Review: After The Party by Cassie Hamer

 

 

Title: After the Party

Author: Cassie Hamer

Published: March 2019, HarperCollins Au

Status: Read April 2019

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

Dear Lisa,

I’m sorry. Please know this, above all else. I am truly sorry to put this responsibility on you but I have been left with little choice.”

After an exhausting morning hosting 32 kindergarten children for her daughter’s fifth birthday, Lisa Wheeldon is stunned to learn that one tiny guest won’t be collected any time soon. In amongst the gifts, is a heartfelt plea for Lisa to look after six year old Ellie for a few weeks while her mother, a complete stranger, deals with some unspecified crisis. Lisa knows she should notify the relevant authorities, but having experienced the perils of the foster system first hand, decides she will care for Ellie, at least temporarily, while making every effort to track down the absent mother.

Child abandonment seems an unlikely theme in which to find humour, but Hamer somehow does as Lisa enlists the help of her sister, Jamie, and an odd selection of school mum’s she barely knows, in an effort to find Ellie’s missing mother. Lisa’s attempts are well intentioned, but she doesn’t have the cunning, or know how, to deal with the situation she finds herself in, so she does what she can do well, which is care for Ellie.

As a mother, I could relate to several of Lisa’s experiences in the book – the chaos of children’s birthday parties, and the gossipy and competitive nature of primary school mum’s particularly, though Lisa’s naivety is a bit of a stretch.

I think the story could included less of Jamie’s relationship troubles, they were a distraction. I think the plot would have been better served by focusing more on ‘Missy’, Ellie’s mum’s, past and present.

I think Hamer just tried to include too much, not an unusual error in a debut novel, so the focus was split and in the end, the novel was a bit messy. However, I did enjoy the humour, and overall found After the Party to be a quick, easy read.

++++++

 

Available to Purchase from

HarperCollins Au I Booktopia I Amazon AU I Book Depository

or your preferred retailer.

Weekend Cooking: Slow Cooker Central 2 by Paulene Christie (and me!)

 

So while I was on hiatus, one of the more exciting things that happened for me was the publication of a couple of recipes I submitted in the book Slow Cooker Central 2 by Paulene Christie.

I joined the Slow Cooker Central community in the search of ways to make more use of my slowcooker. With a large family, whom have large appetites and a busy schedule, I am always on the lookout for easy, economical and satisfying meal ideas.

Slow Cooker Central 2 (HarperCollins AU I HarperCollins US) contains 270 recipes organised into 14 chapters that will help you make meals to match your appetite or what’s in the fridge. They are family friendly recipes from people who cook for their families everyday. You’ll find great ideas for casseroles, curries, soups and roasts; plus plenty of recipes you might not expect, such as those for desserts, cakes, fudge and even face paint and play dough.

The recipes I contributed to Slow Cooker Central 2 are two of my family favourites, Creamy Chicken Fajitas and Luau Chicken.

The website at Slow Cooker Central contains an archive of recipes, hints, tips and more, and the Slow Cooker Central Facebook group is busy and active group. There is even an App It’s membership is primarily Australian so metric measurements are most common, but all nationalities are welcome. Other publications available are Slow Cooker Central 1, Slow Cooker Central Family Favourites, Slow Cooker Central Kids and Slow Cooker Central Super Savers.

One of my favourite slow cooker recipes that I didn’t submit is a tasty fakeaway meal. I’ve recently had to replace my trusty 20 year old 7L Breville Banquet Maker (pictured) with a newer model after it finally gave up the ghost, so this recipe is made in a 7L Breville Flavour Maker.

Homemade Turkish Doner Kebab (Gyro)

1.5 kg lean or extra lean beef mince
500g lamb mince
2 1/2 tbsp Greek Seasoning (I used Masterfoods brand)
1 Tbsp Harissa Seasoning
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp all purpose seasoning
1 tsp salt
Optional: 1/4 -1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (omit if you dislike heat)

Measure Greek seasoning, Harissa Seasoning, garlic powder, all purpose seasoning, salt and cayenne pepper into a small container and mix well.
Place beef and lamb mince in a large bowl and mix by hand until well combined.
Add spices to mince and mix well again.
If available add mince mix to food processor and pulse til a thick paste
Line a rectangular container (approx lunch box size) with foil and add mince, pressing firmly with knuckles to expel air and fill. Cover and refrigerate for minimum 2 hours or up to overnight.
Remove container from refrigerator, ensure meat is tightly wrapped in foil, re-wrap if necessary.
Make 6 balls of foil (or use a rack) and place in slow cooker to create a stand for the foil wrapped meat. Add 1 – 1 1/2 cups water to slow cooker, make sure water level is below the level of the stand.
Add foil wrapped meat and turn slow cooker to HIGH
Cook on HIGH for 1.5 hours. This ensures meat will keep its tight shape.
Remove foil wrapped meat from slow cooker, take out balls/rack and pour out water.
Turn slow cooker to LOW, unwrap meat and place directly into the slow cooker bowl.
Cook on LOW for a further 2-3 hours (a meat thermometer should register at least 70c (150F) when inserted into the middle of the loaf)
When cooked, remove meat, wrap in foil and allow to stand for 10-15 minutes.
Slice thinly with a large very sharp knife (an electric or shaving knife would make this easier).
Serve wrapped in warmed pita or tortilla wraps with your preferred dressings
I like lots of shredded lettuce, thinly sliced onion rings, BBQ sauce and a squirt of aioli (garlic sauce). You can also add sliced tomato, shredded cheese, tabbouleh, humus etc
Leftovers still taste great heated in the microwave.

But it happens to be my birthday today..so I’m not cooking tonight YAY!

Review: The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris

 

Title: The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder

Author: Sarah J. Harris

Published: April 2018 HarperCollins Au

Status: Read April 2019, courtesy HarperCollins AU

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

I’ve long been fascinated by synesthesia, a condition where the brains perceptions of sensory input are blended. Synesthetes may taste sounds, smell colors or see scents.

In The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder, thirteen year old Jasper Wishart hears sounds as colours.

“Lawn mower: shiny silver; Car revving: orange; Aeroplane: light, almost see-through green; Radio: pink….; Dogs barking: yellow or red; Cats meowing: soft violet blue; Dad laughing: a muddy, yellowish brown; Kettle boiling: silver and yellow bubbles”

Unusually, Jasper also suffers from prosopagnosia, known as face blindness, and is probably also somewhere on the autism spectrum, given his literal manner and self soothing behaviours. His father doesn’t understand, and is perpetually frustrated by his son’s ‘weird’ ways.

When Bee Larkham moves into the Wishart’s Street, Jasper is enchanted by the colour of her voice-sky blue, the explosions of colour from the music she plays loudly in her living room, and most particularly, the flock of parakeets that takes up residence in her garden. However not everyone is happy with the disruption Bee causes in the neighbourhood.

“Bee Larkham’s murder was ice blue crystals with glittery edges and jagged silver icicles.”

The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder is essentially a murder mystery, the story of which unfolds through Jasper’s unique perspective. It is not a straightforward narrative, skewed by Jasper’s limited, and sometimes unreliable view, partially reconstructed by his ornithological log, and the paintings he creates to help him order events. I did feel the pace dragged sometimes but I was engrossed by Jasper’s distinctive voice.

A colourful and Interesting novel, Harris paints a vivid picture of an exceptional boy caught up in extraordinary circumstances.

++++++

Available to Purchase from

HarperCollins AU I Booktopia I Amazon AU I Book Depository

or your preferred retailer.

Review: Bridge Burning and Other Hobbies by Kitty Flanaganh

 

Title: Bridge Burning and Other Hobbies

Author: Kitty Flanagan

Published: March 2018, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read April 2019

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

“Had I told my mother I was writing an autobiography, she’d quite rightly have asked, ‘Why?’ Instead, this is a book of true stories and ill-informed opinions. And I believe it was Paul Simon who once said, ‘Your opinion is not important, it is merely of interest.’ So, while this book is not important, I do hope you will find it of interest. Most of all, I hope you will find it funny because that really is my favourite thing.”

I did find it mildly interesting, Kitty, but mostly I found it funny. I smiled a lot, laughed out loud a few times, and spat out my drink at least once.

Kitty and I are of the same generation, so we share similar childhood experiences and attitudes. I enjoy her self deprecating humour, and her witty observations.

The only thing I thought the book lacked was a handful of photos from Kitty’s childhood.

++++++

 

Available to Purchase from

Allen & Unwin I Booktopia I Amazon Au I Book Depository

or your preferred retailer

Also coming soon by Kitty Flanagan

Review: The Book of Dreams by Nina George

Title: The Book of Dreams

Author: Nina George

Published: April 2019, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read April 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

Henri Malo Skinner is on his way to meet his son for the first time when he dives from a bridge to save a life, and nearly loses his own. Now he lies in a coma, caught in the Between, as his son, Sam, and the estranged love of his life, Eddie, will him to return to them.

