One hopes that it will be someone better, but when it is a hidden power that in this first introduction seems far more evil than the Adversary ever was and that even Frau Totenkinder has no clue how to defeat, you know that it isn't a good sign.

With the end of the first major story arc, it was clear that the writers were going to have to shake things up a bit in order to introduce a new overarching story, and shake things up they did.

There are favourite characters who die, and we don't really know if they are going to come back again. After all, the life of the fables is determined by how many people believe in them. If the stories about characters are told and retold the corresponding fable will continue on and on. But what if one of the best characters in the Fables world is only a little known fable in the mundy world. What if no one tells his story? Can he come back again? It's all a bit meta really, but it is fun to try and think it through.

With one quick swipe of the artists pens, the whole face of Fabletown is changed and the consequences include having a population that is divided or in transit, political change and so much more. In effect, in this book the story starts again but without having to reintroduce us to the characters that we have come to love over the course of the series so far.

Most of this book was the darker side of the Fables story, so I was glad that the last section of the book focused on Mowgli and was somewhat lighter in tone. Even Bigby's brothers got some page time, and seem to have found an outlet for their energy and, um, skills!

I am not sure if the darker start was part of the reason why this instalment took me much longer to read than normal, or just if that is a general reflection of my reading at the moment, but it is unheard of for it to take me two weeks to read one of these books.

Going by Kelly's super duper guide to reading the Fables series (which she recently updated), I now need to step away from the Fables world for a little while and concentrate on the Jack of Fables books. Jack has been seen in the earlier books in the series in little cameo appearances. He always seemed a bit smarmy, a bit of a jerk, so I guess we will wait to see what kind of mischief he gets up to in his books.

As always, I have already requested the next book, or in this case the first Jack book, from the library via interlibrary loan.

Rating 4/5


The great war between Fabletown and the mighty empire of the Adversary is over, and the victorious free fables have brought their defeated enemy back from the Homelands to join them in exile. Their celebrations, however, are destined to be short-lived. As it turns out, not even beloved storybook heroes can escape the law of unintended consequences. In the post-war chaos of the Adversary's former realm, a terrible force is about to be unleashed - an evil that threatens not just Fabletown, but the entire mundane world.

Additional contributors include Mark Buckingham, Peter Gross, Andrew Pepoy, Michael Allred, David Hahn.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

November Reading Reflections

I don't necessarily think of myself as a seasonal reader, but when I look at my reading list for November, it seems to be dominated by contemporary romance. Maybe that is because I can read a book in a night, rather than 3 or 4 days or a week, or maybe it is just that I crave some of those emotios that I can only get from reading a good romance. God knows I don't get any of those in real life!

Here's what I read in November:

It Had to be You by Jill Shalvis 4/5
Always On My Mind by Jill Shalvis 4/5
Drawn Together by Lauren Dane 4/5
The Perfect Match by Kristan Higgins 4/5
In Her Blood by Annie Hauxwell 4/5
A Duke Never Yields by Juliana Gray 4/5
Lexi's Secret by Melanie Millburne 4/5
Snow-Kissed by Laura Florand 3.5/5
You Don't Even Know by Sue Lawson 4/5
A Storm of Swords by George R R Martin 4.5/5 (audiobook)
Misplaced Princess by Lexxie Couper and Mari Carr 3.5/5
Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta 4/5 (audiobook)
The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta 5/5 (yes, again)(audiobook)
Love's Rhythm by Lexxie Couper 3.5/5

We won't mention the fact that I haven't reviewed a single one of these!

In terms of my challenges, it is almost easier to say which ones weren't for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, but instead I will say taht Lexi's Secret, You Don't Even Know, both of Lexxie Couper's books and both of Melina Marchetta's books count for that challenge.

Currently reading

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman and listening to Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

Up Next

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Mexican Christmas Cookies and a Honking Big Bird

Today I am sharing two passages from The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O'Neal, and then an associated recipe. I have read several of this author's books over the last year or so, and if you want a feel good read with lots of delicious sounding food then I would highly recommend Barbara O'Neal.

