Wednesday 22 October 2014

stasialikesbooks | Book review: The Norfolk Mystery by Ian Sansom

Spanish Civil War veteran Stephen Sefton is flat broke. So when he sees a mysterious advertisement for a job where 'intelligence is essential', he applies.

Thus begins Sefton's association with Professor Swanton Morley, autodidact. Morley intends to write a history of England, county by county. His assistant must be able to tolerate his every eccentricity - and withstand the attentions of his beguiling daughter, Miriam.

The trio begin the project in Norfolk, but when the vicar of Blakeney is found hanging from his church's bell rope, they find themselves drawn into a fiendish plot. Did the reverend really take his own life, or was it - murder?

I picked up The Norfolk Mystery on a whim a few weeks ago. It's an enjoyable read. It's sort of cosy and something about it feels very English. However, I did expect more mystery.

The vicar is found hanged and Morley and Sefton do take an interest in the possibility that it might not be the suicide it appears to be. However, there is really very little actual investigation and Morley's deduction as presented near the end of the novel seems to come completely from nowhere. I understand that this could be a little bit of a parody of the early 20th century mystery novels - and maybe I'm just not well versed enough in the tropes of those novels to fully appreciate it - but the rest of the novel just doesn't seem to be so obviously a parody of anything.

There is some interesting social commentary throughout the novel, which is as relevant today as it was during the time between the two world wars, when this story is set. Morley's views about the goings on in the world sort of balance out how bloody annoying he is the rest of the time. There are also photographs throughout the book, which I had expected to be a fan of (I wrote my dissertation on illustrated novels so I have a specific interest) however in this case I just didn't think the photographs did anything for the narrative.

Despite these complaints, The Norfolk Mystery was an enjoyable read but I'm not sure I'll be picking up the sequel when it's released.

I mean, Morley spends half the book speaking Latin. What's that about? Is that parody???

3/5 stars.

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Wednesday 15 October 2014

Cherry Cake.

I bought a bundt tin. Well, to be more accurate, my mum bought me a bundt tin. Also I'm not entirely sure if 'bundt tin' is the right word or if there is a more specific word for this particular shape of tin? All I know is that I chose this tin with absolutely no idea what I would make with it.

What I ended up making was this Mary Berry cherry cake recipe. Yes, even after the scone disaster, I gave Mary another chance. And I'm very glad I did because this cake came out beautifully. Now I just need to find some more delicious bundt cake recipes. (If you have any then hit me up in the comments!)


For the cake
200g glacé cherries
225g self-raising flour
175g softened butter, plus extra for greasing
175g caster sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
50g ground almonds
3 large eggs

For the decoration
175g icing sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
15g flaked almonds, toasted
5 glacé cherries, quartered

  • Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4. Grease your bundt tin with butter and lightly dust with flour.
  • Cut all the cherries into quarters and set aside five quartered cherries for the decoration. Rinse the rest of the quartered cherries in a sieve under running water. Drain well and dry with kitchen paper. Finally toss the cherries in two tablespoons of the already measured flour.
  • Cream the butter and caster sugar together in a large bowl, then add in all the other ingredients (except the cherries) and beat well until thoroughly mixed. Now lightly fold in the cherries and then turn the mixture into your bundt tin.
  • Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until golden brown, well risen, and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for about ten minutes and then turn out and cool completely on a wire rack.
  • For the icing, mix the icing sugar with the lemon juice (A little tip - if you don't like lemon very much then I would recommend making a simple icing with just icing sugar and water - it'll work exactly the same but be a lot less lemony!) to a thick paste.
  • When the cake is completely cooled drizzle the icing over it using the back of a spoon. Then sprinkle over the toasted almond flakes and the cherries you set aside earlier and voila!

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Monday 13 October 2014

stasialikesbooks | Book review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends - the Liars - whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True Love.
The Truth.

We Were Liars is my first E. Lockhart book but I'm sure it won't be my last (I've been eyeing up The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks for years, truth be told.) I wasn't too sure what to expect but I'd seen a lot of reviews, all of which seemed to follow the same pattern - this book is amazing but I can't tell you what happens - and now that I've read it I can totally understand why.

We Were Liars is powerful and surprising, both in the story itself and in the way in which the story is told. I've never read anything else like it and I'm sure I never will. But. I'm still not totally convinced about the writing style. While it's definitely interesting, I found it at times to be a little annoying, almost until the end. Towards the end I found myself appreciating the style and it started to make sense retrospectively, but I can't deny that I spent a lot of the book unsure about it. Also I still don't understand why the group are called 'The Liars' but I don't think I'm the only one.

Nevertheless this is definitely a unique novel, deserving of the praise it has gotten. The story unfolds in ever more clever and surprising ways and the final reveal comes like a punch in the gut. But, like, in a good way. I'd recommend it.

4/5 stars.

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Thursday 2 October 2014

September book reviews.

Just two books this month and both of them are conclusions to series whose previous books I've already reviewed on this blog, which is actually nice and fitting for what will probably be the last monthly book reviews post you'll see on stasialikescakes! (More about that at the end of this post. Ooh. Teasing.)

I know there is technically one more book in the Hitchhiker's Guide series but I've been informed that it's best to stop after the fourth one and only the first four are included in my bind-up anyway so for now at least my journey with Arthur Dent is definitely at an end. Like the previous book (which I talked about in last month's reviews) I really missed the group dynamic between Ford, Arthur, Zaphod, and Trillion in this one too, however, there were a lot of aspects of So Long and Thanks for All the Fish that I really did like. Adams's humour was on top form, as usual, and I thought Fenchurch was an excellent character. If anything, I'd have liked more of her. I really enjoyed the story line though and Arthur finally finding out a few things. Some questions were, of course, still left unanswered, but all in all I think this was a pretty fitting end to the series. I just wish it had been a bit longer, to be honest. 4/5 stars.

Don't Tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford

Regular readers of this blog with good memories will remember that I liked the first book in this series, The Pursuit of Love, and loved the second, Love in a Cold Climate. Don't Tell Alfred takes place some years after the first two books and in Paris this time (I know, I know. Paris? Again?) where Fanny must navigate French politics, the previous occupant of her house who refuses to leave, and her wayward sons, all of whom are rebelling in some way or another. Don't Tell Alfred was every bit as funny as The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate and Northey along with Fanny's sons were almost entertaining enough to make up for the lack of the wonderful Jassy and Victoria. I'm firmly in love with Nancy Mitford now and can't wait to get my hands on The Blessing and Wigs on the Green. 4/5 stars

Now, I mentioned at the start of this post that this might be the last monthly book reviews you see on this blog and that's because I've started a new blog called stasialikesbooks! I will still be posting recipes and lifestyle posts and all those other bits and pieces on stasialikescakes, don't worry, but from now on I will be posting book reviews, book tags, film reviews, tv recommendations and all of those sorts of things on stasialikesbooks. I'm doing this because I've felt for a while now that this blog is sort of all over the place and I feel that splitting it into two like this might help me to focus better on what I want to post without worrying about everything fitting together. I hope that makes sense?

It was a pretty spur of the moment decision to be honest and who knows, it's entirely possibly that a few weeks from now I could be back, tail between my legs, admitting that it was a terrible idea and that actually I'd quite like to go back to the way things were before. But honestly, right now I'm feeling really positive about the idea, and I hope you are too!

stasialikesbooks | The A-Z bookish survey.

The same day that I decided to make this new blog I saw this tag on The Book Journal and thought it seemed like a fun first post to kick things off with. So without further ado (partly because this is kind of long. Mostly because I'm currently re-watching Gossip Girl and right now I'm on the first Christmas episode!) here are my A-Z Bookish Survey answers!

Author you've read the most books from
Meg Cabot.

Best sequel ever
Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins or every single Harry Potter sequel.

Currently reading
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.

Drink of choice whilst reading
A nice cup of tea.

E-reader or physical books
I do read a few books on my iPad and find it super useful but I think it will always be physical books for me.

Fictional character you probably would have actually dated in high school
Can I pretend that I was cool enough in high school to land Cricket Bell??

Glad you gave this book a chance
Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier. My mum bought it for me and it sat in my bookcase for ten years or something before I finally got around to reading it. I wish I'd given it a chance sooner!

Hidden gem of a book
I'm going to say Campari for Breakfast by Sara Crowe. It only came out earlier this year but I absolutely love it and I don't know anyone else who's read it yet.

Important moment in your reading life
Probably the first time I finished reading a novel by myself. It was Charm School by Anne Fine and I can still remember how excited I was when I reached the final page because I could finally say that I had read a whole book by myself!

Just finished
Don't Tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford.

Kinds of books you won't read
Probably horror? Maybe?

Longest book you've ever read
I expected this to be Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur but I just checked and it's actually Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, clocking in at an impressive 766 pages.

Major book hangover because of...
Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins.

Number of bookcases you own
Two bookcases + a drawer full of books + half a shelf on my parents' bookcase.

One book you've read multiple times
Avalon High by Meg Cabot.

Preferred place to read
In bed or in the bath. Just, lying down somewhere, I guess.

Quote that you like from a book you've read
'God knows I tried my best to learn the ways of this world, even had inklings we could be glorious; but after all that's happened, the inkles ain't easy anymore' from Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre.

Reading regret
That I actually read the entire of The Time Traveler's Wife.

Series you've started and need to finish
The Percy Jackson series! I've only read the first one but I really want to read the rest of the series.

Three of your all-time favourite books
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, Avalon High by Meg Cabot, and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

Unapologetic fangirl for
Harry Potter and The Princess Diaries.

Very excited for this release more than others
Blue Lily, Lily Blue, the third book in Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Boys series.

Worst bookish habits
I can't really think of any. Unless you count buying books faster than I can read them. If you do then that.

X marks the spot - start at the top of your shelf and pick the 27th book
A Series of Unfortunate Events #12: The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket.

Your latest book purchase
The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude and The Norfolk Mystery by Ian Sansom.

Zzzz-snatcher book - last book that kept you up WAY too late
Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins. I barely stopped to sleep or eat while I was reading that book.

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