The Five Book Challenge

There are many great book challenges out there such as the A-Z book challenge (where you read books by authors with surnames beginning with A right through to Z) or the 52 book for 52 weeks of the year challenge but sadly, my year, and my bookshelf, were too short to attempt either of these.

Instead, I took on a somewhat easier book challenge which involved reading five books in genres you don’t usually read. The idea is to broaden your horizons  (i.e. stop the PG Wodehouse and Agatha Christie binge reading that I am very prone too) and try something different. My picks were Mills and Boon, science fiction, young adult, western, and fantasy, all genres I have never had the time (or, I’m sorry too say, inclination) to read. The nice thing about taking on any sort of challenge is that once you have vaguely mentioned it to understanding family (who incidentally had hysterical laughing fits and commented on how the mighty fallen re the Mills and Boon…) that you are thinking of doing one, you are, indeed committed.

MILLS AND BOON: The Librarian’s Passionate Knight

CoverMy Mills and Boon pick was The Librarian’s Passionate Knight (of course, this had to be any respectable librarian’s Mills and Boon pick). Phoebe is a lonely, bespectacled librarian (note: contrary to popular novelist’s opinion, it is not part of our job description to wear glasses), whose only real joy in her life is her job. One night, she is accosted by her stalkerish ex-boyfriend as she walks down the street. Enter gorgeous billionaire Daniel Barone and his “rock hard abs” who happen to be strolling by at the time. Happily for Phoebe, Daniel (and his rock hard abs) come gallantly to her rescue and an amazing romance begins. There is mention of Phoebe’s tragic past- (with an alcoholic parent and an abusive boyfriend thrown into the sad mix)- and then we are of course back to Daniel’s rock hard abs (Gerard is an author who presumably believes in prioritising). Of course it is the chemistry between the two that audiences are after, and happily there is plenty. This was a light, enjoyable  (though admittedly not especially deep) read. I can see why so many people get addicted to this genre as it is certainly a lot of fun. A good introduction to Mills and Boon? I would (cautiously- and very quietly so my family won’t hear me), say yes.

SCIENCE FICTION: The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Cover

As soon as I mentioned to my all-knowing hubbie that I needed a sci fi read, I was told that The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams was my perfect match. I couldn’t argue. I was hooked from page one by Adams’ wondrous mix of fantasy and Wodehouse/Milligan-ish humour (I mention this as an avid fangirl of the two). Lines like:

A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools”

could have come straight from Plum himself, and inspired lunacy such as:

“Not unnaturally, many elevators imbued with intelligence and precognition became terribly frustrated with the mindless business of going up and down, up and down, experimented briefly with the notion of going sideways, as a sort of existential protest, demanded participation in the decision-making process and finally took to squatting in basements sulking” 

is certainly on a par with the great Spike Milligan.

As to the story, it all begins one Thursday afternoon as Arthur Dent protests the upcoming destruction of his house to make way for a new bypass. Unfortunately, the earth too is scheduled for demolition that day to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Arthur and his friend, a hitchhiker from another planet, soon find themselves the sole survivors of the demolition and armed with nothing but their towels and a book which displays the words ‘DON’T PANIC’, they begin their journey of inspired lunacy through the galaxy. I inevitably made my way through the series in far shorter time than I would have liked. Happily though, each book is sheer genius, a sure winner even for those who, like me, are not really big on fantasy.

YOUNG ADULTS: Wildlife

CoverMy awesome colleague and YA expert Alina (who also blogs, plug plug) recommended me Wildlife by Fiona Wood.  As a big fan of I Capture the Castle style YA (i.e well written, with a good plot, which is just as good to read if you’re an adult), this was an ideal match for me. Told by two narrators (which I didn’t actually realise until a quarter of the way through, YA readers are obviously far more on the ball – or just far more awake- than me), ‘Wildlife’ tells the story of two girls’ experiences attending a school wilderness camp. Lou is recovering from the tragic death of her young boyfriend- while Sib is simply trying to survive a toxic friendship and her first romance. Clever, touching and memorable, ‘Wildlife’ is a joy to read and certainly got me hooked on Fiona Wood. I did, incidentally, read Cloudwish straight after this, a gorgeous read about the teenage daughter of a Vietnamese immigrant family. A fabulous introduction to YA (thanks Alina!!).

