Five Books that Changed my (Writing) Life: From Guest Blogger Berndt Sellheim

This selection comes amidst the usual caveats about exclusion and reductiveness: what I’ve included are books that crossed my path at the particular instant I needed them, or was open to them, and as such made a significant impact.

This is not a list of ‘best writers/books’, or even a list of ‘favourites’. It’s overly weighted towards the US, and there’s a sorry lack of Australians; but it’s a big world of books out there, and we all find them at different times and places, so… Continue reading

Introducing Booktopia’s Romance Specialist Haylee Nash

Booktopia’s newly appointed full-time Romance Specialist Haylee Nash tells us about her love of the love of love.

A favourite of Haylee's

A favourite of Haylee’s

In year five, I was given ‘The Talk’.

At school that day, we’d just had a rather clinical explanation of the wheres, hows and what-fors of the birds and the bees, but I wanted details. My mother sat awkwardly on the end of my bed and asked if I had any questions.

“Just one.”

“And what’s that?”

“What does it feel like?”

Her answer sounded vaguely painful and distinctly undesirable which, looking back, I suppose was the point. And while I continued to like boys with the same ferocity I’d had since pre-school, I had no desire to do IT.

A Haylee recommendation

And then, in Year 9, I read a Mills & Boon. Man, my mum had it wrong! Not only could IT be way more fun than hanging out at the local Westfield or dancing to Christina Aguilera, but the men in these books were so much hotter than any of the boys at the inter-school Catholic dances. And in these books, unlike in the fairytales I’d grown up on, the women weren’t saved by the men, but rather the hero and heroine saved each other. Deep sigh.

In my early years at uni, I put aside Mills & Boon in favour of ‘real’ books – Stendhal’s The Red and the Black, The Consolation of Joe Cinque by Helen Garner, anything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Some of which I even read! But when it was time to read a book purely for pleasure, I always picked up a romance – a Jane Green, a Cathy Kelly, a Stephanie Bond. Then it came time to find a topic for my honours thesis.

My friends were writing about the gaps in meaning in poetry in translation, and performances of gender in evangelical religion.  I was stumped. So I took a year out and worked in a shoe shop…and rediscovered Mills & Boon. It felt like coming home. I found my thesis topic. Reading and desire in Mills & Boon. I got first class honours and it felt like I was cheating – no essay had ever been so easily written. But that’s what happens when you write about what you love.

The rest is history.

I now fly the flag for all kinds of romance whenever possible. And I only read for pleasure – life’s too short to read for any other reason.

Oh, and the Mills & Boon authors were right. IT is lots of fun.

___________________________________________

Haylee Nash has been reading and raving about romance for 15 years. She has previously worked as the Publishing Manager at Harlequin Australia and during her time there launched the Harlequin Teen, Harlequin Spice and local acquisition programmes, as well as Harlequin’s digital-first romance imprint, Escape Publishing. Haylee is now the Romance Specialist at Booktopia.

You can follow her on twitter here.

Dispatches from Caroline Baum embedded with the literary forces at Adelaide Writers’ Week

Kevin Powers

So there I was feeling grumpy about the intense heat  of thirty five degrees as I made my way to talk to Kevin Powers about his remarkable novel The Yellow Birds which yesterday won the Pen Hemingway award.

But then I thought hey, get a grip, what must it be like to be in a place that is hotter than Hades AND wearing heavy  protective  gear AND in combat?

So that put things in perspective.

Of all the things Kevin shared during the session one sticks in my mind, the fact that his mum sent him Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and that he read that in Iraq. What a surreal place to discover magical realism!

A funny thing happens at these gatherings, threads start to weave between totally separate conversations so that they appear to be part of a carefully woven fabric. This happened when we started talking about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and a woman in the audience asked a sad question about damaged young souls.

Oliver Burkeman

Just the day before I had been talking with the marvellous Oliver Burkeman about his book The Antidote. We touched on the work of Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism and many other titles that are not about short term results and have sound  research cred, as opposed to the plethora of self-help books that have the same success rate as most diet books.

Seligman had been Thinker in Residence in Adelaide last year, implementing his positive psychology program in schools, and now he is working with the US Army on a program to develop resilience in soldiers who are suffering from PTSD. If only such a program had existed when Kevin Powers came back from Iraq. Fortunately, he has found catharsis and healing in writing his beautiful troubling book.

Edward St Aubyn

As I was leaving I caught a moment of Charlotte Wood in conversation with Nick Jose , demonstrating the technique for chopping an onion without tears that she shares in Love and Hunger. Quite an achievement when you have neither onion, knife or chopping board.

But  that’s the point of listening to these marvellous encounters: you don’t need the onion, you just need your imagination and a willingness to listen.

Also caught a fragment of Edward St Aubyn talking about his new novel At Last, sounding very laconic and British and like a new Evelyn Waugh. Can’t wait.

from Caroline Baum
at Adelaide Writers’ Week 2013

———————————-

Adelaide Writers’ Week brings together some of the world’s greatest writers and thinkers for a celebration of the written word that will surprise, delight, challenge and entertain readers of all ages. Adelaide’s iconic literary festival continues with a whole new host of writers, stories and literary adventures until 7th March.

Dreaming of the Orient Express – by Booktopia’s Christopher Cahill

If you’re going to dream, dream big.

So when my partner and I were throwing around ideas for how to spend our not too far off honeymoon my first thought was a trip on the legendary Orient Express.  As Caroline’s eyes lit up in excitement I knew in a heartbeat that her love for Agatha Christie was going to cost me. This love affair with one of history’s greatest crime writers began with the novel Murder on The Orient Express, which Caroline loved so much that her book case is slowly being filled with every Agatha Christie book ever printed.

This love for the books led to an interest in the many film and television incarnations of Agatha Christie’s two most beloved characters; Miss Marple and the world’s greatest Detective Hercule Poirot. It was the 1974 film adaptation that got me interested in the works of Agatha Christie and in turn the luxury train The Orient Express.

As much as I enjoyed Albert Finney’s interpretation of Hercule Poirot it was English actor David Suchet who really took my mild interest in the arrogant and eccentric Belgian Detective and turned me into a huge fan. His performance as Hercule Poirot in its recent reincarnation is nothing less than a masterclass in acting. When he’s on screen as the slightly hunched and rotund Detective he simply disappears into the role. There’s no actor playing the role here, he is Hercule Poirot.

So it was with great delight that I came across an audio version of Murder on the Orient Express read by none other than David Suchet himself. The audio book format is sometimes a forgotten art form but as we listened to this excellent performance on a long trip to Mudgee I couldn’t believe the quality of this one man production of the classic novel.

This is no mere reading of the book. David Suchet shifts bet ween his role as the reader to voicing every character in the book, both male and female.  It’s an astonishing performance as he shifts effortlessly between up to five characters at once and made me wonder what I was missing out on with the audio books in general. Long drives are seldom fun for all involved but listening to this performance made it an absolute delight.

As Caroline and I marvelled over what we heard all thoughts turned to our trip on the Orient Express. The idea of lounging around the bar car of this beautiful train, cocktail in one hand and a copy of Murder on the Orient Express in the other, is a dream we both now share.

Christopher Cahill is the Product Strategy Manager at Booktopia. You can read other posts by Christopher here.

Reflections On Middle Earth – Booktopia’s resident Tolkienist Christopher Cahill shares his thoughts on The Hobbit

To say that I’m a fan of the works of Professor J. R. R. Tolkien is an understatement. I’ll admit I was a little late to the party tree in embracing the world of Middle-Earth but after seeing the first trailer for The Fellowship of the Ring I was hooked.

I became a little obsessed. And when I say a little, I mean a lot. I purchased every book I could get my hands on and spent hours upon hours absorbing Tolkien’s works and history. The thought of becoming a Tolkien scholar crossed my mind a few times but I’m just not willing to learn Elvish. There are lines this nerd just won’t cross.

By the time The Return of the King had come into cinemas I had already grown a beard and my long hair was coming along nicely. I call these my Aragorn years. I also met the love of my life that year who, luckily for me, shared my interest in all things Tolkien. Our first date was watching The Return of the King. Our first overseas trip was to New Zealand so we could visit all the film locations. I was in nerd heaven.

