Monthly Archives: July 2011

Book Famine, White Chocolate and Raspberry Blondie Feast

I had lots of plans for how I would spend the six weeks living alone. One idea was Pilates every other day to sort out the book belly before it became a problem but I ended up making these instead. Exercise has never really been my thing.

Yum, that is all

They are really easy and taste absolutely amazing. I have to take them to work because I’ve already eaten about half.

Ingredients

  • 200g salted butter
  • 300g golden caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 200g plain flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 150 g raspberries
  • 150g chopped white chocolate

 

Method

  1. Melt the butter over a very low heat to avoid the salt burning, then when it’s all clear, stir in half the white chocolate.
  2. Cream the sugar and the eggs together until they are fluffy, then fold in the chocolate mixture, vanilla extract and the plain flour to make a thick batter.
  3. Pour the batter into a brownie tin then stud with the remaining chocolate and the raspberries.
  4. Bake at gas mark 4/160 Celsius for 40 minutes or until a fork comes out clean.

 

I’m between books at the moment. I finished Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin yesterday and can’t decide what I should move on to. It’s beginning to worry me. I had to take a magazine on the bus this morning… I don’t know how I’ll cope tomorrow.

 

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time- Yasutaka Tsutsui

Tonight I find myself alone, my boyfriend/housemate/tech support (call him what you will, he answers to most names) being away for work for six weeks. This also leaves me alone to clean for the poor innocents who are being brought around to view our flat tomorrow with a view to taking over renting when we move into our actual house which we will (fingers crossed) finish buying in August.

The part of this cleaning which might interest you involves rediscovering the contents of the suitcase I took on my work trip to Berlin at the start of June. Beyond that it explains where lots of my clothes had gone, beyond that the raisins were still edible, you might be interested to hear about the atrocity that I picked up in Gatwick Airport for my flight out.

If you are among those who judge a book by its cover (and we all are to a greater or lesser extent, that’s why publishers pay cover designers, marketers etc to come up with something appealing) you will appreciate the initial appeal of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. An attractive young lady apparently asleep on a pillow of chamomile flowers, an exotic font for the title, heck, an interesting title even. That’s before you pick the book up and feel the special cover lamination which is very slightly rubbery, pleasantly so, which I would take into work for people to feel, to love, to consider for our books if it wouldn’t mean letting on to the office that I’d bought such a book because (dear readers) this book is an abomination.

The book is translated from a novel originally written in Japanese and derived from a series of instalments written for a student magazine. In 1967. It has since been adapted into graphic novels, anime films and even a TV series, but this is translated from the original novel. And it shows.

Both description and dialogue were wooden, though that might be a fault of the translation, and the plot is more dated than anything else I’ve ever read, except maybe pony club stories when I was about seven. It’s meant to be written for young adults but I don’t think it would keep an average eleven year old occupied for very long (that isn’t any sort of hyperbole- I taught English at a secondary school for two years, remember…) let alone a teen with a million and one other things on the go.

I got it into my head at the time of reading that this had been translated from a graphic novel. As a comic it might work well. As a novel it was too fragmented and shallow to have any real appeal to me.

Lucky Bunny- Jill Dawson

Lucky Bunny follows Queenie Dove from her birth in 1933 to her beautiful, neglectful mother Moll and chancer father “Lucky Boy Tommy” in 1933, through a life smeared with crime, passion and fear. Something of a modern buildungsroman, Queenie is a criminal Jane Eyre, though instead of witnessing her growth as a good Christian, we see refine her criminal craft and expertise in trickery Queenie through evacuation, borstal and prison. Formidably intelligent, hopelessly naive and touchingly brave she struggles for the better things in life.

Once again Jill Dawson’s characterisation is excellent, proving that the authentic voices in The Great Lover were no fluke. The spectrum of characters are colourful, yet credible and so recognisable you can feel an ache in your bones- I felt genuine pain for Queenie’s downtrodden Nan. Dawson is so in character as she writes you wonder whether she hasn’t trained as an actress, the only other explanation for such apparent ease in assuming a role being that she draws on past lives, which makes the dialogue authentic and pacey, though the characters names are slightly clichéd- why is it violent Italian lovers are often called Tony and tarts with hearts are almost exclusively Stellas?

Despite the characters names, the story is original. Why is it that in crime novels set during this period women are often the Molls and the Mamas of the piece? Inspired by the Green Bottles, a glamorous group of shoplifters who help raise her,  Queenie challenges this role using her brains to take herself from small time shop lifter to big time heister; though as the spoils grow bigger the risks grow higher, as we are reminded with a reference to the true story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed in the UK.

I really enjoyed this book, the narrative voice was refreshing, Dawson has brought a gritty period of British history alive with sex appeal, glamour and flair. After the dazzling and original build up, I found the ending of this book a little trite, though I can appreciate that others might find it exciting and daring- a risk you take when rooting your novel so firmly and vibrantly in historical events.

I was very kindly sent a review copy of this novel, but should you wish to read it the book will be published in August 2011 and is currently available for pre-order. For more on Jill Dawson’s writing and her work with Gold Dust, the mentoring scheme for writers visit here.

Anyone Else Sick of Harry Potter?

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the books and I’m sure that one day they will have a special place in my heart again but if I hear one more person say, “Waaaah! Waaaah! It’s the end of my childhood!” I will probably punch something. You’re half way to fifty, grow the hell up before you end up like the boy in that Rachel Bilson film Waiting for Forever

Because for me, HP ended with the books. I haven’t watched any of the films since Order of the Phoenix because Daniel Radcliffe’s face irritated me to the point of murder and I’m not sure I can be bothered to catch up. So thank you, Jon Cozart, for saying goodbye without taking things to seriously. See Jon’s video below and follow him on twitter at @JonCozart.

The Last Time They Met- Anita Shreve

These beauteous forms,

Through a long absence, have not been to me

As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:

But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din

Of towns and cities, I have owed to them

In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,

Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;

And passing even into my purer mind,

With tranquil restoration- Tintern Abbey- Wordsworth

When Linda Fallon and Thomas Janes meet at a conference reception in Toronto, it is the first time they have seen each other in twenty-six years and each has been marked by age and personal tragedy. The novel moves backwards in time, starting at the age of fifty-two to follow the lovers through time and across continents, exploring the passion that pulls them together and the circumstances that have forced them apart.

While I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve spotted that I quite like a nice, twisted love story in which the characters get their feelings trampled but still love one another to the point of self-destruction… often because of their own character flaws. Regardless of what that says about me, Shreve does not disappoint on this score. Linda is reticent, filled with catholic guilt and a sense of being unworthy. Thomas is simultaneously direct and evasive, wanting beauty where in reality there can only be suffering.

The reverse chronological order is interesting – almost an inverse of The Prelude by Wordsworth to which Thomas refers as a teen, and which Wordsworth intended almost to track his own poetic development- an important theme in this novel. I would imagine challenging for the writer to create this type of chronology effectively with decisions of what to reveal and what to conceal in order for the story to compel while still having impact when you reach the early life of the characters. Following the characters from middle age, to their years as young adults, to their teenage years, Shreve has managed this literary peep show with aplomb. Despite thinking I knew how the novel would end, I was left shaking and this was not just the fever I find myself confined to bed with. It takes a certain cunning to work a shock ending that quickly and effectively (though if you will analyse in depth it doesn’t always add up and some of the dialogue is… interesting), and Shreve evidently has bags of talent.

*Spoilers ahead*

I’m clearly not the only person to think this. I recognised the name of Linda Fallon the character as that of a romance author I’d spotted around and about. A little googling reveals that this is the pseudonym of Linda Winstead Jones, though I can’t pin point a date at which she started using the name, I suspect that the book may have influenced this- a bit of a hero-worship tribute perhaps?

Thomas Janes appears to be a character in Anita Shreve’s later novel The Weight of Water, which links into some of the events described in this book. I’m quite interested to read this and see how they tie in together, and how much of Thomas’ clearly rich internal life is hinted at.

Though the ending was a shock, and I really liked it, mulling back over the novel I have been considering how it affects my sympathies to the character of Thomas.

When you learn that Linda died in the car crash, and that the flash forward of her life may be what we have been reading, the possibility arrives that we could also interpret the narrative as Thomas’ “enduring struggle to capture in words the infinite possibilities of a life not lived.” Indeed this is strongly hinted at in the last paragraph which talks about a love which exists only in his imagination. Why then, include so much guilt and trauma in Linda’s share of the story? Is this because of the events in her past which associate her with Mary Magdalene in his mind and tinge her with guilt, however undeserved? Or is it a narcissism (suggested by the fact that no version of Linda’s future seems to move on from him) which makes him unwilling to be culpable for his inability to commit to and love his future wives, casting himself in the role of faithful lover by remaining true to the girl he lost at such a young age?

It was something which interested me, especially with the references to Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey and Keats’ poetry in general which are filled with discussions about the importance of memory and the power of imagination. And maybe all lovers are narcissists- surely you have to be to idealise your love as separate from the other vast swathes of human emotion?

Alice Day 2011, Oxford

Some belated pictures from this year’s Alice Day in Oxford on Saturday. A great day out for all the family with activities like story telling, white rabbit petting zoo, plays, a geocache snark hunt, croquet, mad hatter hat making and of course, lots and lots of tea parties.

White Rabbit Petting Zoo

My boyfriend was confused because not all of the rabbits were pure white, though I was more concerned about the lack of waistcoat and timepiece.

Hookah Smoking Caterpillar

I bumped into this caterpillar when we went to view the bee hive at The Natural History Museum where the Red Queen was throwing a tea party and telling stories to all and sundry. It was great fun, and lots of people had brought their picnics. My boyfriend ran away when The Red Queen accosted him shouting, “Come on, come on, take a seat! We’ve been waiting for you!” The White Rabbit was also in attendance, and when I took the photo below was chatting away to a mother about how lovely it would be if we all had the time to sleep like her baby. I loved how well the actors stayed in character and interacted with everyone.

White Rabbit

I also had a good day on the book front buying a new copy of Alice in Wonderland with colour illustrations from The Alice Shop. The sales assistants were dressed in an amazing costumes and were giving away free bookmarks with the Alice Day guide which has come in very handy. It was great to see them really getting into the spirit of things, and they very kindly let me take this picture of them.

I also bought a copy of a craft book Everything Alice. I bought it from Waterstones but arrived a little bit early for the authors signing the books so didn’t get to meet them (though they’ve started following me on Twitter which is cool). The book is amazing and I’ll review it soon, but if I had the time again I’d buy it from the Alice shop who I later found were selling it. The Waterstones staff had done nothing special for the day beyond the author visit- no costume and the most half arsed display imaginable. When I asked when the authors would be arriving the staff seemed half asleep, so I just bought the book and left.

Another place which was marvellously into the spirit of Alice Day was George and Danvers on St. Aldates which had playing cards and rabbits galore, staff in fancy dress and a special Alice in Wonderland ice cream (no mock turtle, eggs which turn into Humpty Dumpty or jam tarts in sight) a delicious raspberry and white chocolate ice cream which just screamed eat me. I hope they start doing it all year round.

Eat Me

 

Sunday Snacks and Swimming

I’ve had a friend visiting this weekend, so didn’t make much progress with my reading though I have excelled myself on the snack front with these icy treats made from pulped strawberries and vanilla yogurt. Simple, healthy and deliciously sweet. Just blend a load of strawberries to a pulp, freeze in silicone mould for half an hour, top with vanilla yogurt and freeze for a few hours more. Voila.

I’ve spent the afternoon at our local outdoor pool swimming off my (book and) biscuit belly. Might even go tomorrow as well if I finish work in time!