Friday, 31 July 2015

Three Very Different Friends Truffles

Earlier this month I read Desire for Chocolate by Care Santos; a sumptuous novel filled with chocolate and history. 

In the first part, it is mentioned that a famous chocolatier’s best selling product is a trio of chocolates that represent him and his two best friends; called “Three Very Different Friends” which comprise of ginger, chilli and lavender. 

Whilst reading, in addition to having some serious cravings for hot chocolate, I was inspired to get into the kitchen and make something fitting. Truffles are a hit in my household so I tried out three slightly different recipes using ginger, chilli and lavender.





Chilli Chocolate Truffles

Ingredients

·         100g butter
·         150g icing sugar
·         2tbsp (+ extra for dusting) cocoa powder
·         1tsp chilli powder

Cream the butter with the icing sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the cocoa powder and then the chilli. You should be able to shape the mixture into balls straight away. If not, then leave in the fridge for a couple of hours. Once you have shaped the mix into balls, roll in the extra cocoa powder and leave to set. Makes twelve large truffles.


Dark Chocolate Ginger Truffles

Ingredients

     ·         150ml double cream
     ·         200g dark chocolate
     ·         1tbsp powdered ginger
     ·          Packet of ginger snap biscuits (optional)

Heat up the cream until it begins to boil and add the chocolate. Once combined add in the powdered ginger, then leave in the fridge overnight. Shape the mixture into balls. For some added crunch, smash up some ginger snaps and roll the balls in the crumbs. *These measurements made a lot of mixture (about 20) so halve for less truffles.


Lavender & White Chocolate Truffles

*At the time of making, I was unable to source lavender extract so I cheated a bit and used Earl Grey Tea which contains lavender.
 
Ingredients 

·         350g white chocolate
·         120ml double cream
·         2 Earl Grey Teabags or 2tsp lavender extract
·         Icing sugar

If you are using teabags for the hint of lavender, add them to about 200ml of boiled water and leave to infuse. In a pan, heat the cream and chocolate together until they are combined. I added 2½ tbsp of the Earl Grey tea but you can add to taste (beware not to make the mix too runny). Stir and then leave the mixture overnight. When set, shape into balls and roll through some icing sugar. *Like the ginger ones, these measurements made a lot of mixture (at least 20 truffles worth).


So how did they turn out? The chilli truffles had a pleasant warmth to them and are a nice change to standard ones. They were also the best mixture to work so if you are a truffle novice, these are good one to try. The ginger truffles had a strong flavour which goes really well with the dark chocolate. The white chocolate ones had a florally hint to them which was interesting. If I had thought of it, I’d have made them purple too!


If you attempt any of the above I hope you enjoy these sweet treats. If you like chocolate and reading, then I also recommend Desire for Chocolate as your next read. 

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

India Black and the Gentleman Thief by Carol K. Carr

I am on a mission to persuade more people to read Carol K. Carr’s India Black. I genuinely feel that this is such an underrated series. These books are seriously good and even if you miss some of the books, each novel stands alone so there really is no excuse! 

India Black and the Gentleman Thief is the fourth book in the set (not including the e-novellas), so for a taste of the other stories, please check out my previous India Black reviews

In Victorian London, respected madam India Black finds herself embroiled in another espionage escapade after a seemingly innocuous bill is delivered to her brothel and three thugs show up to take it back. 

After being roughed up in her own home, a disgruntled India sets out to investigate with the help of English gentleman spy Major French and street urchin Vincent. The scandal they begin to uncover is linked to the misappropriation of military weapons and could have terrible consequences for the empire. 

But that soon becomes the least of India’s worries when she learns that one of the main suspects is a former flame. With her past fast catching up with her and an unsure future following unexpected familial revelations, India has her work cut out to solve the mystery and balance her personal life in the process. 

India Black is as sharp as a tack and one of my favourite heroines to date. As the books go on, they are less of her as a brothel owner, and much more emphasis on her unexpected role as a government appointed agent. 

I love how she is often in attendance with upper class gentlemen who often look down their nose at her for being a woman, being a madam, being lower down the social scale or all of the above, and she still gives as good as she gets. Her fated relationship with French is also thrilling to read and I really wish they could finally get it together, but Carol K. Carr will keep you guessing as to whether they will get their happy-ever-after. 

There is so much going for this historical crime fiction; including well written, lovable characters, pacy fight scenes, sparkling wit and delectable mysteries. Much like the others, India Black and the Gentleman Thief is a brilliant tale filled with humour, heart and adventure, and definitely not to be missed. 

Monday, 27 July 2015

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Who doesn’t love a family drama – to read about that is, not necessarily to live it! Meet The Sinclair family. They are wealthy and beautiful and every summer they holiday on their own private island. There are three daughters and all their children ruled over by father and Grandfather Harris Sinclair whom they owe their lifestyles to. 

The Liars are the eldest of the cousins; narrator Cadence, Johnny, Mirren and non-relative Gat. Cadence falls in love with Gat and the four teenagers spend many secluded, fun-filled holidays together, until the events of one summer when they are seventeen changes all of their lives forever. 

From the outside the privileged Sinclairs seem to have it all, but internally they are all struggling with their own problems. Two of the daughters have had marriage breakdowns and live on money from their father. The other is co-habiting with a man her father deems unsuitable and she stands to lose her inheritance. Add to that in-family rivalry over the wealth and legacy of the Sinclairs and it is a boiling pot of emotions. 

Cadence has many issues of her own which makes her narration quite unique. As well as the sass and attitude of a typical teenager, she is very literal in her metaphors. She depicts events such as her heart being cut out or her head being sliced open so vividly in what starts as a regular scene, and yet it is just her imagining of it which can be at first hard to discern from reality. Coupled with her unreliable perceptions of events it adds lots of tension and atmosphere to the story. 

The Sinclairs are quite a messed up bunch and as their secrets are slowly uncovered, the tale becomes positively addictive. There are plenty of mature themes for a seasoned reader to get their teeth into; family scandal, addiction, racism, unrequited love to name but a few! 

Normally I have to feel something for the lead characters. Cadence and her cousins are mostly spoilt and selfish so it's not easy to have good feelings towards them, but strangely that just seems to add to the story with its strong storylines and sometimes sinister undertones. 

For me this YA novel has echoes of the writing styles of Liane Moriarty and Nick Lake with a dash of Helen Walsh’s The Lemon Grove thrown in for good measure. With plenty of surprise twists, We Were Liars is a dark and gripping summer read.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl

“The high seas of literature are unprotected, and those who traffic in them must run their chance of being plundered.”

I really don’t know where to start with my review of this fantastic novel, and I can only hope that I do the book justice. Firstly, I’m sure some of you may be wondering what a bookaneer even is! A bookaneer is a literary pirate who steals unpublished manuscripts by famous authors in order to spirit them to eager audiences, for a profit of course. 

In this tale, laws are about to come into effect which will render bookaneers extinct so to speak. Rumours begin to circulate of a new masterpiece about to come into existence courtesy of celebrated author Robert Louis Stevenson. 

Two rival bookaneers embark on a journey to Stevenson’s home in Samoa to try and secure the last big score available in their profession before the law turns against them. The two big bookaneers that go head to head are fascinating in their own right, and from their experiences we learn about their shady occupation and the paths that took them there. 

There is the wily chameleon Penrose Davenport with a coloured past that haunts him versus the devious and arrogant Belial. Accompanying Davenport is humble bookseller and bookaneer chronicler (of sorts) Edgar Fergins who is the principle storyteller in this book and a very intriguing character in his own right. 

Once the game has been set and the principle players set of to Samoa, the reader is fully immersed into the journey, from the turbulent ship voyage to arrival in the tropical climes of Samoa. I love travel myself, and I enjoyed the descriptions of the setting with the wild islands and native culture. Whilst reading I could almost smell the sea and feel the heat, which made me feel involved in the storyline. 

As a booklover, I loved the name drops of countless authors and great works of literature in the storyline. Of Robert Louis Stevenson I’ve read Treasure Island, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and more recently Kidnapped, so I found it fascinating to read a little more of the man behind the stories, if only fictionally. The story as a whole is exciting but towards the latter part, as secrets and truths come to light things really kicks up a notch and becomes even more thrilling. 

This book has so many brilliant facets to it; literature, travel, history and pirates (kind of), and is so cleverly woven together into such an accomplished story, that I just can’t recommend enough. For an intelligent escapist read, The Last Bookaneer should be a top choice. 

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The Affinity Bridge by George Mann

I think that George Mann has to be one of the most reviewed authors on my blog! With every new offering I just can’t say no and I’m never disappointed. 

The Affinity Bridge is the first in the Newbury & Hobbes series. I had the pleasure of reading another novel from the series a couple of years ago (The Executioner’s Heart) but as the others are being re-released, I had to see where it all began. 

The reader is thrown into an alternative Victorian London, where in a technical revolution; industry and everyday life are transformed by the use of bizarre inventions and automated machinery. 

Sir Maurice Newbury is both a gentleman academic and also an agent for the ailing Queen, and with the help of his new assistant, the brave Miss Veronica Hobbes, he sets forth to investigate a spate of horrific murders. 

It seems like all the action is thrown in from the start, with zombie like creatures spreading a terrible plague, automatons going rogue and the strange case of murderous glowing policemen. It sounds crazy but all these elements are cleverly crafted into an exciting thriller you won’t want to put down. 

Newbury is a Sherlock Holmes type character with a leaning towards the occult. Hobbes is clever and determined and even though the conventions of the time are sometimes against her, she is still an integral part of any investigation and I really like her as the female lead. Even with her introduction to the job, it’s like her and Newbury were always meant to be a team. Every other character is well illustrated with heroes, villains and the few you’re not too sure about, just to keep it interesting! 

Steampunk is one of those themes that really has endless possibilities and I enjoyed the automaton imagery greatly in this storyline, as well as all the other machines and gadgets that crop up in the story. Mann doesn’t hold back with violence and crime scene descriptions but not to the point where it becomes disgusting. There is some light heartedness which is also balanced out by a much darker side which really adds to the whole book. 

Being the first in the series, there are many storylines set up for future books so you really get hooked from the start, although I think you could read any of the Newbury & Hobbes tales as standalone and still enjoy them. I’ve probably written it before but I’m definitely a George Mann fan, and unlikely to ever criticise his books apart from to request more of them! This is a great book either individually or as part of the set, that will have crime, history and fantasy readers all crying out for more!

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Kept by Elle Field

I’ve had this book for absolutely ages and never really got round to reading it until recently, after which I was so annoyed at myself for not having started it sooner! Meet Arielle Lockley, whose life isn’t working out the way she planned. 

With big dreams of becoming a fashion designer, instead she finds herself the cosseted girlfriend of rich boyfriend Piers. Generous Piers pays for her clothes, expensive treats and holidays, and she lacks the motivation to make her own dreams a reality. 

When the recession hits, things take a turn for the worse, and when Piers throws her out without a penny to her name and nothing to show for her years living in London, Arielle returns home to live with her parents, and to a past she would rather forget. 

As she is reacquainted with people from the life she left behind, Arielle learns some life lessons and begins to realise that she must stand on her own two feet if she wants to get the best out of life. With plenty of mistakes to learn from, and a new resolve to better herself, Arielle may just be able to get her life on track if she can separate her head from her heart. 

When I first started reading the book, I didn’t think I would like the character of Arielle, and if you don’t like the lead, it can have a negative impact on the enjoyment of a book. However, it didn’t take me long to get attached to her and I had a lot sympathy for her situation. 

I think that is the case for many young people today, including myself, to leave university with rose-tinted dreams of a certain career, which in reality is not always possible or as smooth going as you might think, or your life goes in a completely unexpected direction entirely! 

Some of Arielle’s decision choices were obviously not the best ones but her bubbly, scatty personality was quite lovable and you end up routing for her to see the light at the end of the tunnel! I loved the relationship with her childhood friend Obélix and once events from Arielle’s past start coming to light; it makes you understand her character even more. 

Fashion fans will enjoy this story, as Arielle has a penchant for designers and an eye for style which punctuates this fun story with colour and glamour. A warm and engaging story, Kept is a great novel to keep on hand for a pick-me-up read. I’ve already bought the second book, Lost and can’t wait to see what is in store for Arielle Lockley!

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Desire for Chocolate by Care Santos

I’ll start by admitting that I’m not really a chocoholic (I like chocolate but I don’t go crazy over it like my mother and sister do!) although whilst reading this tasty delight, I ended up with some serious cravings! 

The stories within this novel centre around a precious chocolate pot that has been in the possession of some interesting women throughout its colourful history. 

Working from the most recent period in time and backwards through history, we meet Sara in Act I, a present day modern day yet traditional chocolatier who is torn between her steady, reliable husband and a vivacious fellow chocolatier who is also her husband’s best friend; a love triangle interwoven with secrets and chocolate. 

Act II is narrated by an unseen character and tells the story of Aurora, a nineteenth-century maidservant whose guilty pleasure is the rich chocolate she serves her betters, whose life and status changes forever following a scandal. 

The last act is written partly in the form of letters and a little in the form of a play in which Mariana, wife of a seventeenth-century chocolate maker faces adversary on account of her talent with chocolate and her gender. Also, the origins of the by now legendary chocolate pot are set forth as the ending. 

The way the stories were so different, yet so wonderfully linked was really unique and fun to read. I really enjoy books featuring food and historical fiction, and this book is a beautiful blend of both. The descriptions of the chocolate and other delectable confections are mouth-watering, and I found that this book is best enjoyed with a mug of hot chocolate! 

All the characters were well written and their stories well voiced. I was particularly drawn to Aurora in the second act as I kind of likened her personality to myself, so I liked learning her story and her relationship to the chocolate pot. It’s always nice when you connect with a lead (or any character really) in a novel and this made me enjoy the story even more. 

The novel contains many mature themes including sex, gender roles and adultery, and with the use of arts and opera intertwined in the characters’ pursuits, it adds more of a grown up air to proceedings. 

There is a lovely flow and elegance to the prose which in addition to the chocolate marvels within makes Desire for Chocolate an absorbing and pleasant treat for the literary senses! 



Monday, 6 July 2015

There Will Be Lies by Nick Lake

I really wasn’t too sure what to expect from this book. I’d heard so much press about it although even then other writers weren’t giving too much away. A couple of years ago I read and reviewed Hostage Three by Nick Lake and very much enjoyed it. Other than the fact that it is also narrated by a teenage girl, that is where the similarities end with There Will Be Lies. 

We are introduced to Shelby Jane Cooper who lives a sheltered life with her mother. When Shelby is knocked down by a car, her life is turned upside down when following the accident her mother takes on the road, away from the regular routine she had become so accustomed to. 

And then there is the mysterious coyote, who tells Shelby that there will be two lies and then there will be the truth. With the upheaval of her life and unfamiliar situations, Shelby finds herself at a loss of who to trust or what to believe. 

It’s really hard to review books like this without giving away crucial elements of the story so if this review seems a bit vague then it’s because I’m trying not to spoil the story for you! I liked Shelby as a lead character; she is very much her own person with her own unique way of thinking and I enjoyed her honest and witty narration of events. 

I found the story to be one of two halves. There is the real world half and then an alternate reality where Shelby is faced with a personal mission that will have real world consequences. The alternate reality was a surreal setting, with a bit of fairytale and a bit of mythology mixed together. 

I loved the premise behind the expectation of the lies and then the truth. As Shelby’s life unravels and she is wondering what the truth is and what is not, the reader is in the same position and it gets your mind racing to work things out along with Shelby. 

There are so many twists and turns in this thriller and you can’t help but keep turning pages to see how one action leads on to another. I think if you’re looking for something a little unusual, then this is a great book to try; it’s not outlandishly crazy but it is original and intriguing enough to keep you fully committed page after page. 

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

I kind of remember when this was published last summer, mainly due to the Barbie head cover but also because of the acclaim it received. It was on my TBR list but I never got round to pursuing it. Now, with the re-release of this book for adults (it was originally packaged as YA), and offers for film rights, I finally had to see what the fuss is about. 

Sixteen year old best friends freida and isabel are in their final year of the School, an institution where designed females are raised and shaped for their future role in society. 

Women can be one of three things; a companion (wife and mother to the male elite), a concubine (a source of pleasure for the male elite) or a chastity (nun-like women responsible for training at the School.) 

Most girls are aiming to be a companion and their routines involve intensive dieting, beauty regimes, fashion schooling and gym work outs in order to be the best that they can be. When the girls finally meet their potential future mates, the competition kicks up a gear, and freida fights desperately to secure her future, even if it means betraying the best friend she has been through so much with. T

his is an original take on a dystopian future where, in a male dominated society, females can no longer be born naturally and so they are engineered to be perfect and are expected to maintain the high standards as dictated by the elusive Father figure. 

Lots of issues arise in this book and in today’s current climate where certain ideals of how women should look are always in the media and ‘body shaming’ headlines often make the news, novels like this have never been more relevant. 

The lengths the girls in the book go to in the quest to be perfect go to the extremes and it’s not just the measures they employ for themselves, but their impact on each other that really makes the tale quite scary. Even in real life, very female intense environments can be a breeding ground for criticism and provocation, and this book takes that to the max!

 freida and isabel’s friendship is the ongoing thread in the book and it is tested many times over in the course of events, and the ending was a complete OMG moment. I really enjoyed the entire premise of the book and the delivery is clever and startlingly scary. 

A captivating and inventive exploration of female friendship, identity and gender roles, Only Ever Yours is a great book that should definitely be on your reading list this summer.