Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday Salon: Joint review of Just One Year by Gayle Forman

Bree from All the Books I Can Read and I often find ourselves emailing back and forward about what we are reading or thinking about reading. Recently we realised that we were both about to read Just One Year by Gayle Forman and so it seemed to be a good time for a discussion style review.

Bree has the first part of the discussion here, and I have the second part. My thoughts are in black and Bree's are in purple. Turns out that I enjoyed this book more than she did so it was an interesting discussion.

Enjoy

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

M: Did you find the similarities of Willem’s experience with those mirroring aspects of Willem’s parent’s story interesting with his own story or too convenient?

B: I would totally agree with you recommending If I Stay and Where She Went as books to start with. I think they better showcase Forman’s true emotional range as a writer. To be honest, I would’ve liked to see a little more emotional growth from Willem in this novel as a gradual thing. I feel like a lot of it was crammed right in to the end of the book and it didn’t seem to evolve as naturally as it could have. Willem seems to rely on other people to do things for him, or for things to fall into his lap - rarely does he display much effort in going out and getting something and making it his so I did applaud him when he played the acting role in the play to his own ability and didn’t take the direction that was given to him. I think that the end of the book shows his best side - he’s ready to move on with his life now, from the wanderlust that took him away from the unhappy circumstances his family found themselves in. He’s also, as you say, probably at that place where he’s able to deal with Allyson reappearing in his life.

I think that there were too many coincidences in the end, between Willem’s parents’ story and Willem’s and actually, I’d liked to have known more about his parents. There’s a few details sprinkled throughout but it sounded quite interesting. It actually took me a long time to even remember who Yael and Bram even were, given he refers to them by their given names. I was all prepared not to like Yael much but once Willem finally went to India and she began to get a voice, I was surprised by how much I found her voice compelling. There was definitely more there that I’d like to know, but it wasn’t their story which is kind of unfortunate!

Ultimately do you think the two books work together? Do you think there was even a need for Willem’s story? Would anything be different if there was only Just One Day?


M: Hmm, good question, one I am not sure that I know the answer for. I think you could probably have put more of Willem’s story into Just One Day and then come back together again, but I think that perhaps that would have diluted some of the more important parts of Allyson’s story. For example, one of the key issues in Just One Day was depression and how it impacts on a young girls life, and it would have been quite difficult to contrast that depression with some of the ways that Willem’s story played out and end up with a well balanced story.

What would your answer to those questions be?

B: Short answer? No and no. Honestly, I know I’m being pretty negative here but this book really didn’t add much to the overall arch of Willem and Allyson. We got maybe two seconds more of story after Just One Day left off and I didn’t get the explanations and reconnection that I really wanted to see. Allyson’s story definitely delves deeper into that depression and struggle to find yourself and balance that with expectations of parents, etc which I’m sure many young people go through when they move out of home and into a college dorm. Some people really struggle with that pressure, especially when they don’t want to know what they want to do with their lives or think that it won’t be approved of. In contrast, Willem kept wandering around the world, never wondering why his money didn’t run out...how did that not cross his mind? If I was backpacking I’d be making sure I always had enough money to pay for my next meal, next bed, next flight or whatever out of there. I wanted this book to give me so much more of the bigger picture and honestly, if I hadn’t read it, I don’t think I’d be missing out on anything. I definitely can’t say that about If I Stay and Where She Went. I know, I know, I keep coming back to those two books. They’re different, I shouldn’t be comparing them. But when I think of them, they’re a story. Together, they make two parts of the same story. There’s a beginning, there’s a middle and then there’s an end, both of them get a satisfactory story and ending. This doesn’t feel the same way.

I’m overthinking it probably!


M: Actually, I think that If I Stay has a beginning, a middle and a not ending in a way. Anyway, that’s an aside!

I went looking to see what Gayle Forman is publishing next and I couldn’t see anything. On the basis of how much you loved If I Stayed and Where She Went and how much you ... didn’t love this one, will you be excited about what comes next?

B: I found a book on Goodreads scheduled for 2015 which is apparently about a girl exploring her best friend’s suicide. Look, I know that I haven’t given this one a glowing review but it’s not a terrible book. It’s just not the book I wanted to read. Gayle Forman has written two of my favourite YA books read in recent times so I’m still going to be pretty keen for anything she has coming out. I kind of hope it’s a stand alone though!

M: Yes, I would hope for standalone too, but I would be surprised if it is because series are such a cash cow in genre fiction that I think that publishers look for series rather than stand alone and she has been successful with these kind of connected books.

Whilst these two books didn’t stand up against the excellent If I Stay and Where She Went I do think that Forman is a very talented author who has the ability to write some amazing books. She has such a way with words. and there are time when I just have to stop and reread a phrase or a sentence, as in the example below from page 250.

The breath that comes out of me isn't a sigh or a sob or a shudder. It's something alive, like a bird, wings beating, taking flight. And then it's gone, off into the quiet afternoon.

I’ll take a quiet afternoon to read whatever she comes up with next!

B: Definitely! I think that she has many amazing stories still to come.



Rating 4/5


Synopsis

Twenty four hours can change your life....

Allyson and Willem share on magical day together in Paris, before chance rips them apart.

The romantic, emotional companion to Just One Day, this is a story of the choices we make and the accidents life throws at us.

But is one day enough to find your fate?

Currently Reading

A Feast for Crows by George R R Martin and listening to The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith.

Next up

Bellagrand by Paullina Simons and Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Slow Roast Leg of Lamb with Chardonnay, Rosemary, Sage and Bay

A few weeks ago the little chef and I were watching something on the Food Channel. I can't remember exactly what it was and, to be honest, it doesn't really matter. The program finished and I wasn't really paying attention and the next program came on. It was Lorraine Pascale's Fast, Fresh and Easy and the boy and I became instant fans as a result of watching that episode.

