The Body at the Tower (The Agency #2) by YS Lee

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(Please note that this is the second book in The Agency series, if you’ve not read the first book before, you might want to do that before reading further!)

Mary Quinn is back. This time as Mark Quinn, a young apprentice builder working on the site of the Houses of Parliament. She’s there at the behest of The Agency, the all-female detective unit operating out of Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls, investigating the suspicious death at the clock tower at the soon-to-be-completed Houses of Parliament.

Mary chops off her hair, binds her chest and pulls on the trousers in order to play a young lad working at a construction site. Sounds easy enough but this is Victorian London. And unfortunately for Mary, it brings back bad memories from her childhood, mired in poverty, having to pretend to be a boy in order to survive living on the streets on her own.

The murder-mystery, to be honest, isn’t very intriguing, and in the end, I wasn’t all that interested in who did what and why. Instead, the circumstances Mary finds herself in, and the new characters she meets as a result of the investigation are what make the story work.

Young Peter Jenkins, her fellow apprentice, who is at first suspicious of Mark/Mary but warms up to him/her. Intrepid (or just plain busybody) newspaper reporter Octavius Jones is an interesting addition to the cast as he snoops around and annoys Mary, and hopefully will appear in future books. And then there is James Easton, who was in the first book, and stirred up her Mary’s love interest. He’s a little different now, after a stay in India impaired his health, but he’s still quite charming and his interest in Mary continues, although he’s not quite sure what she’s doing playing a boy at a construction site. And the two of them, while attracted to each other, aren’t quite sure what to make of it.

What he, and almost everyone else, doesn’t realize is that Mary Quinn is hiding her true background. That she is half-Chinese. It’s something that was revealed in the first book, so hopefully that’s not really a spoiler for you!

“It was true that she didn’t look properly mixed race. Her skin was pale and her eyes round, so that much of the time she passed quite easily as black Irish. Even persistent questioners generally wanted to know whether she was Italian or Spanish. And that was just fine with Mary. The last thing she wanted was to acknowledge her Chinese heritage and deal with the questions and hostility it would inevitably invoke. Certainly not yet.”

It is something she muses on now and then, especially since one of the servants at the el cheapo boarding house she’s staying at while undercover is Chinese. Perhaps Lee will bring it up again in other books in the series - The Traitor in the Tunnel or Rivals in the City?

I think it’s great to have a mixed-race character (although she’s unwilling to reveal her Chinese side to anyone at this point of time) in a book set in the Victorian era. There is such potential for this and while I’m perhaps a little disappointed that Lee chose not to dig into it in this second book, I’m looking forward to seeing what she does with this in future books.

The Body at the Tower was a solid second book of the Mary Quinn series. Some historical fiction, some detective/spy work going on, and a brewing love affair with hints of more to come.

 

 

Y S Lee was born in Singapore, raised in Vancouver and Toronto, and lived for a spell in England. As she completed her PhD in Victorian literature and culture, she began to research a story about a girl detective in 1850s London. The result was her debut novel, The Agency: A Spy in the House. This won the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s inaugural John Spray Mystery Award in 2011.

 

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I read this book for both Diversiverse and RIP IX

Picture books and graphic novels this Library Loot

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

 

Grabbed some graphic novels today and bumped into two friends while looking for picture books at the library!

 