First, here is a passage from pages 397 and 398

On Christmas Eve, the restaurant closed at eight, and by ten, Ivan and Patricak were settled in front of the Christmas tree at Patrick's place, drinking eggnog and listening to rock-and-roll Christmas carols, which Ivan insisted upon. Springstreen sang "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town," in that raw, ragged voice, and Ivan leaned back happily, drink in hand, to watch the lights sparkle. Patrick was cutting out paper snowflakes that he was going to use for table decorations tomorrow, when a few people would come over for a Christmas goose with all the trimmings. Patrick had made a special request for it, tickled by the idea of a Dickens sort of Christmas and Ivan tracked down one of his suppliers to get a honking big bird - he laughed every time he said this - and it was marinating now. Ivan would get up at dawn to put it in the oven so it would be ready for dinner. He'd also secretly rented a Victorian-era costume, complete with a top hat, in which he thought he looked pretty hot.

The restaurant was closed. All of Liswood's restaurants were closed for Christmas and again on New Year's Day. He felt everyone deserved a couple of days off every year, no matter what, something Ivan found remarkable.

"This is great," Ivan said.

Patrick smiled up at him. "It is. I'm so looking forward to our dinner tomorrow! Thank you for cooking goose."

"One big honking bird," Ivan said, laughing

"The joke might be a little overdone," Patrick said, but he was grinning. He unfolded think white paper to reveal a beautifully intricate  snowflake. "Sure you don't want to try one?"

"I'm sure."

And this passage from page 391 features Elena, the executive chef of the restaurant referred to above. Portia is the daughter of the owner, Julie Liswood.

But the biggest pleasure was in her connection to Portia. It was as if she had suddenly inherited a smart, pretty niece who wanted to do everything with her. They made Christmas cookies - a ritual the girl had never had the pleasure of performing - and decorated a tree and put garlands around the windows. They shopped for Christmas presents.

And here is the recipe for Polvorones (Mexican Christmas Cookies) which was in the book


1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup lard
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 large orange: entire peel grated to zest, plus juice
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups finely ground almonds

Preheat the over to 400 degrees. Grease a baking sheet or use parchment. In bowl, beat the butter, lard, and sugar until creamy. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating them into the sugar mixture well. Add the orange zest and the juice of the orange, then fold in flour and almonds in small batches, blending well. The dough will be crumbly. Roll it out on a floured surface to 3/4 inch, and cut out small circles, an inch or so. Bake about 15 minutes, until lightly golden, no more. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.

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

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Christmas Quotes: A Pittwater Christmas

For the last couple of years I have been saving quotes about Christmas and sharing them over at the Virtual Advent Tour blog  (have you signed up yet?) and here as well. Whilst I don't have enough quotes for every day, there will be some scattered throughout the month of December.

By way of a brief explanation, just previous to this a bushfire had come close to the houses in Lovett Bay where the author lives in a gorgeous old house once owned by one of Australia's most famous female poets.

The quote comes from pages 155-157

Bob's daughters, Meg and Kelly, arrive to celebrate Christmas bringing their partners...and dogs, Tali and Bear. Tali is a handsome black and white border collie with a baby pink lipstick smile and a ton of charm. He shadows Meg like her keeper. Bear is the ugliest dog ever born: too tall, skinny in the rump, big-chested. Not even her ears match. One sticks straight up. The other flops flatly. Her coat looks like it's been attacked by moths. Kelly adores her.

The floors of rooms all over the house are littered with clothing, mattresses and bedding for dogs and humans, strewn like the aftermath of gale-force winds. Lulu, my step-daughter from my first marriage, comes with her partner and her border collie, Bella. Bella's muzzle is greyer than ever, although she still never stops dropping sticks in your lap and begging you to throw them. The sticks are like toothpicks now, though. The floor space is chockers. Lulu will sleep in a tent on the lawn. She is kind enough to tell me she likes camping. Chip Chop is overwhelmed, but she cheers up at the sight of food.