Whenever I watch a cooking show, it is usual to like one recipe an episode or several recipes over the series but what was different about this particular episode was that we thought that every single recipe shown was one that we would like to try and make!

I have since borrowed the book for this series from the library, and having had a brief look through it, I am pretty sure that when I have some spare cash I will be wanting to buy it because there were a lot of recipes in it that I want to try. 

I am not planning to review the book or the series this week, but rather today I wanted to share the first recipe that we have tried, and I have to say it was delicious! I will be mentioning this book again in the next few weeks I am sure!

I made the recipe as directed and it was perfect fare for a coolish autumn afternoon! Actually I shouldn't say I made it because the little chef did all of the cooking. I will confess that I am a bit gutted that his roast potatoes turned out much better than mine normally do!  The only thing I we he did differently was that we cooked a whole leg (we won't talk about the fact that we had to hack a little bit off the end to make it fit in the casserole dish) because I wanted to end up with lots of leftovers. That has kind of happened but it is very tempting to just walk past and grab a little bit of meat every time I go into the kitchen!

I am not sure if you will be able to see it or not but there is a video on the BBC page for this recipe. I can't get it to play but maybe it will work for others.


Slow Roast Leg of Lamb with Chardonnay, Rosemary, Sage and Bay


½ leg of lamb (the thick fillet end) with bone in (about 1Kg/2lb 4oz)
salt and pepper
2 red onions
8 garlic cloves
4 rosemary sprigs
4 sage leaves
2 bay leaves
400ml/14fl oz white wine
couple squidges of honey
1kg/2lb 4oz potatoes, peeled and cut for roasties
olive oil, for drizzling
300g/11oz frozen peas

Remove the lamb from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking (to bring it to room temperature). Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2 and make sure the shelves are set to fit a casserole pot and roasting tray in.

Place the lamb in a big casserole pot and season it really well with salt and pepper. Cut the onions into quarters, keeping the root intact, peel off the skin and throw them in with the (unpeeled) garlic cloves, rosemary sprigs, sage and bay leaves. Pour in the white wine and drizzle the honey over.

Put the lid on and place the whole thing in the oven, leaving it for about four hours. Set a timer for 2 hours 30 minutes as that’s when you need to add the potatoes.

When the timer goes, toss the potatoes in a roasting tin with a good drizzle of oil and leave them to sit. (They won’t go brown with the oil on.)

Season the potatoes with salt and pepper, drizzle a bit more oil on them if they have sucked it all up and place them in the oven for the remaining hour and a half. Give them a toss about every so often.

Finally, 10 minutes before the meat is ready, throw the peas into the lamb cooking juices.

Once everything is cooked remove them from the oven. The meat should be falling off the bone and the potatoes crisp and golden brown. There is no need to rest the meat after this long cooking time, so simply dish up and serve.



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, March 28, 2014

Half Moon Bay by Helene Young

I have owned Helene Young's first book for several years now. I bought it after hearing the author speak at ARRC and instantly bought it on the back of that. Of course, buying a book is lot different to actually reading the book and even more different to reviewing it. Alas, it therefore sits on my bookshelf still unread.

Fast forward to Valentine's Day and I once again was lucky enough to hear Helene Young speak as part of a romantic suspense panel at our local Sisters in Crime chapter. I was fortunate enough to win one of the raffle prizes which included a book from each of the panellists (the other two being Cheryl Tucker and Bronwyn Parry) and a true crime book. This time though, I was determined to read the book, especially seeing as this was a standalone novel.

Having now read one of Young's books, I do kind of wish I had read her earlier books and it is something that I intend to rectify as soon as I have some space in my reading schedule!

Half Moon Bay opens with Ellie Wilding heading back to war torn Afghanistan where she works as a photojournalist alongside her journalist sister Nina. When Nina isn't there to meet her at the airport Ellie becomes concerned, with good reason as it turns out.

Fast forward two years, and Ellie is asked to do a favour for friends who believe that their local city council mayor is corrupt and they want Ellie's help to prove it. In the two years since Afghanistan, Ellie has been wandering around the world somewhat aimlessly, running from her grief, but now she is back in her home town and she is a woman on a mission. The mayor has sold off a parcel of land to a property developer that was specifically left to the town to build a community centre. It turns out though that there is much more than shonky property deals going on here. There are international drug dealers with ties in Asia but also leading back to Afghanistan, and to the story that Nina was working on when she was killed.

One of the people that Ellie comes into contact with in the course of the community opposition is engineer Nicholas Lawson who has been employed by the property developer and is in Half Moon Bay trying to convince the population that the development will be good for the town. Ellie does not remember him, but in Nicholas' former life in the army he met her on the night that her sister was killed, and he feels somewhat guilty about her death. And he remembers Ellie from that terrible night. He remembers and her determination and resourcefulness to do everything she could to try and save her sister. He admired her then and he is attracted to the woman that she is now, shaped as she is by the tragic events in her past.

For Ellie, the fact that she is attracted to someone from the other side is very problematic. She can't quite work Nicholas out. She knows that there is something that doesn't quite add up about him. What she doesn't know is that he is investigating the same drug rings as she is, and he knows that Nina getting too close to the truth is what got her killed.

As the pressure is turned up on on the major players, the danger that Ellie and her friends face also increases. Some of the time she feels as though she can trust Nicholas, but will they be able to work together to put all the pieces of the puzzle together before yet more tragedy hits the good people of Half Moon Bay, especially once she find out exactly who he is, and how he was connected with Nina's death.

I don't read a huge amount of romantic suspense. I don't dislike it, but I find it problematic when an author puts their characters in dangerous situations and then expects to develop the romantic relationship in that situation of duress. I therefore prefer straight contemporary romance, although a fair portion of those books have suspense subplots running through them. Young manages to balance the romance, which is quite a slow burning build and the rising tension associated with the suspense plot and tells a ripping good story and I am not the only one to think so. This book was recently named as the Favourite Romantic Suspense for 2013 at the Australian Romance Readers Association Awards.