That was almost nine years ago. I don’t have a beard or long hair anymore, I don’t smoke my pipe and my Tolkien library is a bit dusty. But I still love Tolkien’s books and have watched the films more times than I’ll admit to. Naturally I was eagerly anticipating the release of The Hobbit and my expectations were high. After almost nine long years of waiting we finally got to sit down and watch it in glorious 3D.

For me it was like coming home. Returning to Bag End accompanied by Howard Shore’s amazing score was a joyful experience and I loved every minute of it. Martin Freeman is perfect as the younger Bilbo Baggins; in fact all the casting is perfect. The Dwarves steal the show in parts and the return of some familiar faces is a welcome sight.

But for me the films biggest achievement is that it was fun to watch. It was the sense of joy that pulled me back into Middle-Earth and my very loud; walrus like laugh rang throughout the cinema. If I knew the words to the Dwarven songs I would have been singing along with a mug of ale in my hand.

The Hobbit is visually astounding and the 3D is the best I have seen yet.

There’s been some criticism of the films use of a higher frame rate, even people saying that it made them nauseous watching it. But seriously, were those people smoking pipe weed? I couldn’t fault it.

The other major controversy is that The Hobbit, hardly a long book, will be spilt into three films and there will be material added from Tolkien’s other books to flesh out the story. And while Peter Jackson and his merry band have once again taken some serious liberties with Tolkien’s work I feel it works well.

The films only fault is that it has no real ending and we have to wait another year before we get to see the continuation of Bilbo and the Dwarves’ journey. Thankfully Tolkien’s novel has been in print for seventy-five years so the impatient among us won’t have to wait.

The first thing I did when we got back home was dust off my illustrated edition of The Hobbit. I was back in Middle-Earth and the urge to grow my hair was high.


Click here to buy The Hobbit from Booktopia,

Australia’s Local Bookstore

The 20 Best Fantasy Titles To Help You Escape The Christmas Mayhem – Part One (A Personal Selection By Guest Blogger Mark Timmony)

Christmas is coming!

Given the way the last couple of months have sped by it will be here before you know it. It’s rather easy at this time of year to see the new release books put at the top of catalogues, and piled in big displays – publishers throw fireworks around the newest blockbuster from the big name authors – and those of us with loved ones who read can easily pick up the latest release to help sate what is in fact an unquenchable thirst for the next book.

Unfortunately there is not always a big list or blinking lights over the latest thing for those loved ones who walk on the wild side and read stories of dragons and magic, swords and heroes, gods and monsters.

Well fear not gentle shopper and/or reader! Here at Booktopia we have such beasties well in hand, and a map to guide you to possible purchases that would otherwise leave you scratching your head.

Come this way…


Cold Days

by Jim Butcher

What can possibly be said about Jim Butcher and his Dresden Files that hasn’t been said before? The yard mark by which most urban fantasy is measured today, Butcher’s Dresden Files now strides into its fourteenth full-length novel and remains as fresh and as exciting as it did at book one. With consummate skill Butcher has unveiled his imagination on to the page and gifted we lucky readers with Harry Dresden, Private Detective and Wizard, whose legend now easily matches that of Gandalf the Grey and Pug of Midkemia. Weaving a series of heady adventures wedged between life and death action, and a world threatening war with the vampires of the Red Court, Butcher now turns his considerable talents to reworking his story with smarts and flare as new powers emerge to fill the vacuum left after the war, and Harry must now pay the piper.

Click here for more details or to buy


A Blink of the Screen (Collected Short Fiction)

by Terry Pratchett

One of fantasy’s most popular authors, this collection of Sir Terry Pratchett’s short stories is a must for all of his diehard fans, and for those new to his work who are looking for a good place to start. Pratchett’s wit has thrilled millions of readers around the world, and having been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s in December 2007, everything he continues to work on has become more and more precious to those who have found such joy in his writing. This is a collection that will take pride of place in the library and bring hours of reading and re-reading for years to come.

Click here for more details or to buy


Malice

by John Gwynne

Already being heralded as the next big thing, Gwynne’s debut novel is an exciting addition to the ranks of fantasy fiction. Marching forth boldly Gwynne builds his world in a medieval Europe-like setting and pushes the reader into a long conflict of good versus evil, delving into a Gods War and peppering his mythology with angels and demons. For a new voice in the field Malice moves Gwynne to stand shoulder- to-shoulder with the likes of Terry Brooks and David Eddings, marking this the debut of a writer to watch.

Click here for more details or to buy


Portlandtown

by Rob DeBorde

Rob DeBorde offers a supernatural ‘alternate western’ of dark fantasy that blends horror, magic and zombies into a rip-roaring tale and is already drawing comparisons to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. What more could you want? Set in – you guessed it – a spookily twisted version of Portland, the first book in the Oregon Wyldes introduces an ‘olden-time’ twist on the urban fantasy market sure to please fans of steampunk and spaghetti westerns.

Click here for more details or to buy


Red Knight

by Miles Cameron

Miles Cameron’s debut novel is surely the start of big things for this author. Set in a very different yet strangely familiar England, for the most part, this is the tale of man’s battle to impose order on the Wilde. Full of knights and hermetic mysticism, which both clashes and melds with the very strong Christian faith, this is an epic first novel from an exciting new voice and perfect for those of you who like the chivalry of Martin’s Game of Thrones and Joe Abercrombie’s ‘take-no-prisoners’ approach to warfare.

Click here for more details or to buy


Tomorrow, the Killing

by Daniel Polansky

Debuting in 2011 with The Straight Razor Cure Polansky burst onto the fantasy scene introducing us to the fallen hero Warden. Once a war hero and member of the city’s elite police force he now trawls the streets of the aptly named Low Town and hides from his past glory. Shaping his style to meld the best of the noir crime novel and epic fantasy, with the Low Town being as big a part of his world as the characters themselves, Polanksy’s novels are dark and brooding yet serve as many moments for the reader to cheer a hero who doesn’t let heroics and moral ‘right action’ get in the way of getting the job done – as you might find in Mel Gibson’s Payback. An awesome book, as well as being powerfully and compellingly written, Polanksy’s Low Town series is shaping up to be an edgy spin on epic fantasy offering a fresh direction in a genre fit to bursting with well trod paths.

Click here for more details or to buy


Blood and Bone

by Ian Cameron Esslemont

Co-creator of the Malazan world with friend and bestselling author Steven Erickson, Esslemont has been quickly carving a name for himself in the same gritty fields of Malaz – though he did admittedly have a slower start. Working in tandem Esslemont is following the storylines adjacent to Erikson’s own and weaving tales that add to the Malazan Empire series and stand-alone as thrilling new adventures in ‘epicness’. Rich, detailed, complex and often confronting, Esslemont is the perfect read for someone who likes to think as much as they enjoy epic scenes of brutal battles and the clash of mortals against Gods.

Click here for more details or to buy


The Lands of Ice and Fire

by George R. R. Martin

Unfortunately we are still waiting for the next installment of GRRM’s Song of Ice and Fire, (no, he hasn’t finished the next book yet) but for those eager fans who just can wait for their next fix of the massive world of Westeros this brilliant atlas has been created by both George and artist Jonathan Roberts. Most impressively, for the first time in the history of the series, this title presents a complete map of the known world of A Game of Thrones, joining the lands of the Seven Kingdoms and those across the Narrow Sea. I can’t wait to get my hands on this one!

Click here for more details or to buy


Devil Said Bang

by Richard Kadrey

Grit in fantasy, urban or otherwise, is the new black. And one writer making a name for himself with his no-holds barred depiction of a hero who’s been to hell and back – literally – is Richard Kadrey. The Sandman Slim novels are filled with real and fallible characters in an alternate modern day earth that takes all that’s ‘hard’ in Jim Butcher, Mike Carey and Neil Gaiman, throws petrol over it and lights a match. Compelling and disturbing in equal measure, if you have had enough of sparkling vampires and heart of gold werewolves you’ve come to the right place. Here monsters are monsters, and one man battles his own demons –inside and out – to keep himself and those he cares for safe.

Click here for more details or to buy


Stone of Tymora

by R. A. Salvatore, Geno Salvatore

Teaming up with his son, bestselling author R.A. Salvatore lends his most popular character, the dark-elf ranger Drizzt Do’Urden and companions, to this swash-buckling tale aimed at younger readers. Full of Forgotten Realms lore, fast paced battles and high adventure the Salvatore team provide an entertaining tale and the perfect gift for Young Adults impatiently awaiting the next Rick Riordan novel, while also having enough content and self-possession to offer adult fans of the Drizzt books something to look forward to as well.

Click here for more details or to buy


Stay tuned for the second instalment tomorrow!

Check Mark out on twitter on @MarkTimmony

I Eat Therefore I Cook : Guest Blogger, MasterChef’s Matt Preston asks, ‘What’s in a Name?’

The hardest thing about writing this book – that’s “Matt Preston’s 100 Best Recipes” by the way – wasn’t writing the recipes but on deciding the title. As this is a recipe book for people who like to eat, and who have to cook, perhaps I should have called it I Eat Therefore I Cook as one smart twitter follower suggested.

It is certainly a better title than Great Food Isn’t Posh Food which is my motto and one of the great truths about eating but is hardly inspiring. And way, way better than my original idea; Quick, Simple and Cheap! which I liked because it not only ended with a “!” but, also neatly refers to both me and to the recipes that you’ll find in the book. You see, if working for magazines like “delicious” and for the “Taste” section in your favourite metro newspaper has taught me anything it’s that if a recipe isn’t easily achievable, affordable and minimum fuss for maximum flavour then you and me just aren’t going to make it.

The actual title “Matt Preston’s 100 Best Recipes” does capture what the book is about as it is about how to make the best stuff I eat at home but it is also one big lie. Actually there are well over 100 recipes (well, actually it’s about 203 but who’s counting – well, other than some poor intern at the publisher’s!) using some of Australia’s favourite ingredients that are common from Albany and Ballarat to Cooktown and Darwin. This is affordable, easily-achievable, and delicious food that I hope you’ll want to try – and then cook again and again.

In fact, that’s really the only selection criteria for the recipes that made it into the book – that these are the things I love to cook regularly at home for my friends and family; and that they love to eat! And there are rather a lot of them because like I said… I like to eat and I like to eat well.

I promise that these recipes are free of any cheffy trickery unless it’s a wheeze or tip that will help you do something quicker or more easily. Oh, and you won’t need to fill up the tank to take a tedious trip around town searching out expensive, hard to find ingredients either. Here you’ll find great, easy and sometimes surprising recipes for using such much-loved staples such as mince, salmon, chicken wings, lamb chops, eggs, veg, and supermarket ice cream. You’ll also find great suggestions on how to lift everything from your chocolate brownies and banana bread to Bolognese or a favourite soup to new levels of flavour and texture with smart tips on how to accessorise or improve those familiar dishes. There’s also a really good meatloaf recipe.

Here is not the place to find recipes for preparing eel, making dusts of obscure forest mushrooms (that you have to forage for, obviously) or recipes that begin “please start this dish four days before you want to eat it”.

No, here are ideas for lunch, tea & dinner that you can throw together within minimum fuss for maximum impact. These are recipes for home cooks written by a home cook who actually cooks them at home, which I suppose makes this book a bit of a rarity these days! Even better, you’ll probably already have all the ingredients in the fridge or cupboards. (I’d say “pantry” rather than “cupboards” but I’m worried that if I do this might let slip the mask that hides my “Downton Abbey” delusions.)

So basically the best title for this book would have been Home Guide to Cooking Most of the Stuff that Most of Us like to Cook. Oh, and Using Readily Available Ingredients And Which Can Be Cooked Without The Need To Equip Your Kitchen with $8k of Lab Equipment. The trouble is that 38 word book titles went out in the 19th century so “Matt Preston’s 100 Best Recipes” it is!

So here’s the pitch: From the novice to the innovative cook, this book is destined to live above the fridge to provide inspiration and illumination for Australian cooks of all levels. Please buy it and feel free to stain the pages with your favourite recipes. I will take this as the greatest compliment. And please feel free to copy out your favourite recipe and pass it on to a friend. Recipes should be shared with an open hand; for only when you give away a recipe does it truly become “yours”.

Matt Preston, thank you very much for being a guest blogger
on the Booktopia Blog 

You may buy a copy of Matt’s bookHome Guide to Cooking Most of the Stuff that Most of Us like to Cook. Oh, and Using Readily Available Ingredients And Which Can Be Cooked Without The Need To Equip Your Kitchen with $8k of Lab Equipment

AKA > Matt’s Preston’s 100 Best Recipes - HERE

Matt Preston is a food journalist, restaurant critic, television personality and passionate home cook. He writes a national column for the Taste section for all News Ltd’s metropolitan papers. Best known as a judge on MasterChef Australia since 2009, Preston currently writes for delicious and MasterChef magazines. A keen home-cook, Matt Preston has written recipes for Delicious, MasterChef magazine and Taste for several years, taking home classics and adding his own Preston twist, bringing a whole new world of flavour to the everyday.

Click here to buy Matt’s Preston’s 100 Best Recipes from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

REVIEW: ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’ and ‘Days of Blood and Starlight’ by Laini Taylor (Review by Sarah McDuling)

Days of Blood and Starlight is the second book in what has to be the most wildly imaginative and beautifully written Urban Fantasy series I have come across in a long, long time.

There was a time I’d have said Urban Fantasy was one of my favourite genres. But then along came a multi-million dollar book/movie franchise that will remain nameless (cough, cough, Twilight, cough) that was so insanely – dare I say inexplicably – popular that suddenly the market was flooded with books about vampires, werewolves, angels, demons etc. Unfortunately, so many of them were so amazingly awful that the genre was effectively ruined for me. Before long, I reached the stage where just thinking about Urban Fantasy caused me to start humming the Gotye song, “Somebody I Used to Know”.  When asked to express my thoughts on my once-beloved genre, I routinely responded with an exaggerated yawn and a dismissive “meh”.

Then along came Laini Taylor and Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I heard a lot of hype about Daughter of Smoke and Bone when it was published back in 2011. Friends recommended it to me – friends whose opinion I normally trusted. Then, too, the cover of the book was very pretty, which should not influence me but always does. I decided that I might be ready to give Urban Fantasy another shot, a chance to win back my love. Then I read the blurb and saw that it was about angels and demons and forbidden love and that was all I needed to know. Based on the blurb alone, I decided Daughter of Smoke and Bone was yet another trite, clichéd, predictable example of how a genre I used to love had been spoiled beyond all hope of redemption. Clearly the book was evil. I ran away, screaming.

And then, a few weeks ago, the book was recommended to me again – this time by my Booktopia co-worker and expert on all things Fantasy/Sci-Fi, Mark Timmony. Our conversation went a little something like this –

Mark: “You should read Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It’s pretty good.

Me: (backing away whilst making the sign of the cross with my fingers) “NEVER!”

But I guess there are only so many times that someone can recommend a book to me before curiosity demands I discover what all the fuss is about. So I caved to peer pressure. I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone. And as soon as I had finished it, I wanted more. I could not get my hands on Days of Blood and Starlight fast enough and was delighted to find that it was even better than the first book.

If you have not read Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I strongly urge you to do so. I say this especially to anyone who, like me, may have given up on Urban Fantasy. If you once loved reading about fantastical creatures and magical, hidden worlds existing alongside our own, but then got sick of it all and quit, a dose of Laini Taylor might be just what you need.

Giving a brief synopsis of this series will only make it sound like a hundred other Urban Fantasy books that you have probably already read (or fallen asleep trying to read). So you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you this Urban Fantasy series is something special. Yes, it’s about angels and demons (or more specifically, seraphs and chimaera) and yes, it includes a subplot of Romeo and Juliet style forbidden romance. But the difference here is that Laini Taylor has an imagination that can best be described as exquisitely grotesque. The world she has created in Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight is both enchanting and frightening, rich in that special blend of magic and horror that is found in all the old, original fairytales. She matches her gorgeous prose with striking imagery in such a way that her writing manages to paint mental pictures as visually stunning as scenes from a Guillermo del Toro movie.

