Review: From the Feet Up by Tanya Saad

 

 

Title: From the Feet Up

Author: Tanya Saad

Published: Harlequin MIRA April 2014

Status: Read from April 12 to 13, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

At the age of 30, Tanya Saad tested positive for BRCA1, a hereditary gene that greatly increases the risk of its carrier developing aggressive breast and/or ovarian cancer, forcing her to make difficult choices in order to preserve her health. From the Feet Up is the story of Tanya’s journey from childhood to a woman facing up to an uncertain future.

The eldest of three girls, Tanya was born and raised in the small New South Wales country town of Taree by her immigrant Lebanese parents, next door to her fraternal grandparents. Athletic and talented, Tanya, and her sisters, were involved in competitive swimming with Olympian dreams and Eisteddfods (playing piano) in between working at the family’s shoe store chain and helping out on their grandparent’s small cattle and fruit & vegetable farm. The most significant childhood event for Tanya was a three month holiday to Lebanon taken just months after the end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1990 to visit relatives. Bullied in part because of her heritage during primary school, high school provided some relief but Tanya gratefully escaped the region after graduation, returning only for family occasions and holidays.

Tanya’s memories of her childhood experiences weave in and out of her adult narrative. In the period before her diagnosis, Tanya was living in Canberra enjoying a high pressure career in politics while developing a competitive edge in road cycling. She maintained close ties to her parents and her two sisters, Vivian and Paula, now living in Sydney, and undertook the genetic testing as part of Hereditary Cancer project after it was discovered her father was a carrier of the faulty gene, their family history having revealed several generations of women who died of breast or ovarian cancer, some only in their early twenties. Both Tanya and Paula were found to have inherited the BRCA1 gene.

With strength, grace and courage Tanya shares her thoughts and emotions as she wrestles with the hand fate has dealt her. Still single and childless, the preventative options for sufferers of the BRCA1 gene including a bilateral mastectomy and a complete, or partial salpingo-oophorectomy (the removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes), could permanently affect Tanya’s chances of pregnancy, but decrease her risk of developing cancer by as much as 90%. Tanya must weigh the risks and benefits and make a decision about her future.

From The Feet Up is a poignant, articulate and ultimately uplifting memoir sure to give hope to women facing a similarly confronting diagnosis and raise awareness of the risks associated with the BRCA1 gene.

* I should disclose that Tanya’s family home, as described in her memoir, is just around the corner from where I live. We have never met though, I’m not a ‘local’, only having lived in the town for a decade, but I have shopped at the family’s shoe store in town.

*Please note: I choose not to give memoirs a star rating*

 

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Weekend Cooking: The Australian Blue Ribbon Cookbook by Liz Harfull

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I’ve decided to make the Weekend Cooking meme, hosted by Beth Fish Reads  a regular monthly post at Book’d Out. Cooking is something I enjoy and I have been making more of an effort again lately, so I am looking forward to sharing some of my culinary adventures.

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The Australian Blue Ribbon Cookbook  is much more than just a compilation of prize winning recipes and cooking tips, it is also a wonderful collection of heart-warming personal stories laced with Australian agricultural show nostalgia.

Agricultural shows have been a staple of Australian society for 200 years and around 580 are held across the country each year in cities, regional towns and small rural communities. While the noisy battle for first place in events like sheep shearing and wood chopping draws the crowds to the main show ring, an equally fierce but quieter competition is being fought in the grounds pavilions where cakes, biscuits, slices, pastries, jams and relishes are laid out on trestle tables being judged on strict criteria in relation to appearance, consistency in shape, size and colour, taste and smell.

Within the pages of The Australian Blue Ribbon Cookbook you can find award winning recipes for entries such as Eileen’s Apple Jelly, Charlie’s Rosella Cake and Rod’s Bloody Hot Tomato Sauce as well as classics like scones, pikelets and sausage rolls, teamed with the personal stories of their maker and the histories of the shows they compete in.

This recipe book is as much a pleasure to read as to cook from. The only disappointing element is the lack of photographs showing the winning recipes, though the pages are illustrated with reproductions of show ephemera, winners portraits and scenes from past and present shows.