Now I just need to find that first book so I can read my way through Helene Young's backlist. Lucky for me, she also has a new book that just came out. Maybe I should start there.

Rating 4/5

Synopsis

Ellie Wilding has been running from her past, but when the residents of Half Moon Bay call for help she knows it’s finally time to return home. As an international photojournalist, she’s used to violence in war zones, but she’s shocked when it erupts in the sleepy hamlet on the north coast of New South Wales, threatening all she holds dear.

Battle-weary Nicholas Lawson walked away from his military career leaving unfinished business. In a coastal backwater, that decision returns to haunt him. He remembers all too vividly his last lethal assignment in Afghanistan when Ellie’s sister, Nina, was shot and killed. Ellie’s been in his dreams ever since, even if she doesn’t remember him…

As a storm rages and floodwaters rise, Ellie struggles to save her community. But who can she trust? Nick Lawson, the dangerously attractive stranger with secrets, or an old friend who’s never let her down?

A compelling story of danger and desire by the award-winning author of Burning Lies.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Sandman, Volumes 1 and 2 - Preludes and Nocturne and The Dolls House by Neil Gaiman

A month or so ago I read Preludes and Nocturnes, the first volume in  The Sandman series of graphic novels. I was somewhat underwhelmed by the experience which surprised me as I had heard so many good things about the series. Actually, that is probably underplaying it bit. I didn't really like it much at all. I thought it was too dark, too gruesome and too disjointed for me. However, I was determined to keep reading, at least for another couple of volumes for several reasons. One is that this series is so well received that there has to be something good about them. Two is that it is Gaiman, who I have a bit of a hit and miss reaction to and three, my library has all of this series* so I don't have to keep on requesting them via interlibrary loans like I do for the Fables series.

Today, I am planning to blog about both volume 1 and 2.

In Preludes and Nocturnes, we were introduced to the Master of Dreams also known as Morpheus or The Sandman. He has been captured and imprisoned for 70 years, which has caused various reactions around the world. There are some people who have never awoken from sleep but never dreaming and there are others who have tried to take his place using his powerful artifacts to various ends.

In the first episode/instalment/whatever I should call them, Sleep of the Just, we see how it is that Sandman came to be captured, what the implications were and how he escapes. We meet some of the characters that I now know will appear in future episodes, including in the second collection.

In Imperfect Hosts, Sandman has to try and rebuild his strength and so retreats to the dream world but he must also try and recover the three artifacts that he has created in order to rule over his realm. The three artifacts have been scattered over the world and Sandman must track them down and recover them before he will be anywhere near as strong as he was previously. Not everyone will be prepared to give them up willingly though.

In the next three episodes (Dream a Little Dream of Me, A Hope in Hell and Passengers) Sandman searches for the artifacts - a sand filled pouch, his helm and the Ruby of Dreams - taking him literally to hell and back where he has to fight to regain his helm. We also what the effect of owning these artifacts has had on the humans who have become the owners of these items - sufficed to say it isn't good!

The most disturbing of the instalments for me was 24 Hours, where John Dee (the man who was in possession of the ruby) takes control of 6 people who just happen to have all been inside a diner. At first, I thought this was going to be a pretty harmless chapter but how wrong could I be. Dee forces these people to endure much including depravity, deceit, violence and more. Having said that, when one of the people in this instalment was referenced in the next book I knew exactly who they were and what had happened to them, so you definitely can't say that it wasn't memorable.

I can't necessarily say the same about the final two episodes, Sound and Fury and The Sound of Her Wings. I do remember feeling some sense of vague hope in the way this volume ended.

I ended up giving this book a rating of 2.5/5

Right from the first episode in The Doll's House (volume 2), I felt as though I was going to enjoy this book more and so it proved to be. Maybe I was just in a more receptive mind set now than I was a few weeks ago or maybe this volume is a better representation of the series as a whole. Who knows! I guess I will just have to keep reading to see.

There are two stories that I absolutely loved in this collection, and the first story, Tales in the Sand, is one of those so it was a great way to hook the reader into the story.

The Sandman team take us far away from all the places we have been previously and instead of the dark and gloomy world most of the stories are set in we are in the African desert. Here an African man takes his grandson out into the desert in order to perform the rites of initiation that will make him a man. After performing circumcision, the boy is told the story of the forefathers, of a life in a beautiful and prosperous city which was ruled by Queen Nada. However, Nada fell in love with one of the Endless, a love that could not be allowed much like the love that we see between humans and gods in Greek mythology. As a result, the city is reduced to dust and the people have been forced to live in the desert ever since. At one point the old man tells the boy that this is the man's version of the story and that he has no doubt that the women tell their own version as part of their initiation but they can never know each others version. Made me wonder what the other version was!

In The Doll's House, we meet Rose Walker who is the main character in this collection other than The Sandman himself. She and her mother have been summonsed to England to meet a woman named Ursula they have never heard of and they don't know why.  It turns out that she is a vortex, an anomaly that has been caused as a result of Sandman's absence and by the fact that four of the major arcana in his realm are off doing their own things. We also learn that Rose's family history, specifically the fact that her young brother Jed has been missing for many years.

In the next episode, which is titled Moving In, Rose returns to America in order to search for her brother leaving her mother in the UK to look after Ursula. The house that she moves into has a very unusual set f residents and we get to know them as Rose does.We also find out what has been happening to Jed over the years.

In Playing House, we find out what two of the missing characters of the arcana have been up to in Sandman's absence, which is in effect creating their own superhero version of the Sandman, which doesn't please him in the slightest. We see events through the eyes of the wife of Hector (the fake) who has been living in what seems to be a timeless void for a couple of years, with nothing changing around her, not even her pregnancy.

