Monday, 18 May 2015

Review: The Honours by Tim Clare

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TRUE HONOUR IS ENDLESS. JOIN US. 

1935. Norfolk.

War is looming in Great Britain and the sprawling country estate of Alderberen Hall is shadowed by suspicion and paranoia. Thirteen-year-old Delphine Venner is determined to uncover the secrets of the Hall's elite society, which has taken in her gullible mother and unstable father.

As she explores the house and discovers the secret network of hidden passages that thread through the estate, Delphine uncovers a world more dark and threatening than she ever imagined. With the help of head gamekeeper Mr Garforth, Delphine must learn the bloody lessons of war and find the soldier within herself in time to battle the deadly forces amassing in the woods . . . 

The Honours is a dark, glittering and dangerously unputdownable novel which invites you to enter a thrilling and fantastical world unlike any other. 

Review

I was recommended this book directly by someone at the publisher and was intrigued by the pitch that suggested vibes of His Dark Materials.  HDM is not an easy book to live up to because it's so widely loved and respected for it's story, characters and eloquent use of language.  I don't often go for a historical books and have enjoyed only a handful of "period novels" so The Honours already had an uphill battle with me before I even picked it up.  However, it completely floored me.

Set a few years ahead of the Second World War in an isolated mansion in Norfolk  we meet Delphine who is the feisty and determined hero of our story.  She's taken with her parents to live in a sort of artists' commune that aims to heal people with "problems".  Her father seems to be struggling mentally and this could be the solution that might save their family.  However, there are dark and strange things afoot in this new house and the people within it may or may not be what they seem.

I was completely sucked into this book and had to prise my hands away from it whenever my lunch break ended at work.  Tim Clare has an ability with words that makes me so envious that by the end of the book I'm a very bright shade of green.  The Honours is the kind of story that doesn't really fit into one genre in my mind and I kind of love it for that reason.  The Honours is powerful in it's imagery and dream-like in it's tone which makes it all the harder to resist falling in love with it.

I know this will be a book I'll be recommending to others for the rest of the year, if not longer.  The Honours is a stunning debut and Tim Clare has a remarkable way with the words.  An author worth watching.

Published by Canongate Books and is available online and in bookshops now

Monday, 11 May 2015

Review: A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install

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Warm-hearted fable of a stay-at-home husband who learns an important lesson in life when an unusual creature enters his life.

With all the charm and humour of THE ROSIE PROJECT and ABOUT A BOY mingled with the heart-swelling warmth of PADDINGTON BEAR MOVIE.

A story of the greatest friendship ever assembled.

Ben Chambers wakes up to find something rusty and lost underneath the willow tree in his garden. Refusing to throw it on the skip as his wife Amy advises, he takes it home.


Review



I've been quite keen to get a copy of this book after seeing a tweet about it a few months ago.  I loved the title and I know the reputation of Deborah's agent, Jenny, is someone who picks excellent work and top-notch authors.  Her eye for talent hasn't been wrong yet in my eyes.

The Robot in the Garden is the gentle tale of Ben Chambers and the moment when a robot called Tang enters his life.  Tang appears in the garden of Ben's house at a time in his life when he's a very lost person.  His parents died a few years ago and he now lives in their house with his wife, Amy.  It's his childhood home and he's changed little about it.  He's a junction in his life and he can't seem to motivate himself to go forwards.  When Tang appears, Ben becomes his world and soon Ben and Tang travel all around the globe to try  and to fix a mysterious broken part in Tang's inner workings as well as his history.

This wasn't the book I first thought it would be when I read the blurb.  I think I expected more humour in parts as well as more science fiction when it's really a warm story about humanity.  Ben slowly finds himself over the course of the book by helping Tang and has to decide what he wants from his life and how he can achieve it.  I loved the relationship between the two main characters as they grew closer over the course of the story.  The more Tang learnt about language and emotion, the more he was able to express himself.  He's very child-like and that innocence was wonderful captured.  

It's a sweet book that has a good heart within it and though it isn't all action-packed like some stories; it still has some delightful messages about human life in it.  Tang shows Ben how exciting the world can be again and how important the people around really are.

Published by Doubleday, an imprint of Transworld/Penguin Random House, and is available online and in bookshops now

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Cooking with Spooky: Bread

Bread is one of my favourite things in the world.  From the smell, to the texture, to the taste; nothing can bring me more delight than having a nice wedge of bread with a bit of butter on it.  Bread is heavenly.  I know the fashion is to avoid carbs but, quite frankly, fuck that and have a loaf of bread.  Life is too short to miss out on the delights of bread just so you'll have a slightly smaller waistline that you'll probably still fuss over anyway.  EAT BREAD.

