On My Shelf – Catch Up Edition

It has been far, far too long since I have shared an ‘On My Shelf’ post with you all.

There have been many books in the intervening months. Perhaps not as many as I would like, but I am a slower reader. I prefer to linger on the page and really soak in the story, the characters, and even just the words themselves before moving onto the next chapter.

The highlights for me over the past few months have been:

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Rapunzel reimagined with all the classic ingredients combined into a fresh new take on an old tale. I was so captivated by this fairy adaptation that one morning after a run I sat in a kitchen chair, unmoving, and finished it. When I looked up three hours had passed! Kate Forsyth weaves this story through Renaissance Italy and Revolutionary France, and despite the fantastical elements you are able to believe in the story and its place in history. Highly recommended.

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse

Oh Kate Mosse, can I be you when I grow up? Far better than the supermodel, this Kate Mosse is a bestselling author, playwright, co-founder of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, teaches, and is a wife and mother too! Labyrinth is the first in her three part ‘Languedoc’ series. All of the books feature a timeline that weaves between modern day and the Languedoc region in the past. This first one features Dr Alice Tanner, who discovers two skeletons whilst on an archaeological dig in France. This discovery triggers a chain of events that has deep dark ties to the past, and dire consequences for the future. Kate Mosse writes a good old fashioned adventure story laced with history and a sprinkling of romance.

White Jacket Required: A Culinary Coming of Age Story by Jenna Weber

I am a huge fan of Jenna’s blog: Eat, Live, Run, and so I couldn’t believe that it took me so long to read her book. As a young woman still searching for the real purpose of my life (ah yes, mid-twenties quarter life crisis in full effect) I empathised with Jenna’s journey to culinary school and the amazing adventures that awaited her outside the kitchen doors. White Jack Required is an intimate look into the life of one of my favourite bloggers, and she doesn’t hold much back at all. Keep the tissues handy for this one readers.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

‘It’s dark,’ my little sister said when I loaned her this one to read ‘dark and delicious.’ In summary The Shining Girls sounds like science fiction, but it is more of a psychological thriller. This novel about a time-travelling Depression-era serial killer and the girl who got away and grew up waiting for her chance to hunt him down. Tightly written and told through the viewpoint of several different characters The Shining Girls will have you gripping the pages until you turn the very last one.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

This book has been on my ‘to read’ list since I attended a panel featuring the beautiful Eowyn Ivey at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival last year. I am so happy that I finally picked it up. I devoured it over a weekend, and it only left me hungry for more from this author. The Snow Child tells the story of a married couple who have moved to Alaska to begin their life over again. Unable to have a child of their own they are just searching for something more in their life to fill the hole in their hearts. One wintry Alaskan night in the middle of a snow storm a little girl appears. She comes inside and so starts a new, wild, hope, disaster, and miracle filled journey for the characters. With the central themes of family, wishes, and the miracles of life, The Snow Child would be a perfect holiday season read.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Another story about second chances. Only this time the protagonist, Ursula Todd, is given more than a second chance. Ursula is given the gift or curse of starting her life over and over again from the very beginning until she gets it right. Ursula is born just before the First World War and has come of age when the Second comes around. Every choice she makes, every road she takes has consequences that she must live with, until her next second chance comes around. I have been wrapped up tightly in this story for the past couple of nights, and it has me thinking about how we never know what big waves the small ripples our lives will cause.

So, dear readers, what have books have you been keeping company with lately? What’s next on your list? I am jumping back into some Kate Forsyth with ‘Wild Girl’ – a tale about the woman who inspired The Brothers Grimm, and maybe even wrote some of the stories…

Nourished Mind: On My Shelf in 2013

It’s been a while since my last bookshelf post so I thought now, with the early onslaught of wintery weather here in Brisbane, it might be an opportune time to share some of the best reads that have featured on my night stand or in my beach bag over the past couple of months.

My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story with Recipes by Luisa Weiss (published by Viking Adult, 2012)

Luisa has the most beautiful blog at ‘The Wednesday Chef’ where she shares stories of her peripatetic early life and her family life now in Berlin. Reading ‘My Berlin Kitchen’ is like peaking into someone’s diary at different stages of their life, and watching a woman grow into her own soul. As the title states this is a love story, and Luisa’s has a wonderfully happy ending – filled with mouthwatering food of course. I savoured every page of this book. Now I’m just trying to figure out the right occasion to pull out her recipe for jam doughnuts – who am I kidding? Do you really need an occasion for doughnuts.

The Sprouted Kitchen: A Tastier Take on Whole Foods by Sara Forte. Photographed by Hugh Forte (published by Ten Speed Press, 2012).