50 Girls 50 and Other Stories – Al Williamson

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Barely old enough to drink when he joined the EC Comics stable, Al Williamson may have been the new kid on the block, but a lifetime of studying such classic adventure cartoonists as Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon) and Hal Foster (Prince Valiant) had made him a kid to reckon with — as he proved again and again in the stories he created for EC’s legendary “New Trend” comics, in particular Weird Science and Weird Fantasy. As a result of Williamson’s focus, it’s possible to compile all of Williamson’s “New Trend” EC work into one book — which Fantagraphics is finally doing here. Sci-fi aficionados should note that although most of the stories were written by Al Feldstein, 50 Girls 50 features three of EC’s legendary Ray Bradbury adaptations, including “I, Rocket” and “A Sound of Thunder” — and a unique curiosity, a strip adapted from a short story submitted by a teenage Harlan Ellison. Williamson ran with a gang of like-minded young Turks dubbed the “Fleagle Gang,” who would help one another out on assignments. Thus this book includes three stories upon which Williamson was joined by the legendary Frank Frazetta, and one story (“Food for Thought”) where Roy Krenkel provided his exquisite alien landscapes, to make it one of the most gorgeous EC stories ever printed. As a supplementary bonus, 50 Girls 50 includes three stories drawn by Fleagles sans Williamson: Frazetta’s Shock SuspenStories short “Squeeze Play”; Krenkel’s meticulous “Time to Leave”; and Angelo Torres’s “An Eye for an Eye,” an EC story that famously fell prey to censorship and was not released until the 1970s. As with other Fantagraphics EC titles, 50 Girls 50 will also include extensive story notes by EC experts.


Girl genius 1: Agatha Heterodyne & the beetleburg clank: a gaslamp fantasy with adventure, romance & mad science – Kaja & Phil Foglio

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In a time when the Industrial Revolution has become an all-out war, Mad Science rules the World… with mixed success. At Transylvania Polygnostic University, Agatha Clay is a student with trouble concentrating and rotten luck. Dedicated to her studies but unable to build anything that actually works, she seems destined for a lackluster career as a minor lab assistant. But when the University is overthrown, a strange “clank” stalks the streets and it begins to look like Agatha might carry a spark of Mad Science after all.

Over Easy – Mimi Pond

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A fast-paced semi-memoir about diners, drugs, and California in the 1970s.

Over Easy is a brilliant portrayal of a familiar coming-of-age story. After being denied financial aid to cover her last year of art school, Margaret finds salvation from the straightlaced world of college and the earnestness of both hippies and punks in the wisecracking, fast-talking, drug-taking group she encounters at the Imperial Café, where she makes the transformation from Margaret to Madge. At first she mimics these new and exotic grown-up friends, trying on the guise of adulthood with some awkward but funny stumbles. Gradually she realizes that the adults she looks up to are a mess of contradictions, misplaced artistic ambitions, sexual confusion, dependencies, and addictions.

Over Easy is equal parts time capsule of late 1970s life in California—with its deadheads, punks, disco rollers, casual sex, and drug use—and bildungsroman of a young woman who grows from a naïve, sexually inexperienced art-school dropout into a self-aware, self-confident artist. Mimi Pond’s chatty, slyly observant anecdotes create a compelling portrait of a distinct moment in time. Over Easy is an immediate, limber, and precise semi-memoir narrated with an eye for the humor in every situation

 

E-books:

 

The Traitor in the Tunnel (The Agency #3) – YS Lee

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Queen Victoria has a little problem: there’s a petty thief at work in Buckingham Palace. Charged with discretion, the Agency puts quickwitted Mary Quinn on the case, where she must pose as a domestic while fending off the attentions of a feckless Prince of Wales. But when the prince witnesses the murder of one of his friends in an opium den, the potential for scandal looms large. And Mary faces an even more unsettling possibility: the accused killer, a Chinese sailor imprisoned in the Tower of London, shares a name with her long-lost father. Meanwhile, engineer James Easton, Mary’s onetime paramour, is at work shoring up the sewers beneath the palace, where an unexpected tunnel seems to be very much in use. Can Mary and James trust each other (and put their simmering feelings aside) long enough to solve the mystery and protect the Royal Family? Hoist on your waders for Mary’s most personal case yet, where the stakes couldn’t be higher – and she has everything to lose

Greenglass House – Kate Milford

Nominated for the National Book Award Young People’s Lit longlist

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A rambling old inn, a strange map, an attic packed with treasures, squabbling guests, theft, friendship, and an unusual haunting mark this smart middle grade mystery in the tradition of the Mysterious Benedict Society books and Blue Balliet’s Chasing Vermeer series.

It’s wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smuggler’s inn is always quiet during this season, and twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers’ adopted son, plans to spend his holidays relaxing. But on the first icy night of vacation, out of nowhere, the guest bell rings. Then rings again. And again. Soon Milo’s home is bursting with odd, secretive guests, each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and Meddy, the cook’s daughter, must decipher clues and untangle the web of deepening mysteries to discover the truth about Greenglass House-and themselves.

 

Kids’ loot:


What did you get from your library this week?

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

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There was a barrier at the end of one’s life, yes, but nothing on the other side. How could there be? The plague stopped the heart, one’s essence sloughed off the pathetic human meat and dog-paddled through the ectoplasm or whatever, and then the plague restarted the heart. What kind of cruel deity granted a glimpse of the angelic sphere, only to yank it away and condemn you to a monster’s vantage? Sentenced you to observe the world through the sad aperture of the dead, suffer the gross parody of your existence. Outside Zone One, the souls sat trapped in the bleachers, spectators to the travesties committed by their alienated hands.

Zone One is a rather contemplative zombie  novel.

Much like The Walking Dead (in my mind one of the better zombie books/TV shows/games), Zone One takes place after most of the world is devastated by the zombie epidemic. The Marines have done their bit, flushing out the hordes and eliminating them. Now it’s the turn of the sweepers, who check the buildings of Manhattan, working in small teams, removing any stragglers, hauling the bodies down for the Disposal teams to collect.

Mark Spitz is part of the three-person Omega team. That’s not his real name but it’s what he goes by now.

He’s a survivor this one.

Mark Spitz believed he had successfully banished thoughts of the future. He wasn’t like the rest of them, the other sweepers, the soldiers up the island, or those haggard clans in the camps and caves, all the far-flung remnants behind their barricades, wherever people struggled and waited for victory or oblivion. The faint residue of humanity stuck to the sides of the world. You never heard Mark Spitz say “When this is all over” or “Once things get back to normal” or other sentiments of that brand, because he refused them. When it was all done, truly and finally done, you could talk about what you were going to do. See if your house still stood, enjoy a few rounds of How Many Neighbors Made It Through. Figure out how much of your life from before still remained and how much you had lost. This is what he had learned: If you weren’t concentrating on how to survive the next five minutes, you wouldn’t survive them.

It’s not a plot-driven book. There’s not much in terms of zombie-chasing (or being chased by zombies), there’s only a little gore and horror, nothing that will make you keep one eye open at night.

It’s a different kind of horror, knowing that the next zombie you see (and kill) could be your friend, your teacher, your relative.

And that hope is futile, that refuges will crumble, that their defenses will never hold, that supplies will run out. And that the next zombie will eventually be you.

The monster-movie speculations of his childhood had forced him, during many a dreary midnight, to wonder what sort of skel he’d make if the plague transformed his blood into poison. The standard-issue skel possessed no room for improvisation, of course. He’d hit his repugnant marks. But what kind of straggler would he make? What did he love, what place had been important to him? Job or home, bull’s-eye of cathected energy. Yes, he loved his home. Perhaps he’d end up there, installing himself in his worn perch on the right-hand side of the sofa (right if you are facing the entertainment center, and where else would you be facing). Perhaps there.

This zombie novel won’t make your heart race or gross you out (much), but it will make you reflect on love and loss. It meanders a bit here and there but Whitehead’s beautiful writing pulls the reader back in again and again.

