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Archive for March, 2012

First up, a link to Marian Keye’s website.

For not only does she give great cake, she’s also one of my favourite Must-Read authors, lifting Chick-Lit to new heights: http://www.mariankeyes.com/Home

Next up, Nigella Lawson.

I love her dabbling approach to cooking, and I understand her addiction to buying cookery books. This recipe sounds so weird – Baked Ham in Coca Cola?!? –  yet tastes divine. Really, you HAVE to try it: http://www.nigella.com/recipes/view/ham-in-coca-cola-171

And finally, Nigel Slater.

I think I have all his books, including his 2 memoirs. In addition to TV shows and writing books, he writes a regular column for the Guardian newspaper. Here’s a link to 5 Warming Breakfasts for Winter: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/feb/19/nigel-slater-breakfast-recipes

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Saved By Cake

 

I know I usually review fiction and this is a cookery book, but I have a weakness for cookery books – a passion, actually – with the emphasis being on delicious baked goods. When I’m stressed, I bake. And so I was intrigued to learn that the bestselling fiction author, Marian Keyes, actually used baking to haul herself out of a deep depression. And be honest. Who could possibly resist a pink-covered cookery book titled Saved By Cake, over 80 ways to bake yourself happy.

When I buy cookery books, I like to have a bit more than recipes and pictures to go at. Memoirs, funny tales, explanatory notes – they all add to the experience and the pleasure aspect of simply being able to read a cookery book. Some of my favourite food writers are Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater for that very reason. You can imagine my delight when I found Saved By Cake to include all sorts of delightful insights into MK’s life.

Medically speaking, there’s no such thing as a nervous breakdown. Which is very annoying to discover when you’re right in the middle of one.

Most of the recipes are prefaced with a little bit extra, and some had me laughing aloud. Marian is talking cake, cake, cake to her long suffering husband:

Somehow the conversation strayed onto Millionaire’s Shortbread and how hard it would be to make. To my great surprise, he suddenly became very animated and stopped looking like a man considering setting himself on fire, sat up straight and said, “No, it’s really easy! I used to make it when I was a teenager.”

I can’t tell you! It was like discovering he was secretly Argentinian and had enjoyed a moderately successful career as a polo player in his twenties.

And in this extract, she’s explaining the lengthy ritual of baking the Christmas Cake:

My poor mother, the stress of it was terrible for her. The whole deal was TCMNF (The Cake Must Not Flop). And apparently anything – anything – could make the cake flop. Any loud noise. Any sudden movement. Any bad news. My memory is that we spent hours and hours and hours tiptoeing around a darkened house, conversing in whispers, the tv and radio silenced. Under no circumstances must a shoe fall on the floor or a person burst into song (highly unlikely, given the tension). And if anyone opened the oven door, there was no telling, simply no telling, what awful consequences would ensue.

Then there was the year it didn’t happen:

One year she was just so overwhelmed by the responsibility of Making the Christmas Cake that she gave up entirely and my brothers Niall and Tadhg came home from school to find her lying limp in an armchair, the cake half mixed and they – entirely clueless – had to take over. She says all she can remember from that terrible day is overhearing Tadhg saying, “feck in another egg.” Then a while later Niall saying, “feck in more flour.” She has no memory of how the cake eventually turned out.

So there you go. Heavenly looking cakes, desserts and biscuits, all with beautiful, almost edible, photographs – including yummy little cookies shaped like shoes and dresses. I want some! NOW!!!

On that note, I’m finishing my review so that I can go and investigate my larder. I must have the basics in there, enough to whip up a tray of cupcakes… Now where did I put those cake cases?

5 glorious, sweet and delicious stars out of 5.

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Heaven

Heaven.

 

A link to the TwoGallants blog. Beautiful pictures, dreamy words 🙂

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Jabril

I actually read Jabril right after finishing Raphael. Well, there might have been a few hours sleep sandwiched in between, but not much. I’m just a wee bit behind on my reviews…

Jabril opens up right where Raphael finished. Cyn and Raphael have split up and she runs from California to Texas, to pick up another job for a vampire lord – as far away as possible from Raphael.

