Milly Reynolds the Crime and General Fiction Author

Creator of crime sleuths Mike Malone and Jack Sallt and writer of other general fiction

The Fortune Hunter – book review

The Fortune Hunter

by Daisy Goodwin

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I picked up this book because, having just returned from a trip to Vienna, I was intrigued that it featured Empress Elisabeth of Austria – Sisi – as part of a love triangle. Having never heard about this lady until my visit to the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, I wanted to see how she was depicted in fiction.

Details of Sisi’s life and strict beauty regimes were all present and I loved reading descriptions of places that I recognised. As for her love affair with Bay Middleton – well, that is where fact and fiction may or may not differ. The characters in the novel, Sisi, Bay and Charlotte Baird were pulled from history. As for the love triangle – who knows. Whether Charlotte Baird had a camera – again, who knows? The other characters, Charlotte’s sister-in-law to be and some of the Bay’s friends were sterotypes – the waspish, jealous young woman, the soldier who becomes the angry drunk.

This is a frothy, easy to read novel. It demands nothing of the reader, except to turn the pages. Unfortunately, the characters didn’t really grab me. Charlotte was the most interesting character and I found Sisi and Bay irritating. But that is just me.

If you want to put your feet up and escape for a few hours, this is the novel for you. If you want to be challenged – choose something else.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

by Brian Selznick

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This is a book aimed at 9-12 year olds. So, why did I read it? Why not. Should adults be prevented from reading books just because they are aimed at children? Not at all. Should we prevent a curious child from picking up one of the adult classics? No! Books are to be read and enjoyed by everyone. Just as a child can enrich his mind and vocabulary by reading books older than his age group, we adults can be transported back to times when pictures told stories and we turned pages hungrily to see what happened next.

This book might be 525 pages in length, but there are only around 30,000 words. However there are nearly 300 pages of exquisite black and white drawings which move the story on in the same way that the old black and white silent movies did in the 1920s. In fact the artist uses techniques from motion pictures – close-ups and fades. The pictures carry no captions but you just drink them in, savouring every detail and moving through the story until, you turn a page and there is text. You turn another page and there are more drawings. Sometimes the drawings can last over many pages, sometimes just one. There is a surprise every time you turn a page.

The story – 12 year old Hugo is taken in by his uncle, the timekeeper in a railway station when his parents die. His uncle makes Hugo do all of the work, he has to keep the railway clocks running in perfect time. He also makes him steal to eat. But Hugo has a secret. He rescued a broken automaton from a burnt out museum and he is stealing clockwork pieces with the aim of rebuilding it.

That is just part of the story. The rest of it mixes fact with fiction and transports us to 1920s Paris and the birth of the movies.

I read the book in one evening. The drawings are wonderfully detailed. You will love it – whatever your age.

A Song for Issy Bradley – a book review

A Song for Issy Bradley

by Carys Bray

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This is a book about grief and loss. It is also a book about faith. Claire and Ian Bradley, together with their four children, are part of a small Mormon community. When one of the children dies unexpectedly, each family member deals with grief and loss in their own way, at the same time balancing their feelings with their faith. The author herself was brought up in the Mormon faith and writes from personal experience.

This is not a book that is preaching the Mormon faith, in fact as a non-Mormon, I did find it difficult to understand some of the ideas, but it did not stop me from fully immersing myself in the book.

Ian is the Bishop and as such is at the beck and call of his congregation, even missing his son’s birthday party because he is obedient to his faith. Claire, his wife, converted to the faith when she met Ian and tries to be the good wife that all Mormon women aspire to be. Zippy, their 16 year old daughter, is in love and struggles with Mormon values, wanting to be kissed but knowing that it is a sin. 13 year old Alma wants to play football for Liverpool and questions the doctrine. He finds it difficult to be a Mormon in a predominantly non-Mormon environment. Jacob, who is 7, believes every story that he is told in church; he believes in miracles. Issy, at 4 years of age, is the loved little sister, even though Alma does not always show his love.

When Issy dies at the beginning of the book, we are taken on each character’s emotional journey as they deal with guilt, grief, and regret; as they try to make sense of her death. In the Mormon faith, the belief is that everyone is re-united after death, but as Jacob says, that is a long time to wait.

We see each character’s point of view and the topic is sensitively handled. This is no over the top novel full of superfluous details and over-dramatic out-pourings.  At its heart this is a book about families and love.

Strawberry bread update.

The flavour is very subtle – I like it and will make this again, next time ringing the changes with white chocolate chips.

Strawberry bread and salted caramel

I have spent the day getting messy in the kitchen and I don’t mind sharing bakes that are not perfect. I just love baking days and as for licking the spoon, well, I’ll never get tired of that.

Strawberry and chocolate bread was first. Having made raspberry and white chocolate bread before with varying success, I decided to have a go using fruit tea rather than fruit. Twinings strawberry and raspberry tea was the liquid of choice for my dough and I added a handful of chocolate chips, just because I could. Is there any other reason? The bread looks ok, I haven’t tried it yet – I’ll let you know.

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Next on the list was a chocolate and salted caramel cake. Now, believe it or not, I have reached the ripe old age of ** and have never, ever made ordinary caramel, let alone salted caramel. This was going to be a first and it would either be marvellous or disastrous. It worked and that was one spoon I enjoyed tasting.

As for the cake, well, I made a normal 3 egg sponge and added melted chocolate – 3/4 of a bar of Lindt caramel with a touch of sea salt. The filling, I grated the remaining quarter of the chocolate and added it to butter cream. A layer of salted caramel sauce was spread on the bottom half of the cake, then the flavoured buttercream and then the top half of the cake. A drizzle of salted caramel to finish.

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However, I had so much salted caramel left over – too much to naughtily finish myself. What to do? As I had some bars of dark chocolate in the cupboard, the solution was simple. Salted caramel chocolates. Now I have never attempted a filled chocolate before so I knew I was going to be having lots of sticky fun. And I did!!!! How are you supposed to line tiny little moulds? The answer – badly. Nevertheless, I created chocolates that might not look professional. Be honest, you can see the pic – they do not look in the least bit professional – but – they are super scrummy.

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And I still have a lot of caramel sauce left. What shall I do with that tomorrow?

Voices – a book review

Voices

by Arnaldur Indridason

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I did say that I would be joining  Erlendur again, didn’t I? This is the third novel in the series and it is just as enjoyable as the previous two. Again themes of family are prevalent and because the whole story, more or less, takes place in the confines of a hotel, there is also a feeling of claustrophobia which can occur in families.

The story starts just before Christmas with the discovery of the body of the hotel doorman, who also plays Santa at the Christmas party, in his basement room not only wearing a Santa suit but also in a compromising position. Erlendur, a melancholy man who finds no joy in the festive season, decides to move into the hotel during the investigation to get to know the staff.

This is again, like the previous book, a novel that has threads running through it and the flashbacks develop our understanding. Erlendur has never come to terms with his own guilt over the death of his eight year old brother, feeling that he was responsible. This event altered his relationship with his father and we see Erlendur working through his own feelings. Investigations reveal that the doorman was a child star and his relationship with his father is also examined. Alongside this Elinborg is investigating a case of a child supposedly beaten by his father.

Indridason skilfully intertwines these threads and we see human stories, not gruesome crimes. The Icelandic landscape in this novel is absent, but the novel loses nothing because of that. Instead the characters are examined in greater detail and we learn more about Erlendur, his past and his fractured relationship with his daughter Eva Lind.

I have already bought the next book in the series.

Tea bread instead of beer bread.

Having tried various types of beer in my bread with some success, I’ve decided to experiment a bit this week. For my first loaf, I soaked sultanas in Earl Grey tea. The sultanas made the loaf lovely and sweet, but I didn’t get the Earl Grey hit. I think that next time I will just use Earl Grey tea as my liquid and forget the sultanas.

But my second loaf – wow!

2015-08-15 18.40.13I dropped a couple of these teabags into hot water to stew for an hour before I used the liquid to mix the dough. The flavour is wonderful, there is a real bite to this loaf.

So – on my next trip to the supermarket, I’m doing to be buying lots of different fruit teas. How does strawberry tea bread with chocolate chips sound? That is definitely the next one on my list. Watch this space.

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