 

Colson Whitehead’s bibliography
Fiction

The Intuitionist (1999)
John Henry Days (2001)
Apex Hides the Hurt (2006)
Sag Harbor (2009)
Zone One (2011)

Non-fiction
The Colossus of New York (2003)
The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky & Death (2014)

diversiverse

 

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I read this book for Diversiverse and RIP IX

Together Tea by Marjan Kamali

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Together Tea is a light, heartwarming story about a relationship between a mother and daughter. The book begins with Darya playing matchmaker for her 25-year-old daughter Mina. Being a bit of a math geek, she works it all out on spreadsheets, assigning points to each potential husband depending on their family background, health, education and so on. The first meeting doesn’t go very well, awkward and uncomfortable is putting it nicely, but it gives Mina an idea – to visit Iran after 15 years away.

Their family fled Tehran in 1982, desperate for a new life.

Life in the US is different, so very different. Parviz, a doctor in Iran, has to work in a pizza place till he gets his US medical licence. Darya works at a drycleaners. They just want the best for their children, and eventually manage that ultimate parents’ dream – their oldest becomes a doctor, the younger son a lawyer, and Mina, their only daughter, is studying for an MBA but has dreams of being an artist. Darya even joins an adult math class, putting her passion to work at long last.

“In the car, Mina turned on the news. ‘Iran’ was mentioned in the same breath as ‘terrorist’ and ‘rogue’. Just once, Mina wanted to hear the name of her old country mentioned in the same breath as ‘joy’ or ‘freedom’ or ‘gentle goodness’.”

So Darya and Mina’s return to Iran brings familiar faces, sights, sounds and smells. Mina catches up with a longlost friend and attends raucous midnight parties that are far too exciting for her. And yes, she catches the eye of an attractive stranger. Can there be a happy ending for these two? Will her mother ever be happy?

Kamali surrounds the reader with the smells, sounds and tastes, culture and history, of life in pre- and post-revolution Iran.

For instance, at Mina’s tenth birthday party in Iran, she has constant worries, not of whether her friends will attend her party, whether they’ll have fun or what to wear, but fears that no almost-10-year-old should have:

“At any minute, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards could barge in, seize the illegal alcohol, arrest her parents for forbidden music and dancing, and detain everyone. Baba would be handcuffed, Darya would faint and fall to the floor, Hooman and Kayvon would get flogged by the guards, and Mina would end up crouched in a corner, a ball of misery. Mina prayed for the guards not to discover her party. She also prayed with her eyes squeezed shut for Saddam not to pick her birthday night to bomb the city.”

In contrast, 15 years later, at a party at her friend Bita’s apartment, the girls wear tube tops and strapless dresses under their roopoosh, alcohol flows freely, and some wild dancing ensues. Which thoroughly overwhelms Mina:

“Dirty dancing took over. Mina tried to keep up. Everyone around her knew the moves. The forces outside the apartment were being exorcised. They were sticking it to the Revolutionary Guards. Freedom was available, in short spurts, indoors. A fugitive dance.”

One can almost smell the kotlets being fried and the saffron rice steaming away. This is not a book to read when you’re hungry.

“Delicate rows of saffron-soaked rice adorned their plates at lunch. The ghormeh sabzi khoresh was a perfect blend of lamb and red kidney beans mixed with the sabzi of parsley, coriander, scallions and fenugreek. Mina bit on a dried Persian lime and a rush of tartness filled her mouth.”

“The relatives spoiled them with fried eggplant and tomato khoresh, rice with fresh sabzi and fish, lasagna with bechamel sauce, fancy salads, and the very best kabobs. For dessert there was saffron rice pudding, rosewater ice cream, all sorts of cakes and pastries, and homemade apple pies. The relatives had spent their toman on the biggest and best fruit for them, kneaded dough and fried meat cutlets, dusted living rooms and beat Persian rugs for their arrival. Darya knew how much they were going out of their way for them and appreciated it. From the looks of it, Mina certainly appreciated it too, or at least the food. Every time Darya looked at her, Mina was eating. Rice dripping with butter, rice holding lima beans tight within it, rice with rice, fragrant hot khoresh.”

A sweet, charming, colourful story with that crazy ability to make the reader salivate and rummage the fridge for anything with a semblance to what is being described, although sadly it is too far from all that deliciousness written within.