I'd never made bread from scratch before as I'd always assumed it would be too difficult.  The BF told me otherwise and to just "give it a go".  So I did.  I've done a few different loaves now and a few different recipes but here are my tips, thoughts and recommendations on bread making:


Make sure you read the instructions carefully and fully before you start.  Even go to the trouble to weigh out all the ingredients.  Why?  Well, you don't want to get halfway into the making process only to discover you need more water.  Hands covered in sticky dough mix do not make turning on taps or opening up cupboards easy.  You should also where an apron or an old shirt and try your hair back (if applicable).  Make your bread baking experience as easy as possible!


Get your hands dirty.  It's the only way to really get the dough to the right mix.  You might need more flour than the recipe asks for.  Don't be afraid.  Just add more flour and keep mixing and kneading the dough until it all comes together, stops being so sticky and can be put onto the work top and kneaded more furiously.  (The work top should be floured).


You hands will get messy and I hated it.  Just grin and bare it but make sure to take off rings/bracelets and roll up your sleeves.  I have done a loaf with live yeast which you can get from any supermarket with a bakery bit in it for less than a quid.  It's great but it stinks of beer and made me feel a little sick.  The best stuff I've used is Allinson's Dried Active Yeast which needs to be "activated" before use but is great stuff.  Plus the recipe on the back of the tin is great stuff.  Plus their Country Grain Bread Flour is one of my favourites.


Let the bread rise and DO NOT touch it as you put it into the oven.  I use a standard Sainsburys bag to cover the dough and tin as it rises and plonk it by a warm fire or radiator for best results.  I have yet to make bread in the summer time so that'll be interesting to try.  Every loaf is a test; you might succeed three times and fail on the fourth for no real reason.  Keep going!

I'm looking forward to trying other breads like Ciabatta and Focaccia and bread loaves with extra flavours like sun-dried tomatoes or garlic.  Any recipes or tips you want to send my way; leave a comment below!!!


Monday, 27 April 2015

Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

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What if you weren’t the Chosen One?

What if you’re not the one who’s so often the hero in YA fiction; who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death? What if you were like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again. Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life. Even if your best friend might just be the God of mountain lions...



Review

"A NEW PATRICK NESS BOOK!" I hear you cry?

Why yes, it is and please stop shouting at me.  It's very distracting when I'm trying to write a review.

Firstly; hats off to the publicity team at Walker Books UK for sending these out to bloggers along with some tasty American candy treats.  I gobbled them up straight away because I'm a piggy and can't say no to peanut butter.  I also can't say no to the chance of reading an early copy of a new Patrick Ness book.  

The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a great read that looks at current trends in teen paranormal fiction with a tongue-in-cheek manner.  Whilst doing that we get an insight into real friendships and relationships between these group of friends and the honest account of struggles that we can all experience as we grow up.  The teenage years are one of the most confusing and frightening times in your life but they can also be the most exciting.  This book looks at a world that has strange things going on but rather than focus on the weirdness surrounding them; Ness looks at the true lives of young adults that just happen to exist in this world.

The first forty to fifty pages of the book were a little confusing because I didn't quite understand what was going on and the characters all sounded very similar in my head.  It made it difficult to keep up with the flow of the story whilst trying to work out who was even speaking.  However; it suddenly becomes clear who's who and how they fit into the story.  When the book starts and there is a weird moment, I couldn't understand why the characters acted so nonchalant about it but all become clear suddenly.

That aside, I thoroughly enjoyed The Rest of Us Just Live Here as it truly tapped into the minds of all these individual voices and showed us how it can feel to be lost amongst people.  This gang of friends are a self-made family and you honestly feel the love between them when they face their own secrets and troubles.  I particularly liked the way Ness has Mikey describe his problems of being stuck in a hole.  It's eerily similar to how I've described it to others in the past as being "down the rabbit hole".

An excellent book about being a teenager and not being the hero of the story; just existing and surviving.

Published by Walker Books UK and is available online and in bookshops in August 2015

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Cooking with Spooky: Chocolate Brownies ... sort of

I love a good sweet treat but, because of my lack of an oven in my flat, I can't bake as much as I once did.  However; the OH has a proper kitchen and basically take over on a weekend so I can muck about.  I used this recipe because I'd been told they produced great brownies.  Don't always trust advice; or at least don't just hope on someone else's baking skills. 


