Saturday, May 30, 2015

Review: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry



Set in India during the 1970s, A Fine Balance is a heartbreaking yet brilliant novel.

A Fine Balance of friendship 


Recently widowed, Dina Dalal is determined to maintain her independence so ignores her abusive older brother’s demands for her to re-marry. Living in a small one-bedroom property, we meet Dina as she moves her bed from the small bedroom to make room for her new lodger, a Parsi student named Maneck Kohlah. Maneck arrives on her doorstep with two Hindu tailors he met on the train, Ishvar and Omprakash, who have been hired by Dina to make piecework items for the Au Revoir exports company. Gradually the backstory which has brought these four individuals unfolds. Maneck has been sent from his home in the hills by his parents, to get an education which will secure him a future. His diploma in refrigeration and air conditioning doesn’t interest him, but it is an “industry that would grow with the nation’s prosperity”.

The tailors were born into the “Chamaar caste of tanners and leather-workers” making them untouchables. Their village is rife with caste violence and impoverishment forcing their father to find an alternative future for them. A Muslim tailor, Ashraf, agrees to train them as apprentices in his shop, although under persecution for his faith they complete their training before looking for work in the city. Om is only 17 and his uncle, Ishvar, who has taken over paternal responsibility for him after his father’s death, is in his 40s. The two have little to call their own; the sewing machines they spend their days toiling at are rented, the illegal slum they live in is also rented, they carry all of their belongings in a case as they try to find a home.

Indira Gandhi’s “Emergency”


A Fine Balance is set in the 1970s during the Emergency Government period of Indira Gandhi. Her policies attempted to “beautify” India. This meant (amongst others) “voluntary” sterilisation for young men in exchange for a radio and enforced re-location for the city’s slum dwellers to the middle of nowhere, meanwhile her political opposition was systematically eliminated. It was a prosperous time for the wealthy, but the underbelly is exposed in A Fine Balance. The tailors feel the effects of the political upheaval the worst. After settling into a slum community, with its own host of memorable characters, their homes are destroyed in the name of “beautification”. Only a few weeks previously, the prime minister had forcibly bussed them out to the middle of nowhere to show their “support” for her political programme. They live each day not knowing what tomorrow will hold.

A fine balance, temporarily achieved


I won’t lie, A Fine Balance is (at times) hard to read, but these characters are wonderfully created by Mistry. They’re full of life, humour and personality. Even with the warning at the beginning of A Fine Balance from Mistry, taken from Le Pere Goirot, (“this tragedy is not a fiction. All is true”) you begin to relax into these character’s stories. How their lives have come together, and the joy each of them gain from spending time together is wonderfully told as chapter by chapter you come closer to knowing these individuals. This happiness gradually and slowly is stripped away as it becomes harder for the group to stay together, to maintain a fine balance, under the restrictions placed by their government and the unjust society they’re living in. It is a credit to Mistry’s writing, his way of building characters that are well-rounded and loveable that despite it being a harrowing read you don’t want to desert them.

A beautifully told (long) tale


A Fine Balance is a long book (over 600 pages). I picked up the paperback edition thinking “this isn’t so long”… until I saw the size of the font (tiny), which is a bit useless with my eyesight! I found it so much easier to read on my Kindle though, and it also helped to conquer my fear of long books. I know that it is easy to be put off by stories like A Fine Balance in exchange for a more upbeat one. But honestly, these characters and their lives are gripping. You feel for them and their journey in this beautifully told tale.

It’s available from Amazon for £4.79


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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Book Lover Meet Up in London, May 28th



Hello folks! 

I have some London-centric news for you.

I was recently contacted by WeRoom, who are organising a book lover meet up in London on May 28th.  

As its national share a story month, Weroom are hosting an exclusive event called Happy Hours at The Society Club  in Soho for book lovers to meet other book lives to flatshare with.  Weroom is encouraging people to get dressed up as their favourite literature characters to meet future flatmates who share the same interests as them.

Weroom (weroom.com) is a dedicated social platform for flatsharing, designed to connect people with their ideal housemates and improve the lives of renters, share-seekers, landlords and letting agencies.

Those wishing to attend just have to register herehttp://theflatsharinghappyhour.splashthat.com/

Then come along on May 28th for free drinks, snacks and lots of book chat!



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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Take Up Space by Vanessa Kisuule




Vanessa Kisuule’s Take Up Space is a prime example of this.  Vanessa is 23 years old and based in Bristol she has won several Slam titles.  Urging women to ‘take up space’, to be themselves, and to appreciate the women around them, Kisuule says that she wanted to “stand amongst an array of different women expressing themselves in whichever way they see fit…to represent the true multitude of female experiences.”   For more information about this series, you can visit here or here.
 

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Monday, May 11, 2015

Blog Tour + Giveaway: The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality

Gahan Hanmer's book The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality is set in present day. The central character Jack Darcey – actor, wanderer, ex-competitive fencer – has been tricked into visiting his school friend Albert Keane’s beautifully designed medieval kingdom nestled in a completely isolated river valley in the Canadian wilderness.

Albert Keane's community takes nothing from the modern world, the community lives in a setting that resembles the Middle Ages. There are castles, dungeons, knights on horses and the farmers that work the land.

One of King Albert’s nobles is trying to overtake him and he needs Sir Jack's help. Jack Darcy who finds himself learning how to adapt to living in a medieval kingdom becomes entangled in political intrigues.

Though The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality takes place in one time period but with two very different cultural settings.  The book answers the question why the past holds the key to happiness that may be missing in our present day.  That community such as this could easily exist in present day.

Excerpt:

Finally they came back from the grove, wearing their new garments and dumping the old ones in the pile with ours. They were all wearing medieval riding costumes, with pantaloons tucked into soft boots and long jackets under their cloaks. The servants all wore the same colors, some kind of livery perhaps to identify them with Albert. Rudy and I were dressed similarly, with the right sides of our tunics padded with leather.

Whoever had designed all these clothes had done a good job. We were a very authentic-looking group. The men’s tights were hand-loomed; the daggers had come from an armorer’s forge, not a factory. Everything, even our hand-stitched leather baggage, had the unmistakable texture of handicraft. Everything, that is, except the pile of modern clothing that lay near the bonfire.


About Gahan Hanmer
Born into a family of actors and painters, Gahan Hanmer naturally gravitated toward the arts. He speaks French and Spanish and has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University. The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality is available at: Amazon, My Book Orders,, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and on his website.  Ask Gahan Hanmer questions by visiting his website at http://thekingdomontheedgeofreality.com/contact.htm.

Contest
a Rafflecopter giveaway


This Giveaway is open Internationally.
PRIZES 1 Winners will each receive a $25 Amazon Gift Card or PayPal Cash.

Or Enter Here

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/5ea48b526/?

the giveaway is now closed
congratulations to: Iain van Schalkwyk + Sara Zielinski


YOU CAN FIND ME ON: TWITTER | GOODREADS ||INSTAGRAM | PINTEREST | BLOGLOVIN
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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Caramel Butter Cake




This is a bit lethal.

Delicious, but lethal.

INGREDIENTS:

CAKE:

125g (4 ounces) butter (unsalted, softened)
220g light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 tablespoon golden syrup
150g plain flour
75g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
125ml milk

ICING:

220g light brown sugar
60g butter (unsalted and softened)
3 tablespoons milk
120g icing sugar

One:

Preheat oven to 180*c (350F,  if your oven is fan-assisted, I recommend 160*c).  Grease your tin.  I used a shallow square tin, this cake doesn't rise much so you don't need a deep one.  

Two:

Beat the sugar, butter, and vanilla extract in a small bowl until the mixture is light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs and golden syrup.  For the syrup, to avoid it sticking to the spoon too much try warming the spoon in hot water just before adding the syrup.  This way the syrup will be runnier + won't take so long to get off the spoon.  Sift in the flours, and add the cinnamon and milk.  

Three:

Spread the mixture into the pan.  Be sure to spread the mixture well into the corners so there isn't a peak in the middle.  Bake for 50 mins (if the temperatures above are too high for your oven, lower them, each oven is different so don't feel obliged to stick to those temps).  

Four:

Check your cake is baked through by inserting a knife in the deepest part.  If it comes out clean, you can remove it from the oven.  Let it stand for five minutes before removing it from the tin + placing it on a cooling rack.

Five:

Once your cake is reasonably cool, you can begin to make the icing.  Stir the sugar, butter, and milk in a small saucepan over a medium heat.  Stir constantly until the sugar has dissolved.  Don't let it boil until all of the sugar has dissolved into the mixture.  Reduce the heat once bubbles begin to form and let the mixture simmer, uncovered, for three minutes.  Once it has bubbled away for a short while, remove from the heat and add the icing sugar and some milk.  How much milk you add is dependent on how runny you want your icing to be.  I only added 2 tablespoons + the icing was like fudge once it had dried.  If you want it runnier, add the milk in teaspoons until you get your desired texture.

Six:

Spoon over cake once it has cooled completely.  Slice up, and serve.

This recipe is adapted from one I found in The Australian Women's Weekly "The Baking Collection".

In other news....

I am now on Facebook! (I know, it's taken me this long to join the 21st century).  I've created a little page which you can 'like' and keep updated with posts from here as well as my instagram. I won't be linking my Twitter feed as I think that will be too many posts, but I would love to see you there.  

If you have a page of your own which you think I'd like, leave a link in the comments and I shall pop over and have a look.  (I promise not to spam you.)

Hope you enjoy the rest of your long weekend!

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