The next episode, Men of Good Fortune, is my other favourite in this collection. It moves away from the main story arc. We are taking back to a medieval pub where a man sits telling his friends about how he is going to choose not to die. Sandman takes him up on this and promises to meet Hob again in the same pub in one hundred years time and this continues on through the following centuries. Some times Hob is doing well for himself, and other times he is down on his luck but he is always at that pub on the exact day. I loved how you could quite clearly identify where in time we were with just a few words, or by the secondary characters (for example, Chaucer and Shakespeare). I just realised that my two favourite stories were actually outside the main story arc. Not sure what that says about me.

Back to the main story arc and Rose is on the trail of her brother in Collectors. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances she finds herself staying in the same hotel as a serial killer convention. This is a dark chapter, but it is fun as Gaiman and co poke fun at the convention scene in lots of ways.

After returning from the convention hotel, we are back in Rose's room in Into the Night. Despite being very tired she cannot sleep without dreaming, but the same is true of the other occupants of the house. We see into their dreams, their true desire dreams. Most of them were pretty much as you would imagine but one that I loved was that of Chantal who has fallen in love with a sentence, but now she cannot read it. So out there!

In the final story, Lost Hearts, we get to the final scenes between Sandman and Rose. He knows that he must destroy the vortex in order to save the world from destruction and that means that Rose must die. He doesn't believe that there is any other way despite the best efforts of one of the other arcana and Ursula. We also find out why Rose has become the vortex in the first place.

Overall, this collection was much, much better for me. There was a better balance between the dark and gloomy parts and the other parts. I will be interested to see if I continue to like the asides more than the main stories. Maybe part of the reason for that is that those stories need to be more fully contained in each individual issue rather than being able to finish them off in later issues.

I gave this a rating of 4/5

*Turns out volume 3 was declared 'lost' a month ago so I have had to request that one via ILL. Hopefully all the rest will be there for me.




Other artists for Preludes and Nocturnes include Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Todd Klein and Karen Berger.

Other artists for The Doll's House include Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Steve Parkhouse, Chris Bachalo, Michael Zulli and Todd Klein

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Library Loot: March 26

I borrowed yet more cookbooks from the library this week! I actually have quite a few out at the moment. I have them in various rooms where I have looked up a specific recipe or where I have started reading from the beginning and not finished and another where I am on my third read through.

I love borrowing cookbooks from the library because it is a no risk way of determining if you will like the book enough to actually cook from or if it is just pretty to look at. As great as it is to have cookbooks that are pretty to look at, I much prefer the ones that you can refer to time and again and that inspire you to try new things. If a book does that, then I am more likely to actually go and buy it then so that I can use it often!

Here's what I got this week




The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo - I have been watching the TV series over the last few weeks so have requested all the books that the library has by this author. Hopefully the other ones will come soon.

Lorraine Pascale's fresh, fast and easy food : 100 fabulous, easy to make recipes by Lorraine Pascale - This is the book that I am already on my third go through. Expect to hear more about this book and the TV series over the coming weeks.




How the Marquess was Won by Julie-Anne Long - The next book in the Pennyroyal Green series.

The Maiden by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles - The next book in the Morland Dynasty series.

Library Loot is hosted by Clare from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief. Clare has the Mr Linky this week so head there to share your loot links.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sunday Salon: Once Upon a Time


No, I am not continuing my theme of talking about kids books from yesterday, not that there would be anything wrong with that. Rather, it is time for the Once Upon a Time challenge that is hosted each year by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.  This is one of my favourite challenges to participate in, and I think I have for all but the first one, but I could be wrong there. This is now the 8th year of the challenge!

Once upon a time, I never used to read a lot of fantasy. These days, fantasy is very much a part of my varied reading diet, and I have a few options on my list that I can think of without trying too hard. As such, I will be signing up for Quest the First.



Read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time categories. They might all be fantasy, or folklore, or fairy tales, or mythology…or your five books might be a combination from the four genres.

Here are some of my possible reads.

The Lost Lake by Sarah Addison
A Feast for Crows by George R R Martin
A Feast of Fire and Ice: the official companion cookbook by Chelsea Monroe-Cassal
Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta
Jack Fables Vol 2:  Jack of Hearts by Bill Willingham
The Sandman Vol 2: The Dolls House by Neil Gaiman
The Golden Apple by Michelle Diener
The Disappearance of Ember Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina

Currently Reading

Just One Year by Gayle Forman.

Currently Listening To

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J K Rowling)

Up Next

A Feast for Crows by George R R Martin

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Sandwich anyone? (or food in kids books)

A couple of weekends ago I was visiting family and it came to bed time for my nephews. I was asked to listen to the older nephew's reader for school and then if I could read a chapter of the book that my sister and brother in law are currently reading aloud to him which I was happy to do. At the moment, they are reading through Roald Dahl's books and they are up to Matilda.

The chapter I was asked to read was when Bruce Bogtrotter was accused by Miss Trunchbull and is forced to eat a whole cake before the school assembly as punishment. Since reading this chapter I have been thinking about the role of food in the books that we read as kids. First though, here is the chapter that I read as it was portrayed in the movie adaptation of Matilda.





Roald Dahl was not averse to using food in his books. The most famous example of this would probably be Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but there was also James and the Giant Peach. I am sure if I was to read all of the Roald Dahl books I would find lots of other examples of food in them.

For now though, I thought I would look at some other examples.

For very young children, the book that came instantly to mind was Eric Carle's Very Hungry Caterpillar, a book that is definitely standing up well even more than 40 years after it was originally published. I am sure it is a story that you will know, but just in case, here is a video of Eric Carle reading the book.



I have just noticed that this video was created to encourage people to celebrate Hungry Caterpillar Day on the first day of spring. Given that was just a couple of days ago in the Northern Hemisphere, the timing seems very fortuitous!



