READING FOR SEPTEMBER: So Many Books, So Little Time; The Abbey; Ladies, A Plate - The Collection by Alexa Johnston


I love reading, it is my favourite past time. I have over a hundred unread books quietly waiting for me to pick them up. I don't read for a living but I would like to. Even so, I would still need a break from time to time. The glaring thing that jumps out to me in this book is that this woman never has a break from reading or anything else for that matter! Her work, her family life, her reading - it seems she never stops, even waking in the night and reading till all hours. A little crazy, obsessive perhaps?

But anyway - the reading itself. She has very wide ranging tastes, interests and reasons for choosing books to read. She is very curious and open to all different types of books and authors. It would take too long to make mention of what she read and wrote about - part of the fun of this book is the surprise factor! Of the books she has read that I have too - not a great many - she thinks deeply and writes well. I can only assume she has done the same with the rest that I haven't read! I very much enjoyed her views and analysis of the love of reading and why people become so addicted to it - in other words I could relate.

Did she manage to read 52 books? According to her epilogue she read more, but that also seems to count those she dipped into or skimmed through. What is interesting and to which she alludes to regularly is that she didn't read what she intended to read, and found that the book was choosing her rather than her choosing the book. The books seem to mirror what is going on in her life at the time, and in her writing she is able to intertwine the two. It would appear she doesn't have as much control over her life as she would like, but she accepts the slightly chaotic existence she lives in and invites the reader in.

Despite her seriously high intellect, her high powered publishing career, the sheer busyness of her life, she seems to be a very down to earth, normal sort of woman trying to keep her career going, her child and husband happy, and like many of us, finding a spare half hour to sit down with a cuppa and a book. How can we not relate?

I enjoyed this very much. It is light, fun, interesting, insightful and stimulating. Each chapter is pretty much self contained so great for dipping in and out of. My list of 'To Read' has grown somewhat...sigh.

THE ABBEY by Chris Culver

Review book kindly provided by Hachette Publishing via Booksellers New Zealand.

This book started off as an E-book that could be purchased in the US for USD$0.99, and in places like Jamaica for USD$2.99. A bargain in anyone's book. But much like that other massive E-book hit '50 Shades of Grey', this has been so successful in E-book format that it has now been published in paperback form.

I couldn't find much about the author, but apparently this is his first published book, and what a jolly good read it is too. It is in the detective/thriller genre, great airplane/holiday read, with no great demands on the intellect. Unlike many of fiction's hardened, bitter, over-philosophizing-internal-analysing detective cops, Detective Ash Rashid really only thinks about his job and gets on with what has to be done. Which is just as well really because if he spent too much time fretting about the human condition, he would probably be dead.

No longer a homicide detective because all that death was getting to him, and now working in the Prosecutor's Office, he finds himself drawn back to hunting for murderers when the body of his 15 year old niece is discovered. What follows is an absolute whirlwind of more murders, drugs manufacture, corrupt police, Russian crims, biological weapons, and at all times Rashid having to stay several steps ahead of those he is hunting and the various arms of the enforcement agencies. It gets very confusing, I have to say. And by about 2/3 of the way through I confess I had sort of lost my way with the various plot developments and connections to people involved.

In other reviews of this book, mostly American I may add, much has been made of the fact that Rashid is a practising Muslim. He prays regularly during the day, as does his wife and child, and talks fairly often about Islam and how he should be living his life. But really he comes across as just another hard playing fighting cop who needs more than a healthy dose of alcohol to get him through his days and nights. Is the Muslim thing a gimmick as one review suggests? I don't see it as a gimmick, as I am sure there are many law enforcement people who see themselves as committed Catholics or Protestants or whatever, also struggling with the requirements of their faith against the ghastliness of their jobs. But I do think that if the author does want to introduce a point of difference from your stock standard crime fighter, he needs to dig a little deeper into the character to make the religion a fundamental part of who Rashid is rather than just another person with conflict over how he wants to live his life with how he actually does.

Nevertheless I found it hard to put this novel down. A great page turner, perfect for a long flight or a lounger by the pool.


Review copy most kindly provided by Penguin Books NZ Ltd via Booksellers NZ

What a wonderful treat to have the opportunity to review this gorgeous inviting book. And an excuse of course to try things out. It has sat on the small ledge above the sink for the past few weeks and is still remarkably unblemished and tidy looking - a testament to the excellent production values perhaps. Because it is not for want of opportunity to get grubby! As promised I have also photographed my creations, which overall were quite successful.

Alexa Johnston has been one of the main contributors to the recent surge of interest in home baking in this country. This book is a compilation of her two relatively recent cook books - 'Ladies, A Plate' and 'A Second Helping'. She has taken classics of traditional New Zealand home baking, sourced/mixed/matched the best recipes from a myriad of publications over the past seventy years or so, and the recipes of many home bakers into this collection. Her published sources range from the Aunt Daisy cookbooks, to community fundraising recipe books put out by the likes of church groups, life saving clubs, kindergartens. Her home bakers are women of all ages, eras and backgrounds from throughout the country. Her food heroes are the well-known Ray McVinnie which whom she once flatted, and my own all time favourite, Lois Daish.

So with all that we were off to a pretty good start! The thing about a book like this is that it makes baking look so easy - beautiful illustrations, snippets of history, very clear step by step instructions and helpful hints from the likes of Ms Daish, and other bakers. This little gem from a 1957 recipe for Christmas mincemeat - 'Make It Early', or that a Chocaroon Cake won '$10 in a recipe contest'. Not a lot now, but way back in 1967 worth a bit more!

The temptation to try things never before attempted therefore is very Sponge Cake! Yep, never made a sponge cake. Memories of my Gran's too perfect sponge cake always stopped me. I bought some tins last year in anticipation... Remarkably easy and extremely tasty, but possibly not quite up to Gran's standard. Never mind, it had the same colour as a bought one, rose admirably and looked 'spongy'. Sorry no photo - got eaten before I thought about the photo thing.

So over past few weeks, I have made two different types of pikelets - the Perfect Pikelets were better (on the right in the picture) ;

Dainty Sandwiches (I had to take a plate) - quite yummy, but very time consuming, messy and only for the devoted;

Date and Walnut Loaf for school lunches - excellent long keeper;

Special Chocolate Cake for my daughter's 18th birthday iced and decorated magnificently by her 15 year old sister (Alexa Johnston has a funny back story to this cake);
Ginger Crunch - best thing I made;

Almond Fingers - my least successful creation;

Chocolate Caramel Fingers - had to do a large amount of exercise after some heavy sampling of the caramel; Chocolate Brownie - fabulously rich, and requests for the recipe;

and finally one of my top comfort foods - Date Scones. I usually do a variation of the Edmonds recipe with a healthy dose of Annabelle White technique thrown in. These were made quite differently - cream rather than butter, and the milk diluted with boiling water. Really really good!

This book is divided into nine sections - Biscuits, Squares and Slices, Small Cakes, Large Cakes, Items to be Buttered, Festive Baking, Jams and Preserves, Sweets, and Savouries. Recipes range from easy to more complex, at least they read that way! There would be something here to appeal to all levels of baking expertise from Pikelets to the frightening Cream Napoleon - making your own puff pastry. I haven't ventured down the pastry road yet...might need some magic red shoes for that one.