I’m too slapdash a cook to ever enter in a show competition where the standards are close to perfection but I’m looking forward to trying several of the recipes in The Australian Blue Ribbon Cookbook.

One of the categories in show competition is ‘Slices’ so I thought I would share my favourite recipe.

 

Vanilla Slice

Photo Credit http://beatricechristiana.wordpress.com/2011/05/01/vanilla-slice-or-an-easy-type-of-millefeuille/

Ingredients:

  • 2 sheets puff pastry, thawed
  • 300ml milk
  • 600ml thickened cream
  • 2 packets vanilla instant pudding
  • 1/4 cup pure icing sugar, to sift over the pastry

Method:

Preheat oven to 210°C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Bake pastry sheets for 10-15 minutes or until puffed and just golden. When you remove them from the oven, place a tray on top of the sheets to make them flat and leave to cool.

Line a slice tin with baking paper and set aside.

In a bowl, using a mixer, add the milk, cream and pudding mix together and combine until thick.

Cut one pastry sheet to fit the base of the slice tin and place in the tin.

Pour the custard mixture into the slice tin and smooth out evenly.

Cut the second sheet of pastry and place on top.

Refrigerate until chilled through (about 3 hours) and sprinkle with sifted icing sugar before serving. Remove from tin and slice into squares or rectangles using a serated knife.

 

The Australian Blue Ribbon Cookbook by Liz Harfull is available to purchase from:

 

 

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Review: Making Soapies in Kabul by Trudi-Ann Tierney

Title: Making Soapies in Kabul : Hot days, crazy nights and dangerous liaisons in a war zone

Author: Trudi-Ann Tierney

Published: Allen & Unwin March 2014

Status: Read from March 12 to 13, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Intrigued by her friend’s appointment as the head of production for Afghanistan’s largest and most successful television broadcaster, Sydney based producer and actress Trudi-Ann Tierney promised to join him if the opportunity ever arose. Barely six months later, in early 2009, Trudi-Ann found herself navigating the heavily armed guards at the airport and IDE strewn roads to Kabul for a four week stint managing ‘The Den’, a bar catering to ‘Knuckle Draggers’ (western private security contractors) in the hope that once in-country she could pick up some work with the Moby Media Group.

Making Soapies in Kabul is Trudi-Ann Tierney’s fascinating account of her three and a half years in Afghanistan producing local television. Working long hours with few resources, inexperienced staff and hampered by language and cultural barriers she nevertheless produced the country’s most popular television soapies, Salam and Secrets of This House as well as a police drama, Eagle Four.

Established in 2003 after the fall of the Taliban, Moby Media’s programming was a mix of self-devised television funded by advertising and ‘projects’ financed by interested parties. Nominated the head of drama Trudi-Ann was also required to facilitate PSYOPS, ‘Psychological Operations’ which targeted Afghani viewers with messages designed to influence behaviour and attitudes, ranging from promoting trust in police to informing on the Taliban.

Filming largely on location, Trudi-Ann shares the trials of producing television as a foreigner in an Islamic war-zone, smuggling actresses in from Pakistan, negotiating with the military and local law enforcement, and bribing the cast to last the day of filming. Often twice the age of her young staff, Trudi-Ann’s goal is to teach them all she knows so that they can carry on when the time comes for her to leave.

Despite being trailed by personal security guards 24/7 and the backdrop of military activity, gunfire and explosions Trudi-Ann rarely thinks of the risks she takes by living in a war-zone aside from devising a hiding place and escape strategy from the various compounds in which she lives. Yet the intensity of the setting fosters a sense of recklessness that expresses itself in drug-taking, excessive drinking and promiscuity.

Written in a conversational tone with honesty, humour and heart, Making Soapies in Kabul is a compelling read offering personal insight into Afghanistan and its people, the thriving ex-pat community and Trudi-Ann’s experiences producing television drama in the midst of real conflict.

