April 29, 2014

Book Review - The List of My Desires by Gregoire Delacourt

We all have one don't we? A list of what you would get if you won the lottery? I know I could easily dispose of any amount from $100 to a few million. But what if you DID win it? How would your life change? If you take comfort and hope from dreaming of when you might save up for a new car, say, followed by a holiday, how would you cope if you could suddenly do it all today? And have no list left to dream about? Would your family be the same? One woman and her family learn more than they bargained for when money enters their life and they reassess what they value and what is happiness. I loved this book. Wendy

Book Review - How to create the Perfect Wife: Britain's Most Ineligible Bachelor and his Enlightened Quest to train the Ideal Mate by Wendy Moore

In the eighteenth century, Thomas Day was a radical philosopher poet who rejected the values and social mores of his day. He was rude and unkempt but he inherited a huge fortune and was able to indulge some wild ideas. Rejected by and rejecting society beauties, he sought an unspoilt girl who was physically hardened and stoic, possessed obedience, virtue and practical skills. This was Enlightenment period and his social set included all the fashionable men of literature, science and reason. Aided by his friends, he selected two girls from the Foundling Hospital and set about training up his prospective mate under the guise of apprenticing them to a good career. His friend, Edgeworth, enthusiastically raises his son according to the French philosopher, Rousseau's new child -centred approach, which, when implemented thoroughly turns out a badly behaved unhappy boy, but although somewhat modified, remains a key tenet of today's child-centred approach to education. This fascinating biography of Thomas Day, his friends and his protégés benefits immeasurably from the author's extensive research and understanding of the period. Fashion, love, science, folly, hypocrisy and changing fortunes affect the intrepid cast of characters. True tales are sometimes the most unbelievable! Wendy

April 26, 2014

Book Review - Delia's Cakes

This is a completely revised edition of Delia Smith's Book of Cakes first published in 1977. Since then, she has gone on to be a household name in Britain and quite well known in Australia, so presumably does not need a surname anymore. The recipes have all been revised, simplified and updated for 2013 and she includes useful general tips on methods and equipment. More than 90% have options for gluten-free baking and some recipes are egg-free. She now advocates using soft butter spreads which almost completely do away with the step of creaming the butter and sugar, just put them all in together and whisk! As well as all kinds of cakes, there are also recipes for delicious sounding biscuits and muffins. The Iced Lemon Curd Layer Cake and the Hidden Strawberry Cupcakes caught my eye and the light sponge of the Orange and Passionfruit Cake would suit this warmer weather. Wendy

April 24, 2014

Book Review - The Humans: there's no place like home by Matt Haig

An alien being comes to Earth, takes over the naked body of a maths professor and tries to complete a mission. In the meantime, he has to learn to get along with humans. Coming from an 'advanced' and rational race, this takes some doing as he figures out what clothes are for, how humans communicate and what is true and what is beautiful. The alien gradually goes native in this warmly funny exploration of what it is to be human. Culminating in a list of advice for a human teenager, including "politeness is often fear, kindness is always courage", this book covers both the sublime and the ridiculous in humans living and loving each other, whilst working through a well plotted tale. A lovely book.

April 23, 2014

Book Review - A stitch in time: Heirloom Knitting Skills by Rita Taylor

Non-Fiction reviewed by Wendy This is a very easy to read and use guide, explaining the origin of stitches and placing knitting squarely in the 21st century. Divided into Textured, Twisted, Raised, Cable and Lace Stitches and Colourwork, each section provides an exploration of the history and usage around the world. It made sense that Fair Isle and other colourwork patterns not only made use of different coloured wools that may not have been enough for a garment on their own but also provided additional warmth with the additional layers of wool carrying under the pattern. From the warmth and practicality of working jumpers, to the luxury of lightweight lace work, each section includes a comprehensive stitch listing, for example, 34 lace stitch patterns are included. Twelve complete project patterns covering each of the sections including a Fairisle sweater, a lacy shawl, a bobble hat and a cable cardigan enable you to put these heirloom skills into modern-day practice. I very much liked a baby blanket made in squares with a raised leaf pattern and a blackberry stitch border and it may have given me confidence to try a fair-isle pattern – which became popular after Edward, Prince of Wales, appeared wearing one in a magazine in the 20s!

April 22, 2014

Book Review - 101 Uses for My Ex-Wife's Wedding Dress by Kevin Cotter

This book had its origin in a blog started by the author after his divorce. His ex-wife left her wedding dress with him and told him he could do what he wanted with it. Kevin had come from a Catholic family where marriages lasted and he was deeply affected by his break-up. He also had time to reflect on how much weddings and dresses cost and why shouldn't they be put to good and further use? Thus he releases his angst by using the dress as a rag, a floor mat, a tow-rope, a turban, a dog toy etc etc., as can be seen in the many photos. On the surface, this is a rather silly book, but Kevin turns out to be more than a man playing dress-ups. He pays tribute to the many family members and friends who helped him through; talks a little of the impact of becoming well-known through his online activity and media interest; and offers up some useful hints to others. Oh, and he does find love a second time around… here's hoping that goes well! Wendy

April 20, 2014

Book Review - Blood & Beauty: A novel of the Borgias by Sarah Dunant

What a superb historical feast, plunging us back into Renaissance Italy with Rodrigo Borgia scheming his way into the Papacy, thus opening the door for his children, particularly Cesare and Lucrezia, to take their place on history's page. This is a cruel, beautiful, corrupt world and the Borgias were clever, violent and crafty by turns as they fought to secure their family's future. Dynastic marriages, shifting alliances and the new technology of war are all in their arsenal as the Pope strives to cement his preeminent position in Europe over a motley crew of Kings, Dukes and Princes. A very good read! I was pleased to hear Sarah on The First Tuesday Book Club late in 2013, saying she was reading Machiavelli's The Prince (allegedly based on Cesare Borgia) for research for Book 2. Wendy

April 19, 2014

Book Review - Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvan

Grace never wanted children as she had spent a lot of her youth caring for her siblings but she has fallen in love with Victor who has two children, Ava and Max. They live with their mother, Kelli, who has serious health problems so that the eldest, daughter Ava, is also cast in the role of carer. Grace and Victor plan to marry but then Kelli dies suddenly and they must all try to get along together. Kelli didn't want Victor to remarry, Grace didn't want full time children and Ava just wants her mother and father back together. None of them will get what they want. This is a sensitive exploration of a blended family coming to terms with who they are and how their future will unfold. No-one is bad or good but they do have different expectations and experiences and some of that gels and some doesn't. Eventually they find some peace together in this hopeful and heartwarming story. Wendy

April 16, 2014

Book Review - If You Were Here by Alafair Burke

This is well plotted and well written, holding interest to the last when there are extra twists and turns. Ambitious ex-prosecutor, McKenna Jordan is still paying for mistakes she made when a case went horribly wrong and she ended up losing her job. She sees a video which seems to suggest that an old friend, Sarah, is still alive although she has been missing presumed dead for many years. Sarah appears to have been caught up in a group of active eco-terrorists but nothing is as it seems as McKenna digs deeper into the secrets and evasions around her friend's disappearance. Believable characters with their own tragedies and flaws contribute to the story. The only clue I will give you is follow the money – it's so often good advice! Wendy

April 15, 2014

Book Review - Children of the Revolution by Peter Robinson

Another excellent Inspector Banks story. An ageing loner is found dead after falling from a disused railway bridge. Did he fall or was he assisted to his death? Why did he ring a local celebrity writer, Lady Veronica Chalmers, a week before his death and why did he have £5,000 on him when he clearly was living very poorly? A wide-ranging enquiry leads Alan Banks and his team to the Eastvale College, in the recent past, and the University of Essex in the time of the miners' strikes of the Thatcher years. Peter Robinson is in his usual good form, weaving music, the English class system and philosophy into an intriguing mystery. I only hope he isn't falling into Robert Heinlein's error of having his ageing hero continue to engage romantically with women in their thirties. Wendy

Book Review - The Ninth Girl by Tami Hoag

The driver of a party limousine on New Year's Eve is distracted by the provocative behaviour of his passengers when he is startled by what appears to be a Zombie pop up from the boot of the car in front of him and fall under his wheels. The zombie is a teenage girl, who may be the latest victim of a serial killer, and her face has been destroyed by acid. With no ID and no face, experienced homicide detectives Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska, have a tough job ahead of them. In exploring the world of an alienated and isolated teenager, Sam and Nikki are reminded why they do what they do, to bring the victims some recognition and justice. A complex plot in the hands of a deservedly best -selling author. Wendy

April 14, 2014

Book Review - Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Hannah Kent is a young Australian who lived in Iceland in her teens as a Rotary exchange student and was intrigued by the story of a murder and three convicted people who had to be housed in farmhouses whilst awaiting their execution as there were no jails in rural Iceland. This is the story of Agnes and the family she stays with. Initially most of them hold her at a distance but when you are a small group of people in a harsh environment, you have to co-operate to live. The descriptive passages cut as sharp as the cold Icelandic wind. Human warmth, family and love are placed into stark relief against the harsh weather and isolated landscape. Agnes' story is slowly revealed. Her end may have been foretold in her beginning but it is exquisitely wrought here in this well researched and beautiful first novel. "Now comes the darkening sky and a cold wind that passes right through you, as though you are not there, it passes through you as though it does not care whether you are alive or dead, for you will be gone and the wind will still be there, licking the grass flat upon the ground, not caring whether the soil is at freeze or thaw, for it will freeze and thaw again, and soon your bones, now hot with blood and thick-juicy with marrow, will be dry and brittle and flake and freeze and thaw with the weight of dirt upon you, and the last moisture of your body will be drawn up to the surface by the grass, and the wind will come and knock it down and push you back against the rocks, or it will scrape you up under its nails and take you out to sea in a wild screaming of snow. " p319 Wendy

April 13, 2014

Book Review - Crocodile Tears by Mark O'Sullivan

A compellingly tangled murder mystery with a cast of characters who have plenty of dark secrets in their lives. Inspector Leo Woods is the flawed and damaged insightful maverick cop and Helen Troy is the ambitious intelligent and lonely young detective trying to force her way into a male dominated world. Blood and bodies escalate until there is no stone left unturned. Murder exposes much that they would all prefer kept out of the light of day. Well plotted and contrived, these characters all feel real. I will look out for the next one by this author! Wendy

April 11, 2014

Book Review - Don't want to Miss a Thing by Jill Mansell

A lovely romantic story about Dex, a man about town whose life is suddenly completely changed by the death of his sister and his guardianship of his orphaned baby niece, and Molly, whose heart has remained whole until she met Dex. Several couples are sorted out while Dex and Molly work out who they want to be with – and baby Delphi is adorably cute throughout. Wendy

April 09, 2014

Book Review - Book, Line and Sinker by Jenn McKinlay

This is the second Library Lover's Mystery as Library Director Lindsey Norris is dragged into a local political dispute over buried treasure on an island offshore from their town of Briar Creek. In spite of a brutal murder, this is a cosy mystery as the townsfolk all seem to want to help their Chief of Police gather evidence and catch the bad guys. I particularly liked how the children's librarian smuggled her colleague's dog out of the library in the costume she wore for storytime. I'm sure Eric Carle would approve of his very hungry caterpillar being put to such use! You even get a recipe at the end but I had to Google almond bark to find out how to make Beth's Lemon-Almond Cookie Truffles. American baking has some idiosyncracies all its own. Wendy

April 08, 2014

Book Review - The Forbidden Queen by Anne O'Brien

Terrific historical fiction fleshing out the bones of the story of Katherine Valois, a French princess married to England's King Henry V to cement his claims on the French crown. Katherine's son becomes King whilst still a boy but she must live retired and soberly as the Queen Dowager. Ambitious men see her as a means to worldly power but will one win her heart? An intriguingly woven imagining of how she became one of the Tudors, that great English dynasty that culminated in Elizabeth I. Wendy

April 07, 2014

Book Review - The Weeping Girl by Hakan Nesser

Another Scandinavian treat. Nesser's understanding of human behaviour and his clean prose style is on show again here. Ewa Moreno is meant to be on holidays but as we all know, fictional detectives rarely get time to have holidays or nurture their own personal life. She gets distracted by an allegation of illegal and corrupt conduct in her own group of colleagues and is also intrigued by the story of a weeping girl on the train. Unable to stop from pursuing the truth, a 16 year old case is finally and shockingly resolved. Good reading. Wendy

April 05, 2014

Review - Hamlet (DVD)

This classic BBC DVD is terrific. Starring David Tennant, Patrick Stewart and Penny Downie, Hamlet is intense and intimate. Elsinore is depicted as a place of shadows, mirrors and conspiracies, as this family tragedy unfolds. At 3 hours and 37 minutes, it is well worth your attention. Almost every speech has a phrase that is now engrained into our language and cultural zeitgeist. Superlative performances and production. Wendy

April 03, 2014

Book Review - Heartland by Cathryn Hein

Callie leaves her roving lifestyle to return to her roots when she inherits her grandmother's farm. She is still dealing with her guilt over her older sister's death from a drug overdose, convinced she contributed by wanting to go out with her on the fateful night. She means to sell the farm quickly and give the proceeds to the educational and charitable foundation her parents have set up in her sister's name. Circumstances mean she has to stay in the district for longer than she planned, face her demons and try to forgive herself. Along the way she is helped by an ex-soldier, Matt, from the adjoining farm. This is a competent rural romance, with much loved horses, cute puppies, grizzled horse trainers, a bush fire emergency and a lively local pub. Wendy

April 01, 2014

Review - Emma (DVD)

This is a marvelous production by BBC TV showing the romantic comedy by Jane Austen in 4 episodes plus some 'making of' special features. Starring Romola Garai (The Hour & Daniel Deronda) , Jonny Lee Miller (Sherlock in Elementary), Sir Michael Gambon (The Singing Detective and numerous other roles) and Tamsin Grieg (Black Books & Episodes), it is a visual and musical feast and the acting is superb. Many Janeites rate Emma as her best novel but Emma is not my favourite Jane Austen and I have never really warmed to the title character. This production, however, brings us a warm, personable and endearing Emma. Jonny Lee Miller's Mr Knightley is upright, a little reserved, generous and kind and their growing attraction for each other is beautifully realized. The minor characters are superb especially Tamsin Greig as the garrulous Miss Bates. Gambon's Mr Woodhouse makes you want to clutch your shawl around you and be very careful of draughts and reckless exposure to the elements. This is a real treat. Wendy