This lord, however, is the polar opposite of Raphael.

Had she expected them all to be like Raphael – beautiful, lying bastard that he was? Sure, he’d broken her heart, but all those Boy Scout virtues, like honorable and trustworthy, applied to him too. Powerful as he was, he ruled his territory with the loyalty and respect of his people, rather than fear.

She’s been called in to track down a missing person – a 17-yr old human girl, Elizabeth. The vampire lord, Jabril Karim al Subaie had been granted custody of Elizabeth and her older sister, Mirabelle – and planned to take control of their inherited fortune on Elizabeth’s 18th birthday. He’d already raped and turned Mirabelle, and Elizabeth would be next, but she managed to run away first.

No, she decided, it was the girl that had made her take an instant dislike to Jabril Karim. The young woman was treated like an ill-favoured pet.

 

Of course, Cyn has no intentions of returning Elizabeth – if she can find her. Instead, she decides to spring Mirabelle free. Only problem is, she needs to ask Raphael for help.

Duncan stopped mid-sentence, and Cyn could hear a silky, deep voice in the background. Her heart jumped and it was suddenly difficult to breathe.

“My lord -” She heard Duncan begin. She didn’t listen any further.

“Good-bye, Duncan.” She hung up. Her cell phone rang almost immediately, but Cyn didn’t answer. She was tempted to turn it off, but was afraid Kelli might call, or even Liz herself. So she switched it to vibrate and watched it dance around the table a few times, her eyes never leaving the display, as it shunted every call to voice mail.

 

She’s confused. Raphael seems to want her still, but she can’t bear to have her heart broken again.

Raphael reached out to tangle his fingers in a lock of her hair and tug her closer. His nostrils flared as he drew a breath. “He touched you.”

“No,” she objected, before remembering the clingy sensation of Jabril’s casual touch. “Just my arm, I didn’t want -”

“I should kill him for that alone.”

 

And herein lies Cyn’s big dilemma. Does Raphael really want her, or is this just a power play against Jabril?

Cyn blew out a breath, frustrated. “You know, I’m getting kind of tired of everyone pretending this is my fault. Raphael’s the one who walked away, not me.”

“Men are fools, Cynthia. You surely know that by now.”

“Tell me about it,” she muttered.

 

The plot is twisty and complex. In addition to the runaway, the escape with Mirabelle, the continuing angst over Raphael – there is apparently a killer vamp roaming the streets. And for some bizarre reason, Raphael stands accused. Cynthia is beyond furious when he’s arrested shortly before sunrise.

To hell with the speed limit. It was nearly daylight. Was the para facility equipped to handle a sleeping vampire? And what about Duncan and the others, their need to protect Raphael would outweigh even the instinct to retreat from the rising sun. She pounded the steering wheel angrily.

 

Vampires fall unconscious at sunrise and are at their most vulnerable. Raphael will have to spend the daylight in a converted prison cell and is only allowed one human to watch over him. He wants Cyn.

“And if I say no?”

Kimiko gave Cyn a baleful glare. “Then I will attempt to make other arrangements in time. If I fail, Lord Raphael will sleep unsecured, vulnerable to whatever the humans plan. And I do not doubt for one moment that this entire farce has been orchestrated towards that end.”

 

To my eternal delight, in one of the most delightful love confessions I’ve read, Raphael finally opens up to her.

He shook his head. “No, my Cyn, there has been no one in all these hundreds of years who mastered me. Until I met you.”

“So, having at last met a foe I could not defeat, I fled,” he said in disgust. “Rather than face you in my weakness, I thought to leave you behind, to forget about you, which I thought was surely possible. After all, how could one human overwhelm me with feelings in such a short period of time?” He smiled bitterly, shaking his head at his own foolishness.

 

It’s still not an easy ride for them, but Cyn finally accepts that she’s still in love with him.

Cyn felt a tug of desire low in her body as he unbuttoned his left shirt cuff and began to roll it up his forearm with economical movements. She had a weakness for beautiful hands on a man. Raphael’s hands were strong, his fingers long and square, his forearms smoothly muscled. She swallowed dryly and squelched memories of what those hands could do.