Making Soapies in Kabul is available to purchase from

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Review: I See You Made an Effort by Anabelle Gurwitch

Title: I See You Made an Effort: Compliments, Indignities, and Survival Stories from the Edge of 50

Author: Annabelle Gurwitch

Published: Blue Rider Press March 2014

Status: Read from March 11 to 12, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

I was oblivious to Annabelle Gurwitch’s identity before selecting I See You Made an Effort for review otherwise I probably would have given it a wide berth. I don’t have a single thing in common with a Jewish/atheist actress/comedienne living in Hollywood, and I still have ten years until I turn 50 anyway.

That being said I found this collection of essays on reaching middle age readable, sometimes touching, and even occasionally funny.

The most moving story is about the slow death of her friend from pancreatic cancer and the story of ‘The Sandwich Generation’ which includes the recurrence of her mother’s breast cancer.

I laughed at Annabelle’s trampoline induced injuries, ‘This is Fifty’ and her parents technological cluelessness.

The ’4am Club’ was the essay I could relate to most with those same questions and fears running nightly through my own head.

I was least interested in her accidental membership of a cult or the price of her anti aging serum, though I can see how the two are connected even if Gurwitch misses it.

I didn’t think I See You Made an Effort was anything other than an okay read but I’m probably not the right audience for it either, you might be.

I See You Made an Effort is available to purchase from

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Weekend Cooking: Cooking in a Madhouse

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I have four children who are 8, 9, 11 and 17 years old. One will eat almost anything, or at least give it a try. One won’t eat red meat, two won’t eat fish, another two start gagging when forced to eat pasta, one refuses chicken and getting them all to knowingly eat vegetables is an endless war with every single one of them (my husband included).

As such, planning dinner seven nights a week is a bit of a nightmare, and not made any easier as I also have to take into account after school/evening schedules which include gymnastics classes, basketball and football training, scouts and cub meetings, etc, etc. Monday and Thursday nights in particular are mayhem and the only way to make sure everyone eats is to prepare meals in advance, either on the weekend or the morning of, or stick with something simple like omelettes that can be prepped, cooked and eaten in a half hour. Most often I make pasta bakes – beef or chicken – which 4 out of the 6 of us are happy to eat and can be served and reheated easily in single serves through the evening as needed. I’ll also make a huge batch of my Faux Fried Rice recipe once a month which can then be served with whatever protein is handy, such as cooked and sliced sausages, cooked chicken pieces picked up from the local deli or stir fried beef tossed in a honey soy sauce, over a couple of nights on a week when I know we are going to be especially busy .

I’m always looking for new ideas though and when I spotted Jo Pratt’s Madhouse Cookbook I was hoping to find new recipes to add to my collection. The prep and cooking time for the recipes Pratt lists in the Monday-Friday Survival/The Need for Speed section are great – generally less than 30 minutes each. I’m already familiar with the simpler recipes such as Chicken, Cheese and Corn Quesa-d-easies, Crumbed Chicken Breasts and Fish Stick Tortillas. Unfortunately few of the other recipes would suit my fussy children, there is little hope of them even sampling Lemon Linguine with Walnuts, Spinach and Blue Cheese and it’s even less likely they would try a Pepper and Feta Fritatta. Several of the recipes require quite strong tasting ingredients like chilli, olives and marscapone cheese which also wouldn’t appeal to my children’s unsophisticated palette and there are half a dozen recipes or so based on salmon, which at $28/kg is not in my grocery budget.

I did pick up a few tips though. I really like the idea of making up a Savoury Crumb mix that can be stored in the freezer and used as needed for coating fish or chicken, or to add to meatballs, for example. I usually make a standard mix of breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese and mixed dried Italian herbs as needed, and though its simple to do, having some ready at all times would be convenient.

Similarly Pratt suggests making a Vegetable Starter mix, called soffrito. Essentially, use a food processor to finely chop a mix of vegetables such as onions, carrot, capsicum (bell peppers), celery, garlic and mushrooms. Fry gently in a bit of oil til soft. Cool, divide and then store for up to 3 days in the fridge or 3 months in the freezer. You can then toss the mix into soups, pasta sauces, casseroles etc as needed.

