Review: The Reunion – Polly Phillips

The Reunion

Polly Phillips

Simon & Schuster

ISBN:9781398513600

RRP$29.99

Description:

An utterly addictive, deliciously dark look at the underside of glamorous university life . . . An absolute five star read’ GYTHA LODGE

‘I was completely hooked. Reminiscent of Big Little Lies‘ VICTORIA SELMAN

A chance to reconnect.
A chance to get revenge . . .

Emily Toller has tried to forget her time at university and the events that led to her suddenly leaving under a cloud. She has done everything she can to forget the shame and the trauma – and the people involved. She has tried to focus on the life she has built with her children and husband, Nick.

But events like that can’t just be forgotten. Not without someone answering for what they’ve done. 

When an invitation arrives to a University reunion, everything clicks into place. Emily has a plan.

Because if you can’t forget – why not get revenge?

My View:
Picture this…… a long fuse….you hear a match strike, you see a flicker of light, and the flame “catches” and the fuse ignites, a gentle trail of red/orange/gold fizzes slowly along the fuse…you are mesmerized by the flame. BOOM!!! The dynamite explodes – as does this read!

A powerful read with a conclusion that will knock your socks off.

Guest Review: The Woman in the Library – Sulari Gentill

The Woman in the Library

Sulari Gentill

Ultimo Press

ISBN: 9881761151033

Description:
In every person’s story, there is something to hide…

The ornate reading room at the Boston Public Library is quiet, until the tranquility is shattered by a woman’s terrified scream. Security guards take charge immediately, instructing everyone inside to stay put until the threat is identified and contained. While they wait for the all-clear, four strangers, who’d happened to sit at the same table, pass the time in conversation and friendships are struck. Each has his or her own reasons for being in the reading room that morning—it just happens that one is a murderer.

Award-winning author Sulari Gentill delivers a sharply thrilling read with The Woman in the Library, an unexpectedly twisty literary adventure that examines the complicated nature of friendship and shows us that words can be the most treacherous weapons of all.

Brenda’s View:
This is spectacular! Literary genius!
The best-selling author within our book, Hannah Tigone, is writing her book from her home in Australia, set in Boston in the US. The only time Hannah is mentioned is at the end of each chapter when she is emailed by her beta reader, Leo, who lives in the US. The beginning of the book is set in the Boston Public Library, where four strangers are brought together by a piercing scream. While security searched for the origin of the scream, but initially found nothing, the four strangers became acquaintances and then friends.

Freddie (Winifred) is the narrator of the story, and also a writer. She won an award in Australia which brought her to Boston to write her crime novel. Her meeting in the library with Cain (another author), Whit (a student trying to fail law) and Marigold (fixated on Whit) felt right. Freddie couldn’t believe how quickly the four became friends. When the body of a young woman was found in the library, it was just the start of their nightmare.

With the police focusing on the four friends, Freddie and Cain did their best to follow leads to find the killer. When another murder occurred, one of the four was in the frame. Strange text messages were sent to Freddie, odd happenings which were freaking her out – was the killer amongst them? Could Freddie identify the deranged murderer before anyone else died?

The Woman in the Library by Aussie author Sulari Gentill is so incredibly clever – I’ve never read anything like it! I loved the way it was done, loved the intricate juggling the characters perfected, and found the twists delicious! Ms Gentill has always had my admiration for her historical mystery series – Rowland Sinclair – and The Woman in the Library has cemented her place at the top of my favourite authors. Highly recommended.

With thanks to NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press for my digital ARC to read in exchange for an honest review. Also Ultimo Press AU for my ARC which I devoured!! 

Review – When Only One – Meg Gatland-Veness

When Only One

Meg Gatland- Veness

Panterra Press

ISBN:9780648987666

Description:

‘There’s someone in the school. Someone who’s not supposed to be there. This person is walking towards the classroom. They’re holding something in their hands. Something terrifying.’

Sam lives with his mum, dad and four brothers in a small farming town. At his school, there are three main factions: the rich kids, the mid-grounders and the farm kids who live on the outskirts. Sam is a comfortable mid-grounder and life is pretty good. He works as a lifeguard at the local surf club, is saving to buy his first car, he’s training with his friends for the Ironman challenge, and on Sunday afternoons he and his family take care packages to their less fortunate neighbours. Then, five years since they last spoke, Emily Burrow climbs back into Sam’s life and everything changes.

Emily’s life is very different to Sam’s – her absent father has returned and her mum struggles with her mental health. Sam does his best to be there for Emily when he wasn’t for so long, but there seems to be no right way to help her.

When Rei starts at school, Sam is smitten. Rei’s parents are social workers, she’s from the rich side of town, and her life seems a thousand miles away from how the kids on the outskirts live. In a world that’s ill-equipped to support kids struggling with unseen burdens, is there a way to help Emily before the worst happens?

From the bestselling author of I Had Such Friends comes a novel that’s gritty, full of heart and shines a light on kids who are doing it tough in a rural Australian town.

My View:
Where can I start? I was so impressed with this read! It’s gently written despite the emotive, evocative and difficult material it discusses. And for some readers, some of the issues raised here could trigger memories of events or actions that are distressing, Panterra Press hope those so affected will connect with https://au.reachout.com/

The book – the prologue sets a disturbing scene; a shooting in a school, who is involved, why? A grim but intriguing introduction to the narrative.

Each chapter begins with brief recollections of the incident by various people at the scene. These recollections juxtaposed against the chapter contents that recount events before and leading up to the shooting create tension and is a powerful and seductive device to engage the reader in this story of moral dilemmas, of life in a small rural town, of domestic violence, of poverty, of loss, of grief, of addictions, of mental health issues…this gently spoken book touches on so many contemporary issues. It doesn’t preach, it allows the reader to think, to assimilate all the background information and to ask their own questions.

A powerful and emotional read. 5 stars.

Review: Our Members Be Unlimited – Sam Wallman

Our Members be Unlimited

A Comic About Workers and Their Unions

Sam Wallman

Scribe Publications

ISBN: 9781925713053

Description:

An original and visually powerful exploration of unionism.

In our current political climate, people are looking for answers — and alternatives. The promise of unions is that their ‘members be unlimited’: that they don’t belong to the rich, the powerful, or special interests, but to all workers.

How did the idea of unionism arise? Where has it flourished? And what are its challenges in the 21st century? From Britain to Bangladesh, from the first union of the 18th century to today, from solidarity in Walmart China to his own experiences in an Amazon warehouse in Melbourne, comics journalist Sam Wallman explores the urge to come together and cooperate that arises again and again in workers and workplaces everywhere.

With a dynamic and distinctive art style, and writing that’s both thoughtful and down to earth, Our Members Be Unlimited serves as an entry point for young people or those new to these notions of collective action, but also as an invigorating read to those already engaged in the struggle for better working conditions — and a better world.

My View:
This book is so relevant! I hope you get a chance to read this; it is well written, the illustrations are excellent and really help to get the messages across. There is so much detail here…I can appreciate all the work that went into creating this epic, illustrated, narrative.

This book reminds us (workers worldwide) of the progress made in ensuring better pay and conditions over the years and yet illuminates that there are still much more we can aspire to change if we unite. The Amazon case cited here has surprised and disappointed me, I thought “we” were better than this, better than the practices here.

This narrative is honest – unions are made up of people and people are not always perfect, but the majority are working towards a common goal – of making work conditions fair, safe and beneficial to all involved, making “work” equitable and “seen” and hopefully at some point “work need not necessarily be awful.” Collective action rules the world.

This is a great read!

Review: A Caravan Like A Canary – Sasha Wasley

A Caravan Like A Canary

Sasha Wasley

Panterra Press

ISBN: 9780648987505

Description:

Two road trips. Twenty years apart. Can the memories of a troubled family past finally be put to rest?

When Tara Button’s mother asks her to drive the bright yellow family caravan from one end of the state to the other, it’s her charming but unreliable brother, Zac, who convinces her it’s a good idea. Besides, the road trip might keep Zac out of trouble – and that’s always been a second job for Tara.

Tara doesn’t expect Zac’s enigmatic friend Danh to come along for the ride. Or the bikies that seem to be following them up the coast .

As they travel along the open road, memories of the Buttons’ last trip in the caravan engulf Tara, while a rediscovered love for the wild, glorious ocean chips away at her reserve. When forced to face her past, will Tara find the courage to let go and discover her dreams?

My View:

Outstanding! The best read of the year!

I loved every moment of this read; the characters – so well developed I can visualise this one the big screen, the settings – some I recognise, some I have been to – in a caravan :), the trauma and PTSD I recognise and empathise with the characters and their situations, the narrative….engaging…just so much to offer the reader in this book!

This is a fabulous read and I think the best of Sasha’s work thus far. I eagerly await the next offering from this amazing author and lovely human.

