Fourteen-year-old Mona isn’t like the wizards charged with defending the city. She can’t control lightning or speak to water. Her familiar is a sourdough starter and her magic only works on bread. She has a comfortable life in her aunt’s bakery making gingerbread men dance.
But Mona’s life is turned upside down when she finds a dead body on the bakery floor. An assassin is stalking the streets of Mona’s city, preying on magic folk, and it appears that Mona is his next target. And in an embattled city suddenly bereft of wizards, the assassin may be the least of Mona’s worries…
It is a well-known fact that if you want to make me rave about your book forever and forever the number one thing you can do is be clever. Be imaginative. Think of something that is a smart variation on something I’ve seen a million times and I will love you forever.
That is the magic of this book. We’ve all seen the story of the young person who has to save everyone despite only have a little bit of talent. The genius of this story is to make that little bit of talent the ability to use magic to make baked goods and use that to power a hero’s tale.
Mona is fourteen and works in her Aunt Tabitha’s bakery. She uses her magic to make the dough behave and sometimes to make gingerbread men dance for customers. Once she accidentally put too much magic into saving a sourdough starter and now there is a carnivorous sourdough starter named Bob who lives in the basement. But really her life is pretty quiet until small magic users like her start to get targeted by the government and a murderer at the same time. Suddenly she is in hiding with only a street kid named Spindle who is able to help her.
This book was both amazing funny and introspective. Should magic users have to register with the government?
“It seemed like once you agreed that the government could put you on a list because of something you were born with, you were asking for trouble.”
How many layers of authority have failed if it is up to a fourteen year old to save the city from an invading army?
What are you capable of with even just a little bit of talent if you start thinking big?
There are even discussions about post-military service PTSD and the concept of heroism in here. I have to admit Knackering Molly whose magic is based around horses had me in tears but I cry over anything horse related.
But overall the book is fun.
“The enemy warrior clearly had no idea what to make of the berserk woman charging at him, with her housedress flapping madly over her jingling armor. He gaped at her. Aunt Tabitha whacked him with the hammer so hard that his helmet got knocked halfway around his head, and he fell down. She kicked him a few times. Aunt Tabitha had very definite opinions about people who tried to invade her city.”
“The gingerbread man began to dance a very respectable hornpipe. Don’t ask me where the cookies get the dances they do—this batch had been doing hornpipes. The last batch did waltzes, and the one before that had performed a decidedly lewd little number that had even made Aunt Tabitha blush. A little too much spice in those, I think. We had to add a lot of vanilla to settle them down.”
This series actually starts with a novella called Soupcon of Poison but Death Below Stairs is listed as the first book. It is confusing. I didn’t read the novella that introduces all the characters and that was fine. You can start right in with Death Below Stairs if you like.
Kat Holloway is a Victorian-age cook. She’s young for the job since she isn’t yet 30 but she is very good. She knows her worth and is willing to fight for her rights as a working woman.
She has just started at a new position as a cook in the household of Lord Rankin. The household consists of Lord and Lady Rankin and Lady Rankin’s unmarried older sister, Cynthia. There are a few rules she is going to have to lay down but overall she thinks it will be a good position until the next morning when she finds her young assistant dead in the larder.
I’m forever going on about hating mysteries where some busy body interferes in the police investigation. I can’t appreciate a mystery book unless there is a legitimate reason for the main character to investigate. The reason here comes in the form of Daniel McAdam. He is some sort of undercover investigator. Kat doesn’t know who he actually works for. (SPOILERS FOR THE NOVELLA – They met in the first novella when Kat was accused of murder. He helped her get free and they are tip toeing around the fact that they are attracted to each other.) He is able to find place himself in the household as a stable helper and together they start investigating what happened.
The series is interesting because it is very much focused on the people in service’s perspective on the aristocracy. Lady Cynthia is a spinster who loves to be outrageous by wearing men’s clothes in public and spending a lot of time with the servants. She gets tapped to help with the investigation also because she can go places and question people who Kat can’t.
It is clear that the author did her research about how Victorian kitchens ran. No matter what is going on with the plot Kat has to get all the meals on the table at the exact time every day. The books describe how it was done every day and what meals were prepared. It is a fascinating look at how these households actually ran.
In the second book Lady Cynthia recruits Kat to help her try to solve a mystery of some missing artwork. One of her friends is being accused by her husband of stealing to cover her gambling debts. Things get complicated when guests get ill and some die after a dinner party that Kat helped cook. They can quickly prove that it wasn’t the food that killed them but who wanted to murder these people?
Kat is enlisted to help out with a neighbor’s household when the master of the house dies suddenly. Suspicion falls on a Chinese man who was seen in the area. Kat has talked to him and is convinced that he was not involved. She vows to prove his innocence as soon as anyone can find him.
I believe this series will be continuing. There are a lot of overarching mysteries that haven’t been solved yet, such as Who exactly is Mr. McAdam and who does he work for? What is going to happen to Lady Cynthia? Is she going to have to marry to appease her relatives or does she have options?
An affecting memoir from the country’s youngest sommelier, tracing her path through the glamorous but famously toxic restaurant world
At just twenty-one, the age when most people are starting to drink (well, legally at least), Victoria James became the country’s youngest sommelier at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Even as Victoria was selling bottles worth hundreds and thousands of dollars during the day, passing sommelier certification exams with flying colors, and receiving distinction from all kinds of press, there were still groping patrons, bosses who abused their role and status, and a trip to the hospital emergency room.
It would take hitting bottom at a new restaurant and restorative trips to the vineyards where she could feel closest to the wine she loved for Victoria to re-emerge, clear-eyed and passionate, and a proud “wine girl” of her own Michelin-starred restaurant.
Exhilarating and inspiring, Wine Girlis the memoir of a young woman breaking free from an abusive and traumatic childhood on her own terms; an ethnography of the glittering, high-octane, but notoriously corrosive restaurant industry; and above all, a love letter to the restorative and life-changing effects of good wine and good hospitality.
I’ve always wanted to learn about wine. I think the history of different vineyards and wines is fascinating. That’s why I was interested in listening to Wine Girl. What does it take to be an expert on wine, especially at a young age?
However, this book is more of a look at the sexism inherent in the restaurant and wine business than a primer on wines. There is a lot of trauma discussed here. There are descriptions of sexual harassment by patrons, forced sexual relationships by bosses and coworkers, and rapes by patrons. She accepted these things as the price you need to pay to work in the industry. By the end of the book, it was nice to see that she was using her new power as a restaurant owner to teach others that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Even the nonviolent events show severe sexism in the world of high end fine dining. There were restaurants where she was never allowed to set foot in the kitchen because the cooks were all male and didn’t want women in there. (Yet these same people would probably consider cooking at home to be women’s work.) There were restaurants where only men were hired as servers. She was dismissed at sommelier competitions because women don’t compete. They certainly don’t win.
There is a lot of information about her childhood here too. I hate the inclusion of childhood details in memoirs. I think authors tend to dwell too much on their formative years and it gets boring. This story has echoes of Educated in the presentation of a dysfunctional childhood. It should be noted that the author’s older sister, who doesn’t feature much in the book, has come out strongly against the book saying that her description of her childhood is not factual.
Michael Pollan, known for his best-selling nonfiction audio, including The Omnivores Dilemma and How to Change Your Mind, conceived and wrote Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World as an Audible Original. In this controversial and exciting listen, Pollan explores caffeine's power as the most-used drug in the world - and the only one we give to children (in soda pop) as a treat.
Pollan takes us on a journey through the history of the drug, which was first discovered in a small part of East Africa and within a century became an addiction affecting most of the human species. Caffeine, it turns out, has changed the course of human history - won and lost wars, changed politics, dominated economies. What's more, the author shows that the Industrial Revolution would have been impossible without it. The science of how the drug has evolved to addict us is no less fascinating. And caffeine has done all these things while hiding in plain sight! Percolated with Michael Pollan's unique ability to entertain, inform, and perform, Caffeine is essential listening in a world where an estimated two billion cups of coffee are consumed every day.
This is a fairly short Audible original audiobook written and read by Michael Pollan. Of course I had to listen to it!
It starts off with the author lamenting that to truly understand the affects of caffeine he had to go off of it for a while. He procrastinated for a long time and then quit his fairly mild caffeine habit cold turkey. This led him to believe that the whole idea of writing about caffeine was stupid and also that he would never write again. He spiraled a bit until his brain got used to this new reality.
I’ve never really been a person who absolutely needed caffeine to function. I’ve always felt like it didn’t have a lot of affect on me. Maybe I’m wrong about that. It turns out even small doses can make major impacts on sleep quality. I’m a good sleeper but who knows if I’m getting the best sleep I could be getting?
This audiobook covers a lot of ground in a short time. There is the history of coffee and tea, the science of caffeine’s affects on the brain, and the affects of caffeine on Western civilization. Did switching from beer to coffee drive the move out of the Middle Ages in Britain once everyone traded being mildly drunk all the time for being buzzed on caffeine?
If you’re a Michael Pollan fan, this is a good addition to your library.
1960's Somerset is no fun for cousins Polly and Annabelle Williams. Mourning their non-existent love lives, and the mundanity of village life, their only pleasure is baking - until a chance encounter has them magically transported to the bright lights of London... in 2019!
Promised a chance of love, first they must teach the people of the future about the simpler pleasures of life by becoming Cake Fairies. Over the course of a year they set off on a delectable tour of the UK, dropping off cakes in the most unexpected of places and replacing the lure of technology with much sweeter temptations.
But will their philanthropical endeavours lead them to everlasting love? Or will they discover you can't have your cake and eat it?
The Cake Fairies is the fifth novel by fantastical foodie author, Isabella May.
I jumped on the chance to read this book because of the title. I love books about food and books with fairies. Why not combine them?
I loved the idea that Polly and Annabelle meet their fairy godmother who is frustrated with them. She has set them up to meet many good husbands but their lack of adventurous spirits has derailed every plan. Now it is time to do something drastic.
They are good bakers who are brought forward to 2019 to spread joy through random gifts of cake. I always like time travel books where people need to figure out a new time. I especially like it when people move into the future since that is a rarer storyline. This book did make me a bit salty though. The problem that they are brought forward to combat is that people spend all their time on mobile devices instead of talking to the people around them. The fairy godmother wants people to look away from their screens.
Holy Introvert Nightmare! I am old enough to remember when people didn’t have screens to occupy themselves. People didn’t just go around talking to random strangers. We just had books and newspapers to hide behind. Besides, what do you think people are doing when they are typing on their phone? Communicating! Why would we ever want to go back to a world where I have to wait until we get home and can check the encyclopedia to prove to my husband that I was right about whatever we might be discussing when I can google it in the moment? Oh, and by the way, I read this ebook on my iPad in part while sitting in a restaurant apparently being antisocial and contributing to the downfall of society. /rant, maybe.
So anyway, the idea that this utopia that they thought they were building equals my idea of a crushing defeat of civilization may have altered my enjoyment of the book just a bit. I was sassy while reading especially when there was a reveal that the reason one character wasn’t nice was because her mother used to make cake for her father and not for the children. Her mother loved her father more than she loved her children. That’s the way I always thought things were supposed to work. I didn’t think it was cause for alarm. /rant, seriously this time.
If you are ok with the premise, it could be a cute, light read with a little bit of romance.
Australian bestselling novelist Karen Brooks rewrites women back into history with this breathtaking novel set in 17th century London—a lush, fascinating story of the beautiful woman who is drawn into a world of riches, power, intrigue…and chocolate.
Damnation has never been so sweet...
Rosamund Tomkins, the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman, spends most of her young life in drudgery at a country inn. To her, the Restoration under Charles II, is but a distant threat as she works under the watchful eye of her brutal, abusive stepfather . . . until the day she is nearly run over by the coach of Sir Everard Blithman.
Sir Everard, a canny merchant, offers Rosamund an “opportunity like no other,” allowing her to escape into a very different life, becoming the linchpin that will drive the success of his fledgling business: a luxurious London chocolate house where wealthy and well-connected men come to see and be seen, to gossip and plot, while indulging in the sweet and heady drink.
Rosamund adapts and thrives in her new surroundings, quickly becoming the most talked-about woman in society, desired and respected in equal measure.
But Sir Everard’s plans for Rosamund and the chocolate house involve family secrets that span the Atlantic Ocean, and which have already brought death and dishonor to the Blithman name. Rosamund knows nothing of the mortal peril that comes with her new title, nor of the forces spinning a web of conspiracy buried in the past, until she meets a man whose return tightens their grip upon her, threatening to destroy everything she loves and damn her to a dire fate.
As she fights for her life and those she loves through the ravages of the Plague and London’s Great Fire, Rosamund’s breathtaking tale is one marked by cruelty and revenge; passion and redemption—and the sinfully sweet temptation of chocolate.
Let me just start this review by saying that I really liked this book. It was over 600 pages but it flew by. I felt fully immersed in the world of 1660s London. However, this book also really made me angry. The reason for that is the treatment of the female characters.
The story starts with Rosamund, as a teenager, working as a serving girl in the inn that her mother and stepfather own. You quickly find out that her stepfather and two stepbrothers have been sexually abusing her since she moved in with them years earlier. This is not spelled out in detail but is made clear from their interactions.
In an attempt to run away from her brothers to avoid being raped again, she meets a wealthy man. He offers to take her to London with him for reasons that he doesn’t make clear. Her mother sees this as an opportunity to get her daughter away from the men in her life and get her a better life. She arranges a fast marriage ceremony and then sends Rosamund away with orders never to return.
Her new husband turns out to be a controlling man who owns slaves and who tells her that he doesn’t want to her any opinions or ideas from her. Her job is to learn to make chocolate. Her husband is going to be opening a chocolate house and he wants her to serve the chocolate.
You learn a lot of chocolate at this time in England. It is just being introduced. It is considered a very racy drink. The English are started to add sugar and milk and herbs to it to fit their tastes instead of drinking it straight like Central Americans and Spaniards.
Rosamund is an anomaly. She is in the chocolate house. She is seen in public. So of course in the minds of the men in the area she is up for grabs. There are more attempted rape just because she is on the street. In the chocolate house she is molested and called all kinds of names just for existing in public. The attitude of the men of the era is completely repulsive. I want to shove this book into the hands of everyone who tells me that women had it better when they lived at home and were protected. This is what it was like to have zero rights even as a noblewoman. It is even worse for the few other female characters. There is a widow who cleans the chocolate house, there is a young girl who starts working there, and there is a female slave in the household of Rosamund’s new husband. Add the sexism into the hatred of the poor and into the racism of the time and these women were just hanging on.
Real events of the time period like outbreaks of plague and the Great Fire are detailed to show how this affected people living in London at the time. I really did learn a lot in this book. I appreciate a book that can make me angry at the injustices that fictional characters are faced with. So, read this book – just don’t be surprised if you feel like yelling at men afterwards.
About Karen Brooks
Karen Brooks is the author of twelve books, an academic of more than twenty years’ experience, a newspaper columnist and social commentator, and has appeared regularly on national TV and radio. Before turning to academia, she was an army officer for five years, and prior to that dabbled in acting.
She lives in Hobart, Tasmania, in a beautiful stone house with its own marvellous history. When she’s not writing, she’s helping her husband Stephen in his brewery, Captain Bligh’s Ale and Cider, or cooking for family and friends, travelling, cuddling and walking her dogs, stroking her cats, or curled up with a great book and dreaming of more stories.