 

 

marjan-kamaliMarjan Kamali was born in Turkey to Iranian parents. She spent her childhood in Kenya, Germany, Turkey, Iran, and the U.S. and has spent her adult life in Switzerland, Australia and America. After graduating from U.C. Berkeley, Marjan received her MBA from Columbia University and an MFA in creative writing from New York University. Her short fiction has been a top finalist in Glimmer Train’s Fiction Open and the Asian American Short Story contest. Her work has also been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and published in two anthology collections: Tremors and Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been.

Together Tea is her debut novel and will be translated into several languages including German, Italian, Norwegian, Czech, and Slovak. Marjan lives with her husband and two children in the Boston area and teaches writing at Boston University.

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I read this book for Diversiverse and RIP IX

Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson

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I want to stay here on Monkey Beach. Some places are full of power, you can feel it, like a warmth, a tingle. No sasquatches are wandering around the beach today, chased by ambitious, camera-happy boys. Just an otter lounging in the kelp bobbing in the surf and the things in the trees, which may or may not be my imagination.

 

Jimmy Hill is lost at sea, the fishing boat he was on has lost contact and things are not looking good. Lisamarie, his older sister, waits for information as the search and rescue operation begins. And she begins to reflect on her life in Kitamaat, in this small Haisla Canadian Indian community that she’s grown up in with her family, relatives, friends, sasquatches and ghosts. The narrative moves from present to past and back again, as Lisa chalks up her own (ship)wrecked life. One of alcohol and drugs, of bullies and gangs at school, of tragedies and lost loved ones. And always, forever present, the spirits, the ghosts, the premonitions that surround her, are a part of her life, make her who she is.

It just so happened that Open Road sent me an email offering an e-book version of Monkey Beach for review. I don’t receive many of these types of emails so I’ll just chalk it up to fate! I was meant to read this book and write about it for Diversiverse!

Because what a book it is. And so deserving of being read by more people, whether for Diversiverse or RIP or otherwise.

Monkey Beach was, for me, one of the more, well, diverse reads in these past few weeks of Diversiverse reading.

The Haisla culture, the life in this village north of Vancouver. It’s myths and customs, food and traditions. All completely new to me.

Then there’s that very stark difference between my current suburban American life and my Singaporean childhood, teenhood and adulthood (very urban, very populated, fast-paced, where even in the middle of the night there is noise from somewhere. Singapore is far from quiet) and life in Kitamaat, where boat trips are common, where her family goes camping or fishing or foraging in the woods for berries.

Oolichan grease is a delicacy that you have to grow up eating to love. Silvery, slender oolichans are about as long as your hand and a little thicker than your thumb. They are part of the smelt family and are one of the tastiest fish on the planet. Cooking oolichans can be as simple as broiling them in the oven until they’re singed— which is heavenly but very smelly, and hard on your ears if you have a noisy smoke alarm— or as touchy and complicated as rendering oil from them to make a concoction called grease. Oolichans can also be dried, smoked, sun-dried, salted, boiled, canned, frozen, but they are tastiest fresh. The best way to eat fresh oolichans is to run them through with a stick and roast them over an open fire like wieners, then eat them while they’re sizzling hot and dripping down your fingers.

 

I loved going to Monkey Beach, because you couldn’t take a step without crushing seashells, the crunch of your steps loud and satisfying. The water was so pure that you could see straight down to the bottom. You could watch crabs skittering sideways over discarded clam and cockleshells, and shiners flicking back and forth. Kelp the colour of brown beer bottles rose from the bottom, tall and thin with bulbs on top, each bulb with long strands growing out of it, as flat as noodles, waving in the tide.

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Lisa’s relationship with her family is also a big part of the book. Her beloved Uncle Mick, a Native rights activist, the kind of uncle who lets out a moose call to attract their attention at a party. Her cantankerous and rather hilarious grandmother Ma-ma-oo who teaches her about Haisla ways, whose thrifty ways meant her curtains were so threadbare, her TV picked up CB signals, but her fishing nets were always immaculate.