Review: The Mallee Girl – Jennifer Scoullar

The Mallee Girl

Jennifer Scoullar

Penguin Random House

ISBN: 9781761046650

Description:

A heart-warming new rural romantic suspense set in the Victorian High Country by the bestselling author of Brumby’s Run.

Armed with nothing but some loose change and her beloved dog Duke, Mallee girl Pippa Black has finally found the courage she needs to escape a dangerous relationship. Two cryptic words written on a paper napkin send her in search of the one person who might help her – a long-lost brother she has always dreamed of finding.

Pippa’s quest leads her to the remote town of Currajong, high in the beautiful Victorian alps. As a runaway seeking refuge among strangers, Pippa learns that she’s been mistakenly implicated in a shocking crime. She finds her way to Brumby’s Run, a wild-horse sanctuary, where she begins work assisting the enigmatic farm manager Levi, and becomes entranced by Thowra, a magnificent golden stallion who leads a herd of brumbies in the region. Both man and horse will teach Pippa more about herself than she ever thought possible – including when to run, when to hide, and when to stand up and fight.

Set among the majesty of the High Country snowgums, The Mallee Girl is a moving and heartfelt story about the power of love and the land to heal old wounds, and the freedom that comes in confronting your greatest fears.

My View:

This is Jennifer Scoullar at her very best. I love her settings, the relationships she explores, the relationships with dogs and horses. This one is particularly poignant and answers the question ” why didnt she leave before now?” .

Family violence comes in many forms. This book will illuminate some of those situations.

This book has a dramatic yet eventually, happy ending…phew.

A great read.

Review: This Is Not A Book About Benedict Cumberbatch- Tabitha Carvan

This is Not A Book About Benedict Cumberbatch

Tabitha Carvan

Fourth Estate

Harper Collins

ISBN:  9781460760659

RRP $32.99

Description:

If you feel that sense that there is something missing from your life, some gap between who you are on the inside and who you are on the outside – then this is the book for you.

This is, as the title says, not actually a book about Benedict Cumberbatch.

In fact, it’s a book about women and what we love, about what happens to women’s passions after we leave adolescence and how the space for joy in our lives is squeezed ever smaller as we age, and why. More importantly, it’s about what happens if you subvert that narrative and simply love something like you used to.

Drawing upon her personal experience of unexpectedly falling for the British actor Benedict Cumberbatch while stuck at home with two young children, Carvan challenges the reader to stop instinctively resisting the possibility of experiencing pleasure. Hers is clarion rallying cry: find your thing, whatever it may be, and love it like your life depends on it.

Funny, intelligent, transporting and liberating, this book is a total joy.

Witty, erudite and fierce in its message – that women should seek joy and find fun. Happily, this book provides both in abundance. I loved it.‘ Jacqueline Maley

You know when you bite into a chocolate, and unexpectedly discover it’s filled with delectable cherry kirsch that explodes into your mouth and oozes everywhere? That’s this book. Original, highly entertaining, fast-paced, personal read that contains unexpected revelations at every corner. It’s funny, it’s smart, it’s compelling. But most of all, it’s a battle cry: sit up, pay attention and follow your heart and find joy. After all, our time on this earth is short. C’mon. The clock is ticking.‘ Ginger Gorman

‘Intimate, self-deprecating … like an Australian Caitlin Moran or Dolly Alderton … an easy, lighthearted read about serious subject matter: feminism, passion, relationships and creativity, and owning the strength of the passions felt in childhood and adolescence.’ Books+Publishing

My View:

Let’s start with 5 star read. Wonderful cover art. A surprising, evocative, provocative and thoroughly enjoyable read. In fact I might even read this again and again. And that says something.

I picked up this booked – for two reasons- I do love the cover art and I am a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch since I discovered this video. I love his voice. Check this out. He “reads” poetry, letters….I would listen to him read a shopping receipt. 🙂

But I digress. 🙂

The book, though it does rave and gush about the wonders of the man Benedict Cumberbatch (to illustrate a point 🙂 ) it is actually a book about finding passion, finding yourself, acceptance and love. It is about discovering or rediscovering feelings, rediscovering self, honoring your self.

It is a fun, witty, intelligent and thought provoking read.

I loved this book.

Tiramisu – Intolerance Friendly Kitchen – Georgia McDermott

**Images courtesy of Georgia McDermott**

Tiramisu: because if cream, carbs, coffee and booze can’t lift your spirits, there’s probably not much that will. Tiramisu traditionally uses mascarpone and whipped eggs for the creamy layer and rum or Marsala for the alcohol. This version uses lactose-free whipping cream, gin or a FODMAP-friendly
spirit of your choice, and gluten-free savoiardi to keep the FODMAP content low.

Tiramisu

LOW LACTOSE
FODMAP FRIENDLY
GLUTEN FREE
Serves: 6–8
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 30–40 minutes


FOR THE SAVOIARDI:
(makes 30–40 biscuits)
4 extra-large eggs, separated
110 g (½ cup) caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
80 g (½ cup) fine white rice flour
60 g (½ cup) tapioca flour
50 g (½ cup) almond meal
40 g (¼ cup) icing sugar (to finish)


FOR THE COFFEE MIXTURE:
125 ml (½ cup) fresh espresso coffee
2–3 tablespoons gin or FODMAP-friendly spirit of choice
310 ml (1 ¼ cups) hot water


FOR THE CREAM MIXTURE:
500 g (2 tubs) full-cream, lactose-free whipping cream
80 g (½ cup) pure icing sugar


TO FINISH:
70% cocoa solids dark chocolate, to grate unsweetened cocoa powder, to dust

METHOD
Preheat oven to 180°C. Line 2 large baking trays with baking paper. I like to lightly oil the trays first so the paper doesn’t move when I pipe. Place flours in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Combine egg yolks, 55 g (¼ cup) caster sugar and the vanilla bean paste in a large bowl or stand mixer. Using
electric beaters, beat on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5–10 minutes.

Place egg whites in a separate clean, dry bowl. Using clean electric beaters, beat until the whites become frothy, then gradually add the remaining caster sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form. Gently fold half the egg yolk mixture into the egg white mixture. Repeat with remaining half until just combined. Gently fold
flour mixture into egg mixture until just combined.

Place your piping bag in a tall glass, and spoon mixture into the bag. I generally use a ziplock bag with a 2 cm hole cut in one corner. Twist the top to seal. Pipe mixture onto prepared trays to create roughly 10 cm × 3 cm biscuits. Sprinkle with icing sugar.

Bake savoiardi for 8 minutes, then swap the trays and bake for another 5 minutes. Turn the oven down to 150°C and bake for another 10 minutes or until the savoiardi are crisp or tops are golden. Set aside to cool completely on trays.

To make coffee mixture, combine all ingredients in a wide, shallow bowl. Set aside.

To make the cream mixture, combine cream and icing sugar in a large bowl and, using electric beaters, beat until light and fluffy.

Construct: Quickly soak one savoiardi at a time in the coffee liquor mixture. The crunchier the savoiardi, the longer you can leave them to soak. Arrange the soaked savoiardi in the base of a 1.6 litre capacity serving dish.

Once you have completely covered the base of the dish, top the savoiardi with half the cream mixture. It is more important to completely cover the top of the tiramisu (for aesthetics, anyway) so make sure you save enough for that.

Top the cream layer with a generous grating of dark chocolate (I like to use a microplane). I think this chocolate layer makes the difference between an okay tiramisu and an amazing one. Repeat with another layer of savoiardi (any leftover coffee mixture can be drizzled over the biscuits here) and then
carefully spread over the remaining cream mixture. Finish with a super generous grating of the dark chocolate and dust with cocoa powder. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve (see notes).


NOTES
This recipe for savoiardi should make close to 40 biscuits, which is the perfect quantity for a
1.6 litre/28 cm dish. I have found that savoiardi batter often varies in the amount of biscuits
it yields. I recommend keeping enough ingredients for another batch on hand, just in case. If
your batch comes out with significantly fewer, make another half or whole batch to avoid
getting caught out later. They keep well in an airtight container and are delicious dipped in
espresso. Tiramisu is best served the next day, when the flavours have had a chance to meld
and the cream has set nicely. Leftover tiramisu keeps, covered, in the fridge for 1–2 days, if you can restrain yourself for that long.

** My Note – For those who are time poor – I have found GF savoiardi biscuits in my local supermarket which I have used in this recipe. YUM

Vegan Breakfast Banana Bread – Intolerance Friendly Kitchen – Georgia McDermott

**Images courtesy of Georgia McDermott**

The year 2020 taught us a few things, and one of them was the importance of a good banana bread. This version is refined sugar free, dairy free and vegan, which all sounds pretty good to me. While the quantity of ripe banana in this bread is within FODMAP limits, it might not agree with some. If you don’t get along with ripe bananas, use just ripe or slightly under-ripe ones instead. I find it can be helpful
to roast these first to bring out their sweetness and flavour.
p

LACTOSE FREE
GUM FREE
EGG FREE
VEGAN
FODMAP FRIENDLY
GLUTEN FREE
DAIRY FREE
Serves: 8–10
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 40–55 minutes

Vegan Breakfast Banana Bread

200 g (1 ¼ cups) fine white rice flour
60 g (½ cup) tapioca flour
2 ¼ teaspoons gluten-free baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
200 g banana, ripe or just ripe

METHOD:
Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a 21.5 cm x 11.5 cm (base measurement) loaf pan.

Place flours, baking powder and soda, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl and whisk to combine.

Mash the banana in a medium bowl, keeping some larger chunks for texture. Mix in the dry ingredients.

Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. Stir in any additions here if using (see notes). You can top the bread with some thinly sliced banana coins or
slices, but this is optional.

Pour the mixture into the pan, sitting it on a baking tray. Cook for 40 minutes, or until the top is golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. If necessary, cover with foil and continue to cook for a further 10–15 minutes, or until cooked through.

Set loaf aside to cool in pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Slice and serve with vegan, FODMAP-friendly yoghurt if desired.


NOTES
This banana bread will keep in an airtight container for up to 3–4 days.
You can mix in several things here: chocolate, nuts or berries. Just make
sure any additions are vegan, low FODMAP and gluten free if they need

Laksa – Intolerance Friendly Kitchen – Georgia McDermott

**Images courtesy of Georgia McDermott**

Laksa is a spicy noodle soup that hails from South-East Asia. Traditionally, it uses prawn stock as a base, garlic and onion in the spice paste and wheat noodles to finish. This version is vegan, FODMAP friendly and gluten free courtesy of a few simple substitutions. p 253

LACTOSE FREE
GUM FREE
EGG-FREE OPTION
VEGAN OPTION
FODMAP FRIENDLY
GLUTEN FREE
Serves: 4
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes


FOR THE LAKSA PASTE:
5–6 fresh birds eye chillies, (depending on your taste for heat), seeds removed, chopped
3 sticks lemongrass, trimmed, finely grated
50 g (1 small–medium piece) galangal, peeled, finely grated
50 g (1 small–medium piece) ginger, peeled, finely grated
20 g (1 small piece) fresh turmeric, peeled, finely grated
2 teaspoons sweet paprika (optional, for colour)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

FOR THE BROTH:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
5–6 spring onions, green parts only, chopped
20–30 fresh curry leaves, stalks removed
60 ml (¼ cup) vegan fish sauce
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon tamarind paste
1 tablespoon gluten-free tamari or dark soy
1.5 litres (6 cups) water or vegan stock
400 ml can coconut milk
400 g gluten-free tofu puffs or cubed, pan-fried tofu

TO FINISH:
½ quantity (200 g) gluten-free Chinese egg noodles
100 g vermicelli noodles
1 bunch Vietnamese mint, leaves picked,
to serve
trimmed bean sprouts, to serve, 1 long red chilli, deseeded, sliced, to serve


Method

  1. To make the laksa paste, use a mortar and pestle or food processor to grind the chilli, lemongrass, galangal, ginger and turmeric until smooth. Add the paprika and oil and mix to combine.
  2. For the broth, heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Cook the spring onion greens and curry leaves, stirring, for 2 minutes or until fragrant and softened. Add the laksa paste and cook, stirring, for 2–3 minutes or until fragrant. Add a splash of water if it sticks at any point. Add the vegan fish sauce, sugar, tamarind paste and tamari and stir to combine. Stir in the water or stock and coconut milk. Add the tofu, then reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes to allow flavours to infuse.
  3. Meanwhile, par-cook the Chinese egg noodles (1–2 minutes instead of 2– 3) following instructions on page 251. Pour boiling water over the vermicelli in a heatproof bowl and leave to soften for about 2–3 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  4. Taste and adjust broth according to your preferences. Add a little extra stock or water if necessary.
  5. To serve, divide noodles between serving bowls. Ladle over the hot broth
    and finish with the Vietnamese mint, bean sprouts and chilli.

** Notes

Leftover laksa can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days. I do recommend taking the noodles out if you are using the psyllium noodles ( as they tend to disintegrate if left in the liquid for long periods.)

Traditional laksa often uses both hokkien and vermicelli noodles. I’ve used a half- batch of my Chinese egg noodles and half vermicelli to make it vegan. If you prefer you can use all vermicelli to make it vegan.

Canned coconut milk often contains gums and thickeners, so read the label before buying.

If you cant find galangal, use a little more ginger and lemongrass ( around 25 g of each) p252