Stocking up on sugar and good fortune

Cover image of "Recipe for life"In the days following February’s earthquake, I found myself hankering after chocolate, sugar-coated biscuits, syrupy tea. Now I find myself craving something different: sweet reads.

Taking refuge in Dunedin as my house in Christchurch awaits demolition, I recently headed to Dunedin Public Library to take advantage of their reciprocal borrowing arrangement for earthquake evacuees. As I browsed the A – Z fiction shelves for an attractive-looking spine, I came across Recipe for Life. I turned the book over to read the blurb and shook my head, amused. Serendipitously, I had a picked up a novel about someone struggling to pick up the pieces of her shattered life after surviving a horrific event.

I devoured this book in two days. Nicky Pellegrino transported me to Italy; full of delicious flavours, comforting smells, vibrant colours and life – both bitter and sweet. It was exactly what I needed; a book that made me smile in delight and nod in empathy.

This has got me wondering – do we always choose our books or do books sometimes choose us? Are we drawn to particular titles because they whisper to our subconscious on some level or do we only find meaning in the pages because we want to?

What books have you read that mirrored your own life in some unexpected way?

Want an appetising read? Tell us what kind of books you enjoy, and we’ll give you some suggestions.

Things left behind

What treasures lie betwixt these pages...
What treasures lie betwixt these pages...

The other day I was lying around at home reading a book. About page 73, I discovered a single grain of uncooked rice wedged in between the pages. On further inspection the grain turned out to be arborio rice. This sent my mind off on a bit of a wander/wonder (it wasn’t a particularly gripping book).

How did the rice get there? Was there risotto for tea? Had the cook thrown the rice wildly around the kitchen while reading the book? (It wasn’t even a cookbook). Or perhaps the rice was destined for something other than dinner? Beanie baby stuffing? Pasta collage? Suburban genetically-engineered paddy-field development?

And then, quite serendipitously for my musings, my son arrived waving a couple of plane tickets he’d found tucked into his library book. Someone, apparently, had taken one of our books on a holiday to Rarotonga.

So many times I’ve found things tucked away between the pages – mostly the surprises are pleasant, or at least not unpleasant: pretty bookmarks, cards saying, “I louve yeou Mumm” in purple crayon, exotic travel documents, even interesting shopping lists. It really adds a whole other dimension to whatever book it is, illustrating just how varied and diverse our readers are, as well as what an exciting life the books themselves lead (I once had to deal with a customer who’d dropped his novel off the side of a boat while swimming with sharks in Fiji).

Of course, balancing these happy finds is the odd discovery I’d have preferred NOT to make (close your eyes now if you’re squeamish): the completely squashed flat dead bird in a magazine, for example, and other less-than-seemly finds.

Anyone out there top my stories? What’s the best/worst/most valuable/ oddest thing YOU have ever discovered?


One of the difficult things about working surrounded by books all day (yes, I know, life is hard) is that sometimes I find myself reading a book I have no idea why, how or where I found it.  It’s easy to find the authors I already know I can’t live without (oh, Terry, please be well and clever as long as you can), or the series that I am eagerly awaiting each new title of (hurry UP, Mr Koontz, and tell me what happens to Christopher Snow), or even the ones that everyone else tells me I MUST read (actually, this category I often get a bit silly about and refuse to read, just to be contrary).

But the serendipitous finds are the real treasures.  They may not be the best books I’ve ever read, but the very fact that they come out of nowhere, and without any great weight of expectation behind them, makes them a real treat.

So in the spirit of giving, and with more than a little anxiety (how embarrassing to share a new ‘treat’, only to have others say either, “Oh, that old thing … ” or, “Actually, I didn’t care for that book at all … “), here are a few of my recent unexpected discoveries:

Chris Knopf’s The Last Refuge – boring cover, average book blurb, hero I would normally loathe, but somehow a deeply enjoyable read

Jonathan Coe’s The House of Sleep – old and crusty-looking, but un-put-downable, with great characters, great story and a great ending

Robin McKinley’s Sunshine – yes, it’s another vampire story, but unexpectedly oh so much more than just another gothic horror bodice-ripper!  (sorry, Christine Feehan and friends … )

Anyone else out there want to share a surprise find?  I promise I won’t be scathing or dismissive …