It is also a story that speaks of a love for place and culture, as Robinson has set it in the village of Kitamaat where she was born. And while remote, this little community cannot ignore the encroachment of the rest of the world and its influences.

The tide rocks the kelp beds, the long dark leaves trail gently in the cloudy green water. I hear squeaking and chirping. Dark bodies twirl in the water, pause, still for a moment as I’m examined. I dip my hands in the water and the sea otters dart away, then back, timid as fish. Well, I’m here, I think. At Monkey Beach.

And with its restless spirits, its ghostly premonitions, the visions of Sasquatches, Lisa’s life hovers between two worlds.

“I heard something crunching on the hardened snow. In the distance, I could hear whistles. Something was coming towards me. I kept watching the sky. No one’s here, I told myself. I’m not letting my imagination get away from me. I am alone, and I don’t see anything but the auroras, low on the horzion, undulating to their own music.”

Monkey Beach is that gem of a book that sweeps you off your comfy reading chair and into the embrace of a different place altogether –  the salty sea breeze caresses your hair and the greasy scent of oolichans sizzling on the campfire lures you in. And all the time, those restless spirits murmur and whisper.

Eden Victoria Lena Robinson is a novelist and short story writer from Haisla First Nation, an Indigenous nation in British Columbia, Canada.

Bibliography
Traplines (1996)
Monkey Beach (2000)
Blood Sports (2006)
Sasquatch at Home: Traditional Protocols & Modern Storytelling (2011)

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It’s Monday and we’re up and running again!

itsmonday“It’s Monday! What are you reading?” is a weekly event hosted by Sheila at Bookjourney to share with others what we’ve read the past week and planning to read next.

Ugh. What a week that was. I’m glad it’s over and the little fellow is back to his chatty cheerful self. He had a fever on Monday, then a bad sore throat and a rash over the next few days, and major irritability, resulting in lots of fussiness, refusing to eat or drink much, wanting to be carried everywhere! It left me frazzled and tired and I didn’t get to pay enough attention to his big brother, who thankfully was trying his best to be helpful!

It was tough. It’s never easy being sick but it is especially hard on the little ones who aren’t able to express themselves and say what’s wrong, neither can they just sit back and binge watch TV!

So everyone was so relieved when he began eating more and drinking more and talking more and then finally playing and walking again.

And back to his cheeky little self. I’m typing this as he finishes his cereal. He asked for milk, I got it for him and he shakes his head and said ‘dowan’ (current favourite word) and laughed. Sigh. But I’m just so glad to see him laughing and smiling again!

Currently….

Reading:

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Carrie – Stephen King

Hmm I think I was expecting this to be more… er, ‘horror’ than it is. So I haven’t gotten to the blood scene yet as they’re just at the prom. I should mention that I’ve never seen the movie(s) because I am chicken-hearted when it comes to horror movies so only have a faint idea of what’s really about to happen.

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The Shadowed Sun – NK Jemisin

It took me a while to sink into this book and recall what happened in the first book, The Killing Moon, but I am hooked.

Eating:

Funfetti cupcake – Wee Reader helped make it but decided that it’s not for him. What??

Drinking:

Water

Listening:
Gary Clark Jr (see below)

Watching:

CHEF_OS

Chef.

This movie made me drool. The food shots were gorgeous – from that simple grilled cheese sandwich to a more high-end steak. Yum. Do not watch while hungry! It was a fun movie, with a great cast!

Oh and Gary Clark Jr is featured in this movie.

Looking forward to:

Diversiverse has begun! I’ll be putting up some posts later this week!

Last week I read:

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Audition – Ryu Murakami
Ugh. I wanted something short and relatively easy to read while Wee-er Reader napped on me sometime last week – it was the only way I could get him to nap that day. And was always curious about this Murakami. But it wasn’t a good read. I’m wondering if I should bother writing about it.

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The Heartbreak Diet – Thorina Rose

Another quick read that I downloaded from the Overdrive library and onto my tablet – to read with a sleeping fella on me. This graphic novel tells of the breakup of a marriage and all the doubts and worries and fears that come along with it. Ugh. I realise this is her point of view only but the ex-husband sounds like such an a**!

What are you reading this week?

 

Offline for a bit

I’ve been meaning to post some mini reviews of books I’ve read. Plus links to bookish and non-bookish things. And posts about two children’s books that my friends in Singapore have written.

But all that will have to wait a bit. The littler reader has been sick, fever on and off, and now a sore throat. I didn’t know under-twos got sore throats and not sure where it came from as everyone at home is fine (he doesn’t go to daycare). It’s been tricky as he doesn’t want to eat, finds it hard to nap, isn’t interested in playing much and always wants to be held.

So I’m going to be doing that right now and will leave the blogging and blog-reading for another time.

See you all in a bit!

It’s Monday and I’m reading Supernatural Enhancements

itsmonday“It’s Monday! What are you reading?” is a weekly event hosted by Sheila at Bookjourney to share with others what we’ve read the past week and planning to read next.

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I’m so very sleepy this Monday morning. The 16-month-old had a fever last night – his first! – so he was lethargic and quiet and not eating much at dinner. Everyone was worried. He went to sleep OK but woke around 330 and was standing up in the crib calling out to us. I was hoping he would go back to sleep by himself but after 15-20 minutes that wasn’t happening. Plus I was worried that his fever might be worse and all those other thoughts and worries that pop into one’s head in the middle of the night. Luckily he was fine, just wanting to talk and point out things. And he went back to sleep not long after. I wish I had that luck! I lay there drifting in and out of sleep until the husband’s alarm rang at 5.55.

I so need some coffee right now!

Anyway, last week, Wee Reader started preschool again. The first day back was hectic, with the parking lot packed to the brim and everyone trying to squeeze in and out! Luckily he wasn’t reluctant to go to school and was cheerful and very talkative when I picked him up! Phew!

And with Wee Reader at school from 845-1230, I’ve got a bit more time to do things, like clean up and spend time with Wee-er Reader who is, as I despaired to the Husband the other day, becoming a boy and is no longer my baby. He’s very chatty and surprises us all with what he says, including more than just a few two-syllable words like ‘flower’ and ‘jacket’ and the very important ‘cracker’ and ‘again’ (instead of saying ‘book’ as he used to, he now asks ‘again’ when he wants to be read to!). Ask him to dance and he shakes his shoulders. He loves carrying things around the house, like, unfortunately, crayons, a toy drumstick, cars. He’s very fond of destroying his big brother’s Lego Duplo creations. And is prone to throwing himself on the floor and pretending to cry if he doesn’t get what he wants! Argh!

The two of them could not be more different. I’ll have to actually write up a post on them one day. I keep meaning to. One day!

Meanwhile, here’s what I’ve been up to:

 

 

Currently…

Reading:

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Supernatural Enhancements – Edgar Cantero

At first I wondered if it would be too gimmicky but it’s not. It’s quite a fun spooky read so far.

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Half a King (Shattered Sea #1) – Joe Abercrombie
Wow. Just wow. Ok here’s more than just “wow”. It’s an adventure. It’s a romp! It’s such rollicking good fun that feels like it ought to be read with a pint of beer at hand, a steak and ale pie* (or a very nicely medium rare steak), and a roaring fire nearby.
 

*I’m a bit obsessed with meat pies after watching the Great British Bake Off! How I miss British pies. Americans only seem to like chicken pot pies, which while nice to eat, aren’t exactly very exciting. I grew up on beef pies, my uncle in Australia (first Darwin then Perth) would fly in with some frozen beef pies every time he visited, and while those do not compare to a fresh pie, were still pretty good. And pork pies – this took some getting used to when I first lived in the UK, but there is something kind of fascinating about a towering pork pie.