Christmas dinner unfolds in chaos. the charcoal in the barbecue won't catch alight. The turkey, covered in the skin from the ham to keep it moist, is cooking too slowly. Dogs, stinky wet from a swim, hover politely at my feet in the kitchen, hoping a morsel will drop off the bench. When nothing does, they wander off, heads sagging with disappointment, pausing only to shake. The walls are sprayed with water. The salad, too. Chip Chop finds the ham skin after we take it off to brown the turkey. She eats it to the point of explosion. We call Ray the Vet who tells us she might die but there's not a damn thing we can do. We lock her away from even the smell of food.

My mother, resplendent in fire-engine red with strobing red reindeer earrings and a Santa Claus brooch that flashes like a lighthouse, tells me the Christmas decorations are a disgrace. "I'll do them next year," she huffs.

"I've gone minimalist," I snap back. Truth is, with bushfires and getting beds and tents sorted, I ran out of time and energy for more than a few baubles and a small old flashing Christmas tree I've had for years.

"Minimalist and Christmas don't work," she replies. And she has a point.

When we finally sit down to eat, I am sweating from a barrage of hot flushes. I whack down two glasses of champagne in rapid succession, then I look around. Smiling faces. Tanned arms reaching for a prawn, smoked trout, some mango salad.

"Ah bugger," I shout. "Put down your knives and forks. We haven't sung the carols yet."

Everyone groans. Lulu hands around the words to six carols we sing every year before we eat. She's been sitting on them, hoping I'll forget. Not a chance! Is there an exploding point for happiness? There can't be.


By midnight we're all in bed, even the youngies. Bob grabs me tightly. "Thank you," he says, with a sigh.

"Oh no, thank you!"

And we both fall into a deep sleep. Holding hands.

Needless to say, at the next Christmas the decorations are far from minimalist!

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Library Loot: December 4 to 10

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 Library Loot Mr Linky this week, so head over to her site to share your loot link!

As I mentioned last week, I am stepping down from co-hosting Library Loot so if you think you might be interesting in working with Claire on Library Loot, please get in contact with her.

Here's the loot I got this week:

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel - I bought this book when it first came out and started getting loads of buzz, but I never have actually even read the first page. I then began to hear how awesome the audio of the book is so I thought I would try listening to it. The audio is awesome, and now I can totally see why so many people like this book.

A Feast for Crows by George R R Martin- I have now exhausted the library's supply of audiobooks for this series, so now after listening to the first three books I am going to have to read this fourth book. It is the size of a brick!

The Illusion of Separateness by Simon van Booy - Reloot

Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt - the latest Maiden Lane book.

Just Between Us anthology - After listening to Saving Francesca and The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta, I am kind of desperate to read Jimmy Hailer's story. I read somewhere that Melina Marchetta's contribution to this anthology was part of that, but having read it, I can't quite see how it is. I might read some of the other stories now too as there are some big name authors in the collection which explores the theme of female friendship.

Just One Year by Gayle Forman - The follow up to Just One Day which I read a while ago. Looking forward to seeing how the two stories are drawn together.

Chased by Lauren Dane - reloot.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

It's December! Can you believe it?

For me, that means the start of summer, and it was at least a warm start to the season although we are expecting a wintery blast later in the week so it isn't going to last long.

It also means the start of the 2013 Virtual Advent tour. The first schedule post is up so be sure to check out the Christmas memories of the participants each day. And if you meant to sign up but didn't quite get around to it yet, it's not too late. Whilst we do have something scheduled for each day, we are always happy to have multiple participants on any given day. The more the merrier, as they say! I guess I should start to think about what most VA post is going to look like this year.

Check out all the details at the Virtual Advent Tour blog.

What does this all mean for you? Well, for one thing it means more posts to read! As I have done over the last couple of years, I have been saving up relevant quotes as I find them and will be sharing them through the month. The first year I did this I had loads and loads of quotes, but this year I have a lot less so there won't be something everyday but there will at least be a couple every week!

So, that's it for today. I am not reading a whole lot still, but I am sure that will pick up. If nothing else, I have a couple of books I need to read by Wednesday and Thursday. If only I could locate the Wednesday book which is actually my book club book!

Currently reading 

Not a lot really. Just started listening to Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

Up Next 

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey and Emma by Jane Austen