There are quite a few delicious sweet recipes included, such as Sticky Toffee and Banana Pudding, though I rarely serve dessert at home.  But I do really like Pratt’s Mix and Match Fruit Crumble recipes which can be sprinkled over icecream, yoghurt, custard or stewed fruits. The Madhouse Cookbook also includes a selection of recipes for entertaining at home that are quick to prepare including appetisers, mains, desserts and drinks.

If your child  is an adventurous eater and you are a busy mother looking for some interesting recipes to try without spending hours slaving over the stove, then the Madhouse Cookbook may well be the perfect resource for you, but really I think most of the recipes would be more useful for a busy single person wanting to throw together a simple but elegant meal for one, or maybe two, after a hard days work.

This afternoon though I’ll be making up a batch of my Faux Fried Rice since we have various things scheduled over the next few nights and I’m happy to share it with you today. It’s a large family friendly batch, so you might want to reduce the amounts – this isn’t a sensitive recipe so just half the rice and the ingredients to taste. And if you were wondering, I call it Faux Fried Rice because the rice isn’t fried at all.

My Faux Fried Rice

Ready in about 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 3-4 cups cooked long grain rice (I prefer white but you can use brown)
  • 300g diced or shredded bacon or ham
  • 1 diced onion
  • 1 – 2 diced spring onion/scallion
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 cups mixed frozen vegetables (I use a Golden Mix that includes peas, carrot, corn, celery and capsicum (bell pepper) – you can add whatever you like)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1-2 cups of good quality soy sauce
  • Pepper to taste

Method

  • Cook rice by preferred method (I use the absorption method in a microwave rice cooker – takes about 20 minutes)
  • While rice is cooking, in a large saucepan, fry bacon/ham til cooked through,  add garlic and then onion. Fry til onion is translucent
  • Push bacon mixture to the side of the saucepan and add beaten eggs, allow to set and then break up into strips.
  • Add mixed vegetables and stir into egg and bacon mixture til they begin to soften (about 5 minutes).
  • Add 1/2 to 1 cup soy sauce
  • Stir to coat, season to taste
  • Allow to simmer for 5 minutes on low heat.
  • Place cooked rice in a large container with a lid, slowly pour in soy sauce and mix well with fork to coat rice. Don’t drown it!
  • Add bacon mixture to rice and mix through.
  • Serve hot, warm or cold with a protein of you choice – try leftover sliced beef or chicken sausages, cooked chicken pieces, or stir fried meat. It even makes a pretty good meal or afternoon snack on its own.
  • Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.

wkendcooking

Weekend Cooking: I’d Eat That by Callum Hann

wkendcooking

I’ve decided to make the Weekend Cooking meme, hosted by Beth Fish Reads  a regular monthly post at Book’d Out. Cooking is something I enjoy and I have been making more of an effort again lately, so I am looking forward to sharing some of my culinary adventures.

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ideatthatbanner

Callum Hann is another product of the MasterChef phenomenon, he was just 19 when he placed as the  runner up in the 2010 Australian television series. Since then he has spent his time working and learning in some of Australia’s best kitchens, including The Press Club, Maha, Hellenic Republic, and PM24, toured Australian universities teaching students how to cook and eat well, and recently launched his own cooking school in Adelaide, Sprout Cooking. His first recipe book was entitled The Starter Kitchen: Learn how to love to cook, and following on from this theme is his newest cookbook, I’d Eat That! Simple ways to be a better cook.

I was attracted to this cookbook by it’s tag line, I am all for simple! Presented in hardcover with a convenient elasticised bookmark, in addition to over 90 recipes there is  information on cooking fundamentals, a guide to flavour combinations and seasonal produce, tips for entertaining at home and more. I particularly liked the useful ideas about developing and writing your own recipes – a bonus for foodie bloggers.

Recipes are sorted under headings like Morning Glory, Weeknight Dinners, Things you can Eat with your Hands and Anti-garden Salads. The recipes are influenced by a mix of cultures with a focus on fresh, simple and quick. Examples include Zucchini and Prawn Quesadillas, Braised Chicken and Green Mango Salad, Chimichurri Steak Sandwich and Smoked Salmon, Asparagus and Ricotta Frittatas. There are several options for vegetarians including deserts like the 5-Minute Mango and Coconut Icecream and Instant Rasberry and Cranberry Sorbet.

I have to take a salad to a BBQ tomorrow and I’ve decided to try Hann’s Sweetcorn, Red Onion and Smoked Almond Salad. It seems simple but delicious. Meanwhile my oldest daughter is desperate to try the Microwaved Chocolate and Peanut Butter Mug Pudding for one.

Here is a peek at one of the recipes in I’d Eat That.

haloumi

WIN – The ultimate foodie crash course with Callum Hann!
Murdoch Books Australia and Callum Hann are giving one lucky recipe-book-buyer the chance to be guided around Adelaide Markets to learn what he buys, when and why. We’ll fly you and a friend from your nearest capital city and put you both up in Adelaide for two nights! All you need to do is purchase a copy of I’d Eat That (it’s in stores today!) and retain your receipt as POP. Then answer our competition question, cross fingers and wait for the fantastic news! ENTER HERE: http://a.pgtb.me/JKz7tD Full competition terms and conditions are listed on the competition page.

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Review: The Priority List by David Menasche

Title: The Priority List

Author: David Menasche

Published: Allen & Unwin January 2014

Status: Read from January 23 to 24, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

I am so torn in regards to this memoir.

There is no doubt David Menasche was a wonderfully gifted and dedicated teacher, his passion for his career and the testimonials of his students prove that. As a teacher myself I am inspired by those colleagues who are not just educators but also mentors to their students. This man’s passion for teaching is heartwarming and inspirational and that he made a difference for many of his students is not in doubt. Any teacher, or student, could, and should, learn from Menasche’s commitment.

But there were elements of this memoir that made me uncomfortable, decisions he made, not as a teacher but as a person, that I viewed as selfish rather than brave or noble. I feel bad that I am judging him, after all the guy is dying from terminal brain cancer but still…

So, torn.

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Review: The Good Nurse by Charles Graeber

Title: The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness and Murder

Author: Charles Graeber

Published: Atlantic Books January 2014

Read an excerpt

Status: Read from January 05 to 07, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy Allen & Unwin}

My Thoughts:

The Good Nurse is a chilling true crime story revealing the murderous sixteen year career of registered nurse Charlie Cullen, arrested in 2003 and eventually confessing to the murder of forty patients but suspected as being responsible for as many as three hundred.

Unlike ‘Angel of Mercy’ killers, whose twisted thinking means they think they are helping ease suffering, Cullen’s motivation for the murders were frightening in their lack of discrimination. He chose patients to murder based on random criteria irrespective of their ability to recover, injected drugs into anonymous IV bag’s, and made deliberate medication errors, unmindful of his victim’s lives.

Psychiatrists eventually ascribed Cullen’s actions to his need to compensate for his feelings of powerlessness. Graeber shares enough of Cullen’s personal history to give an idea of where his pathology was rooted though I got the impression there were deliberate gaps in his childhood experiences. As Graeber admits Cullen wasn’t very forthcoming in speaking about his life, this is understandable. Cullen’s ex-wife’s cooperation with the author revealed little other than his state of mind during the early years of his murderous sixteen year career.

The second half of the book concentrates on the police inquiry into Cullen. The research seems thorough in regards to the tracing of Cullen’s work history, the murders he was and may have been responsible for and the details of the police investigation. The difficulties in proving Cullen’s culpability are clearly explained, including the negligence of the hospitals who employed Cullen.

The book is also an indictment of a health care system motivated by profit, where lawyers make decisions not based on best practice but with corporate indifference. I was sickened no less by the actions of those that permitted Cullen to continue his spree, than I was by Cullen himself. Though unfortunately none of the various hospital administrators could be held criminally liable for their complicity in Cullen’s crimes, I was pleased that some of the families were at least able to enact civil penalties.

A disturbing yet fascinating read, The Good Nurse is the story of a frightening sociopath, a negligent and corrupt health care system and the tireless work of those who attempted to bring them both to account for their crimes.

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Review: Call Me Sasha by Geena Leigh

Title: Call Me Sasha: Secret confessions of an Australian call girl

Author: Geena Leigh

Published: Allen and Unwin December 2013

Read an Extract

Status: Read from December 10 to 11, 2013 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

Call Me Sasha, subtitled ‘Secret confessions of an Australian call girl’, is a memoir of Geena Leigh’s extraordinary journey of homelessness, drug addiction, and prostitution and her eventual triumph in reclaiming her life.

A difficult childhood, marred by a volatile and abusive father and a disinterested mother, resulted in Geena leaving home at fifteen. Despite an admirable initial attempt to keep up with her education and support herself with with a full time job, easy access to alcohol and marijuana inevitably interfered with her goals. Broke, in a bad relationship and desperate for something to change, prostitution seemed somehow to be a solution. Despite a general distaste for sex, and little experience, Geena quickly became enmeshed in the life, appreciating the financial rewards and a feeling of belonging amongst her colleagues, ignoring the slow erosion of her fragile sense of self worth. It took decades for Geena to finally extract herself from the life, detoured by addictions to alcohol, heroin and cocaine, an arrest in Greece, rape and abortion. After hitting rock bottom at age 32 she began the arduous process of putting her life back together, earning double degrees, detoxifying, and at age 37, finally turned her back on prostitution.

I always find memoirs challenging to review as obviously the ‘story’ is deeply personal. I feel Geena relates her journey honestly and without sensationalism. Necessarily there are some explicit descriptions of Geena’s sexual experiences, and blunt recounts of drug taking and violence, but these scenes are simply illustrations of truth, rather than attempts to shock. I appreciate that Geena takes responsibility for the direction her life took, though it would have been easy to blame everything on her parents and others, and I admired the way in which she eventually made the decisions necessary to change her life.
I did sometimes feel their was a sense of distance between the memory of events and the narrative, which is not altogether surprising, but occasionally results in a lack of emotional context except in moments of real crisis.

Written with candor, simplicity and courage, Call Me Sasha is an interesting, and ultimately inspiring memoir. I hope she finds lasting strength, love, happiness and peace.

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Review: Yours Truly: Women of Letters Curated by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire

Title: Yours Truly: Women of Letters

Author: Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire

Published: Penguin Australia November 2013

Read an Extract

Status: Read from November 30 to December 02, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

To the Women (and men) of Letters,

Having enjoyed your second publication, Sincerely, arising from the literary stage show conceived by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire, I was delighted for the opportunity to read this third curated collected, titled Yours Truly.

I was pleased to see such an eclectic group of female and male contributors, 80 altogether, including journalist, Jenifer Byrne, comedienne, Corinne Grant, author, Toni Jordan, cricket legend, Merv Hughes, Spiderbait drummer, Kram and radio/TV funny man, Hamish Blake. There were a few names I didn’t recognise and though helpfully you provide a brief bio of each at the back of the book, I would still prefer the information included at the end of each letter.

I enjoy the way in which the tone of the letters veer from the intimate and serious to the irreverent and comedic. It ensures the collection holds my interest and makes for a comfortable read through, though it would also be easy for a reader to dip in and out of at will. I enjoyed all of the letters but there were several that stood out for me including Annabel Crabb’s secret betrayal of Marieke Hardy, Zora Sanders petty crime confession, Tracey Spicer’s letter to Mr Misogynist, William McInnes ode to Wendy, the speed skater who changed his life, and Dani Valent’s missive to her daughter.

What I also like about the Letter’s collection is the way in which they make me think about how I would respond to the topics. What secret would I share? What petty crime would I confess? What unfinished business would I address and, of course, which woman has changed my life?

I have enjoyed the time I spent with this celebration of the lost art of letter writing and its collection of ‘cathartic confessions, passionate declarations and vivid recollections’. Thank you, women (and men) of letters for sharing with me.

Yours Truly,

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