 

I loved the way that Cyn and Raphael danced back and forth, neither brave enough to admit they needed each other. It was touchingly, heart-warmingly real.

Raphael let out a small relieved breath and leaned back to sit on the edge of his desk.

“Are you all right?” Cyn asked, indicating his wounded arm with a nod of her head.

Raphael gave her a crooked smile. “I love when you worry about me, my Cyn. No one else does.”

She gave a little huff of disbelief. “Duncan worries about you,” she disagreed. “He’s worse than a mother hen.”

“Yes, well,” Raphael said softly. “That’s not quite the same thing, is it?”

 

Oh and Jabril is none too happy when he loses both Elizabeth and Mirabelle. He wants them back, and to make Cyn pay.

As with Raphael, I was GLUED to this and can’t wait to read the next in the series. 5 out of 5.

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Connected (Twists of Fate)

 

What can I say – I LOVED THIS BOOK!

Rock stars – check

Paranormal – check

Tugging on the heart-strings – check

Sharp, laugh-out-loud-funny dialogue – check

Addison is waking up from an operation when she realises she can hear a voice in her head.

She was alone. Completely alone.

“Hello?” she whispered.

Jesus. It’s about damn time you acknowledge me. I mean, what the fuck? Are you deaf or what?

“Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.” She held her head, certain she was hearing the voice in her own mind now.

No freaking way!

Ah, yeah… I don’t think God had anything to do with this, but what do I know. She could practically hear the mental shrug. Maybe he did.

And then she remembers the weird dream she had, the one where she was floating somewhere in the darkness and another person was there… a guy…

His voice still carried the smugness of ‘I told you so’ since she’d received confirmation of her death and resuscitation. And then he’d rubbed her face in it as she came around to one indisputable realization: she had some guy’s soul stuck inside her.

 

Of course, as a lapsed Catholic, she decides to ask a priest for help.

Oh this ought to be good.

She imagined him kicked back in her head with a bag of popcorn, waiting for the show to begin. As the panel between her and the priest slid open, she panicked. What was the protocol? Was she even allowed to be in there?

 

She does the only thing she can. Tries to cope with having a strange guy take up residence in her head. She nicknames him the Afterlife Leech and tries, with some success, to block his thoughts and emotions. That is, until he nags her into Googling him.

“Who the hell are you, Rhys?”

Got a lot of hits, did you? The pride in his voice was clear. I’m a bit famous.

“Don’t bother with the feigned humility. It doesn’t suit you,” Addison stated dryly. “So, you are…”

A rock star.

 

Rhys Alexander played rhythm guitar for the massive rock band Black Codex, alongside his brother, Xavier. And now that he’s trapped somewhere in the afterlife, he wants to contact his brother, to say his goodbyes. Addison is convinced it’s a bad idea, that Xavier will write her off as another demented fan but she gives in to his nagging and sends an email. When Xavier phones, she has no idea how to respond.

Rhys started to yell, to really holler in her mind. His string of obscenities was so loud she only managed to catch a word her and there, and through it all, she felt his desperation and fear.

“He recognized your voice,” she blurted out, wanting to stop the onslaught in her head.

Her ears pulsed in the sudden silence, but then she heard Xavier’s response, his voice dark and controlled.

“Who, exactly, recognized my voice?”

Xavier insists on meeting her, to determine if she’s a fake, or just another “crazy-assed-bitch.” And that’s when it gets even stranger.

It felt like someone had fisted her shirt and was pulling her near. And that pull was coming from Xavier’s general direction.

Wait. Something was wrong. She felt… empty.

Rhys?

Panic flooded her as her eyes flew open and locked on Xavier. He stared at her with a horrified expression on his face, his mouth moving soundlessly. Then his gaze darted from side-to-side as his hands gripped his head.

Her breath caught as the realization slammed into her. “Rhys,” she whispered, reaching out to Xavier as if he held an element of her soul she couldn’t breathe without.

 

Of course, sometime during the weeks they spent ‘together’, she started to fall for him.

“Rhys?”

Mmmm. He sounded lazy, relaxed. And for whatever reason, she pictured his big, strong body all kicked back into a mass of fluffy pillows… with his shirt off, a hint of stubble across his jaw, dark hair tousled, and a deep sensuality shadowing his eyes as he flipped the top button of his jeans open…

 

But how can a normal girl have any kind of relationship with a dead guy? You’ll have to take my word how fabulous this book is, and read it for yourself < smug smile >

I was captivated from the first page and I couldn’t put it down. I just wish it had been longer. Thankfully, Jolyn Palliata intends more in the Twists of Fate series – the sooner the better for me  🙂

A very definite 5 out of 5.

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Raphael (Vampires in America)

I’d had this lined up to read on my Kindle for months – languishing in my TBR pile – until a fellow reader raved about it. I’m SO glad she did. Raphael, is lip-smackingly-heart-churningly-swoon-worthy delicious, in the way that only an alpha Vampire can be.

He’s actually Lord Raphael, one of 8 Vampire Lords that control the USA, although Cynthia (Cyn) is reluctant to bow down to his rule.

“Listen, you call him ‘my lord’ or ‘Lord Raphael,’ okay? That’s it. Think of him as Royalty.”

“Yeah, well, he’s not my lord, this is America, you know.”

Lonnie laughed almost hysterically. “I can’t believe this. I’m gonna die for sure.” He gave her a pleading look. “Raphael owns this territory, Cyn. Please don’t insult him. I like living forever.”

Cyn, a Private Investigator, is hired to locate Raphael’s kidnapped sister, Alexandra. The only leads they have are two of the (human) guards, and Cyn is invited to interrogate the second – after Raphael has already ‘questioned’ the first.

“He didn’t even touch him.” He stared at her, his eyes wide and haunted. “He ripped his own…” Judkins closed his eyes as if shutting out the sight of something too terrible to remember.

“Who, Scott?” she asked, confused. “Who do you mean?”

“Him,” he said furtively, his eyes flashing back and forth, his horrified glance touching on Raphael, then skittering away.

Cyn has worked with bloodsuckers before and has a healthy respect for their strength and power. She has never found one attractive before.

She parked the Land Rover and was swinging her long legs out of the truck when Raphael strolled into the garage. Well, damn. The vampire lord was dressed all in black, from his long-sleeved t-shirt to his oh so tight denims and smooth leather boots. And over it all, he wore an ankle-length coat of black leather that just begged to be touched, smelled, rubbed all over one’s body. Down, girl.

She can’t take her eyes off him.

Cynthia stared at the beautiful male specimen in front of her. Vampire or not, Raphael was fully, gloriously male. There was no doubt of that. Nor of the instant, almost irresistible, attraction she felt toward him. She gave a nearly desperate, sobbing laugh at her own helpless reaction to him. Behind him, Duncan gave her a scandalized look, but Raphael merely laughed with her. He was an arrogant son of a bitch; he understood perfectly.

They follow a rapidly cooling trail to a warehouse filled with Russian mafia – not pleasant people, but no problem to a vampire lord.

She reached the end of a row and peered out to see Raphael wreaking mayhem, picking grown men up like children’s toys and throwing them aside. He was violence in motion, teeth bared, long black coat swirling around his legs, eyes flashing in anger.

And this time, she can’t resist him. They launch into a brief and passionate affair, even while Cyn knows she’s playing with fire.

Running out through the open door and around the back of the house, she found him striding through the shadows of the overgrown yard like an avenging angel, his long coat billowing behind him, his silver-frosted eyes twin stars come to earth.

He has the capacity to break her heart, but even knowing that she takes the risk – and then is gutted when Raphael walks away.

She glanced up uneasily, painfully aware that somewhere in the city Raphael was beginning his night. Without her. She pushed away from her desk with an angry kick. She would not cry. She would not.

I felt the first chapter was a teeny bit slow, but since this had been recommended so highly I stuck with it – and then wondered how on earth I would put it down. It’s a classic vampire tale, powerful vamp meets cynical woman, he claims her, she falls in love… but DB Reynolds has breathed new life into what could have been a tired genre. Cynthia is refreshing. She is a wisecracking smart-mouth who never knows when to shut up – and makes mistakes.

Raphael looked down his nose at her as if she’d suggested something completely ridiculous. “Oh, right.” She said, rolling her eyes. “What was I thinking? Okay, so Raphael here walks up to the gate, presumably with his coat billowing around him in a suitably dramatic fashion and works his mind trick on the gate guard.”

And while it usually bugs the hell out of me to get to the end of a book and see those three little words… To be Continued… I didn’t mind this time. There was no quick and easy conclusion for Cyn and Raphael, no HEA waiting in the wings. I would have to read the second in the series and hope they eventually made it…  One reviewer talked of reading the first 4 books in this series back-to-back over the course of a weekend – I can see how easy that would be.  A happy 5 out of 5.

 

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Dear John

 

 

Well, from the reviews I’ve read, this book falls squarely into the Love It or Hate It box, and nowhere in between. For my part? I loved it. From the tantalising opening, through all 3 parts of the story, I was glued to the pages. The first part is the happiest: John meeting Savannah and falling in love. Sweet, heart-warming and feel good, and then it all starts falling apart in Part 2. The final part had me filling up and in tears at the ending. I understand why Nicholas Sparks wrote the end as he did, but man, it was a tear jerker.

John Tyree is on leave from his army posting in Germany, and right at the start of his 2 weeks break he meets Savannah. She’s an innocent and utterly guileless, and John is immediately smitten.

“I don’t usually date strangers,” she finally said, “and we only met yesterday. You think I can trust you?”

“I wouldn’t,” I said.

She laughed. “Well in that case, I suppose I can make an exception.”

The story is more than just John and Savannah though, it also charts the frustrating and uneven relationship John has with his father.

Savannah sounded a lot like the little voice that had taken up residence in my head but never bothered paying rent, and right now it whispered that if I felt guilty, maybe I was doing something wrong. I resolved that I would spend more time with him.

Savannah suggests that John’s father may suffer from Aspergers Syndrome, a condition that suddenly makes a lot of sense to John – it explains the uncomfortable distance he’s always had from his only parent.

I looked at Savannah, then up to the ceiling, then to my feet, and finally back to Savannah again. She squeezed my hand, and I drew a shaky breath, marvelling at the fact that while on an ordinary leave in an ordinary place, I’d somehow fallen in love with an extraordinary girl named Savannah Lynn Curtis.

They are both distraught at the end of his leave, but at this stage, both believe they can sustain a loving relationship while he is posted abroad. They talk about being married and Savannah writes him the first of a series of letters that endeavour to keep their love alive.

Wherever you are and no matter what’s going on in your life, when it’s the first night of the full moon – like it was the first time we met – I want you to find it in the night time sky. I want you to think about me and the week we shared, because wherever I am and no matter what’s going on in my life, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing.

They count down the time until his service is due to end. And then with bitter irony, three months to go… September 11th 2001. John signs on for another two years and ends up posted to Iraq.

In the mail, there were six letters from my father. But from Savannah, there was only one, and in the dim light, I began to read.

Dear John. I’m writing this letter at the kitchen table, and I’m struggling because I don’t know how to say what I’m about to tell you.

At this point, I had to close the book for a while. I wanted to yell at Savannah, slap her soundly on both cheeks and shout Noooooo! So their relationship was faltering, she might have thought it couldn’t last, but to write him the classic Dear John while he’s on active service and fighting for his life every day? How cruel could this woman be?

By this point, I was too invested in the story to leave it, so I followed it through John’s denial and heartbreak. Through the continuing illness of his father – and to the point where he next saw Savannah. I’d been looking for a light and fluffy read when I came to this novel – epic fail. But I know this will stay with me for some time and John Tyree has claimed a place in my heart.

An emotional rollercoaster, it deserves 5 out of 5.

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