FANTASY: Good Omens

CoverGood Omens – An angel and demon working together to bring about the apocalypse- a bit of confusion about where exactly the young anti Christ got to – what could possibly go wrong? Happily for fans of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, plenty, and it makes for fabulous reading.
Though admittedly the middle part of this did drag a bit for me (with a little too much back and forth between multiple characters, some of whom just didn’t interest me as much), this was a thoroughly enjoyable read far worth pursuing till its fabulous end. A hilarious, clever read, ”Good Omens’ is a wonderful fantasy novel to start on. Pratchett and Gaiman really are a writing team made in heaven.

WESTERN: Riders of the Purple Sage

CoverRiders of the Purple Sage tells the story of Jane Withersteen, a 28 year old Mormon woman facing pressure to marry one of the polygamous elders of her community. Brave, fair but determined to keep the peace, Jane is also faced with the problem of continuing her friendship with two friends – one of them a notorious gunman and killer of Mormons.

A constant on classic Western lists, ‘Riders of the Purple Sage’ has influenced many other Western novels due to its winning formula of romance, action, strong plot, and evocative descriptions of the American West (there are a lot of descriptions of sage incidentally – much, much, sage – in fact, there are no descriptions of sage that Zane Grey does not like). While some may argue this classic is now a little dated, it remains an engaging read and, I imagine, a must for fans of this genre

With the New Year coming up it is the perfect time to set yourself a book challenge- why not try one out? There is a great list of 2018 reading challenges by Popsugar and of course there is our own library book challenge this summer for kids and one for the adults too. Whatever stage you are at (whether you have just finished a book challenge or are about to make a start) we’d love to know. Feel free to leave a comment below. Good luck and of course have fun!

The Little Library Cookbook

You know that a book is a wonder when you stomp around the house muttering ‘I should have written this’. The wonderful new cookbook by Kate Young The little library cookbook really is one such SATHM (stomp around the house muttering) book.

Fiction and food are one of life’s irresistible combinations, and ‘literary’ cookbooks have always been a weakness of mine. I’m thinking of Cherry cake and ginger beer, The unofficial Harry Potter cookbook, and Dinner With Mr Darcy, the list goes on. However, there is something particularly appealing about Kate Young’s contribution to this unique foodie genre. Not only are the recipes seriously good- (if a cookbook contains a bread recipe that enables me to produce a loaf of crusty goodness rather than a forlorn looking dough worthy of papier mache, then I know that the cook knows their stuff), but also, the narrative is simply gorgeous. Young takes us on not only a culinary and literary journey, but also an engagingly personal one that had me wanting to reminisce, cook and read simultaneously.

Young includes the essential recipes that any respectable ‘library cookbook’ should have (I am of course thinking of Proust’s madeleine in particular here), but she also includes recipes from books that are simply dear to her heart. These include crab and avocado salad from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, chicken casserole from Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women, and gin martini and chicken sandwich from JD Salinger’s Franny and Zooey.

Young is not limited in her literary taste either, with ‘hunny’ and rosemary cakes’ worthy of Winnie the Pooh getting a deserved mention, and even vanilla layer cake as Anne of Green Gables originally intended getting its full due.

This was perhaps what I loved best about this gorgeous book — the lovely surprises when I turned page after page to also see one of my own beloved authors getting their recipe out there, such as mince pies from Kate Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum, curried chicken from Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Homes, and eclairs from Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love. Young’s taste in both food and literature is so close to my own; I was busy lapping up every word and nodding profusely in agreement.

Observations really do make Young’s narrative a joy, see du Maurier’s Rebecca:

the sinister Mrs, Danvers, surely one of the most insidious and manipulative villains in literature, turns a story that could be romantic into one where even the crumpets seem to be a threat.

and E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View:

the thing is, I think meringues and coffee get a raw deal here. They’re meant to be emblematic of the comfortable, predictable life that Lucy lives as a young woman, but I think they deserve better… And so I am here to advocate for meringues and coffee.

I very much enjoyed her bookish reminiscences along the way, such as her passage on first reading The book thief:

I have a vivid memory of being reduced to tears by the ending, trapped in a window seat on a flight to Italy. Perhaps inevitably for a story narrated by death and set in Germany during the second world war, it’s devastating.

I also enjoyed the stories of family and friends along the way, in fact, as the youngest of three sisters, her dedication of Shirley Jackson’s ‘spice cookies’ to her own sister bought a bit of a lump to my throat (also, as my sisters would heartily concur, greater love hath no sister than this that she should lay down her cookie recipe…).

There is nothing not to love about this gorgeous book — engaging, beautifully presented, and full of scrumptious recipes, this really is a must read for all book loving foodies.

The Little Library Cookbook
by Kate Young
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9781784977672

See also: Moata’s booklist  Pop culture will eat itself for themed cookbooks for movies, TV shows, literature and art.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Sequel

Based on a story by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the transcript of the celebrated London play. The story takes place 19 years after the battle of Hogwarts or, (in muggle terms), ten years after publication of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, the last instalment in this beloved series.

Harry, now married to Ginny, is the father of three children, and works for the Ministry of Magic (couldn’t they have given Harry a slightly cushier job? I mean we muggles would at least have given him a knighthood …).

Ron has taken over Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes’ (he kind of helped to save the world too by the way people, just saying, headmaster of Hogwarts maybe?…). Hermione and Ron are happily married with a daughter, and that is all we care about, right? Wrong. The main focus of this story is on Harry’s difficult relationship with his son Albus. Living in the shadow of his father, Albus Potter is a bitter, alienated teen, with something to prove, and slowly, as the story goes on, well, he doesn’t really prove it. He does however cultivate a great friendship with Draco Malfoy’s wonderfully drawn son, Scorpius. Fun, endearing, and emotionally intelligent, Scorpius saves this play from just being a bit of a cheesy reunion with the Harry Potter cast. There is some good banter between the two such as:

Albus: We’re ready to put our lives at risk.
Scorpius: Are we?

How Draco produced a real brick, and Harry produced a bit of a plank, is something we will gloss over, as we will the fact that Harry, perhaps the greatest wizard of all time, still wears glasses and hasn’t managed to conjure up some twenty/twenty vision for himself after all these years.

The story centres around the death of Cedric Diggory at the Triwizard tournament, back in Harry’s fourth year at Hogwarts. Albus and Scorpius, determined to correct the past, end up rewriting the past with dangerous consequences. There are some traditional, and ever welcome, Rowling plot devices along away- such as poly juice potions, time turners, and appearances at Hogwarts. Like the main Harry Potter novels, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is very character driven and fans will be thrilled by appearances from old characters like Snape, Dumbledore, and even Harry’s parents.

While this did have a bit of a fan fiction feel about it for me, I loved getting the chance to hang out with the Harry Potter crew again. I grew up with Harry, Ron and Hermione, so, like any respectable Harry Potter fan, reading this was not an opportunity to be passed up on. While the plot wasn’t a typically clever, intricate Rowling plot, it certainly kept me engaged until the very end, and I enjoyed a lot of the fun dialogue:

GINNY: I’m scared too. 
RON: Nothing scares me. Apart from. Mum.

Harry-ites will have to bear in mind that ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ is in play format, and was not written by Rowling herself, if they want to have a good time reading this. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was always going to be a bit of cursed sequel as most fans have been gagging for a follow up for the past ten years. The pressure to be as good as the rest of a bestselling series is always huge, not made easier in this situation by the fact that Rowling herself is not the writer. If you are keen to make some allowances and not expect a ‘sequel’, I guarantee you’ll just have a fun time reuniting with the world of Harry Potter again. After all, as Albus Dumbledore said, ‘perfection is beyond the reach of humankind’. Except, I will add, if it has been written by JK Rowling.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child parts 1 and 2.
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand