Book Review- Moon Called

As I’ve mentioned before I’m hard to please when it comes to a good book. I won’t read anything too depressing; think semi-auto-biographies  based on an abusive childhood for example… Not a fan I’m afraid. Or crime thrillers with a tortured male lead. Nope. Don’t care.

Give me the supernatural any day. Fantasy, no. There’s a difference for me. I don’t enjoy lots of long randomly named made-up places and the seemingly hundreds of similarly named characters created to inhabit these worlds. I don’t care for bows and arrows, shields and swords. The only fantasy worlds I’ve actually enjoyed reading about were the Dark Materials Trilogy, the Mortal Engines series and the Magicians Apprentice series (of which I’ll probably review in more detail later.)

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs is the start of a particularly favoured series of mine.

Centering around 30-something Mercedes Thompson, a local mechanic and Shapeshifter. The story introduces her nieghbours and friends and using intrigue and loyalty, tempts Mercy into an adventure that will set the ball folling for an extremely busy couple of years.

Mercy has tried to keep her head down. Ever since figthting her way out from her adoptive (and just as supernatural) extended family, she just wanted to fit in and get on. Buying her mentor’s garage and starting up her mechanic’s business was just that. 

Cover Appearance- 9/10 Depending on the edition (I have the american print) there are multiple versions of the main character Mercy on the front of the book, mine being a wonderful illustration by Daniel Dos Santos. I like good book cover design and as soon as I was able to get my hands on a computer or sketch book as a kid would redesign and examine book covers. It’s an old cliche that ‘you can’t judge a book by it’s cover’. Well I’m here to say that’s wrong.

A book cover gives you a fantastic canvas to snare potential readers with. Gone are the days when an agent would find a random piece of art and slap it over the content without any input from the author. COVERS ARE SO IMPORTANT. You can give tiny hints of a plot, a character, the overall mood of the plot, a twist, the title can be woven into a wonderful piece of art and time should be taken on this to get it right. There is no excuse. You put all your time into writing what you hope is a great story and when you manage to get it published (which in itself is no small task) you don’t give a damn and just slap something on the cover quickly?

Character Development- 8/10 The characters are witty and full. The relationships are real and gritty. There’s no silly idealistic romance or rediculous unprovoked angst. It’s full of laugh out loud lines and real history between characters. Great fun!

Plot Structure- 8/10 This is the setting-up-for-a-great-series book, although this is still a great standalone story.

You may think eight out of ten isn’t particularly high, despite my praise. It’s actually a very high mark as I really don’t believe any book is perfect, there’s a different story in those words for every individual who reads them and they’ll never be perfect. That’s the charm.

Would I re-read this book? Most definitely and I have done over and over and over, not neccesarily in the series intended order or in fact in a series at all, sometimes just reading it through in a couple of nights before bed.

Would I read the next in a series? Yes, again and I have done. The series is ever expanding and has a sub-series in the Alpha & Omega novels and the Graphic novels too.

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Shoe Love.

I haven’t been able to buy shoes in a long time. This is primarily because I can’t afford the habit but also because I have no where to go in amazing, beautiful, potenitally dangerous footwear.

Skinny indigo jeans, a white tee, black 3/4 length sleeved blazer and whatever amazing footwear I can handle…

I have recently found Lightinthebox. I wish I hadn’t.

This is why…

So this is why I love shoes…

Valentines Retreat.

I have a very travel-savvy partner. I’m lucky. He doesn’t freak out about travelling like I seem to. Well, to be honest, he doesn’t freak out about any of the things I seem to.

As we were replacing our kitchen last August, we couldn’t afford the time to travel abroad, having to fit around OH’s leave and fitting the kitchen. We were running about all over the place with things for the house and I had a hissy-fit one night about the RIDICULOUS time it would take to get from Gatwick to Rome, via Russia by the bloody sounds of it. For some reason the airline didn’t have direct flights at the times and dates we wanted them and me being me, refused to go to Rome.

OH likes his holidays. A lot. He didn’t let it stand and we finally decided yes, we’d go somewhere but in the UK. The only way I was going was if I didn’t have to organise it.

‘Surprise me.’ I said. So he did. Bath.

We took the train so I packed a small bag and put my comfy jeans and a slouchy american flag top on. Remember that.

We hopped off the train and preceded to get slightly lost in Bath city centre, which is one of the most beautiful Cities I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting I must say, having grown up around the stunning city of York that’s saying something. After using my trusty Blackberry and it’s smashing Googlemaps we found the right address.

The Royal Cresent Hotel & Spa.

Stepping up the beautiful soft-yellow stone steps to the large and stately front door we were met by a rather smart looking porter. I didn’t have any bags to give him so he took us to the Formal Lounge. Yes, Formal Lounge.

Looking around at the antique furniture and exquisite artworks dating back hundreds of years my heart started to jump. Here I sat, at my surprise weekend away venue, in I-kid-you-not ripped knee bleached jeans and an american flag tee. When the hotel manager came to meet us I thought they had suspected foul-play and were about to chuck us commoners out. Thankfully not, after a surprised once over that was very professionally concealed by the wonderful manager, we were shown to our room on the ground floor which had apparently been upgraded for us. Mortified by my fashion faux-pas we dropped our bags and sat down at our small table for a glass of white wine which had been left in our room for our arrival.

The room was stunning, as was the dining room; sumptuously decorated and very comfotable, with a huge dose of the ‘wow’ factor thrown in. Now, I like nice things but this place for someone like me, is a little daunting. There is Money here. Like Old Money. People are so rich they smell of money in this place, which made me a little uncomfortable. If you can get over that and act the part, which I did eventually, you’ll enjoy every second.

The Spa was our first stop; out in the gardens of the hotel beside the resturant.

Having never been to a spa before but really wishing I’d had an excuse to, I was pleasantly surprised. The luxurious changing facilities gave way to the most beautiful pool and was, to both of our surprise, completely deserted. Heaven.

OH had booked a couples massage for the next morning so we took our time in the steam, sauna, jacuzzi and pool.

That night we went to the onsite resturant.

Our food was superb and beautifully presented although I did feel the tone was a little too quiet and the light a bit too bright. We also had breakfast there both mornings of our stay, one buffet style, one cooked. The picture above shows tables set for breakfast.

The Cresent Hotel’s resturant have a Valentines menu and I must say, this place would be the most incredible couple of days away for this romantic time. We would both highly reccomend the full massage and aromatherapy session too. OH was taken to his treatment room after I had gone and was waiting for me out on the balcony, wrapped in a fluffy white towel with a green tea on my return from the most relaxing experience of my life. Honestly, I didn’t want it to end. It was definitely the joint highlight of our stay.

Treatments usually have to be booked with your room before you arrive just to make sure they can fit you in.

All in all, a wonderful experience as Bath City is an incredible place for shopping as well as eating and drinking out. We visited Bath Abbey and The Roman Baths and found both places reasonably priced on entrance and a great way to sample a bit of much loved history.

A little bit of SPARKLE…

As a fully qualified jewellery designer/maker I have to say, I’m a bit of a magpie. In fact, it’s an inherited trait from my Mother. I didn’t set out to be a designer, or at least a jewellery designer but looking back now, it seems a pretty obvious choice for me to have gone for.

I love design. I love fine things. I love handmade and I love machine made. Both have a place in my heart. I work with tools and my hands but the thrill of seeing a design take shape under a machine’s influence… It’s kinda surreal. I’ve worked with 200 hp industrial lathes. I’ve worked with the most beautiful green painted small workshop kind. I’ve hand cast items in pewter and I’ve seen machines cast my ideas in silver. There’s something about mass production that can be cheap and tacky and something else that comes from incredible design and real attitude.

These brooches (including some stunners from Butler & Wilson) are just that. Attitude. Although there is a fine line; too much attitude and it’s just plain old tacky. Plain black or navy blazer, nude coloured shift dress, black trousers and a crisp white shirt, on bags, scarves, lapels, jeans pockets, anywhere you can put a statement piece like this has to be low key. And it just has to be done.

Why don’t you make up your own minds…

 

And my two personal favourites..

Valentines Day Food.

Unfortunately for me, OH is away this year for V-day. Again. In the 5 Valentines Days we’ve been together the poor thing has only actually seen me on one. I know, he’s lost out on so much…

But, despite this, he ALWAYS sends a gift home and a bunch of flowers. I’ve always had that. So really, I get the gifts and don’t have to make conversation all day. There’s always an up side 😉

So this is for those of you who have someone to actually make an effort for this Valentines!

The V-Day meal.

Hmm, depends when you are able to see your loved one through the day but here’s some ideas for Valentines food!

Breakfast.

A full English never goes amiss in this house but you could mix things up a bit by making up a lovely big bowl of porridge (to share of course) with chocolate chips/a drizzle of maple syrup/fresh red berries…

Check out the recipefor more info on this one!

Or how about a breakfast muffin? Blueberry is a great all-rounder, if you don’t want to make your own then go ahead and BUY them! Don’t feel you have to hand over flat, tasteless, berry-ridden failures for V-Day breakfast if baking isn’t your strong suit.

The recipe for these lovely looking creations can be found here.

Enough about breakfast. How about…

Brunch.

I’m not sure where the idea of brunch came from but I LIKE IT! HAve a look at these ideas for a late morning to early afternoon meal.

This is a Baked Italian Frittata which includes a combination of hardwood-smoked bacon, ricotta cheese, shredded mozzarella, Parmesan cheese, roasted red bell peppers, caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms and spinach. Heaven.

Find thid recipe by Holly Hanks here. To be honest I’m a fan just from the fact it’s savoury. I love savoury…

Another classic idea is Smoked Salmon and cream cheese bagels. You can buy cream cheese with added flavours now- Garlic, Herbs… or mix up your own. Chive or dill work particularly well with good quality Salmon. You could make up tiny blinis with this idea, savoury pancakes, toasts, add grilled or blanched asparagus to warm it up, the choice is yours and this is such an easy combo as long as you stick to the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) idea you just have to make up a delicious looking and easy brunch.

Lunch.

Now I like the idea of romantic red food… Beetroot soup anyone?

The Veg Box Diaries has a wonderful recipe here for a spiced beetroot soup. You must make sure your beets are small and fresh, they’ll be sweeter and less woody meaning a nicer soup at the end. Supermarkets are catching up with new and unusual recipes so you may find a great ready-made alternative in the shops too.

And who doesn’t love Nachos? You can add anything you like to a topping, don’t just stick to the rules! Chopped grilled smoked bacon, roast shallots, feta cheese… Anything really. Although I do love a good jalepeno pepper or two.

And my FAVOURITE Chicken Club Sandwich. Here’s a great marinated version from femail.com.au.

So after all that eating and if you have space for dinner, what should you prepare for a really romantic night in? Firstly, BAN the tv. NO TV for romantic nights. It’s just a zombie-maker…

Dinner.

I think you can go one of two ways here, small foods you can pick and choose and eat at your leisure perched on the coffee table or a full sit-down dinner, three courses and everything.

Personally, I like little dishes, hot and cold, premade and quickly cooked and served. Half the fun in our house is the cooking and preparing, it always takes longer than the eating…

You can’t go wrong with Tapas and sheknows.com has the most fantastic tips and recipes for trying out. The thing with Tapas is to go with your gut, try flavours out that you know have chemistry. I made a tapas dinner for my Parents, Brother and OH with a few measly bits from the fridge- Chicken, Chorizo and Apple fried with a shallot. Simple. Cold cuts of european meat, chunks of delicious cheeses and bowls of hot paprika dusted onion rings, the choice is yours. Add in a Frittata or large chiken, mushroom and chedder Quesadilla and you’re on a roll!

Finish the day’s eating fest with an expensive box of truffles and a large glass of wine and you’re done. You couldn’t not be loved for all of that effort! 😉

Chicken Tuesday!

My Mother (my brother and I call her ‘Mam’, as we’re geordies by birth) has chickens… Like many thousands of other suckers in the UK she has fallen for the little feathered folk. They are her babies, along with her two Wiemeraners and three Egyptian Maus.

Now, I’ll be honest. I almost caught the bug. Until OH reminded me that there are no such things and chickenries like there are catteries so what would be done come bi-annual holiday time? I lost the bug exceptionally soon after that.

Mam has, since last August, lost two of her chooks. One went careening straight into the jaws of the dog after said dog gave her a terrible fright and she managed to escape her pen. The second chicken to go died quite recently as the weather turned chill and the poor girl didn’t have enough fat on her to cope. Note here from our experience; if you want to buy in young chikens to keep as pets, buy them in nice and early (around Easter perhaps as it’s quite poetic; chickies at easter…) and fatten them up through the summer and autumn so by January/February frosts the poor little things will have a much better chance.

Here’s a very early picture of the original girls- 1 full Dorking bantam, 1 Dorking x Rhode Island bantam and 2 Rhode Island Red bantams. One of the RIR banties came to us shortly after the departure of 1 tiny black something-or-other that apparently would have gone on to lay greenish eggs…

The little black one my Dad had named Clarise, after Clarise Starling from the Hannibal Lecture movies and as she was black and looked like a little starling, was the poor thing that ran into the jaws of death or Kim the Wiemeraner’s mouth, putting it in a more affectionate term.

I’m sure I’ll add other short posts into a Chicken-based category at a later date and hope you find them enjoyable…

Book Reviews- An Introduction.

I am an absolutely avid reader. I just can’t help myself.

I remember from a very early age my parents surrounded me with books. I never went without; even though when I was small I can’t really remember seeing my parents reading. It was something I loved, something I was good at and something my parents supported me in.

The one thing I’ve always struggled with is finding a genre to suit my reading style and imagination. I don’t like side story waffle; please get to the point. Although a plot that moves too fast and misses key character building opportunites or has too many characters to keep up with is just too dissapointing for words.

I also find ‘every day’ plots to boring to bother with. Same goes for historical novels, although OH and my Dad adore this genre. I can’t read biographies, tradgedies, chick-lit and anything written by ‘celebrities’ who aren’t actually writers and therefore (in most cases) should not be allowed to write, let alone be encouraged by publishers keen on profit and not quality. I am also not clever enough or ‘arty’ enough to read weird, twisted tales full of backwards and forwards plots, past and present flicking, backstory, multiple viewpoints headed in chapters by the name of the character telling the story at that point and characters coming and going in such quick sucession I have no idea what the hell is going on. I’m sure I’ll think of other things to add to the list in time…

So I want to get attached to characters. I want to believe I’m there; living the story. I want to laugh out loud and bawl my poor little eyes out. I WANT TO CARE. There are so many characters with way too much attitude or so thinly described that I feel absolutely no connection to them or affection for them when things go wrong. In these cases, I put the book down. For me, I find I only connect to a story told in first person by a lead female charcter. I’m sorry, I know this shouldn’t matter if it’s a good book  but it does. I can’t live the story as completely if  I don’t feel what they character is saying. Let’s face it, women ‘say’ more. They over analyse more. I get that. I can empathise.

As I’m so picky I have, through trial and error and plenty of review reading, found what I have been looking for. The genre? Urban fantasy. Modern, gritty, funny and as full of real-life settings and details as I would like to get, just making it believable. The key here is just that; adding just enough of the real-life stuff to make you believe it could be real for you and adding just the right mix of fantasy or supernatural to really loose yourself in.

It’s an art. And one all too many authors have gotten wrong for me.

So, to my favourite series. Yes yes, they have to be a series’ too I’m afraid. I have to know there will be more. I have to be able to follow my favourite characters and live their next tale…

Kelley Armstrong’s The Otherworld Series.

Book One- Bitten. Seriously; this series should come with a warning… Or maybe the title says it all. Once you start reading you just have to read them all.

Complete set of full and real charcters that stay singular characters. All too often I can find an individual changes who they are, with their morals, fears and core personality changing to fit the plot. Not great reading. So in short; great fast paced plot with full characters and lots of back story you can only guess about as the series continues and you learn more and more- There is a long standing love/hate relationship that ignites the dialogue and really brings alive the interactions between characters.

The short stories have recently been published which consists of a lot of back story and explination-type tales. To be honest, don’t read them until you’ve read the series. It’s a little more intriguing if you wait.

Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson Series.

Book One- Moon Called. Another wonderfully believable female lead and a fantastic plot to get you hooked.

More full characters and key roles each play in subsequent stories- the mentor, the best friend, the potential love interest, the last love interest. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t all about the love interests, the interactions between characters are so alive with the power of their individual realationships you can’t help but feel there’s history. Much like Armstrong’s characters although the cast here is larger.

My ultimate Top Two series with a total of twenty books, not including the couple of graphic novels each, between them makes them a hefty percentage of a bookshelf. Remember I read alot. I also have a few more series worth a mention and I’ll probably cover each in much more detail at a later date…

Christine Warren’s Others Series.

Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan Series.

Rachel Vincent’s Faith Sanders Series.

Jennifer Rardin’s Jaz Parks Series.

I’m sure this is the first of many essays on my favourite reads. Enjoy!