Sunday, July 27, 2014

Twenty Questions

So, I know there hasn't been a book review for a while, but I'm unfortunately swamped with an assessment this week, so have this instead. Before I start, these questions were taken from 101 Books (specifically this post). Essentially I answer the 20 questions from that post. This is an interactive 'game', so feel free to post your answers below, or on the original site. All credit for the idea and questions goes to 101 Books. Here we go:

  1. Who’s whinier: Holden Caulifield or Scarlett O Hara? Bella Swan. No, I don't care that she wasn't an option.
  2. Do you think it will ever be possible to make digital books emit a book fragrance—kind of like traditional paper? E-books are too hipster for that. "Fun" fact: that book smell- mould. It's actually quite dangerous, and people who have to work around old books all the time often develop problems because of it.
  3. If you could have a beer, or a glass of wine, or an orange juice, with one author, whom would it be? Douglas Adams or Ben Elton. You'd be entertained at the very least.
  4. Does anyone write in cursive anymore? Do they even teach that in schools? All the time. I personally think it's quicker than writing without.
  5. Why are so many of these novels depressing? By “so many,” I mean 99% of them. (Yeah, the original question is based off the premise of the blog- i.e. reading the top 100 books according to Time Magazine. I'm just going to branch out the question to all books). Because it sells. As cynical as that sounds, it's true. You just have to look at the "The Fault in our Stars"'s or "A Game of Thrones" (seriously) or anything by Jodi Picoult to realise all the public wants is a good bit of depression. Some are well-written, others not so much. Let's be honest, people aren't buying the writing, they're buying the story.  
  6. You can read one style of writing the rest of your life…either Woolf or Hemingway. Which one do you choose? Hemingway. 
  7. If you could punch one literary character, who would it be? Oooh, the agony of choice. I'm sure there's many more than I can immediately think of, but the first character who came to my mind was Creon from Seamus Heaney's "The Burial at Thebes". Or "Antigone" as the original play by Sophocles is known. If there was ever anybody in need of an intervention, it's Creon. That man does not like advice.
  8. The worst ever movie adaptation of a successful novel? Many, but "My Sister's Keeper" by Jodi Picoult is pretty high up there. They completely missed out on the ending. Sigh.
  9. If The Judge from Blood Meridian approached me on a street, how long before I pee my pants  pass out? Instantaneous. 
  10. Napoleon from Animal Farm—tastier as bacon, ham, or maybe a barbecue sandwich? Wow, somebody needs more hugs. If I must, how about Hoisin pork? You're going to be delicious, Napoleon.
  11. If the moon was made of spare ribs, would you eat it? If it didn't result in the apocalypse, then yes, without a doubt. I wonder if rocket fuel makes a good sauce?
  12. What is the fascination with Ayn Rand? Someone? Anyone? She was a woman interested in Philosophy. If nothing else that makes her a trail-blazer of her time. 
  13. Beer pong: Who you got: Hemingway or Malcolm Lowry? Neither. Considering both of them had pretty severe drinking problems, I would suggest a lovely glass of water instead. 
  14. How bad would it suck to be David Foster Wallace’s editor? Eh, you take what you can get.
  15. On a related note, how cool would it be to be David Foster Wallace’s editor? Well he left quite a legacy, so pretty awesome.
  16. You can only speak one word, one time, the rest of your life…what would it be? Crap. That's how all the conversations would end anyway.
  17. Stupider protagonist: Bigger Thomas (Native Son) or Clyde Griffiths (An American Tragedy)? Gonna have to go with Clyde there.
  18. What’s the most frequently spilled liquid on your books? Water. BLOODY RAIN!
  19. Who do you think is the most overrated author (now or in the past)? Ohhohohoho. My cynical side says there's probably quite a few, especially these days. Here's something I think we can all agree on: Freaking E.L. James. More famously known as the author who wrote "50 Shades of Grey". Do I really need to explain? Just terrible. 
  20. What are you currently reading? A couple things. 1: A World of Difference: An Anthology of Short Stories from Five Continents". 2: "Incompatible Twins" (review upcoming). 3: Not strictly books, but I've been hooked to JET related blogs for a while now. Yes, I am living vicariously through them, what of it? and 4: "Kaichou wa Maid-sama". Not even sorry. I have many different interests and manga is one of them. Problems? Take 'em and leave. There is no such thing as a right or wrong kind of book. Everybody needs a little brainless fluff once in a while. 

Well there you have it. Twenty questions courtesy of 101 Books. Please do check out that blog. It's a proverbial goldmine for any bibliophile out there, and an interesting read. I actually had a lot of fun answering these questions, and I look forward to more in the future.

Well, I'm off to finish my assessment work. Sigh. C'est la vie. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Prudence and the Crow (July 2014)


Today I have for you guys a review of a monthly subscription service. I came across Prudence and the Crow a few months ago, and decided to try it out. Now three months in, I figure I can do a review of my experience with it so far.

First a little background info. Prudence and the Crow is a monthly subscription service that specialises in vintage paperbacks. It is also a bespoke subscription. In other words, each box is tailored specifically for you. Each month they the lovely ladies who work there browse their local, vintage book emporiums, and pick out a book they that think suits you perfectly.

So how does this work? Well, when you sign up you pick from five different genres. These are: youth fiction; science fiction; classic thriller; children's or random. You then choose what kind of subscription you would like: one off, 3 months; 6 months; 12 months or continuous. You can see the various prices and package perks below:

They're based in London, but they do ship internationally. Do keep in mind that it will cost you an extra £4 for that option though. They ship out on the 13th of every month, and obviously the time it takes to get to your destination will depend on how far away you are from theirs. For me, it's usually 3-4 days (living in the UK). So what's in this box of wonders you ask. Well why don't I show you what awaited me this month. A little quick info first: I chose random, because I like a little bit of everything. When you subscribe you receive a confirmation email with a questionnaire attached. Now this questionnaire is important regardless of which genre you pick, but it is vital if you choose random. Why? Because this is where you put all the details you desire (it can literally be anything, but it'd be a good idea to have a least a few notes on the kind of books you're into) about yourself. The more the merrier. (Plus the more accurate their choice will be). Anyway, here we are.

Well the first thing you see is this wonderful brown paper package come through your door. This is the first sign of the lovely things to come. (Come now. Be objective). But seriously, this is just a beautifully wrapped box. And it is specially designed to fit through your post box- so there's no need to worry about undelivered packages.

Once the paper is off, you are greeted by this (well that. To the left). A lovely brown box. That strip down the right side has your name written on it, but obviously I've taken that off.  A nice touch is the black strip on one of the corners with your box number and the month it came written across it. As you can see this is my third box and the month is July. Interesting stuff.

Are you ready to see what's inside? Good. Because here it comes. 

Upon opening the box, this is what I see. Let's just start from top to bottom shall we? The first thing I come across is this:                                                                                                                                                               

This is a library card like thing that comes with every single box, and is designed for the book you received that month. It has the date on it, the box number and spaces for you to put in the title of the book, as well as the author and some additional notes. A nice little touch I think. Next:

In a small, brown packet I find this. It's the Penguin logo. Did you get that? Haha. Now this is not in every month's box, and I was both very surprised and pleased to see it in this one. Those lovely ladies like to keep you guessing. And that's one thing I will touch upon quickly. Every month you get a little something different. Now I hear you say, "Well yeah, shouldn't you?" And to that I reply, " Yes. Of course you should." But, while I expect the book to be different every month, I don't expect things like this. Every single month all the little extras change. For instance in the past I have gotten book plates; a disk that shows an image when it spins; various teas; pencils; and many other things. I mention those things in particular, because none of those were in this month's box. Instead I got the things you'll see below. This is one of the things I really like about this subscription. After all if the little goodies were the same every month, not only would they not be a surprise anymore, but I'd also be in excess of them. Oh, and everyone gets something different. Sometimes certain objects will be present in many boxes (like tea, etc), but each person receives a box of things entirely unique to them. Anyway, time to continue. Here are the extras for this month's box:

A wonderful packet with very Rococco-ish designs.
Some stickers. The ones on the left are holographic.

Does it even need words?

A mountain of delicious provisions. FYI, provisions
are always included.

Lovely little washi papers.
           So you can see there's really a lot more to this box than meets the eye. But I know what you're all really here for, so without further ado let's get into the book I received this month.

First things first. Each book comes in its own handmade book cover. Like this one. The design will change every month. Inside is the entire reason for the subscription. A really delightful 'quirk' is the handwritten note behind the cover page, telling you where they found the book and why they thought it fit you.

As you can see, my book this month was Alan Garner's "The Owl Service". (Chosen, I think, because I said I was a night owl. Haha. Ladies you're killing me.) Believe it or not I've actually never read this, so I look forward to delving into the adventure. Also the cover is gorgeous. Now a brief note. You can see here that my book is in pretty good condition. There's only minor wear, but as this is a vintage subscription, your books will come in various conditions. This isn't something that bothers me, but just don't expect a brand new book is all I'm saying. 

So what do I think? I'm pretty sure it's fairly obvious how I feel about this subscription already. I love it. I reserved judgement until this third box and I think the Prudence/ Crow crew really stepped it up a notch this month. Not to say the others were bad, but I did feel they lacked something this box has, and I wasn't sure it was worth my £10/month. That may have been because my questionnaire was pretty bare though. Oh, if you ever want to change your answers, shoot the crew an email and they'll send you another one. It doesn't save your previous answers however, so you'll have to fill it out from scratch. 

If I wasn't sold already, this month has definitely hooked me. It is rare to find any subscription that has this amount of care and thought put into it. They really do individualise every single box. Oh, and they're also wonderful people who I may now be stalking on Twitter. Shhh.

Overall, a great subscription that I truly believe is worth the money. If you're a bibliophile who likes surprises, why not check it out? You can do so here:, and let Prudence and Crow take you on an adventure. Every single month. I wonder if they have something special planned for Christmas? Not that I'm thinking about it this early in the year...maybe. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Can You Say 'Mmm'.. A Plethora of Tiramisu


First Sentence:

"A few months ago, one Saturday morning, I was making tiramisu for some friends who were coming to dinner."


                     Amazon /

So, this is something a little different, but hey, let's roll with it. I was asked by an author I've worked with on a couple other occasions to review her new cookbook. I'm a keen cook and baker, and am always looking for new recipes to add to my repertoire, so I had to, naturally, say yes.

Now, you may have guessed from the title that this is a Tiramisu recipe book. And ONLY tiramisu. There is a very large variety of recipes, and they will appeal to tastes of all kinds, but their common factor is that they are all tiramisus.

Here's a brief description of the book itself. It starts off with an introduction as to why this book was created, and where the recipes came from. In this case, the author is Italian (now living in the UK), and created this book using an amalgamation of her own recipes, as well as those of friends and family. 

Now, a quick side note, as the author herself states, the photos for each tiramisu were taken by their respective chef, so "you will probably find that the taste of these recipes will surpass their artistic (the photos) merit." So, don't expect professional quality photos. However, the photos still display their desserts proudly and tantalisingly. 

There are 25 different recipes, all tried and tested. This includes "alcoholic and fruity versions; tiramisu cakes, cheesecake and cupcakes; classic tiramisu; egg-free and gluten-free desserts; low-fat and low-sugar tiramisu; children's tiramisus; ice cream and pancakes, and many more". So if you were worried about a lack of variety, worry no more. 

Before we get into the fun stuff, there are a couple more things to go through first. The book contains some pages containing a brief history of tiramisu; some very nicely laid out pages that include how to prepare the ingredients before use; and an FAQ section that includes basic queries, such as how long a tiramisu lasts, or what to do if your mousse is the wrong consistency, as well as the basic equipment you will need. 

A page showing basic ingredients.

Then it's simply a matter of choosing your perfect recipes. I picked six variations, but made seven tiramisus (we'll come back to that later). Very quickly, here is a list of all the recipes you can find in this book:

1. Giulia's Traditional Tiramisu
2. Anna's Limoncello Tiramisu
3. Claudia's Tiramisu Light
4. Monica's Coconut Tiramisu
5. Cristina's Fun Tiramisu Cakes
6. Dalia's Tiramisu Cups
7. Dalia's Tiramisu Cupcakes
8. Dalia's Tiramisu Cheesecake
9. Laura's Banana Tiramisu
10. Rita's Pineapple Tiramisu
11. Rita's Orange Tiramisu
12. Manuela's Tiramisu Brownie
13. Ferruccio's Tiramisu Cake
14. Mariangela's Strawberry Tiramisu
15. Rita's Tiramisu Pancakes
16. Martina's Chocolate Tiramisu
17. Martina's Lemon Curd Tiramisu
18. Maria Grazia's Baileys Tiramisu
19. Martina's Tiramisu Ice Cream
20. Maria Antonietta's Gluten-Free Tiramisu
21. Tiziana's Peach Tiramisu
22. Sofia's Rainbow Tiramisu (made by the author's four-year-old daughter!)
23. Mamma's Panettone Tiramisu
24. Brunella's Tiramisu Coffee
25. Cristina's Vegan Tiramisu

You may have noticed that each recipe is named for its creator. There is also a mini bio of every chef on their relevant page- with quirky little facts, including a nice, little statement about their favourite dessert. Ice cream seems to be very popular, but I'm assuming it's gelato, as opposed to actual ice cream. While the two are technically the same product, they have very different qualities. If you have never had gelato, my goodness you need to find a way to remedy that.

Each recipe is set up using the same general formula. One page contains the recipe, ingredients (serving size included) and the bio, all laid out opposite a photo of the completed dessert. A nice little touch is small photos next to each recipe name, showing a major ingredient used in that recipe, e.g. coffee beans for traditional tiramisu. 

After the recipes, there is a section labelled 'Tiramisu Disasters' because 'it is important to remind ourselves that the path to success is dotted with occasional failures." This section includes a few 'issues' experienced during the making of this recipe book. It includes a brief description and photos, and serves as a useful resource for what NOT to do.

Next is an entire section on hosting a "Tiramisu Party" and a fun little quiz. You can find all the answers to said quiz in this book (and there is a cheat sheet to check your answers). I scored a rather adequate 9 out of 10. Just call me the Tiramisu Master.

Without further ado, here are the six recipes I tried. I picked out a good range of different recipes, trying to cover all areas. Excuse the photos, but I am not a professional food photographer, and clearly my tiramisu serving skills need work.

Before I get into the results, I'd like to mention that, like Marie Antonietta, I am a coeliac. So, I made my own ladyfingers using this recipe. I think it worked pretty well, and the ladyfingers were certainly delicious on their own. However, I did find them a little hard for tiramisu, but overall they did a good job.

1. Giulia's Traditional Tiramisu

Hands down my favourite recipe of the lot. It was quick (once the ladyfingers were made), it was easy and it was delicious. Perfect.

2. Dalia's Tiramisu Cupcakes

I can't comment on the cakes themselves- as my version will have different qualities due to the gluten-free flour- but these cupcakes were light and delicious. The mascarpone comes out quite airy, so you're not overwhelmed by overly rich flavours, and it perfectly compliments the coffee (as all tiramisus should).

3. Dalia's Tiramisu Cheesecake

This was the clear winner for my family. It's not as thick as traditional cheesecake; has a whipped and creamy texture and is absolutely delicious.

4. Mariangela's Strawberry Tiramisu

This was the only recipe I tried that I was a little unsure of. It was probably the recipe I was most excited to try (being a strawberry fan), but something in it just didn't work for me. I'd say it was a little like a trifle without the custard, but I found the mascarpone layer far too runny once served. See this is the thing: the mascarpone was not runny when I made it, but when added to all the ingredients it dissolved. Perhaps the acidity of the strawberries was too much? I'm also not sure about dipping the ladyfingers into orange juice. Maybe tropical juice (which is the other suggestion in the recipe) would've been better, because orange juice produces a slightly jarring flavour. Possibly something with a strawberry base would've fared better, or another berry juice? Something to compliment the strawberries and cream. (UPDATE: Orange juice has been removed from the final version.)                  

5. Martina's Chocolate Tiramisu

Another very delicious tiramisu. This one uses more 'mousse-y' layers of mascarpone, as well as a chocolate mousse layer. I'm not a huge fan of alcohol and, as the recipe called for Martini, I decided to switch it for chocolate milk and it worked perfectly well. The ladyfingers towards the bottom were a little dry (as the image shows), but that was an error on my side. FYI, ladyfingers dipped in chocolate milk are divine. No, I am not seven.

6. Marie Antonietta's Gluten-Free Tiramisu

Now here's where we get some variation. I made two versions of this tiramisu. One following the recipe to a T, and the second using the method I use when making a recipe gluten-free. I ixnayed on the ladyfingers from before, using the sponge recipe here. There is only one difference between these two versions- potato flour. One recipe uses it, the other doesn't. Simple, no?

Here are the results:

The photo show the result with potato flour. My thoughts? The sponge is delicious. Without the potato flour it is lighter, but doesn't taste as good, and has a strange baking soda taste- despite the fact there is none in the recipe. The potato flour adds a 'chewiness' to the texture, and works fantastically for tiramisu. (They're not chewy in the tiramisu). Without the potato flour, the sponge becomes crumbly and falls apart. Don't even think about dipping it into coffee (unless you want to see a magic trick) because that sucker will dissolve before your eyes. So, potato flour is the clear winner (meaning Marie Antonietta's recipe over mine) and I will be using it for all my baking needs from now on.

The tiramisu was tasty too, but that was not the aim of the exercise. Remember, any of these recipes can be made gluten-free. Use this sponge recipe and then make all the other layers using whatever recipe you desire. Bam. Gluten-free.

Overall, a great recipe book if you're fond of tiramisus. With so many variations there's something for everyone. The book itself is laid out in a clean, simple design that makes everything very comprehensible and easy to use. I thoroughly recommend it, and I already have the next recipes I want to try in mind (that brownie is calling my name. Seriously look at it:)

  I'm not a huge coffee fan, but over the past few days I may have become addicted. These desserts certainly live up to their name, and are the perfect 'pick me up'.

My only criticism is actually to do with the design of the front cover, and nothing to do with the book's contents. The big red border is a little unflattering and off putting in my opinion, but that is entirely my own personal taste- which was certainly appeased flavour wise. I may have to pick a print copy of this recipe book up myself (as I was working with an ARC .pdf copy)!

What more can I say? This was a great little recipe book, with a lot of variety. I was a little nervous that a tiramisu specific recipe book would be a little too pigeon-holed to sell well, but the book has such diverse recipes that it may as well be a general dessert book. If you've got a sweet tooth, check it out. It was released today, so why not pick up a copy?

Well done Martina. Your recipes are delicious. Congratulations on the book launch!      

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own. 


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

I'm Back

Hello everyone. I am so very sorry for how terrible I have been with this blog over the past few months. There are many reasons (I had a serious illness, then surgery; moved continent, then moved twice more; started a degree course), but in the end I am going to try my best to come back.

I have really missed doing my reviews during this 'sabbatical', and I'm currently trying to schedule it around my work. So there will be changes. Rather than doing two or three reviews a week (like I was before), I'll only be posting one review a week. I simply do not have to time to post any more frequently than that- at least not for the time being. There may also be a week here and there where I don't post anything, and that will most likely be due to an exam or assessment of some kind that I need to devote my full attention to.

I hope you can all understand my absence and why I've made the changed I have. That being said, there's a review coming your way tomorrow. It's a little different in terms of the books I've reviewed before, but I certainly had a lot of fun reviewing it.

That's all for now guys. Look forward to more reviews coming soon. Cheerio!