The Chimaera are beautiful monsters, half human and half animal. The Seraphim are ruthless angels with wings made of invisible flame, seen only in their shadows. These two races have been at war with one another for centuries, while the human race remains blissfully ignorant of their existence. And at the centre of the conflict is a blue haired girl called Karou, who is everything a reader could ask for in a heroine. Brave, strong minded, compassionate and loyal, Karou is no damsel in distress, waiting to be rescued by her one true love. Admittedly, this is mostly because her one true love has become her worst enemy. Still, Karou isn’t the sort to sit around moping just because her boyfriend “did her wrong”. This is why she is made of awesome, while so may other heroines of countless other urban fantasy novels are made of lame.

For those who read Urban Fantasy primarily for the romance factor, strap your boots on for the ride of your life. Karou and her main squeeze, Akiva, have a really spectacularly screwed up relationship. If “forbidden romance” floats your boat, you are going to love these guys. Most of the romance is played out in flashbacks, with the narrative switching viewpoints and time lines so that we get to see both sides of the story – his and hers, past and present. Karou and Akiva’s tale of thwarted love provides an underscore of raw heartache throughout both books, in spite of the fact that they hardly ever see each other in the present time line. In fact, they spend Days of Blood and Starlight fighting on opposites sides of an epic war. There’s no time to make-out. They’re way too busy planning rebellions, resurrecting the dead and love/hating each other from a distance.

Laini Taylor has created a fascinating world, with an equally fascinating history. There is plenty of tension and drama in the war between the races, with a whole host of compelling and original characters on both sides of the conflict. Karou’s best friend Zuzana, and her boyfriend Mik, are a delight to read – funny, cute and very endearing. Meanwhile, the “White Wolf” Thiago is a truly terrifying and repellent villain who, by the end of Days of Blood and Starlight is set up to play a very intriguing role in the next book.

To say that I am looking forward the follow up to Days of Blood and Starlight would be an understatement. With her excellent world building, character driven plots and beautiful imagery, Laini Taylor has reminded me why I used to love reading this genre so much.And while I’m not sure I’m ready to re-commit to a serious relationship with Urban Fantasy, I will say that I’m considering the possibility of something more casual. Perhaps a summer fling?   

Review by Sarah McDuling

Leila McKinnon asked, What are Australia’s Favourite Recipes? And Australia Answered!

Cookbooks combine beauty and usefulness in a way few books have done since the demise of the copperplate illustration and leather binding. They are often a rare blend of the gorgeous and the practical, as if a Victoria’s Secret model dropped by to do the dishes.

It’s no wonder that, despite the internet, we are still loving and buying recipe books and every Tom, Dick, and Leila is releasing one.

As a news and sometimes sports journalist for the Nine Network, I kind of fell into the genre by coming up with an idea that promptly grew its own legs and dragged me along with it.

What I have always wanted are those long standing family or personal recipes that home cooks treasure and very rarely share with anyone. The kind of meals that get everyone at the barbeque talking, or that your friends request you make at any opportunity.

And I needed the weeknight standards that despite frequent appearances and a relatively low degree of difficulty continue to be family favourites.

So I put out the call on Weekend Today, radio, facebook, twitter, and wherever I could. Australians responded in droves. What we collected proved just how much we love our cooking, we value our incredible produce, and the amount of cultural diversity we have here.

Choosing between submissions was just so difficult, I thought we would get plenty of chaff that we could instantly bin, but the shockers were very few (anything cooked in powdered soup, or heavens above, instant coffee!).

Instead we had the very best flavours of Italy, Lebanon, the Philippines, Vietnam, and so many more, as well as the Aussie classics or Quiche Lorraine, ANZAC biscuits and Fruit Loaf.

And the stories that came with them are heart-warming vignettes from ordinary families, there’s the Nanna who was a war bride from America, the slices made by Grandma in the country for the trip to boarding school, the Sicilian immigrants cooking a taste of Italy on their North Queensland farm. Every dish has a story or photo that says something about our country.

A large portion of the profits from Australia’s Favourite Recipes goes to Legacy, our wonderful charity that supports the families of deceased or incapacitated servicemen and women. Sadly, demand for their practical and financial help is still growing and they rely on the generosity of the public to allow them to do their work.

Fortunately we are a generous nation, and never more so than when we are handing over the recipes for the meals that are close to our hearts.

Many thanks to Leila McKinnon for sharing this piece with Booktopia!

Australia’s Favourite Recipes

Australia’s Favourite Recipes is the cookbook by Australians for Australians: more than 70 treasured recipes collected from families all around the country. Collated and edited by journalist and television host Leila McKinnon, and with a foreword (and pavlova recipe) by Margaret Fulton, the book features the stories and memories of everyday Australians and their favourite dishes, while celebrating the wealth and diversity of the food we hold dear.

Each recipe has been photographed with a sense of evocative nostalgia – native wildflowers decorate the Christmas table, and pages from historical Australian cookbooks are interspersed with collages of the labels and other food memories from our collective childhoods. Every recipe features a charming introduction describing why the dish is of importance to its contributor, how it came to be a special family dish or perhaps a little story about the contributor’s grandmother and how she introduced them to the recipe. It is a collection of treasured memories. From the perfect chewy Anzac biscuit and Mum’s no-fail spaghetti bolognese to the ultimate lamb souvlaki and lemon delicious, Australia’s Favourite Recipes showcases our national cuisine – the dinners, cakes and slices we crave – and shows how the food we eat has changed over the years.

Note: Part of the proceeds from sales of the book will be donated from author and publisher to Legacy Australia, a charity that provides services to Australian families suffering financially and socially after the death or incapacitation of a spouse or parent during or after their defence force service.

Click here to order Australia’s Favourite Recipes from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Bookshop

REVIEW: Sebastian Faulks – A Possible Life (Review by Catherine Horne)

The day after I finished Sebastian Faulks’s astonishing new novel I sat down to a few episodes of Mad Men. In one of his many moments of boozy insight, Don Draper offers this pearl of advertising wisdom to his protégé Peggy Olson:

‘You are the product. You feeling something. That’s what sells.’

This quote momentarily shattered my nostalgia-fuelled swoonfest as I realised that this is exactly how I feel about Faulks’s writing. It is so popular because it stokes our emotions to such an extent that we become embroiled in the drama of his characters; we become hyper-receptive to the message that he sends; and we want more of it. And I want more of A Possible Life. So much more. I cannot recall ever being so emotionally invested in a novel and that is such an exhilarating experience.

A Possible Life has a unique structure, which serves its purpose very well. The book could possibly be thought of as 5 short stories on a similar theme, however it is probably more apt to consider the theme as the main character, and the 5 stories as examples of this particular theme in action. (Faulks himself refers to the structure as ‘symphony’- distinct movements that contribute to the whole). The novel starts out with Geoffrey, a young English schoolteacher who becomes trapped in some of the most harrowing experiences of the Second World War. We then meet a nineteenth-century British lad with a Dickensian childhood; an Italian neuroscientist from several decades in the future; a maid in Napoleonic France and, finally, a Joni Mitchell-esque music star in the early 1970s.

Although these scenarios may appear to have little in common, they are all ruminations on the directions that our lives take and the experiences that make us who we are. Some form of hardship, loss or tragedy affects each character to a significant degree. However it is their resolve to move on and create new possibilities for themselves – the ‘possible life’ of the title – that gives the novel its thematic punch. Faulks is perhaps at his most brilliant when he writes the more life-affirming segments; they never seem glib or cheesy, but rather recognise the complex layering of experience that forms the basis of the characters’ identities and lives.

And this is why A Possible Life struck such a chord with me. Ultimately we all live with regret, with loss and with heartache, but it is our ability to be affected by these experiences and to move on from them simultaneously which shapes our lives. Sebastian Faulks has an astonishing ability to capture these feelings and mirror them back so that even though you are, on the surface, reading about the fortunes of a 1970s folk star, as you delve a little deeper more your own feelings and memories become intertwined with the characters on the page. It is this personal connection that brings me back to Draper’s quote; the product is not the book itself, but rather your experience of it.

Review by Catherine Horne

Click here to buy A Possible Life from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

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