When I think back to my own childhood favourites, one author comes to mind and that is British author Enid Blyton. I know that she isn't that well known in places like America and Canada, but she was certainly a mainstay of British and Australian childhoods. I even bought new editions of some of my favourite books for my son who is now 15 so those books are still available even now. Blyton wrote a number of different series. There were the Famous Five Books which were a mystery series featuring a group of children who try to solve each mystery. My favourites though were the more magical books, in particular the books set in the Enchanted Wood where there was a magical Faraway Tree where there was new world at the top of the tree every few days.

From a food perspective, the world that Blyton portray was a world of picnics, of cakes, of toffee and lemonade. The first book of the Enchanted Woods series was published in 1939 and Magic Faraway Tree published in 1943. Just flicking through the books to see some of the land names such as Do-As-You-Please land you have to wonder how much of what Blyton was writing was directly influenced by wartime life and providing kids with a make believe world that was far away from the austerity that was reality.

When I was thinking about the food, there were a couple of things that I remembered so I went and grabbed a couple of the books off of my son's bookshelf (not that he has read them or will do so now) and thought I would share a couple of examples with you. Firstly, here are the children's first taste of Pop Cakes.
Silky was pleased. She sat there brushing her beautiful golden hair and ate sandwiches with them. She brought out a tin of Pop cakes, which were lovely. As soon as you bit into them they went pop! an you suddenly found your mouth filled with new honey from the middle of the little cakes. Frannie took seven, one after another, for she was rather greedy.

Beth stopped her. "You'll go pop if you eat any more!"
And the very interesting sounding Toffee Shock
Moon-Face was pleased. He poured lemonade for everyone, then handed round a little box full of what looked like all sorts of toffee.

"I don't feel as if I ever want to see what land is at the top of the Faraway Tree again," said Joe, as he munched a peculiar piece of toffee which seemed to get bigger in his mouth instead of smaller.

"Neither do I," said Beth.

"I certainly never will!" said Frannie. "It seems as if there are never any lands there worth visiting. They are all most uncomfortable.

"Except my little land," said the Saucepan Man, rather mournfully." I was always very comfortable there."

Joe's toffee was now so big that he couldn't say a word. Then it suddenly exploded in his mouth, went to nothing, and left him feeling most astonished.

"Oh dear - did you take a Toffee Shock?" said Moon-Face, noticing Joe's surprised face. "I'm so sorry. Take a different one."

"No, thank you," said Joe, feeling that one Toffee Shock was quite enough.
Then again maybe you don't have to be going without, or even really young, to appreciate the Land of Birthdays or the Land of Tea Parties (which we read about in The Folk of the Faraway Tree) even though some options in the latter land seem a bit odd. Would anyone like dewdrop and honey sandwiches, tunafish and strawberry sandwiches or oranges and lemon sandwiches. Or perhaps pineapple and cucumber sandwiches are more your style? Anyone?

In terms of Australian children stories with foodie aspects go, it is hard to go past The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay. Who wouldn't want a pudding that can be whatever flavour you like (sweet or savoury) and never runs out. Sounds like heaven to me. Of course, this is an anthropomorphic pudding and so you have to put up with a pudding with an attitude. He is very, very cantankerous and that is before he is stolen by the puddin' thieves.

This book was published in 1918, and I think that it is possibly showing it's age in some ways with some racist attitudes and other non PC aspects, which is a shame in some ways. Even though I haven't read it since I was a kid I do have fond memories of it. Some of Enid Blyton's books have been republished over the years taking out the non politically correct parts which I am torn about. Should they be edited to reflect changing attitudes or should they be left as a historical reflection of the time when they were written and published.

Do you have some favourite food related children's stories, or even just particular items that you would love to be able to eat just once, no matter how wild and wacky it may be?

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, March 21, 2014

The Collector of Dying Breaths by M J Rose

Do you believe in the idea of reincarnation and of the ability to reanimate someone using their last breath? You don't need to in order to read this book, but I am sure you would find it even more fascinating if you did. As it is, I need to suspend belief on lots of the things that drive the characters and that happen in the book but, in this case, it didn't hamper my enjoyment of the book. That isn't always the case as I have a bit of an up and down reaction to M J Rose's books. The last book in this series that I reviewed was Seduction (the fifth book) having not read The Book of Lost Fragrances and I really think that I would have enjoyed it more had I read in order.

This book is the sixth book in the Reincarnationist series, but I would argue that there are two linked trilogies that form the series. To get the most out of this book I think it definitely helps to have read at least The Book of Lost Fragrances and Seduction because the modern day storyline tracks through these three books.

Let's start with that modern day story. This book picks up two years after the last book. Jac L'Etoile is in Paris, mourning the loss of an incredibly important person in her life. I don't want to say who because even the death happens right at the beginning of the book, it is a character from the previous two books. I will say that I was quite upset that this character had been killed off, but we did get to witness some additional appearances in ghostly and paranormal forms. Jac is invited to recommence working on a project which has an eccentric but very wealthy woman trying to achieve the seemingly impossible - to reanimate a body after death.

Jac is, in effect, continuing the work of Rene le Florentine who was the master perfumer to one of the more infamous women in history, Catherine de Medici, Queen of France in the 16th century. Rene was a young apprentice in a Florentine monastery when he was accused of murder. He was only saved because of his knowledges of perfumes and poisons when Catherine takes him to Paris as part of her retinue as she marries into the French royal family.

Over the years, Rene continues his search for the secret to reanimation that he first started learning when he was still a young boy. He knows that it starts by capturing the very last breath of the person who you want to bring back, and he knows that the process will require many difficult to obtain ingredients but he is determined that he will get to the point of reanimation in time.

Catherine de Medici has been accused of many things both in her lifetime and since her death. She was accused of witchcraft and of poisoning her rivals, and the author skilfully shows how these things might have come to be and what a master perfumer's whose only loyalty is to the queen who saved his life all those years ago role could have been. Even when he comes to love a lady in waiting from the court, it is Catherine who seems to have the last word on the fate of lovestruck Rene.

As part of her research, Jac is taken to Rene's home. She is immediately drawn to the scents that she finds there, quickly locating secret rooms where she finds the perfumers workshop, pretty much untouched in 500 years. She knows that she needs the expertise that Griffin North, the only man she has ever loved, and with whom she believes she has been linked over many lifetimes, many of them ending in tragedy. Jac knows that she has placed Griffin in danger before and so she is determined not to do so again, but Griffin may have other ideas, especially as he is determined to prove once and for all that they belong together.

This is a thriller, so you do have good guys and bad guys, and sometimes people who are both. There is tension and danger and crime and in that regard it works. The most fascinating aspect though is that around scents, particularly the more unusual ingredients that come from very obscure sources like the ambergris which comes from the digestive systems of sperm whales. I find the discussion about how this particular ingredient would likely react different chemically today than it did 500 years before because of how different the environment is quite interesting, and there were numerous other titbits liek that scattered through the book.

I just wanted to mention something about The Book of Lost Fragrances. As I have mentioned, I read this book after I read the subsequent book. Actually I didn't read it but rather I listened to it on audio where it was narrated by the always excellent Phil Gigante. I think it is a sign of a truly excellent narrator if you can still hear their voices when you read other books in the series months down the track. That was particularly true for Griffin's voice!

To me, the end of this book very much felt like the end of this particular thread of story for Jac, although of course I could be completely wrong. It just felt like a good place to leave here. I will therefore be interested to see what M J Rose does next with this series.

Rating 4/5











About the Tour

Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/collectorofdyingbreathstour
Tour Hashtag: #DyingBreathsTour
M J Rose's website.
M J Rose on Facebook
M J Rose on Twitter.

About the Book

Publication Date: April 8, 2014
Atria Books
Hardcover; 384p
ISBN-10: 1451621531

From one of America’s most imaginative storytellers comes a passionate tale of love and treachery, spanning the days of Catherine de Medici’s court to the twenty-first century and starring a woman drawn back, time and again, to the past.

In 1533, an Italian orphan with an uncanny knack for creating fragrance is plucked from poverty to become Catherine de Medici’s perfumer. To repay his debt, over the years RenĂ© le Florentine is occasionally called upon to put his vast knowledge to a darker purpose: the creation of deadly poisons used to dispatch the Queen’s rivals.

But it’s RenĂ©’s other passion—a desire to reanimate a human breath, to bring back the lives of the two people whose deaths have devastated him—that incites a dangerous treasure hunt five centuries later. That’s when Jac L’Etoile—suffering from a heartache of her own—becomes obsessed with the possibility of unlocking Rene’s secret to immortality.

Soon Jac’s search reconnects her with Griffin North, a man she’s loved her entire life. Together they confront an eccentric heiress whose art collection rivals many museums and who is determined to keep her treasures close at hand, not just in this life but in her next.

Set in the forest of Fontainebleau, crisscrossing the lines between the past and the present, M.J. Rose has written a mesmerizing tale of passion and obsession. This is a gothic tale perfect for fans of Anne Rice, Deborah Harkness, and Diana Galbadon.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Library Loot: 19 March

A much more reasonable amount of loot this fortnight after the bumper hauls that I had the last couple of weeks. In fact there is really only one new to me book as the other two are books that I have borrowed before (maybe even more than once) but returned unread. Isn't the fact that you can just reborrow the same stuff from the library over and over one of the best things about being a library member.

Here's what I got this week:





Save with Jamie by Jamie Oliver - I have so many cookbooks out from the library at the moment!! Who knows, I might even cook some recipes out of them and expand my repertoire a little!

Broken Harbor by Tana French - I recently saw that there is news of a new Tana French novel later in the year which reminded me that I actually hadn't read this one yet! Whoops.

Children of the Storm by Elizabeth Peters - I can't tell you how many times I have borrowed this book! Maybe this will be the time I actually read it!

Library Loot is hosted by Clare from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief. Linda should have the Mr Linky this week so head there to share your loot links.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Roast Chicken with Roasted Potatoes and Tomatoes

I haven't talked very much about the little chef's cooking for some time now. He has gone off cooking as much as he was, but every now and again he will surprise me and want to cook something. I guess I shouldn't really be calling him the little chef any more. He is now at least 6-8 inches taller than I am!

One thing that he does like to cook is Bill Granger's roast chicken. It is a pretty basic recipe but one that always tastes good, is really juicy and is easy in terms of preparation. He doesn't even mind the drying of the inside and outside of the chicken which kind of surprised me the first couple of times. The other thing is that the recipe is easily adaptable. The recipe specifies to use oregano but I tend to use whatever herbs I have available. For example, this week I used sage and previously I have used other herbs. One day I will do the potatoes and tomatoes the way it specifies.

I also tend to buy a bigger chicken than that specified and then we have plenty of leftovers. This week I ended up making an all-in-one quiche, which I think we will probably be eating for a few days yet!

I did have to laugh at the boy though. He did all the preparation and was doing all the checking so I only had to go in to chop up the chicken when it was ready to serve. I kept on asking if the skin was crisping up and he was very pleased that it was. Only problem was that he had the chicken upside down n the so the skin on the back was very crispy but not so much on the top! He had also sprinkled sage around the potatoes. When I asked him why he just said to infuse some flavour into the potatoes. I think we might have been watching too much food TV!

Today I was talking to a friend and she talked about being impressed by the little chef cooking because her son, who is the same age, can't even cook frozen pizza! I volunteered to send the little chef around to cook for them.

Roasted Chicken with Roasted Potatoes and Tomatoes

Chicken

1 lemon, rinsed and dried
1.5 kg (3lb 5oz) free-range chicken, rinsed and dried
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
fresh sprigs of oregano
lemon halves for serving
fresh bay leaves for serving

Preheat the oven to 220C (425F/Gas 7). Roll the lemon over a hard surface, pressing down on it, then prick it all over with a fork or skewer.

Season the chicken inside and out with the salt and pepper. Place the lemon and oregano in the cavity, then truss the chicken using kitchen string. (I actually never do the trussing!)

Place the chicken with the breast side up in a baking dish and roast for 15 minutes. Pop the potatoes in the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 200C (400F/Gas 6) and cook for another hour, or until the juices running from the chicken re clear. Allow the chicken to rest for 10 minutes before carving. Serve, garnished with bay leave and lemon halves, with the roasted potatoes

Potatoes and Tomatoes

1 kg (2lb 4oz) potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
4 tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 red onion, cut into wedges
50g (1/2 cup) finely grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons olive oil
125ml (1/2 cup) chicken stock or water
2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves


Toss everything together, then put in an ovenproof dish and bake at the same time as the chicken for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

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, March 12, 2014

Library Loot: March 12

I did warn you last week that I was going to have a lot of loot this week and there is!! Note that there are no audio books this time around and no music. Kind of good on the audio front though as I still have all three from last week to get through.

Here's what I got:








Big Cherry Holler by Adriana Trigiani - I read the first book in this series years ago and had meant to read more before this. I just noticed that Trigiani's latest book is the third book in the other series so I want be able to read that for a while.

This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz - I recently read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao so now time to explore some of his short stories.

In the Dark by Deborah Moggach - I read Tulip Fever from this author a few years ago now and liked it without loving it. Recently Danielle reviewed this book and made it sound so good I had to request it straight away.




Nobody but Him by Victoria Purman - I don't know if I have mentioned here yet that I am now doing both the historical fiction and romance round ups over at the Australian Women Writers Challenge each month. This author is one that was recommended highly in posts for that challenge.

Ask Me to Stay by Elise K Ackers - I have read a few stories by Elise K Ackers. This contains three stories that were previously published as ebooks.

Spilt Milk by Amanda Hodgkinson - A few years ago I read 22 Britannia Road. When I saw a review for this book I decided to try this one and see if I liked it a bit more than the previous one.





Season to Taste, or How to Eat Your Husband by Natalie Young - My library publicised this on it's Facebook page and it looked like fun.

Where Women are Kings by Christie Watson - I really liked Christie Watson's first book, Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away and I have been vaguely keeping an eye out for news of her next book. Somehow, I still missed the fact that this book came out at the end of last year.

A Feast of Fire and Ice: the official companion cookbook by Chelsea Monroe-Cassal - I requested this book months ago and had pretty much forgotten about it, but the timing will be pretty much perfect given that season 4 of Game of Thrones is going to be shown in early April




The Great British bake off : how to bake : the perfect Victoria sponge and other baking secrets by Linda Collison - A couple of weeks ago I posted about getting really caught up in watching the Great British Bake Off. I didn't really expect my library to have the book but they did.

The Great Australian bake off: how to achieve baking perfection in your own kitchen by Dan Lepard - Once I saw that the library had the British bake off book I thought I would see if they had the Australian version, and obviously they do.

Library Loot is hosted by Clare from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief. Clar has the Mr Linky this week so head there to share your loot links.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

Late last year I read Lucy Knisley's travelogue/graphic novel French Milk. Whilst I didn't really love it, mainly because of the precociousness of 22 year old Lucy, I did like the style of the book. When Relish became available on my library catalogue I decided to give her another go and boy am I glad that I did.

This foodie memoir is a delight. Whilst there is still a hint of the precocious Lucy that we met in French Milk, it is much less of an obstacle to enjoyment, or at least it was for me. I think it also helps that rather than focusing on just one place (albeit Paris) for a very short period of only five weeks, this is an exploration of  a life long obsession with good food.

Knisley makes no apologies for the fact that she was introduced to really good food from a young age. Her mother is a chef and her father a foodie from way back and she spent her childhood years in the kitchens of restaurants. She remembers other kids bringing cupcakes to school for their birthdays but her mother would turn up with a blow torch to give the creme brulee a perfect crunchy top.

Lucy lived in New York with her parents until they divorced and Lucy and her mother moved to rural upstate New York - quite the shock to city girl Lucy. It wasn't long before Lucy's mother was involved in food again through farmers markets, catering companies and more, and therefore so was Lucy!

As well as talking about more exotic food and adventures, the author tells of her parents mortification at the fact that she still enjoys junk food like Maccas (McDonalds just in case you didn't get the Aussie vernacular), batches of chocolate chip cookies instead of anything more gourmet, of her shock at finding bits of marshmallows in breakfast cereals (I must confess I find this a bit shocking still!) and more.

We follow Lucy from New York to the country, to Japan, France and Mexico (which was a really fun story), to Chicago and then full circle back to New York. The one thing that stays constant is Lucy's love of good food, of being willing to try new foods, and of trying to recreate those foods. I loved the chapter where Lucy tried to recapture the elusive taste of a croissant that she bought in Venice to the point of being obsessed!

The thing that pleased me most as I was reading was how much it made me smile. In nearly every chapter there was some little quirky addition to the drawing or some tale that just made me happy to read. In one of the chapters, the author talks about going to Japan to visit friend and at the end of that chapter she gives a pictorial demonstration of how to make sushi rolls. In a very small corner, there are three pictures - one of a sushi mat furled, then unfurled and then worn as a hat. They are all tiny pictures, but it is the kind of detail that makes it worth the time to look at all the images closely!

As another example, there is a chapter about why Lucy Knisley doesn't feel guilty about eating foie gras. Let's just say it involves an incident with very aggressive geese. There were echoes of this story in my own family. My sister has a terrible fear of birds which has evolved over the years after being chased up a tree in our backyard by chooks, and then on another occasion being attacked by a black swan!

Here, as an example of what you might expect if you choose to read Relish, is Lucy Knisley's recipe for Pasta Carbonara (click on image to enlarge!)



I am always a bit reluctant to use words like charming when describing a book, but sometimes there is just no better word, and this is one of those occasions. Relish is a charming, delightfully fun foodie memoir and I recommend it highly!


Rating 4.5

Synopsis

Lucy Knisley's mouth-watering graphic memoir will make you hungry.

Whether she's injuring herself - again and again - in pursuit of a perfect croissant or bankrupting herself on fancy cheeses, Lucy Knisley know what she wants: a good meal. The daughter of a chef and a gourmet, she comes by her priorities honestly. In this Technicolor love letter to cooking and eating, Knisley presents her personal history as seen through a kaleidoscope of delicious things.

Defying the idea of eating as a compulsion and food as a consumer product, Relish invites us to celebrate the meals we eat as a connection to our bodies, and to each other. Knisley's intimate and utterly charming graphic memoir offers reflections on cooking, eating and living - as well as some of her favourite recipes.

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, March 07, 2014

Bookish Quotes: The library as a refuge

This week I read and thoroughly enjoyed Hate is Such a Strong Word by Sarah Ayoub. This is a debut YA novel that looks the experiences of a second generation Australian whose Lebanese parents have very set ideas of how a young lady should behave. It is an excellent book, a fact I hope to show if/when I write a review of it! In the meantime, if you want to know more head over to Bree's blog as it was her review that convinced me to give this book a go!

Today I wanted to share a passage from the book where the author name drops another book, one that I have happened to have read. It is not the only time it happens in the book. One of the other books mentioned is one of my absolute favourites, The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons, although I have to admit I was a bit surprised that it was one of the male characters that was reading it.

However, the passage resonates for more than just the book name dropping. Is there anything better than having your library buy a brand new book that you have requested and you get to be the first person to read it? How mind blowing to have a librarian purchase a book specifically with you in mind!

The quote comes from pages 123-125.


Across the quad, Shehadie is reading a book under the pergola, like he's done every day since he came to CSC. Zayden and a few other boys from our class are playing football, and as usual they don't ask him to join in. Instead, they ignore him, or occasionally throw a snide remark his way. My eyes meet Shehadie's and he smiles. I smile back awkwardly, and look from him to Vanessa's group, like we're all part of some confusing game.

I start to walk over to him, but my fear gets the better of me and I go into the toilets instead. I sit in a cubicle, take out my journal and doodle over some of the pages.

After five minutes, I'm over being pathetic and make my way to the library. Mrs Morton, the librarian, sings out my name as I walk in."

"Back again today?" she says.

I nod, embarrassed.

"Don't worry, we'd rather have thirty of you than half the other kids in here." She gestures to the noisy juniors milling about. "Plus, I bet we're good for you too. You must be making headway on all your assessments."

"Something like that," I say. "Got anything new for me?"

"Actually, I ordered something that I think you'll really love," she says. "If you mind the sign-in book for a moment I'll go find it. Mrs Richards is at the canteen stocking up on chocolate for her 2pm craving so I'm on my own right now."

She returns holding a novel for me and my face lights up. There are definite perks to having a good relationship with the librarian.

"Diane Armstrong's Empire Day," she says. "As soon as I read the blurb I knew it would be perfect for you. It's set in Sydney in 1948 and looks at some of the issues around post war migration. It'll be useful for your Society and Culture assessment, but I thought the themes - identity, ethnicity, belonging - would interest you anyway."

"Wow, Mrs Morton, am I that transparent?"

She smiles. "Let's just say that your borrowing record says a lot about your interests. Now, it's not officially on the system yet, so please take care of it and bring it back as soon as you're done."

"I always do," I say, grinning. "Thanks heaps. I appreciate it."

And just like that, I have even more of an excuse to spend the rest of the week in the library. Books, unlike people, never let me down.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Library Loot: March 5

What's that saying about London buses that you wait for ages for and then three come along at once? That's what it has been like at the library for me over the last week or so.

This week, for example, not one but three audiobooks came in for me at the same time. That is more than 40 hours of listening time to get through in four weeks! Not sure it is going to happen. In next week's loot I am going to be talking about at least eleven books and it could still be more!

Here's what I picked up from the library this week:





Hope Flames by Jaci Burton - I am a big fan of Jaci Burton's sports romances so I thought I would give her new series a go too.

Frantic by Katherine Howell - I saw someone mention that this was one of their favourite Australian crime writers so I thought I would give this book a try.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater - It's been years since I read a Maggie Stiefvater book. There's no real reason for this other than it just happened. Time to rectify this.




An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear - It's been a while since I read my last Maisie Dobbs book too. Time to catch up.

Eyrie by Tim Winton - The first of the audiobooks. I listened to another Winton book earlier this year. I didn't love it, but I can't really work out why. Maybe this book will be the book that helps me understand why Tim Winton is such a popular Australian author.

1914 the Year the World Ended by Paul Ham - I went and heard Paul Ham speak at my local library earlier this year. This is the second audiobook. I started listening to it yesterday and so far it is very interesting.





The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith - I did have the book out from the library but I didn't get to read it. Because I thought I had a while before the other audiobooks I had on request would come in I requested this one too. Whoops!

The Forever Girl by Alexander McCall Smith - I hadn't heard much about any new books from Alexander McCall Smith until I saw something saying that AMS was coming to Australia soon.

Jack of Fables Vol 2: Jack of Hearts by Bill Willingham - The next Jack of Fables graphic novel.




The Sandman Vol 2: The Doll House by Neil Gaiman  - The next Sandman graphic novel. I didn't love the first one, which was a prelude, so I am hoping that once the story gets going I will enjoy it more.

The Heist by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis - I didn't really think about getting this CD until I saw these artists perform at the Grammys.



Library Loot is hosted by Clare from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief. Linda should have  the Mr Linky this week so head there to share your loot links.


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