I am a Sprouted Kitchen blog junkie. I will gladly admit to spending hours reading through posts that I have read before. Sara lures you to her kitchen table with tales of life and food and Hugh supplies delightful photos to accompany his wife’s words. I read this volume cover to cover when it arrived on my doorstep last year. One of my favourite recipes so far is toasted millet with arugula, quick pickled onions and goat cheese, and I can’t wait to make a winter supper featuring the braised white beans and leeks.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan (published by Penguin, 2007)

A classic that I am ashamed to admit that I hadn’t read yet. Michael Pollan’s ‘In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto‘ was the book that changed my shopping habits from supermarket to farmer’s market, which has become such an important and enriching weekly ritual. The Omnivore’s Dilemma is divided into three main sections where Pollan traces his meal from paddock (be that an industrial corn field, a large-scale organic production, a pasture where everything is connected, or a forest field) to plate and accounts for the costs, both moral and environmental, along the way. A must-read for those who are endlessly curious about our food systems, or just want to think a little more deeply about the eternal question: what’s for dinner?

A Game of Throne: Book One of ‘A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin (published by Bantam Books, 1996)

I’m only two-hundred pages into this first tome in a series of seven, but I am already in love with Martin’s depth of description and the way he weaves the stories of multiple characters across a vast world into a tangled-yet-intimate epic. This is the book that I have been needing for a long time; a juicy epic fantasy that I can’t put down. Thank you for a perfect Valentine’s Day present Chris.

In other book related news, I have just started my internship with the Australian Writer’s Marketplace at The Queensland Writer’s Centre! I am so lucky to be spending the next six months dabbling in the real world of writing and authors. I can’t wait to see what I’ll learn.

Queensland State Library

Queensland State Library

So dear reader, what is sitting on your bedside table at the moment, or keeping you company on your commute?

Nourished Mind: On my shelf in November

One of my favourite things about summer holidays is the promise of a large stack of books and hours to fill lost within their pages. I have an ambitiously long reading list for this summer, too long in fact to really share, or even commit to paper. I have years worth of must-buy best-sellers to catch up on, classics to study to plumb gaps in my modern education, and non-fiction titles to stretch my science-minded brain in different directions.

Here are some of the titles that have filled my first month of summer:

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister (published by HarperCollins, 2009)

The hard, round cake of chocolate was wrapped in yellow plastic with red stripes, shiny and dark when she opened it. The chocolate made a rough sound as it brushed across the fine section of the grater, falling in soft clouds onto the counter, releasing a scent of back rooms filled with bittersweet chocolate and old love letters, the bottom drawers of antique desks and the last leaves of autumn, almonds and cinnamon and sugar. (p.36)

Erica Bauermeister weaves this enchanting story of ordinary people with tales of their time in the kitchen, and what food represents in their lives. Each character’s journey surrounds an essential ingredients: chocolate, apples, ripe summer tomatoes; more importantly each character’s journey leads them to the most essential ingredient of all: love.

A Homemade Life: stories and recipes from my kitchen table by Molly Wizenberg (published by Simon & Schuster, 2009)

The first book by the wonderful Molly Wizenberg has been acclaimed in all corners for good reason: this memoir begins at the kitchen table and I truly felt like one of the family because Molly weaves each chapter’s tale as though she is regaling a friend over a cup of coffee and a slice of cake, or sustaining them with hope in the face of hurt through a winter dinner of butternut soup. I cried, I laughed, and I grew hungrier and hungrier with each page.

Year of Wonders: a novel of the plague by Geraldine Brooks (published by HarperCollins, 2001)

Cold, dark and lonely landscapes filled my mind when I read Geraldine Brooks’ novel of a small English countryside village during the plague. Isolating themselves by choice to avoid infecting the surrounding towns, the community must learn to live, and to die, with only each other for solace. Anna Frith is an unlikely heroine, but one you will soon grow to love as she grows, and survives through her ‘year of wonders’.

A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, Book One) by Deborah Harkness (published by Headline, 2011)

I could tell you that my absence from the virtual world has been caused by the fact that I am in the midst of wedding celebration madness twice over (both my best friends are getting married in December!), and that I am up to my elbows in butter, flour, and sugar (I know, poor me…), and both of these excuses would be honest; however, a lot of the blame also falls on this book. I was immediately caught up in the story of Diana Bishop – academic, witch, rower, and tea drinker – and Matthew – scientist, vampire, and oenophile. Magic, science, history, and love course through their journey to save an ancient manuscript whose echoes threaten their future together. I dare you not to get lost in the pages of this one – and oh! it’s the first of a trilogy…

Tell me, dear reader, what books are you lost in at the moment? Are you a fiction devotee? Any particular genre? or are you a non-fiction junkie? Any specific topics?

Wednesday ‘On the Shelf': The gift of fairy tales

Once upon a time…
In a kingdom far, far away…
There lived a brave…
There lived a beautiful…
An enchanted forest where dragons, elves, and fairies dwell surrounded the castle…

There is something about fairy tales that whispers to our soul. Across ages, pages, and the passage of time, a deeper part of ourselves recognises and identifies with the lure of once upon a time, and the promise of happily ever after.
Fairy tales amplify all the parts of human nature; the good, the bad, and the ugly become the saintly and effervescent, the wicked and evil, and the warty and weird.
Our beginnings, average and suburban, become once upon a time in a kingdom far, far away.
Our homes become castles, our challenges and fears become dragons and evil queens.
Everyday life and the steps we take to move towards our dreams are woven into quests and searches for lost treasure.
Unexpected delights and the rewards for hard work are transformed into magic, true love’s first kiss, and happily ever after.