Watching:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Some time back the Husband tried to convince me to watch the first Captain America. I didn’t make it even to the halfway point. So I was pleasantly surprised when the second movie was so much better! There was a bit more of a political intrigue aspect to it, less of a “one man saves the world” type of show. And Robert Redford is in it! Robert Redford?!? I was not expecting that!

Eating:
Taiwanese mooncake. I like the flaky pastry.

Drinking:
I’m going to make myself an espresso in a bit

Last week…

I read:

togethertea

Together Tea – Marjan Kamali

bodytower

The Body at the Tower (The Agency #2) – YS Lee

monkeybeach

Monkey Beach – Eden Robinson

Reviews to come!


I posted
:

       Read in August 2014     

       Weekend Cooking: Quick Brioche and Lemon cupcakes     

       Library Loot     

       TLC Book Tours: The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar     

What are you reading this week?

Read in August 2014

Places travelled: London, South Korea, Malacca (Malaysia), Alaska, Seattle, New York City, Ohio, Africa (country not specified)

I started Book One of a new-to-me series, finished the final book in another (The Magician’s Land – very satisfying although I should have reread the first two or at least the second book for a refresher!). And also picked up a couple of much-chatted about books (Where’d you go, Bernadette? and The Vacationers)

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos (Theodosia Throckmorton #1) – R.L. LaFevers
I’ll be right there – Shin Kyung-Sook
Ghost bride – Yangsze Choo
Where’d you go, Bernadette? – Maria Semple
The Stranger’s Child – Alan Hollinghurst
The Magicians Land – Lev Grossman
The Vacationers – Emma Straub
The Story Hour – Thrity Umrigar
The White Bone – Barbara Gowdy
Siege and Storm – Leigh Bardugo
Zone One – Colson Whitehead (review to come)
Ruin and Rising – Leigh Bardugo

Weekend Cooking: Quick Brioche and Lemon cupcakes

I’ve been hesitant about trying the recipes from The World of Bread by Malaysian baker Alex Goh (can’t seem to find much information online about him other than this outdated blog, but here’s a link to a food blogger who has tried out quite a few of his recipes, including the intriguing Celery Bread).

My mother-in-law gave this to me for Christmas 2010 and nearly four years later, I’m trying out a recipe!

The problem is that baking, especially bread-making, requires specific instructions and the recipes in this book aren’t written that way. The publisher was probably trying to squeeze as much as possible – in English and Malay as you can see below – in this slim volume so details are scant.

 

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I guess I’m used to Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Bread Bible where she specifies both the time and the Kitchenaid mixer speed for each of mixing. And how much the dough should rise during proofing.

So I was rather lost when I read through this recipe. But decided to persevere. Partly because I was intrigued by the instructions to place the dough in the freezer. In the freezer! Dough! In the freezer!

But yeah, it worked, kind of! I didn’t bother with the ‘tete’ or the head so it looks less like a brioche and more like a muffin, because, well, I used a muffin tin. So this brioche-muffin doesn’t look like a brioche but still tasted relatively eggy and buttery. And more importantly, it was really really quick. Just two hours of proofing and then into the oven it goes. I think most brioche recipes call for several hours of proofing or even overnight.

I might try it again but add an extra egg and see if that improves the taste.

 

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And because my Mum is a lover of lemons, I thought I’d make her some lemon cupcakes from Bake by Rachel Allen, a cookbook that she bought for me some years ago. (Check out my post on my cookbook collection here). I’ve had some trouble with some of the recipes from this cookbook before (although others have been quite yummy) and unfortunately, this lemon cupcake recipe had some problems. I had to bake it for quite a bit longer than it called for, and the cupcake itself, without the frosting, was not very lemony despite my adding twice the amount of lemon zest required! But the lemon buttercream was quite lovely.

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weekendcooking

Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs