Monday, December 24, 2012

The Broke and the Bookish Secret Santa Haul


Just a really quick post to showoff thank my wonderful Secret Santa, Shelleyrae from Book'd Out. Not only did taking part in this secret santa mean I got post (the best!!) BUT I now have my very own copy of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas and Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness. Shelleyrae was also generous enough to include the cutest little Christmas card, a bookmark AND two packs of the most irresistibly scented tea! I've been absolutely spoiled, and I hope you've all been equally spoiled with your secret santa or Christmas presents!
I think Sweet Dee was attracted by the tea scent!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Baking: Reindeer Cookies

Recipe time again! This week is a nice and simple recipe that's a bunch of fun. They're Rudolf the Reindeer!! These would be perfect to make if you happen to have kids or are babysitting for young ones, they're easier than anything I've baked recently, taste amazing, and look cute as a button! I wouldn't go so far as to say these are healthy, but with the coconut, wheat germ and wholemeal flour they could be much worse, so they have that going for them as well!


Reindeer Cookies:*

Ingredients: 

90g (3 ounces) butter (room temp)
1 egg (room temp)
1/2 cup (110g) brown sugar
1/3 cup (25g) desiccated coconut
1/3 cup (35g) wheat germ
2/3 cup (100g) wholemeal plain (all purpose) flour
1/3 cup (50g) self raising flour
1/2 tsp mixed spice
pretzels
chocolate chips
choc orange balls



Method:

1. Beat butter, egg and sugar until combined.
2. Stir in coconut, wheat germ, and sifted flours and spice.
3. Enclose dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
4. Roll dough between baking paper until 5mm thick. place on a tray and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
5. Preheat over to 180 deg C/350 deg F
6. Use a round cutter to cut the dough.
7. Place rounds on the tray about 5cm apart and decorate with pretzels for antlers and choc chips for eyes and mouth.
8. Bake for approx 10-15 minutes.
9. Once removed press a choc orange ball down firmly as the nose.

Top Tips: 

*This could really be done with any biscuit recipe, so if this recipe doesn't jump out at you then make whatever recipe you prefer!
*The cookbook suggested sticking these on popsicle sticks, which would be inserted prior to cooking,  but I didn't really see the point. It would be good for kids though.
*You wouldn't have to keep this to reindeer alone, add some white icing as a beard, and raspberry jam as a hat and you could have santa, or decorate them like Christmas baubles, or cut them into christmas tree or star shapes instead.




*This recipe comes from the Women's Weekly Christmas Baking cookbook.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Book Review: Ad Nomad by Eric Jay Sonnenschein

Ad Nomad

Written by: Eric Jay Sonnenschein

Published: 2012

Synopsis: In Ad Nomad, the Case Histories of Dane Bacchus, we enter the world of pharmaceutical advertising, where corrupt and ingenious creative minds market powerful medicines and sophisticated devices with more flair and guile than is used in promoting corn flakes, cars, and mouthwash. In these pages, you will find driven account people, maniacal creative directors, art directors and copywriters pushed to the brink of mental mayhem. Ad Nomad is a coming of age novel about a second-career seeker that describes the quest for self-actualization and the struggle for survival with muckraking naturalism and surreal humor.
________________________________________________________________________

In Australia there s a series of shows named Gruen (insert various second title here), which looks at advertising through the eyes of advertisers. It's fascinating to watch a panel of copywriters de-construct election campaigns, publicity spin, and the latest coke ad - and disagree so often! And while I wouldn't be in a rush to join the profession (unless in was Mad Men era minus the misogyny and racism) it's become something of a budding interest of mine. So imagine my delight when Eric Jay Sonnenschein asked if I'd read and review his book Ad Nomad - which is all about advertising and provides a not-so-pretty glimpse into the realities of that world.

Ad Nomad is a BIG book, like, 600 pages big, and while I think this is probably enough to put a few of you off I'm going to talk you down off that cliff and explain why the size isn't really an issue, and why you should perhaps in actual fact give this book a go. This book is split up rather neatly into 7 sections, all of which read almost like individual little books. There is most definitely a larger story that binds them all together, the story of Dane Bacchus entering a late-in-life career change into advertising and trying to keep from leaping off tall buildings as a result, but each section deals with a period in Dane's life post-career change. Section one is his hunt to re-educate and find the elusive advertising job, part 2 is his first job, part 3 is his second job and so on. So even though you have 600 pages of Dane Bacchus to explore, there isn't really that overbearing feeling of "oh my god, this book is monstrous and is going to devour my soul before I devour it". Which is good. But in the end, what is 600 pages if the book is well written and interesting? Exactly.

Dane Bacchus is an interesting character and I think I kind of hate him! Although I commend him for being proactive and deciding on a career change at 44, his ego is so large (and yet his self-esteem is so low) that it seems like the only way he would have been happy from the get-go is if he'd been offered a job as CEO, and even then I'm not so sure he'd really be satisfied. Dane spent his first career teaching at a university and struggling to make it as an author. Needless to say he never had success with either, or at least, not the sort of success that brings in enough money to support your wife and daughter. Once he decides on advertising (known to make people money, but also be creative) he struggles between his low self-esteem (can he keep his family fed?) and his ego (MY idea is the right idea, even if this is only my second day) and becomes almost unbearable. He questions everyone's expertise, argues over content, and locks horns over people's personality traits or quirks. At times Dane is completely in the right and I would be cheering him on when he finally stood up to the big-shot copywriters or the pretentious art director, but more often than not the disagreements came from his own insecurities or issues of ego. Now, I may have hated him a little as a person, but I loved him as a character. His fallibilities are, as always, interesting to read, especially when the novel is as much a character study as this one is.

As for the actual plot of the book, it may leave you feeling rather depressed. There is no glamour, no quick fixes and while Dane does a pretty decent job working his way up the advertising ladder it's filled with hard work, long hours and the animosity of clients and co-workers alike. It gels very well with the impression I've always been given that advertising is a finnicky career, and the reality that Sonnenschein imbues in this book is at times both hilarious and upsetting. Along with Dane's persistent search for the ad that will make him famous, this book touches on the minutia of office life - leaking air-conditioning, pervasive cigarette smoke, strokes in toilets, and the variety of characters which can be found in any work environment- the co-workers who gossip and spread rumours behind your back, the boss who hates you for no discernible reason, the lay-about, the old-timer, and the person with the inappropriate crush. You can change the career and go up a pay-grade or two, but at the end of the day a job is a job, and those tedious details will follow you everywhere. Which is not to say that no job can give you fulfilment, but if you expect your career to change your life you will likely find that reality hits hard.

Sonnenschein is a strong writer, and Ad Nomad is extremely well-written. At times the names of characters border on the ridiculous (Buzz Dingblatz for instance) and Dane's ego actually becomes unbearable (an issue with porn for instance) but the humour, insight into the industry and interesting questions raised around creativity and creativity in a business setting are strong enough to let those smaller issues slide. So don't let the size hold you back, take it one section at a time and be sure to report back on how you felt about Dane and his quest for ultimate creative control.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Monday Links

1. Sleepy Sweet Dee                                                                       2. Shoulder Sweet Dee
*Look!!! I got a kitten! She's called Sweet Dee and she's amazing and cute and I kinda want to just eat her up completly.

*The best typos and errors made by media outlets this year (Via The Atlantic Wire)

*Ever wondered what advice you'd be given if you were dating in the 1930s? Here's my personal favourite "remember that women are like flowers, a little squeezing makes them the more fragrant" - be sure to read the rest, they're brilliant in their awfulness (Via Huffington Post)

*Buzzfeed compiled a list of writer-ly and reader-ly people's top 2012 books. I added at least three new books to my Goodreads TBR! (Via Buzzfeed)

*So Lena Dunham's book proposal leaked, and Gawker posted it for all to see. Then Dunham set her lawyer on them, so they got catty and it's fabulous. [You may not enjoy this if you think Lena Dunham is everything she thinks she is] (Via Gawker)

*Here's a novel idea... bad reviews = good for authors? Or at the very least, grassroots criticism is happening people, so deal with it. (Via Huffington Post)

*Because I love Christmas, here are 49 recipes that taste like Christmas....they're basically all peppemint-centric but yummmm (Via Buzzfeed)

3. Tom, Sweet Dee and Me                                                     4. Halting my attempts at work 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Baking: Santa Hat and Christmas Tree Brownies

 Santa Hat and Christmas Tree Brownies:

I think these my be my favourite ever cake decorating attempts! Look at how cute they are! And sooooo easy! I challenge you to find anyone who would not smile or go "ohhhhh" upon being presented with one of these! While I will be providing you with recipes for triple choc brownies and two types of icing, they are by no means the only option available. Perhaps little carrot cakes with cream cheese frosting for the Christmas trees, and red velvet for the Santa hats? And you can always go a step further and make a little fondant star for the Christmas tree, or little royal icing baubles. Knock yourself out basically!

First, some decorating tips. For both of these you'll need an icing bag, but don't fear if you don't have one! All you need is a zip-lock sandwich bag. Fill the sandwich bag about 3/4 full with the icing, close the zip and then snip one of the corners. And you're done!! Now, I went one step further, I had a bunch of icing bag tips for the different icing shapes, and I used some sticky tape to tape them onto the bags. This is especially important, I think, for the Christmas tree, because you want those nice looking tufts of branches (I used the small star shape). Although you can use a bamboo kebab stick if you don't have any icing tips.

The Santa Hats are pretty self explanatory, but I'll do a run down for you anyway.

1. Cover the cooled brownies in the white chocolate cream. It's rich, so be careful how thick you apply it.
2. Cut the leafy tip off a strawberry and place it in the middle of the iced brownie.
3. Use your sandwich bag full of icing to top the strawberry with a ball of icing, and add another ring around the base to make it look more like a hat.
4. Voila!!



The Christmas trees look a little tricky, but they need no expertise and barely any patience. Maybe not kid-proof, but damn close!
1. Ice the cooled brownies with a layer of green buttercream.
2. Place a strawberry upright in the middle of the brownie.
3. Grabbing your icing bag, go around the base of the strawberry in small bursts of icing. Continue all the way around, and then go up and start another ring.
4. Once you've done the top, go around and fill any patches you might have left.
5. Using the yellow buttercream, squeeze a small burst at the tip of the tree.
6. Decorate the tree with whatever you like. I used small edible silver balls to look like baubles and twinkly lights, but you could use tic-tacs, small candies, 100s and 1000s, or roll your own baubles out of royal icing.
7. Doneski!

That's it! That's all there is to it, they're a tiny bit fiddly, but I find it easier if you make yourself a cake decorating stand (I just piled tupperware containers on top of each other with a plate on top) so it's you don't have to bend down too awkwardly.

Triple Chocolate Brownies: 
Ingredients:
125g butter, melted
200g dark eating chocolate, melted (can be substituted for 1.5 tbsp cocoa powder)
1/2 cup (110g) caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cup (185g)plain flour
150g white chocolate, chopped
100g milk eating chocolate, chopped

Method:
1. Preheat oven to 180 Deg C (160 Deg C fan forced)
2. Combine ingredients in a large bowl.
3. Spread brownie mixture into greased pan/muffin tray/and bake for between 25 - 35 minutes

Tips:
*Because I knew I wanted to make these individual decorated brownies, I grabbed a muffin tray and lined each hole with a cupcake liner. However if you have a deep cookie cutter, or are handy with a knife, you could cook them in a regular brownie pan. The muffin tray option will cook quicker though, so keep an eye on that.
*If you don't like one of these chocolates, or prefer milk to white, don't worry about swapping around the quantities. Make them the way you like them, I can guarantee they'll taste delicious either way.

Buttercream:
Ingredients:
125g butter, softened
1tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup (240g) icing sugar
2 tbsp milk
Yellow and Green food colouring

Method:
1. Beat butter and extract until as white as possible.
2. Add half the sifted icing sugar and the milk gradually while beating continuously.
3. Add remaining sugar and beat until combined.
4. Remove a small amount, 2-4 tbsp depending on how many cakes you intend to make.
5. Add 2-3 drops of yellow colouring and mix until combined. Put it in the fridge until you need it.
6. Add green food colouring to the remaining buttercream and mix it in. For the green of my tree I used about 1.5 caps.

Tips:
*Mine came out a pretty bright green, which I love, but I think it could look amazing in a really dark green. Simply use more food colouring.
*Powdered food colour creates much more vibrant colours than the liquid style at the supermaket, but they do tend to cost more.
*If you don't want it too sweet, halve the vanilla extract.

White Chocolate Cream:
Ingredients:
120ml thickened cream
150g white chocolate, chopped finely
1 vanilla bean, split

Method:
1. Put chocolate in a small bowl, and place a strainer over the top.
2. Place cream in a small saucepan with the split vanilla bean over a low heat.
3. Bring just to the boil.
4. Pour boiling into the strainer and over the chocolate.
5. Mix constantly until the chocolate has completely melted.
6. Put the bowl into the fridge and leave to cool, preferably over night but for at least 4 hours.
7. When it's time to decorate whip the mixture like you would regular cream.

Tips:
*The smaller the chocolate is diced, the quicker it will melt and the less you'll strain your arm!
*If you haven't cooked with vanilla beans before, when you cut a split in the bean use the edge of the knife to run down the bean and collect all the tasty deliciousness inside. Add that to the cream along with the bean.







Thursday, December 13, 2012

End of Year Book Survey

I gave up my monthly wrap-up posts around June because I didn't feel like I was achieving enough to document it, but now I'm kinda glad because it means I can take part in Jamie's End of Year Book Survey.


So here's a bunch of questions about the books I read this year, the bookish and bloggy things I did, and a couple of things I want to do for next year. Enjoy!


Best in Books 2012

1. Best Book You Read In 2012? (You can break it down by genre if you want)

 Dracula by Bram Stoker,
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

A definite tie. They're completely different books, but both were phenomenal reads and ones that I had put off reading for ages. If you've been umming and ahhhing about either, stop it, just read them!

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn't?

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

While I really liked the series overall, I was really disappointed with the first book in the series. I think it was mostly because of how similar it was to Battle Royale, but it was probably also because of how hyped it was by everyone. Everyone should still read it, but yeah, little disappointed.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012?

Gerald's Game by Stephen King

This was one of the King books I picked up at a book sale, but had never really heard anything about. I ended up freaking loving it (except the ending) and was so relieved to see King write a nuanced and realistic female character for once.

4. Book you recommended to people most in 2012?

The Game of Thrones Series by George R. R. Martin

WHY HAVEN'T YOU GUYS READ THIS YET!! COME ON ALREADY! YOU'LL LOVE IT!

5. Best series you discovered in 2012?

 Locke and Key by Joe Hill (words) Gabriel Rodriguez (art)

This series, you guys, is so god damn good. It is so well-structured, well-written and well-crafted. I am exploding with excitement for the final installment. So good. Seriously.

6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2012?

Joe Hill (Locke and Key), Cormac McCarthy (The Road), Yuvi Zalkow (A Brilliant Novel in the Works) and Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall).

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

Zoo City - Lauren Beukes

The dystopian nature of this book is definitely in my comfort zone, but the YA focus and general style of book definitely isn't one I usually choose for myself. It definitely had its problems, but I really enjoyed it for the most part.

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012?

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

While I had problems with the series and wasn't enthralled with the first book I read them all in a single weekend while I back home in Cairns. If that doesn't equal thrilling and unputdownable then I don't what would!

9. Book You Read In 2012 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year:

Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2012?


11. Most memorable character in 2012?

Carrie (in Carrie by Stephen King)

She's such an interesting and tortured character. I love her.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2012?

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

This book is hauntingly beautiful. It's very dark and extremely grim, but the language is transcendent.

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012?

A Brilliant Novel in the Works by Yuvi Zaklow
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

ABNitW in regards to emotionally chewing me up and spitting me out and Wolf Hall for reigniting a passion of mine for history.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2012 to finally read?

Carrie by Stephen King
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Dracula by Bram Stoker

But seriously, most of them?! Too many books, too little time!

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2012?

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2012?

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel -longest at 651 pages
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett -shortest at 120 pages  (excluding comics)

17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.) Be careful of spoilers!

The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins

I'm pretty sure there were some MAJOR scenes in all three books that made me go WTF, OMG, ALL MY CREYS, and SERIOUSLY?!

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2012 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).

Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

The family dynamic between the Lockes, and the friends that they make are warm, real and complex. Love them.

19. Favorite Book You Read in 2012 From An Author You Read Previously

The Running Man by Stephen King

This book probably ties it with Carrie as my favourite Stephen King book of the year. Really solid story, epic adventure and so much darkness and anger.

20. Best Book You Read That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:

American Vampire by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque and Stephen King (issue one only)

Tom came home with the first trade and was like "Kayleigh, you need to read this. It's Scott Snyder, Stephen King and has awesome non-Twilight-y vampires" He could have just said Stephen King, but whatever I read it and I loved the whole thing.

Book Blogging/Reading Life in 2012 

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2012?

There are a couple. I love that Gabe is finally back and blogging, but I've been a fan of hers for ages. I also really enjoy the blogs of Annabel Smith and Reading Rambo, and a bunch more but it's hard to remember when I started following everyone!

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2012?

It's probably a tie between my review of The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Ugly to Start With by John Michael Cummings. They were two of my favourite reads this year, and I loved trying to get under the skin of the text and really bring the story to life in my review.

3. Best discussion you had on your blog?

The Hunger Games posts probably elicited the most discussion on the blog, and it was always interesting to see how differently people came at the series. But one of my favourites was probably a little one-sided. It was my "7 Ways to Keep Reading While You're Writing a PhD Thesis" and it was very carthartic to work through it all and sort out my work/reading balance.

4. Most thought-provoking review or discussion you read on somebody else’s blog?

Hmmmm, maybe when I spruiked Hunter S. Thompson to absolutely everyone on Laura's (Devouring Texts) blog? Or some of the more social issue related discussion over at Gabe's two blogs (Gabriel Reads and The Mind of Gabe).

5. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?

The Brisbane Writer's Festival is always a highlight, and this year was no different. I got to meet a bunch of authors, bookish volunteers, and see some fascinating talks and presentations.

6. Best moment of book blogging in 2012?

Working out how to balance it with my post-grad studies. It seems like such a small thing, but for awhile there I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to read enough to continue my blog, so it's amazing to be able to do both.

7. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?

Probably my Hunger Games posts for the three books and the film. I loved writing them, and I loved the mini-discussions in the comments sections.

8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?

Can I say all of them? I really want to get to a point where there is more content in the comments than in the reviews. I want to start conversations and debates and really tease apart the book in question - that's something I'll work on for next year.

I was also quote proud of my "Trying to make sense of the book blogger 'verse" post, since it helped me really work through a few issues I was having with the book blog world. So a few more page views would have been nice :)

9. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?

All the bookish etsy stores, I have so many pretty prints, cards, jewellery and paraphernalia in my favourites - I might explode if I don't buy something soon! Seriously, just search for your favourite book/author/film on etsy and you will find the most amazing arts and crafts celebrating them!

10. Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?

Only my Goodreads Books in 2012 challenge. I actually beat my set amount several times and kept raising it. My other two challenges were pretty sad attempts!

Looking Ahead

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2012 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2013?

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

I will get to this one day!!

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2013?

Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

Warren Ellis is a literary god.

3. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging In 2013?

Gain a bigger readership and have larger discussions on my posts. I want a sense of community!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Film Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Released: 2012

Directed by: Stephen Chbosky

Starring: Logan Lerman,
Emma Watson
Ezra Miller

Synopsis: see book review.








________________________________________________________________________

To me, the film version of The Perks of Being a Wallflower was everything the book failed to be. It took the same coming of age story and stream-lined it, aged the protagonist Charlie, and set it all to the perfect soundtrack . By the final half an hour I was so invested in the characters that I was constantly wiping my eyes and trying hard not to sob out loud. I wasn't the only one either, the two girls behind me were openly bawling their eyes out, and a girl in front of me summed up the film during the credits by saying, "Jesus that was sad, good though!"

Fans of the book, don't stress. The film follows the same basic plot as the book. Charlie (played fantastically by Logan Lerman) is still a quiet, awkward boy embarking on his first year of high school. The first friends he makes (outside of his awesome English teacher played by Paul Rudd) are still Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson), and the ending is just as emotional, if not more so, than it was in the book.

What changes is that Charlie no longer seems so much younger than the others. Yes, he's clearly more awkward, naive and innocent than his new friends, but it felt natural for the friendship to grow beyond the older sibling protective dynamic. More importantly, it made it much less weird and awkward that the love interests that blossom, blossom.

 With Sam and Patrick, as well as the rest of the gang, Charlie gets to experience all of the wonders that awaits the odd and eccentric kids at school. We get to see them perform as Rocky Horror plays on the movie screen behind them, we watch Charlie get his first taste of weed, we become infinite with the three of them as they drive through the tunnel. Everything you loved in the book is made visceral and real in the film - it breathes life into a story that, for me, was always slightly lacking that special something.

We also get to see the slow disintegration of Charlie, something which is far darker and more intense in the film than it was in the book. Because the film isn't the same epistolary style (although there is narration in the form of letters from time to time) we see Charlie outside of how Charlie sees himself. We see him struggle to make friends, and then struggle to keep them. We get to experience the absolute lows, and we see the flash of a brief memory that's slowly working its way to the front of Charlie's mind. It becomes far more visceral, and the stakes seem so much greater than they ever did in the book. There's one particular scene towards the end that is so intense that if the movie up until that point had been rubbish it would have been completely redeemed. It's all due to Logan Lerman's phenomenal performance, not only in that scene, but throughout the movie to that point. I'm really looking forward to seeing where that kid goes next.

Because the director of the film is also the book's author, there is very little excluded from the book or added to the film that doesn't make complete sense. Chbosky has had enough time to percolate over that gem of a book and tease out the bits that didn't work, or refine the areas that did. It also means that the vision of the film is so clear. He understands the book and Charlie because he created them, so he knows the exact right song or costume or house- because he was instilling the book with all of these elements long, long ago. And the film does have that perfect little time-capsule feel - a snapshot of a year that Charlie will never forget, or the perfect seasonal mix-tape with The Smith's Sleep on it at least twice.

So regardless of whether you've read the book or not, or even if you liked the book or not, make sure you see this film at the cinema and be sure to take A LOT of tissues with you, because otherwise you'll walk out with tears and snot messing your face up big time.







Monday, December 10, 2012

Monday Links




*I've really been digging the Hawkeye Inititive that's been going on this last week or so. Basically artists have redrawn comic covers exchanging the female for the male character Hawkeye. It's an eye-opener, and here are some of the best. (Via Uproxx)

*I love my books, and I love my shelves - even if they are messy as hell. If you're looking for a present for a bookshelf lover like myself, maybe check out these custom book shelf pictures (Via Ideal Bookshelf)

*More baking goods from me, German gingerbread this time! (via Me)

*Ever Imagined what it'd be like if the artist Norman Rockwell painted the masked inhabitants of Gotham City? No? Well too bad, because I have a link for it anyway! (Via Buzzfeed)

*Has everyone discovered the magic that is Jon Hamm? God I hope so. Anyway, you can now buy a Jon Hamm colouring book. Of course. (Via Incredible Things)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas Baking: Pfeffernussen

Second in my Christmas baking series is again from my Women's Weekly cookbook, and again, yummmmmmmmm. Pfeffernussen are a German biscuit that are a variation of gingerbread. I'm constantly on the lookout for the perfect gingerbread recipe and this is my latest attempt. I'm not sure if this will stay my go to recipe, but it's definitely up there as one of the tastiest spiced biscuits I've ever made/eaten and also one of the most straight-forward and simple to make. I think these would make a perfect gift, packed into a jar with a bit of ribbon around the top, or in a larger collection of different types of gingerbread packaged into a rustic box. Mine didn't come out quite as hard as they're supposed to, but I'm not sure if that was a fault in the recipe or the fact that I'm baking in summer weather with really high humidity levels, so if you test this out let me know how you go!


Pfeffernussen:*

Ingredients:

125g (4 ounces) butter
3/4 cup (165g) brown sugar
1/3 cup (125g) molasses
1 egg
2 1/3 cup (350g) plain (all purpose) flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon finely grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp finely ground black pepper
1/4 tsp bicarb soda (baking soda)
1/2 cup (55g) icing (confectioner's) sugar

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 160 deg C/325 deg F
2. Chop butter and melt in a saucepan over low heat. Add sugar and molasses and stir until combined.
3. transfer to a large bowl and let it cool for 10-15 minutes.
4. Stir in egg, then sifted flour, spices and bicarb soda.
5. Roll into balls and place on baking trays about 3cm apart. Bake for 15 minutes until biscuits are firm to touch.
6. stand biscuits for 10 minutes to cool, and then toss biscuits in icing sugar until completely coated.

Top Tips:

*Molasses can be substituted with treacle.
*These biscuits are supposed to be quite hard for the first day or two after baking, perfect for dipping into coffee or tea.
*I like my gingerbread or spice biscuits to be quite spice-y, and this recipe is a little on the mild side. So if you want to up the spices a bit, I think that'd be a brilliant idea.
*Make sure the mixture is quite cool when you go to roll it into balls and bake, because it'll be very sticky otherwise.







*This recipe comes from the Women's Weekly Christmas Baking Cookbook.



Wednesday, December 5, 2012

2013 Book Challenges

It's that time of year again folks!!


I did pretty poorly this year with my challenges, really, really badly actually. So this time I'm going to go in a different direction. Rather than take on a bunch of challenges and then feel terrible  when I fail to succeed with any of them, I'm going to take on only two challenges and then take part in more read-a-longs,  and read-a-thons. I think that'll work better for me since I'll know at the time of read-a-long sign-up if I have the time and energy, so my chance of success is wayyyyyy up. It'll also give me a chance to get to know with a few more of the bloggers out there!

So on to the challenges that I am taking part in. ...


2013 Reading Challenge

Hosted by: Goodreads 

Timeframe: 1st of Jan - 31st of Dec 2013

Goal: 75 books

Why This One: I've done this one each year I've been blogging. I'm reading anyway, so why not tally them up for a challenge? This is the only one I always manage to succeed with (and more often blitz completely), so it's a good one for my ego!


Eclectic Reader Challenge

Hoted by: Book'd Out

Timeframe: 1st of Jan - 31st of Dec 2013

Goal: 12 books from 12 different genres

Why This One: This one has a specific goal (1 new genre each month) but it still has enough freedom that I can pick and choose titles that appeal to me. I'm hoping this will be enough variety to keep me on track all year. Plus, it'll be fun to move outside my comfort zone.


Crafty Christmas Ideas and Links

I have always enjoyed crafting my own Christmas decorations or gifts, so here are a list of awesome Christmas craft ideas that are amazing, creative, fun, and potentially great gifts. Have fun!


1. Wall Pocket Advent Calendar. It's probably a little to late to try and get this made for this Christmas, but I absolutely love how this project looks and it reminds me of the (much smaller scale) calendar my mum made for our family, which used to house milky ways, skittles and bouncy balls on each day leading up to Christmas. I'm definitely going to make this one next year though, I think it could be a lovely new tradition to start up.  (Via The Crafty Crow)

2. Rolled Paper Ornaments. These look a little trickier, but the effect is sensational. If you have the patience and the skill, these could be a real winner. (Via Paper Plate and Plane)

3. Book Page Flower Ornament. I know some of you wince every time I mention a craft idea that involves cutting up books, but seriously these look wonderful. Although they aren't particularly christmas-y, not all decorations have to be your typical angel, bell or santa! (Via  Under the Table and Dreaming)

4. 49 DIY card ideas. There are some really great ideas here (the photobooth ones are my favourite) that if I hadn't already sent out my cards I'd be doing right now. Whether you like to stamp, sew, craft, cook there is an idea for you! (Via Buzzfeed)

5. Hot Cocoa tree ornament. Possibly one of the cutest gift ideas I've ever seen. I've always loved the gifts of cocoa or cookie recipes layered in a jar ready for use, but this one really hits another level! Placing the cocoa in a transparent tree ornament with a little snowman? To die for! Just a pity the humidity would never allow me to try this one out :( (Via Lucy at Craftberry Bush)

6. Origami Garland. This particular tutorial could be replicated as is, or you could do your own thing and take the stars and make them into single decorations to hang from the tree or window, or into long sweeping garlands draped across doorways or mantels. The possibilities are endless! (Via Cee Lew)

7. Recycled CD Holiday Ornament. For those of you who like to recycle and reuse old items, this one would be perfect! Again, it's more a guide to show you the possibilities, but whether you replicate their idea specifically, or do your own thing I'm sure it'd look a treat. (Via Fave Crafts)

8. 33 Creative Ornament ideas.  Some of these are dead easy, some look like they need high levels of patience and skill, but either way they'd make gorgeous additions to any tree or home. (Via Buzzfeed)

9.  Christmas Carol Ornament. This pretty silver ornament uses sheet music to create a personalised decoration, but you could just as easily use a book, or even a comic for something a little brighter and wilder. This one is quite similar to the tutorial I'm going to put up soon, so I think I'll try this one out since it'll match so well with my other homemade decorations! (Via Fave Crafts)

10. Mosaic Decoration. I have my own bauble DIY coming up, but I had to share this one too because they look amazing. In fact, these could easily be made on a larger scale and used as decorations throughout the year if you really wanted. Match them to your Christmas colour scheme, or make them in your family/friend's favourite colour as a personalised gift.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower 
Written by: Stephen Chbosky

Published: 1999

Synopsis: Charlie is a freshman. And while he's not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But Charlie can't stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.

_________________________________________________________________________________

I only decided to read this book because of how much I loved the film (I know, shock, horror, sacrilige!). I had always heard praise for it, and I even recommended it to my mum when she was looking for a book to buy my sister (who loved it as well) but I never felt a desire to read it, or to even know much about it. I knew it was a coming of age story, that it was about a "wallflower" and that it was a little darker than your typical teenage story, but still, it never pulled me in. And now that I've seen the film (which I loved) and read the book...well, I could have gone without reading the book. That isn't to say the book is bad, just that I found the film to be far, far better. I'll get into more of that in my review of the film, so forget about that for the moment and I'll discuss the book beloved seemingly by everyone.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a fairly typical coming of age story told in the epistolary style. Each "chapter" is a letter from Charlie, the protagonist, to an unnamed friend. Because the recipient doesn't know Charlie or any of the people involved (though perhaps could, if the right details were provided) the letters are unabashedly personal and read more like a journal, but unlike a journal these "can't be found". Which is pretty clever if you ask me. Especially considering Charlie discusses love, and friends, and drinking, and taking drugs, and masturbation, and depression and homosexuality and a bunch of other things 15 year olds don't typically wish to discuss with their parents.

Throughout the book Charlie writes essays for his English teacher about the books he's given, and at time it feels like the letters are another form of essay. He's always present, but also always slightly removed from it all, as though he's discussing his life as if it were a book he'd read, or a film he'd watched. It's an interesting element of the book, but also links into my biggest problem, Charlie himself. Charlie experienced some pretty intense emotional trauma early in life, and it's something that continually haunts him and threatens to tear his life apart. Because of this trauma, Charlie isn't a normal boy. He's quiet, reserved, emotional (OMG SO MANY TEARS) and it seems that the events of his youth stunted his mental and emotional self. This is where my problem is, because of the emotional turbulence (I guess?) he doesn't seem like a 15 year old. The writing style and comprehension of this supposedly 15 year seems much closer, in my opinion, to that of a 10 year old. Furthermore, he seems to have absolutely no self-awareness, no filter system and a very surgical way of looking at life. He reminded me a lot of Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, not so obviously autistic, but also not a normal* (though traumatised) 15 year old. It just didn't gel for me, especially when a good part of the book involves his English teacher giving him A's and encouraging him to do his own reading and essay writing at home and complimenting him on his natural writing talent. That just didn't come across to me in the letters, they were clumsy, and child-like and not at all like the short stories or essays my advanced English class were writing at his age. I do think that this was the fault of Stephen Chbosky not knowing quite how to write a 15 year old character who was supposed to be naive and troubled. Maybe he was too old at the time of writing the book (he was 29 when it was published), or maybe it's because his education is in filmic writing but whatever the reason, the character of Charlie just doesn't sit right for me.

Okay, now that I've gotten past my major issue with the novel I can focus more on the rest of the book, and the bits that did work. As I said before, it's a fairly typical coming of age tale. Charlie has to navigate through his first of year of high school, which is hard enough already, while still coming to terms with the death of his best friend Michael and dealing with puberty and making new friends and experiencing the highs and lows of the dating world. It's turbulent, cringe-worthy at times, and completely relateable. I mean, I know I had life wayyyyyy easier than poor Charlie (or any of the characters to be honest) but I still get the anxiety, fear and apprehension that comes with trying to work out that difficult path between child- and adult-hood. As he begins to become friends with a group of seniors it becomes clear that Charlie isn't the only person to suffer great loss or trauma and it affected them all deeply and shaped their characters, but it seems to shake Charlie's world to an extent that he can't move past. From early on in the book we're aware that Charlie's best friend committed suicide the year before, and that he struggled a great deal after the death of his aunt, but there are greater depths that are revealed as the book continues, and perhaps it wasn't so much these particular events but something about Charlie which made these events so monumental and hard to get past. In the final letter we find the missing puzzle piece, and he, Charlie, begins to make more sense.

While Charlie is clearly the focus of the novel, his new best friends Sam and Patrick are fascinating in their own particular ways. Sam, the victim of sexual abuse as a child, is always falling in love with the wrong guys, is loud and gregarious, while also battling with crippling self-esteem issues. Her step-brother Patrick is outgoing and the life of the party, but he's also secretly dating and in love with the star quarterback who refuses to come out of the closet. It's for Patrick I feel for the most, being different and being in love are both hard enough in high school, but to have to hide your reason for happiness because that person is ashamed and afraid? I don't even know how you do that, it would be earth shattering, every single day. The other smaller characters, Mary Elizabeth, Alice, Bob,  Bill; they all have their moments in the sun, and they all play an extremely important role in helping Charlie develop and mature both as a teenager and as someone struggling with a dark past. It's the camaraderie of this group of misfits and wallflowers that makes the book interesting and heart warming, even though I have a hard time accepting that a group of seniors would openly accept a freshman into their permanent circle of friends, especially one who seems so much younger than 15. However, to be fair, the group does seem to have a certain level of protective older brother/sister - younger brother feelings, especially since Charlie is able to open to these older brothers and sisters in a way he could never truly open up to his own brother and sister.

This book covers a tumultuous year filled with fun and and risk-taking and lows and emotional breakdowns and foot-in-mouth-moments, and it does a lot of this really well. But the clumsy first person narration (though I loved the letters themselves) really made it hard for me to love this book, or to really feel any of the moments which were supposed to rock me to my core. I really, really, really wanted to love this book, and while I admire what Stephen Chbosky was trying to do, and there are some great parts to it, I'm just feeling incredibly disappointed.




*I don't like to use the word normal there, but I'm not sure how else to convey it. Sorry guys.





Top 10 Tuesday: Dear Santa...


Top 10 Tuesday is hosted over at The Broke and The Bookish.

This week: 10 books I wouldn't mind santa leaving under the tree.




Guys, I love Christmas. There's a growing malaise amongst my friends where it just isn't cool to be over excited about gifts and biscuits and roast dinner and santa hats and tacky Christmas music.


Me too Doctor, me too!

Bah Humbug, I say!! Christmas is wonderful, and while I love giving gifts (finding that perfect gift is one of the best feelings) I don't mind receiving a  present or two either! So here's my list - mum, dad, Tom -- are you guys paying attention?


1. Bring Up the Bodies - Hilary Mantel
A month or so ago I read the huuuuuge Wolf Hall which proceeds this new release and loved it. This one isn't quite as terrifying in size, so I highly doubt it'll take me a full year to get to this one if I am lucky enough to be gifted it.

2. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
The conceit of a book spanning multiple generations and centuries and intersecting stories is right up my alley.

3. Animal Farm - George Orwell
Hi, my name is Kayleigh, I'm a book blogger and I've never read Animal Farm. *Hi Kayleigh* It's about time I rectify this issue right?

4. The Casual Vacancy - J.K Rowling
Because duh, J.K Rowling!

5. Book of Lost Things - John Connolly
I was captured by the cover of this book at the bookstore a year or so ago, but I've never gotten around to buying myself a copy. Santa, please?

6. The Sea is my Brother - Jack Kerouac
As a Kerouac fan it's a real embarrassment that I never picked this one up, no time like the present though right? (see what a did there, heyyy hey!!)

7. Big Fish - Daniel Wallace
I fell in love with the film adaptation (hello Ewan McGregor!!) and didn't discover it was based off of a book until a couple of years ago. I can't wait to read the magic that the film produced.

8. Skag Boys - Irvine Welsh
I've read Trainspotting, I've read Porno, and I loved them both. It's time to round out the trilogy.

9. Pnin - Vladimir Nabokov
I've always wanted to read more Nabokov, and Pnin always caught my eye. A beautiful old edition would be a welcome addition until my Christmas tree.

10. The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula Le Guin
I've always loved science fiction and fantasy, but I've never really explored the genres at length. Le Guin seems to be almost a god amongst fans, so I think it's remiss of me to not have read her so far.

And if I can get in a sneaky number 11, I'd ask Santa for a slightly larger, non-book present under my Christmas tree...

Because...why not?!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Monday Links



*^Books! Papercraft! The making of Penguins Christmas gift campaign!

*Matthew Dunckley on racism, politics, and "illegal" refugees and taking a stand. (Via The Anti Bogan)

*Stephen King's Under the Dome is being made into a TV show! I haven't read this one yet, but I don't care, I'm excited about anything King related!! (Via Uproxx)

*The internet went crazy last week when early set shots from Catching Fire were released. Can't blame them though, I'M SO EXCITED! (via Parachutes from Panem)

*Ellie over at Curiousity Killed the Bookworm collated all the publisher advent events for you. Go make the most of them! (Via Curiosity Killed the Bookworm)

*I shared a recipe for the most delicious shortbread last week, and if you haven't tried to make it yourself yet you're CRAZY (Via ME!)

*I've shared the link to Literally Unbelievable before, but here's a quiz of 'Real or Onion'?  Some are quite surprising, let me know what score you get! [I got 14/20] (Via Buzzfeed)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Christmas Baking: Shortbread biscuits with caramel centre

Last year I was super broke come Christmas time, so when deciding on a present for Tom's parents and grandparents I baked a bunch of biscuits for them and put them into pretty reusable biscuit jars. In anticipation of a similar broke status and desire to bake (what is it about Christmas that makes baking so much more wonderful?) I picked up a copy of Women's Weekly Christmas Baking, one of the greatest recipe books ever. For anyone ever wanting to bake or cook, check out Ebay for these cookbooks (they have one for absolutely everything, and their huge COOK cookbook is out of this world), because Women's Weekly (a magazine here in Australia) triple tests their recipes in different residential ovens. This is important, dear friends, because commercial ovens operate completely differently to the one in your kitchen, which is why you've possibly had unsuccessful attempts at cooking those fancy recipes from those fancy chefs (can you sense my frustration here?). Anyway, recipes that work + Christmas + baking + rustic little gift wrap options = super fantastic and awesome. Although I really wanted to test out the eggnog macarons, I decided to test something that looked a little easier and just as tasty. And since they were so goddamn good, I'm going to share them for you here now. These are my third batch of them, and they're definitely getting a little better each time, so if you don't make melt in the mouth shortbread the first time around DON'T PANIC!

Shortbread Biscuits with Caramel filling*:



Ingredients:

395g (12 1/2 ounces) canned sweetened condensed milk
250g (8 ounces) butter (softened)
3/4 cup icing/confectioner's sugar (sifted)
1 1/2 cup plain/all purpose flour (sifted) - I actually added a little less than this, maybe 1 or 2 tbsp less.
1/2 cup wheaten cornflour/cornstarch (sifted)
2 tsp ground cinnamon

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 160 deg C/325 deg F and line some trays with baking paper.
2. Beat softened butter and icing sugar until light and fluffy.
3. Stir in the flour, cornflour and cinnamon, in two batches. Make sure it's completely mixed. For melt in the mouth shortbread it needs to be nice and buttery, so if it looks crumbly it won't turn out as nice as it should.
4. Dust your hands in flour and start rolling the mixture into small balls (about 1.5cm diameter) and place them onto the trays. These don't expand too much, but you should probably leave about an inch or so in between each biscuit.
5. Dip a fork into flour (it makes sure it doesn't stick to the biscuits) and gently press each ball down a little.
6. Bake for about 15 minutes (but check at 10 just in case). Stand the shortbread on the tray for about 5 minutes until they cool just a touch, and then transfer them over to wire trays.

To Make Caramel: 

This can be done either before or after the biscuits have been made. Once the caramel is in them though they don't last as long so if you're making the biscuits ahead of time, leave the caramel to the day of or day before they're needed.

1.  preheat oven to 220 deg C/425 deg F.
2. Pour condensed milk into a shallow oven-proof dish and cover in foil. Place this dish into a roasting pan or similar. Add boiling water to the pan/dish until it comes about halfway up the side of the dish with the caramel inside. This water needs to remain at around this height, so be sure to keep an eye on it and top it up if need me. Otherwise you'll burn the caramel, which will make you sad.
3. Bake for about 1.5 hours (check caramel every half hour or so) until the condensed milk is a nice brown, or y'know caramel, colour.
4. Remove and leave to cool until it's needed. When you're ready to fill the biscuits, whisk the caramel until it's smooth and then go for gold!

Tips: 

*Concentrate the caramel to the centre of the biscuit, because once the lid goes on the caramel will spread and possibly dribble over the side.
*If the dough mixture is a little soft (this'll probably be a problem only for those of us in the sunny Southern Hemisphere) put the bowl into the fridge for 5 minutes and it'll firm up.
*Use a teaspoon so that you can get the balls as similar in size as possible. It makes matching them up a whole lot easier.
*Add some orange zest, vanilla or another spice to the dough in the butter/sugar stage for something a little different.
*Leave the caramel out and make larger biscuits for something less sweet but still super tasty.



*This recipe is adapted slightly from the original recipe in the Women's Weekly Christmas Baking cookbook, but the recipe remains theirs.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Review: The Jazz Cage by Ray Chen Smith

The Jazz Cage 
Written by: Ray Chen Smith

Published: 2012

Synopsis: It is 1924—sixty years after the South’s victory in the Civil War.

Frank McCluey, bounty hunter for the mob, is sent to help out a wealthy Virginian bootlegger. Frank’s job: track down two female slaves who’ve run away from the millionaire.

But the mob has made a bad choice. Instead of capturing the women, Frank decides to help them escape to Canada, his mission now aided by the pint-sized but steel-willed runaway Della and the outlawed Underground Railroad.

Soon Della and Frank become the target of slave catchers, cops, gangsters, and most chilling of all, a Confederate agent nicknamed the Hound for his ability to always sniff out and kill his prey
_________________________________________________________________________________

Set in an alternate 1920s America where the South won the Civil War and seceded from the North, the Jazz Cage offers a dynamic tale of secrets, mobsters, and race relations.

The secession both changes everything and nothing. Arnold Rothstein is still a big name in the underworld, jazz still plays and the twenties still roar but, and this is a pretty big but, America is divided in two and an entire group of people are subjugated and refused the most basic of rights. This changes everything, even for those in the "free" north, and above all else, this book provides a chilling alternative look at what could have been. And while I'm not American, this change has a knock-on effect - if America was divided, would they have joined WWII? If they had, would they have the same power? Would the South have joined the allies or the axis? Would racial segregation and inequality have ever ended? How would this affect other countries who have had their own issues with inequality? Would America have gone to the moon? Would the Cold War have happened? The Vietnam war? Would a black man ever be made president? Sure, these issues aren't actually raised, as such, in the book but they are implicit the second history was shifted and the ramifications add weight to a story that otherwise is much narrower in scope.

The book is paced fairly well, delivering past glimpses into their lives only when necessary to uncover another dimension to the character. When we're first introduced to the three protagonists, Frank, Cece and Della, their characters seem fairly prosaic. Frank works for the mob, and understandably seems to be lacking the capacity for basic emotions or empathy, unless to do with the young and impetuous Isaac, who rarely leaves his side. He seems tired, bored and unable to muster a single care for anyone else. Della and Cece are both escaped slaves, Della is strong and independent and fiercely protective of the young and vulnerable Cece, who, through systematic abuse and trauma, has the emotional capacity of a child. However as the book continues you learn that none of them are quite so easy to define. All three have pasts which have lead them to build walls around themselves, to hide their true selves away from further harm. As the story continues with the three of them together, they struggle behind their individual walls, wondering whether it's safe to lower the gangway or if, like everyone else they've ever met, this new travelling companion(s) is going to take advantage and lead them to ruin.

It all comes down, in the end, to trust. If you're a slave who has spent your whole life being abused and lied to by white men, how can you truly trust the pudgy white guy who says he can get you to Canada? And when a mobster who is hired to capture you and take you back to your owner, how can you ever believe that he wants to help you? And if you were always closed off to the world, until a chance meeting with a captivating and wilful woman changed everything and then left too soon, would you be trusting of any feelings that might begin to bubble below the surface? Letting down the walls, trusting, believing that when people say something they actually mean it, it's all symptomatic of this alternate world and the environment they've been forced to live in.

The book explores all of this as Frank, Della and Cece struggle to make their way up to Canada. With the disgruntled slave owner, the mob, the police and their lack of trust working against them, the three protagonists take one hell of a ride. It's packed with action, adventure, humour and it's thought-provoking. It isn't the perfect book, but it has all the ingredients for a good book and Ray Chen Smith mixes them together just about right.




Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday Links

*I attempted to put my thoughts into words about the passing of author Bryce Courtenay on Friday, but perhaps I should leave it to the people who do it for a living. Here's one of the Australian newspaper's obituaries. (Via Herald Sun)

*John Mellencamp and Stephen King have a musical coming out next year. Need I say more? (Via AV  Club)

*Rather than post them myself, head over to Belle's Bookshelf to watch all the trailers for the latest books to be turned into films. Some look pretty promising. (Via Belle's Bookshelf)

*I've just gotten back into True Blood (I watched season 1-2 a year or so ago) and I have a lot of feels and thoughts. Comment below or tweet me if you have a similar urge.






Saturday, November 24, 2012

RIP Bryce Courtenay, an amazing author



The African/Australia author Bryce Courtenay passed away yesterday at the age of 79. There have been many, many authors who have captured my mind and my imagination, but Bryce Courtenay was the first author to really captivate me as an Australian. Although several of his books (and perhaps his most famous) take place in his home country of South Africa, the books set in Australia were game-changing. They showed a side of Australia that I never saw growing up in the cities and suburbs, and that was definitely absent from Home and Away and Neighbours, yet they felt unmistakably Australian. I recognised the yearning, the love of the outdoors, the bigger than life hopes and aspirations  They were things that spoke to me, as an Australian, in such a primal way that I'm having trouble putting them into words. He told the story of the average Australian, and of the average Australian family. He told their stories so well, that some of his characters feel more real to me than people I grew up with. He made me fall in love with boxing. Or at least, in literature he made me fall in love with boxing and recognise the poetry and beauty that exists within it, although I've never managed to find that in an actual game of boxing. He made me want to go to Africa, and to learn more about plants. He opened my eyes to the "secret" atrocities perpetrated on Australian soldiers in Sandakan, something that was hushed up for many years, and sadly aren't known as well today as they should be. He never wrote a one sided character, and their flaws made them so easy to love, and then hate, and then understand. He made me cry in every single one of his books.  Four Fires is still one of the most intense and wonderful books I've ever read, and every time I reread it I feel like I'm going home to visit my family. April Fool's Day was the most honest autobiography I've ever read, and it broke my heart at how hard on himself Courtenay was, but at the same time I can't help but feel proud that he never took the easy way out, he owned up to his actions. Bryce Courtenay is the kind of man who you need to read up on. He's larger than any of his books, and has lived a life that has been weaved into many of his stories which perhaps is why they live on the page so vividly.

Australia lost a favourite author and adopted son yesterday, he will be missed.

Friday, November 23, 2012

TV Review: The Tudors (2007)

What pushed me to finally read Wolf Hall (and you should all read it, seriously, do it now) was finishing the Showtime series The Tudors, and being desperate for more. Partly because the series reawakened an interest of mine for English history and partly because it failed to deliver on quite a few fronts and I needed some kind of satisfying conclusion. That's not to say it's a bad series, but it's rather one-sided and trips over its own feet from time to time.

The biggest problem the show struggles with is sex. Undoubtedly the original pitch for this show was "attractive ye olde English King has sex with everything that moves, and then beheads bitches and stuff". Yes, Henry the VIII had 6 wives and countless mistresses, but the problem with centring a series around sex is that it makes it very difficult to show the characters in a bad light. No one wants to see the sex king get old, or invalid, or deal with the paperwork associated with being the head of an empire. It also, unless you're a porn addict, gets old pretty quick.

The series takes place between 1491 and 1547, and it's only in the last episode that Jonathan Rhys Meyers looks significantly older. Before then it wasn't advantageous to have a lecherous old king with the young women he chose as brides, not really TV friendly. Sure, they changed his hair style, put him in slightly bulkier clothes and added a few creases around his eyes during the last season or two, but considering how much weight Henry VIII gained and how gross history reports he became it's kind of laughable. Not to mention the Pantomime-esque old man voice Meyers employs to get across his old age.

"old" Henry VIII
As someone watching the show for the history and not just the sex, the lack of aging makes it extremely difficult to tell how much time has passed. Is it a matter of weeks, months or years between Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves? Who knows, since EVERYONE LOOKS THE SAME. It also doesn't help that aside from Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon who get 2 seasons, each of the other queens get about 4-5 episodes each. This means they're basically cardboard cut-outs there to  move the story along for the king, but with very little personality or motivation of their own. Because the show isn't badly written though, you get these bright little glimpses at who the queen could be if they were given the time and space to develop properly as a character. Yes, aside from the first two queens the others didn't have lengthy posts as Queen but they had more than enough time to have a personality.

BUT, complaints aside, this isn't a bad show. In fact, it's quite a good show. I'm not sure I'd say I'm a Jonathan Rhys Meyers fan, but Sam Neil (Cardinal Wolsey), Henry Cavill (Charles Brandon) and Maria Doyle Kennedy (Catherine of Aragon), amongst others, were unbelievably good and really elevated the program to great heights. Even the singer Joss Stone who played Anne of Cleves was good, something I had not expected when I saw her name listed on IMDB.

And once the Anne Boleyn story is finished, the show manages to look wider than their court, especially in relation to the riots and systematic execution of countless Englishmen/women/children who didn't agree with Henry as head of church. Prior to that, the break from church was mostly seen as it related to the union of Anne and Henry and the whispers that abounded in court. After that, the realities set in, and the whole disastrous event is beautifully and heartbreakingly played out on the screen.


Visually is where this show hits its greatest heights. the costumes are phenomenal and subtly reflect the history and future of each character, the locations are selected with care and the composition of the shots and editing choices clearly were meticulously crafted. The shots outside of London were always great examples of this, but perhaps it was the executions that best reflected the care and talent that went into this show. The monologues that each character gave before death were some of the best writing of the show, but visually, wow, visually they really hit it out of the park. The death of Catherine Howard, in particular, stood out as both tragic and beautiful when I watched it, and utterly captivating.


I guess it was a bit of an experiment, an attempt to bank on the popularity of history (especially when it involves sex) and translate the big screen events such as Elizabeth to TV. Ultimately I'd say that in spite of the flaws, the over-sexed narrative and over-attractive (and youthful) cast and historical inaccuracies aside, the series was a success and worth a watch. Just be ready to roll your eyes and cringe a few times.

death comes riding.





Thursday, November 22, 2012

Christmas happenings on Nylon Admiral

Hello friends!

I know things have been a little quiet on here lately (life y'know) but to make up for it, and because I love Christmas oh so much, I'm going to be posting a Christmas recipe every Friday starting next week, and a few other Christmas related posts (like my DIY decoration post last year) scattered here and there.

Hope you all enjoy them as much as I'm enjoying putting them together!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall

Written by: Hilary Mantel

Published: 2009

Synopsis: England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the Pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey's clerk, and later his successor. Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events.

Ruthless in pursuit of his own interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.
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A month or so ago I listed Wolf Hall on my Top 10 Tuesday books-I-should-read-but-holy-shit-they-terrify-me-and-i-just-don't-think-I-can-do-it list. A few weeks later I decided to man up and get a forklift to carry the book down off my bookcase and crack open the cover. And what happened? Well, once again I realised how ridiculous it is to let size or content scare you away, because it is almost always an AMAZING book that you're missing out on.

Like every book to every be written about England in the 16th century, Wolf Hall deals with the soap-opera that is King Henry VIII, but unlike the others that came before, that's really peripheral action. What this book is truly about is Thomas Cromwell, a man few people have more of a shadow of knowledge about. Typically he is reduced to an over-the-top villain, someone who manipulated and ployed and took pleasure destroying the lives and families of people he opposed. But who really believes that? How often do you come across a person who is wholly good or wholly evil, especially in history? This book takes you back to the start, right back to when Cromwell was a small boy with a penchant for fights, and tries to unravel the mystery wrapped in an enigma that is Thomas Cromwell.

Now, this isn't to say that Henry and his lovely (*cough, cough*) wife Anne don't feature heavily in this book. They do and they must, considering how intricately entwined Cromwell and Anne's rise to favour is. But it purposely shies away from just being another tell all tale, and dissects how much both the King and Anne grew to rely on Cromwell, even while he was still just a clerk for Cardinal Wolsey. Further, the relationship between Anne and Henry, which for all accounts seems to have consistently been unstable at best, mirrors the instability of Cromwell's career (and anyone else's I suppose). It was so easy to fall out of favour with the king, as we saw with Wolsey when he was unable to secure a church sanctioned divorce, or More when he refused to accept the switch in church head. The King was able to lift you to great heights, with him you could transform from blacksmith's son to King's chief of council or from lady to Queen, but if you fail to give him whatever it is he desires, sons, loyalty, money, youth...well, let's just hope you aren't too fond of your neck.

Moving away from Henry and Anne though, this book (I think anyway) does a stellar job filling the blanks and creating a man who isn't simply two-dimensional but is full of contradictions, and ill-made decisions, and pride and folly and a love for small dogs he calls Bella; all of those good and not so good things that make us human. Whether it's factually correct I don't know, although I know Mantel is a stickler for research, but I'm more than happy to allow for some creative allowances in order to open up a character who was always so private. One of the real beauties of this book, is that we're shown several sides of Cromwell. There's the merchant, the lawyer, the mentor, the lowly born man rising through the ranks, the confidant, the husband and father who loves his family more than the world;
"She almost never sees him; why is he here? But she trusts him and lets him lift her, without protest, into his arms. Against his shoulder she tumbles at once into sleep, her arms flung around his neck, the crown of her head tucked beneath his chin"
But what I loved most about him, in the book anyway, is how preoccupied with his past he is and how others perceive him. Sure, he hides it well, but there's a seething rage barely contained any time anyone mentions his early life as the son of a blacksmith (or one of the many rumours circulating about him) and a barely covered glee when one such person gets knocked down a peg or two. He tries to be a gentleman, mostly for the advantage of his son and wards, but he can't escape his past as a angry and violent young man, and after overhearing a young musician describe him as having the face of a murderer he returns to this description at times of low self-esteem.
"I see how you would look like a lawyer. Not like a murderer, no. But if you will forgive me, master, you always looks like a man who knows how to cut up a carcase"
 When I first sat down and started reading this book I was a little dismayed. I found the style confronting, most likely because it has quite a modern bent but also for the first chapter or two the narration is quite removed from the action (almost like recounting a dream) so I felt so peripheral to the story and unable to get a decent hold on it. Luckily, this style settles down a bit during the guts of the story which takes place between 1520-1535. Or maybe I just got used to it. One thing that did consistently trip me up was Mantel's use of 'he' as interchangable with 'Cromwell' but then also using is as a personal pronoun to describe other people. It means having to re-read sections to work out if 'he' is Cromwell, or perhaps More, or King Henry, or Cromwell's son, or the pope or...well you get the picture. Also, and this isn't the fault of Mantel, why must everyone be called Thomas, Mary and Henry. Seriously, there are maybe four characters who don't share these first names. And when Mantel then goes on to introduce a character as Thomas More, then just Thomas, then he or Duke of Windsor (which I know More wasn't, but EXAMPLES) all in the space for half a page...well, confusion reigned.

But anyway,  I really, really liked this monster of a book and can't wait to get my hands on the sequel Bring in the Bodies. If you don't like historical fiction, I doubt this one is for you, since part of the attraction is seeing the events of that era through fresh eyes and delving into a well-known, but little understood character. But who knows, the strength of the writing style, characterisation and content (there's a fair bit about life, tradition and relationships in the 16th century) might be enough to pull you over into our side (team historical fiction!). For those of you who do like historical fiction, this is a fresh, interesting and captivating look at a subject that I usually view as equal measures tiring (another tv series/movie/book? Really?) and intriguing. And if you don't come out the other side kinda loving Cromwell then you clearly read the wrong book!

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