Fairy tales existed long before the wonderful Grimms brothers and Hans Christian Anderson decided to write them down. These tales are of a deeper time, a far away time, which may or may not have existed, but they have lessons for us in contemporary society. Simple to complex, heartening to terrifying, these tales carry messages that are timeless. Morals and ethics woven throughout the trials and triumphs of fair maidens and knights in shining armour. Fairy tales are finding a place in psychotherapy to help people explore deeper themes and trials in their life. Through identifying with characters and situations patients are able to navigate their way through disturbances in their lives and find hope and healing and even their own happy end.

My favourite fairy tale has always been ‘Beauty and the Beast’. The central tenet that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, not the reflection of the beholden, and that beauty lies in the heart of everyone.

I truly believe that we all find our happily ever afters but we need to keep our eyes open to recognise them, because sometimes they don’t start in a castle with once upon a time.

My dear reader, what is your favourite fairy tale and why?

Thursday Good Things

Brisbane in winter. The fickle lion who at once will roar with might, and then mew like a kitten.

This week has seen stormy nights and days with skies of brightest blue.

Autumn leaves on a tree

The cold stays though, lighter during the day when sunny patches can be sought, then heavier at night when the only thing to do is snuggle under the patchwork quilt my Mama made me with a cup of tea and a book. So then, in the spirit of a fickle winter, as I am on occasion a fickle woman ruled by the weather, I present to you my list of good things this Thursday.

This is an issue that divides many people, in many countries, but for my opinion, I believe in marriage equality. The right for any of us to declare to society that we love someone, and we commit to them, in the most binding of ways. GetUp Australia has released a beautiful video about marriage laws in Australia.

Now, for the lighter side of the list. I am currently on holidays and scrambling to catch up on some much-neglected reading. I am a true lover of cosy mysteries so you can bet there are a few of those on my shelf to be enjoyed in the spirit of all things Marple. One series that has recently caught my fancy is the ‘Cupcake Bakery Mysteries’ by Jenn McKinlay. I read the first in the series (Sprinkle with Murder) while I was writing my assignments and I was instantly enchanted and had to order the whole series. Immediately. Others on my reading list include novels by John Connolly, which promise to be darkly gothic and ghostly – perfect for winter reading; ‘The Marriage Plot‘ by Jeffrey Eugenides – recommended to me by my lovely friend Jenny; and, continuing my Geraldine Brooks obsession (I just finished ‘People of the Book’ not twenty minutes ago), ‘Year of Wonders: a novel of the plague‘.

To balance out all that snuggling under my quilt, I will be keeping up my training for the Southern Cross University 10km run. This race is part of the Gold Coast Marathon festival, where I completed the half marathon last year, this year Jess and I will be up early and doing the 10km race while Mum and Dad do the 5.7km walk. Nothing like team spirit! Especially at 5.30am in the middle of winter….

Oh, and one last really good thing for the list, because I really never can have too many red sequins in my closet….(check these out)

Wednesday – On the Shelf

Mise en place.

Translated from French, and used most commonly as culinary terminology, means ‘putting in place’.

While I am an ‘everything in place girl’ when I am in the kitchen, mise en place applies to so many other areas in my life as well, especially when it comes to writing.

University grounds at sunset

When I try to enter the world of ether and mist that is words, I need to have everything else at rest. I need a centre when I enter the storm.

University grounds

Last night our lecturer spoke about allowing ourselves to enter the creative space and just write, worry about the editing later, just let the story tell itself, and come back to reality later. When I have succeeded in mise en place, that creative space opens like a door in front of me. I may have to fight a few dragons at the gate and shackle an anchor to myself in the rocky sea of writing, at least I can see the way there more easily.

When that door opens, and the world beyond finally allows me entrance, there is no other place I would rather be, I can be transported to a deserted road in the middle of Australia, a wooded trail in Victorian England, or a dark starry night where the waves crash in against the sound on a shore I have never seen.

Here is a sneak peek at a place I have found myself lately (from one of my assignments).

Prologue:

The letter arrived the day of the funeral, if you could call it that, Catherine mused, as there was no body to be interred that misty morning. A funeral usually had more than one mourner in attendance as well, but Catherine stood alone in the light rain listening to the priest’s deep voice intoning the Latin phrases of a final prayer over the small pit that contained only ashes. The priest finished and turned to the tall, pale, young woman who had yet to weep over her father’s final resting place. He regarded her solemnly with pale, watery blue eyes and a respectful nod before he turned away and made his way back to the rector’s cottage out of the cold, grey morning.

Catherine pulled her wool cloak closer about her. Though it had reached mid-morning, the sun had yet to make an appearance and the night fog still clung to the ground. She was alone. Alone in this small graveyard, and in the world. 


Tell me my dear reader, when do you most need everything in place?