24 May 2011

Review 27: The Bride's Farewell by Meg Rosoff

Currently on the Carnegie Medal shortlist, the Bride's Farewell is the haunting story of Pell Ridley who leaves her home and family on the morning of her wedding day with her horse, Jack, and her mute brother, Bean for Salisbury.

We follow Pell as she tries to make her own way in the world and deal with the setbacks that she encounters, of which there are many. The Bride's Farewell is a rather depressing read and the amount of tragedy that Pell has to deal gives the book a very melancholy and disconsolate tone. Having said that, Pell is an appealing heroine to root for and she is the best thing about the novel.

21 May 2011

Review 26: Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

My halfway book on my Cannonball Read is the latest book in my guilty pleasures series, the Southern Vampire Mysteries series by Charlaine Harris, better known as the True Blood or Sookie Stackhouse books as this is the series that inspired the Alan Ball series.

Dead Reckoning is the eleventh novel in the series about the telepathic waitress Sookie and her adventures with the host of supernatural creatures that she comes into contact with. Harris takes it way beyond vampire and werewolves - we have fairies (who are super powerful and scary), were animals of all descriptions including tigers and panthers, elves, demons and many more. I love this series and when I first started reading it, I literally read the first eight books one after the other as I couldn't put them down. For me the series tailed off a bit with recent additions but Dead Reckoning went some way in being back to Harris' better installments in the series.

Spoilers ahead for anyone who wants to avoid them...

18 May 2011

Review 25: The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

The Sea, The Sea is a strange, almost fantastical, book. I read it on the recommendation of a colleague who is also an English teacher; I like reading other peoples favourite books as it tells you a bit more about them and also you often discover new books you love. The Sea, The Sea is a strange mix of the beautiful and the bizarre; there were some elements I thought were clever and moving and some I found ridiculous and melodramatic.

The Sea, The Sea is the story of arrogant, capricious Charles Arrowby, a retired London theatre director, who has moved into a derelict house by the sea in search of some quiet and isolation. He discovers that he has inadvertently moved to the same village as his childhood sweetheart, Hartley, whom he has loved in an abstract and idealised way since he was a teenager. Amidst various characters from his London life coming to visit him, Charles sets about trying to destroy Hartley's marriage and win her affections.

16 May 2011

Review 24: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls is the story of Conor who lives with his mother who is suffering from cancer. His father lives in America with his new wife and their baby son and the only other family Conor sees is his formal and formidable grandmother. A Monster Calls was written by Patrick Ness from an idea by Siobhan Dowd. Dowd, the author of the Carnegie winning Bog Child, died in 2007 of cancer which lends an extra poignancy to the novel. Walker, Dowd and Ness' publisher, brought the idea to Ness to write the story. Dowd had a concept and the main characters for Ness to work from and the only guidance he was given was to write a story that Dowd would have enjoyed reading. I was lucky enough to meet Patrick when he visited our school last week so I managed to have a chat with him about this and have my copy of this heartbreaking book signed with, 'To Anna, who has already cried.'

14 May 2011

Baked: Peanut Butter Pie

The recipe is written as a 9" tart and I've tried it as that in the past but this time I made mini-tarts for a dinner party dessert so I wanted it to look a little more classy and elegant. This is pretty much one of my favourite dessert recipes and a must for peanut butter fans, although needless to say you won't like it if you don't like peanut butter! It's made with a Oreo biscuit crust and is just scrummy as well as easy to make.

13 May 2011

Review 23: The Death Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean

This delightfully unusual young adult novel far exceeded my rather average expectations and manages to merge a wonderful main character with the rather unusual events that befall him into a lovely, heartwarming story with a vaguely subversive humour running through it. Another Carnegie contender, I can see why it was shortlisted, particularly as it is one of the more light-hearted novels on the shortlist.

This is the story of Pepper Roux, whose aunt had a vision, when he was born, of St. Constance telling her that Pepper would die before he turned 14. He has been protected from anything that might harm him his whole life and been watched over by his anxious mother and zealous aunt whilst his sea captain father is away. We meet Pepper on his fourteenth birthday when he resolutely does not die - in a moment of frustration he boards his fathers ship and pretends to be Captain Roux.

6 May 2011

Review 22: When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro

Ever since I read Never Let Me Go last year I have bought any Ishiguro novels I have seen in charity shops. The Remains of the Day further cemented my admiration of his writing and I enjoyed reading When We Were Orphans as the first of his novels that I knew nothing about before I read it. It's actually quite a rare experience for me to read a book I know nothing about and it was a refreshing change. Whilst it wasn't perhaps as good as the previous mentioned novels, it was an engrossing and beautifull evocative novel.

When We Were Orphans is the story of Christopher Banks, an English boy who grew up in the International Settlement in Shangai, colonial China, in the early 1900s. His father and mother both disappeared when he was child and he was sent to live with his aunt in England, where he went to university and became a detective of some renown.The story is told from Christopher's perspective from various points in his adult life as he remembers his childhood and later recounts his return to Shanghai.

5 May 2011

If I was very rich I would buy...

... this jawdroppingly beautiful Christian Dior couture dress. If anyone has a few thousand pounds spare and nothing to spend it on let me know.

Review 21: My Lover's Lover by Maggie O'Farrell

My Lover's Lover was the only published Maggie O'Farrell book that I hadn't read - I had been put off by both the title and the very generic chick-lit cover in the past. However I bought in the airport a few weeks ago to read on holiday and whilst not my favourite O'Farrell novel by a long shot, I did enjoy it.

My Lover's Lover starts as the story of Lily who has just moved in as Marcus' flatmate and realises that his last girlfriend has only recently left and under apparently mysterious circumstances. As the story unfolds we learn more about what happened to Sinead, the ex and that Marcus and Lily aren't perhaps as normal as they seem.

Baked: Chocolate Malteser Cake

 I made the chocolate Malteser cake to take round to a friends one evening and it was successful in taste if not in shape - the hot weather rather scuppered the cakes ability to stay straight and upright!

The cake itself was fairly straightforward, the recipe suggested using Ovaltine which has some cocoa in it which was lovely but I think I will try Horlicks next time for a malty, less chocolatey flavour as the cake wasn't malty enough for it to be obviously Malteser flavoured. The frosting came out rather runny, possibly something to do with the very hot weather as much as anything else, it was ok after a little icing sugar and some extra time in the fridge.

Assembling the three layers of cake proved to be challenging. One of the cakes had cracked slightly coming out of the tin and this crack got worse when it was sandwiched with icing on the bottom layer. The overheating icing squelched out from the layers and made the cake layers slide around on top of each other. After half an hour in the fridge I managed to neaten up the layers and ice the cake fairly neatly. Unfortunately after a forty-minute car journey everything got very warm and the frosting started melting and leaking out of the cake tin (which was being used upside down to ease cake insertion and removal!). The layers had slid around a little so it looked rather like a cake a child had made.

 I also whacked a whole party sized bag of Maltesers on the top instead of the tasteful ring suggested in the book, mainly to highlight that its supposed to be a Maltesers cake but they went down well. The cake tasted amazing, and it tasted even better the next day straight from the fridge. One to make on a cool day!

20. Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

The third book in the magnificent Chaos Walking trilogy thankfully lives up to the precedent set by its forebears. It manages to bring the series to a satisfying, and yet not at all twee, finale which answers questions and brings everything together without being a cheesy wish-fulfilment anticlimax (hello, Breaking Dawn). It made me cry, it made me smile, I was on the edge of my seat and I was moved and challenged. Plot spoilers abound below the cut and this really isn't a series to read out of order so please begin reading this trilogy as soon as humanly possible and then report back.

4 May 2011

19. The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

The second book in the Chaos Walking trilogy picks up right where The Knife of Never Letting Go leaves off with Todd and Viola's arrival at Haven. I will leave any other plot spoilers until after the jump but I was glad that I had this at hand to pick up as soon as I finished the first book as it ends on a significant cliffhanger! The second book is very much in the same vein as the first, continuing with the excitement and consideration of big themes. There are plenty of surprises and plot twists and it is refreshing to have characters who you root for but are so realistic in their emotions that you never quite know how they will choose to behave. In not being traditional, always do the right thing heroes, they become real heroes for being so touching and empathetic and realistic in their choices.