So I melted all the butter and chocolate together (well, most of the chocolate; I did "test" a little bit) and let that do it's own thing for a while, so I could then weigh out all the other ingredients into nice, little bowls; like on Blue Peter.


I mixed in the blender the eggs and the sugar together in a mixer until they were liquid, like a thick milkshake, and folded them with melted chocolate & butter mix which should be cooled down by now.  I didn't wait until it was completely cooled and my egg mix wasn't thick enough.  You need to know this now to understand why my results aren't .... photo-gorgeous.


Then the cocoa powder and flour mix gets added in and it should be all completely mixed together.  An even mix is the best thing to aim for.  The recipe asks for you to add in more chocolate chucks but  it's up to you really.  Pour the mix into a prepared tin so it can be put straight into the hot oven.  

Then comes the cleaning up:


Once it's cooked for the full time length, have a look in the oven to make sure the brownies looked cooked on top.  The middle of the tin shouldn't wiggle at all so bung it back in for a bit if it does.  I think I was impatient and so took mine out a little too early.  My end result was a bit too gooey and I had to eat it with a spoon until I had the good idea to put it in the fridge to set more.  It came out much better afterwards.

Not a 100% success but it still all magically disappeared


Friday, 17 April 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens GEEK EXCITEMENT

So ... this little bit of beautifulness appeared on the world wide web last night: 


After I regained my "cool" and stopped manically retweeting links to the teaser, I knew I wanted to blog about it.  Star Wars was one of the key pieces of parental hand-me-downs that I was given.  My Dad was a massive geek and gave me an education in Star Wars, Star Trek and Lord of the Rings that is ingrained in my childhood.

I'm not *the* biggest fan; I can't name you the specs of the various crafts or droids but I know I love these films.  How can you not?  They are on a scale that is rarely matched in cinema with the possible exception of the LotR series.  Maybe.

This trailer: Why is it so fucking marvellous?

We get a proper look at the new key cast which is bloody awesome.  Looks like a killer line-up!


Plus; I've been excited for this little fella ever since the first teaser and to see little clips of him from the Star Wars Celebration main presentation (where the second trailer was debuted) has me very excited.  He's REAL!!!


BB-8 OWNS MY HEART AT THE MOMENT


Apart from the fantastic original trilogy nods and references, (melted Vader mask anyone?? I shivered seeing it for the first time.), it was this moment that stole the show:


It's doesn't matter that he's aged; he's still Solo and always will be.  

Space Westerns are going to own the world once again and I can't wait to let it take over my life.  Quite frankly, they can cancel Christmas because I won't have time to notice it anyway; I'll be in the cinema watching this over and over instead.



Blog Tour: Thoughts on Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

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According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world's only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner.

So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon—both of whom have lived amongst Earth's mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle—are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture.

And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist . . .


This isn't a standard review because, frankly, I'm bored of them and I don't think I could write one for this book.

Good Omens is a big thinking book that I had a real battle with while I read it.  Having never read anything by Terry Pratchett, I told advisement on which book to pick for this Terry Pratchett celebration blog tour.   

Firstly; this book has a great story in it and the right level of nuts that I approve of in any book.  An Angel and a Demon that are vague chums, end of the world happening in a small English village outside Oxford and a witch with a vague sense of the future working with her great-great-great- etc granddaughter.  The idea is perfect and the blend of British humour that Pratchett is a champion of is the cherry on the cake.  However, it is a Thinking book and I really do need that capital T on there.  It's smart in a way that if you're not paying enough attention, you could miss it or just get rather confused.  

Something I did like was the fact that you couldn't tell that it was written by two people.  It's possibly one of the best examples on how a book should be written by dual authors.  The work is seamless and, as a reader, this is exactly how you need it to be.  Otherwise you end up having a preference for one authors' "sections" over the others.  These two author giants were clearly a match made in crazy literature Heaven.

Overall, Good Omens is too big a story to explain in a witty review.  It was a bit of love/hate relationship whilst reading it because there were moments were I couldn't put the book down and others when I wasn't fussed about picking it up at all.  Perhaps it was my mood rather than the book.  I'm glad I've cracked my way into the world of Pratchett and would be interested to try something written solely by him and perhaps more fantasy in its genre.  This book is probably as close to a contemporary novel by Pratchett as you can get.  

Good sense of humour and an interesting look at humanity and faith but not the easiest of reads at times.

Check out the rest of the Pratchett blog tour, organised by the wonderful Serendipity Reviews, by following the hashtag #terrypratchettblogtour