20 Oct 2012

"Stolen" by Lucy Christopher

Sometimes nothing will do but a re-read of a much loved book. Even though you know the story and the characters, some books are so special that you can read them again and again and still find something interesting, new or fascinating in them while at the same time the known provides a certain comfort. Last weekend I needed that comfort so I snuggled under the duvet with one of my favourite YA reads, "Stolen" by Lucy Christopher. 

The story is an unusual one. Gemma is a lucky 16-year-old girl. She lives in a wealthy part of London with her financier father and art dealer mother and it is a pretty easy life until one day, it is all taken away from her. She's travelling to Vietnam on vacation with her family, when she meets a handsome young man in Bangkok Airport. He buys her a cup of coffee and suddenly everything is blurred. Next thing she knows, Gemma is in the Australian outback, hundreds of miles from the nearest city, far away from her family and friends. The only one there is Ty, the young man who has abducted her. Why he has taken Gemma and what he wants from her is a mystery to her and is slowly revealed to both her and the reader. 

This is YA as it should be. Powerful, convincing, different and realistic. There's no paranormal romance here, yet it has some of the same qualities. As with many paranormals, this is set in a world very different to the one you and I live in and the rules are completely different. It is realistic yet it has the same magic as a good paranormal romance would have and it will appeal to the same readers. 

What is interesting is that even though there are only really two characters in the plot, it still feels dynamic and full of action with lots of interesting dialogue. These two main characters are well-written and come to live, their personalities spring out of the pages, so real are they. The work that Lucy Christopher has done on her protagonist Gemma and the difficult Ty means that this novel is classes above many of the other YA books on the market. It is simply of a different - and better - quality and so much more interesting and powerful. 

The story is scary, worrying, while at the same time being gripping and sorrow-ful. The way that Gemma matures throughout the book is rarely seen in the genre and it makes her a good literary role model for teenage girls. It reminds me of Sophie McKenzie's "Girl, Missing" but this one is better written with a more believable plot and more engaging characters. So if you're wondering what to get your teenage daughter/niece/friend for Christmas, I'd say that "Stolen" is a good contender for a great present. 

Read it if: You like intelligent, emotionally mature Young Adult literature with a twist. 

5 Oct 2012

Buon Appetito! Italian Cookbooks to Make Your Mouth Water!

My regular readers will know that I love cookery books and they might also have guessed that I have a special thing for... Italian cookery books. Nothing beats it. The Italian cookery book above them all is of course "The Silver Spoon" but there are several other cookery books that also deserve a mention. Not to mention a place on my wish list. 

POLPO: A Venetian Cookbook (Of Sorts) by Russell Norman
Recently I ate at Polpo in Covent Garden. It was absolutely delicious so imagine my joy (and book lust) when I found out that there is a Polpo cookery book.
On amazon.com they say: "The 140 recipes in the book include caprese stacks; zucchini shoestring fries; asparagus with Parmesan and anchovy butter; butternut risotto; arancini, rabbit cacciatore; warm duck salad with wet walnuts and beets; crispy baby pizzas with prosciutto and rocket; scallops with lemon and peppermint; mackerel tartare; linguine with clams; whole sea bream; warm octopus salad; soft-shell crab in Parmesan batter with fennel salad; walnut and honey semifreddo; tiramisù; fizzy bellinis and glasses of bright orange spritz. With luminescent photography by Jenny Zarins, which captures the unfrequented corners, the bustling bàcari and the sublime waterways of Venice, POLPO is a dazzling tribute to Italy's greatest hidden cuisine."

"Two Greedy Italians" by Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo
From amazon.com: "Over 30 years ago Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo separately left their native Italy for Britain where, in time, they met, worked together and established themselves as leading authorities on Italian cooking. In this compelling book - written to accompany the primetime BBC series - the two old friends have embarked upon an amazing journey back to their homeland to reconnect with their culinary heritage, explore past and current traditions and reveal the very soul of Italian gastronomy. Containing over 100 mouthwatering recipes, this extraordinary book goes beyond the cliches to reveal real Italian food, as cooked by real Italians. It includes an intriguing combination of classic dishes and ingredients as well as others showcasing the changes in style and influences that have become a part of the Italy of today. Reflecting the insights of both men into Italy then and now, Carluccio and Contaldo's return captures the essence of its authors - their humour, their wisdom, their curiosity and, most significantly, their shared passion for good simple food. It is an essential book for anyone with a genuine interest in Italian food."

Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration by Nigella Lawson
Nigella is the kind of woman that Italian men will whistle after on the streets. If they were aware what an amazing cook she is, they'd probably propose on the spot. She is so glamourous and her food looks scrumptious. 
On amazon.com this is what is written: "Italian food has colonised the world. Nigellissima shows us how and why in over 100 delicious dishes - from telephone-cord pasta with Sicilian pesto to the crustless Meatzza, from Sardinian couscous to Venetian stew, from penne to papardelle, from ragù to risotto, from Italian apple pie and no-churn ices to panna cotta and sambuca kisses - in a round-Italy quickstep that culminates in a festive chapter of party food, with an Italian-inspired Christmas feast as its mouthwatering centrepiece. From the traditional to the unfamiliar, here are recipes to excite the taste buds and the imagination, without stressing the cook."

1 Oct 2012

Review: "Daughter of Smoke and Bone"

If you've never been to Prague, you need to put it on your to-do list, preferably right at the very top. It is a wonderful city. Beautiful in a gothic way that works best in autumn when the leaves turn yellow and orange and the air is crisp and sharp. It is great for Christmas markets as well and the people of Prague throw a great party for News Years... and I'm getting off track. So back to topic. 

Last night I finished "Daughter of Smoke and Bones" by Laini Taylor and it was a great paranormal adventure. One of the things that I absolutely loved about this book is how different it is to many of the other paranormal romances out there. It doesn't take place in small-town America and the protagonist is not an average-looking girl with average talents and skills. Oh now, not at all. 

Karou is fierce! Gorgeous looking with natural blue hair and she's intelligent and a talented artist on top of that. Oh yeah, one cool lady. She lives on her own in a small flat in Prague where she studies art and hangs out with her friend Zuzana. Sometimes she will disappear though, for hours or days, leaving her life in Prague behind as she sets out on mysterious errands for the man in the shop. Brimstone raised her in his shops where dodgy tradesmen and hunters trade in teeth for wishes. Sometimes, however, the tradesmen can't come to the shop and instead Karou must travel to them, walking out of the door and straight into exotic places - Marrocco, Paris, Russia. In return for her work, Brimstone grants her small wishes and being a cool chick, Karou doesn't wish for goody-two-shoes as if she was some pageant beauty, no no, Karou wishes for the eyebrows of her rivals to grow fat and dark or for her ex-boyfriend's behind to itch at unfortunate times. She rocks. 
Then one  day while she is out on one of her errands, she encounters a beautiful angel who tries to kill her and from that day, her fate is sealed. Soon she is drawn into a centuries old battle between angels and chimeara and her relatively normal life is becoming less than normal. 

If you like your paranormal romance gutsy, exotic, interesting and different, then this is for you. It is a tour-de-force through an intriguing paranormal universe where humans are just the extras. It's cool in a way that very little paranormal fiction is and which I absolutely adored. If this book was a piece of clothing, it would be a pair of skinny jeans with leather back pockets, rock'n'roll for the masses. 

Read it if: You have a love for Prague and other Eastern European cities. You like your paranormal heroines to be more of the rock star type than the beauty queen type.