Told from the perspectives of Henri, Samuel, and Eddie, The Book of Dreams is a study of lost chances, grief, love and letting go. It’s a heartfelt novel, in the Postscript the author explains it’s connection to the death of her father.

Samuel Noam Valentiner , a precocious 13 year old, waits for the father he desperately wants to know, to wake. Wandering the corridors, he stumbles across twelve year old Madelyn, a similarly vegetative patient, whose entire family was killed in the accident that injured her. Sam soon becomes a regular visitor, forming an inexplicable bond with the unresponsive girl. It is a poignant and moving connection, enhanced by Sam’s synesthesia, that is beautifully rendered by George.

“I can hear her breath and then, with my soul snuggling against her heart, I hear her breath become a note. The note becomes a tune, a breeze, but it’s not like Madelyn’s piano music. This wind has been scouring the earth for a long time and is now slowly rising, growing brighter, as it continues its quest over the cool, silvery, frost-rimmed, icy coating of a long, broad, frozen river. It is changing into a warming ray of sunlight, which captures the sparkling silence and then alights on a motionless ice sculpture, inside which a heart is beating. My heart.”

Eddie last saw Henri two years ago, when he cruelly broke her heart by disregarding her declaration of love and devotion. Nevertheless she is devastated by his current circumstances, and having been named as his Power of Attorney, she finds she can’t shirk the responsibility for his care. She is stunned to learn of Sam’s existence, but takes it her stride, I loved the relationship she developed with him, but mostly I admired her strength and heart.

“I sit on the floor and don my courage like a mask. I dissect my competing, struggling, mutually obstructive instincts until only three essential ones remain. I focus entirely on keeping them in my mind and preventing any other emotions from approaching them…..I breathe in and out and think: Affection. I take a deeper breathe and pray: Courage. I breathe in and beg: Be like Sam.”

As Henri lies in his coma, fighting hard to return to the world of the living, he experiences alternate versions of his past and future.

“I have searched and searched for the right life – and never found it. None of the lives was perfect, no matter what I did, or didn’t do.”

While the poetic prose and evocative imagery is often beautiful, it can also become somewhat tiring. I struggled too, with the pace of the novel, it drags in parts, particularly through the middle. However I liked The Book of Dreams for it’s powerful characterisations, and the thoughtful exploration of life, death, and what may lie Between.

And while it’s something I rarely comment on, I think the (Australian) cover of The Book of Dreams is gorgeous.

 

++++++

 

Available to Purchase from

Simon & Schuster AU I Booktopia I Amazon AU I Book Depository

or your preferred retailer

Review: The Lost Girls by Jennifer Spence

Title: The Lost Girls

Author: Jennifer Spence

Published: Simon & Schuster January 2019

Status: Read April 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster Au

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

I had made some assumptions about this novel, based mostly on the cover and title. I was expecting a fairly standard novel of mystery involving a missing girl or two, but what I discovered was a compelling and unique story using one of my least favourite tropes – time travel.

It is 2017 and sixty three year old Stella Lannigan is making her way home from a night out when she realises that her surroundings seem somehow changed. Baffled, she wonders if she absentmindedly took a wrong turn, but the landmarks are familiar, just not quite… right. Stella slowly realises that she has inexplicably stepped into the past, it is 1997, and as she stands outside her former home, she watches her forty three year old self step out of the front door.

What would you do if you had the chance to change a moment from your past, to rewrite your history, and avoid inevitable tragedy? Stella knows she will do whatever she must to subvert her daughter’s fate.

The concept of time travel is, as I have said, one of my least favourite devices in film and literature. It’s either presented in a too simplistic, or convoluted, manner. In The Lost Girls, Spence uses it in a way that made sense to me. As Stella insinuates herself into her family, posing as her own long last aunt, she subtly attempts to manipulate the future, but destiny, it seems, is not as malleable as it may appear.

There is also a traditional mystery, with a missing girl at it’s heart, which is central to the story.

I’m loathe to say much more, lest I inadvertently spoil your own future reading of this novel . Suffice it to say, The Lost Girls is a poignant, intriguing ,and captivating read I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

 

+++++

Available to Purchase from

Simon & Schuster AU I Booktopia I Amazon AU I Book Depository

or your preferred retailer

Review: I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella

Title: I Owe You One

Author: Sophie Kinsella

Published: Bantam Press February 2019

Status: Read April 2019

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

It’s difficult to have to admit disappointment in what was once an author I could reliably expect to find entertaining. Perhaps I’m simply too jaded (ok…old) now to be charmed by Kinsella’s formula, because I’ve increasingly found her heroines insipid, and the romances underwhelming.

I found myself horribly impatient with not only Fixie’s inability to leave things alone, but also her repeated failure to defend herself from her narcissistic siblings. The romance between Seb and Fixie, complicated by the presence of Whiny Briony, is a touch unsavoury, though I did like the meet-cute setup. Ryan is so irredeemably awful from the outset I could never take him seriously.

That said, there were moments that I found entertaining, the shop assistants in Farr’s, the family business, were amusing, and I particularly enjoyed it when the Cake Club crashed the Farr’s store’s ‘relaunch’ party.

I Owe You One is an undemanding romantic comedy, and I expect fans of Kinsella will generally enjoy it, unfortunately I found it just tolerable.

++++++

Read an Excerpt

Available to Purchase

Penguin AU | Booktopia I Amazon Au

Book Depository I Amazon US I Amazon UK

#lovebetweenthepages

Stuff on Sundays: 2019 Hugo Award Finalists Announced

Best Novel

• The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)

• Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager)

• Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)

• Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente (Saga)

• Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik (Del Rey / Macmillan)

• Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga)

Best Series

• The Centenal Cycle, by Malka Older (Tor.com Publishing)

• The Laundry Files, by Charles Stross (most recently Tor.com Publishing/Orbit)

• Machineries of Empire, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)

• The October Daye Series, by Seanan McGuire (most recently DAW)

• The Universe of Xuya, by Aliette de Bodard (most recently Subterranean Press)

• Wayfarers, by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager)

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book

• The Belles, by Dhonielle Clayton (Freeform / Gollancz)

• Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt / Macmillan Children’s Books)

• The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black (Little, Brown / Hot Key Books)

• Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland (Balzer + Bray)

• The Invasion, by Peadar O’Guilin (David Fickling Books / Scholastic)

• Tess of the Road, by Rachel Hartman (Random House / Penguin Teen)

See more Hugo Award Finalists

Who would you vote for?

Review: Smoke and Iron by Rachel Caine

 

Title: Smoke and Iron {The Great Library #4}

Author: Rachel Caine

Published: Berkley July 2018

Status: Read July 2018

++++++

My Thoughts:

Smoke and Iron is another fabulous instalment in Rachel Caine’s The Great Library young adult fantasy series, following Ink and Bone, Paper and Fire, and Ash and Quill.

“The Archivist made us into an ugly thing,… A thing that used fear to control the world. But we are not what he made us. We are more. We stand, unafraid. And together. Because we are the Great Library!”

In a world where book ownership is forbidden, the rebellion determined to free knowledge from the Archivist’s Iron grip, and save The Great Library, is about to spill in to war.

The story picks up almost immediately following the events of Ash and Quill. This instalment unfolds from the viewpoints of Jess, Morgan, Khalila, and Wolfe. While Jess (impersonating his twin brother, Brendan) endeavours to learn the Archivist’s secrets, Morgan has returned to the Obscurist’s Iron Tower seeking vulnerabilities she can exploit. Meanwhile Wolfe struggles to hold onto his sanity deep in the cells of Alexandria, and Khalila does her best to keep her friends, and their mission, safe and on track.

The plot is fast paced and tension filled. Each member of the rebel group has an important part to play in preparation for the coming Feast of Greater Burning, the stakes are higher, and the risks greater, than ever.

The final book in this series, Sword and Pen, is not expected to be published until 2020. Such a long time to wait!

++++++

Available to Purchase from

Penguin US I Murdoch Books AU or your preferred retailer

Review: Accidental Death? By Robin Bowles

 

Review: Accidental Death? When things may not be as they seem.

Author: Robin Bowles

Published: Scribe Publications, May 2018

Status: Read January 2019

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

Robin Bowles has published a number of true crime books covering some of Australia’s most high profile crimes, including the death of toddler Jaidyn Leskie, and the abduction and murder of English backpacker, Peter Falconio. She seems most interested in cases where the facts are uncertain, and it is this ambiguity she explores in Accidental Death?.

Bowles presents six interesting cases in this book, some with which I was familiar from media coverage, some not. They are all tragic tales of lives cut short, in which absolute culpability is not easily ascribed. I found ‘26 Seconds’ particularly maddening, and ‘There is a Kid Under the Water!’ utterly heartbreaking.

While her research seems thorough, Bowles is not simply an objective reporter of the facts. Though not necessarily a bad thing, her personal bias is often evident in her storytelling, which is generally unusual for the genre.

I thought Accidental Death? was a thought provoking read, an interesting examination of blame, guilt, and justice, and the lack thereof.

++++++

 

Available to Purchase from

Scribe Publications or your preferred retailer

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries