harris_midnight crossroadWhen Manfred Bernardo decides to move, Midnight, Texas seems like an ideal location. A town so small it’s almost a case of blink and you’ll miss it, Manfred figures that it will be the perfect place to lie low while getting his Internet business on track.

Soon after he arrives he realises that he’s not the only one in town with secrets. Though his new neighbours are few, they’re not the kind to over-share and run on a policy of not asking others about their pasts.

This policy suits Manfred fine until members of a white supremacist bikie gang start showing up in town, determined to extract someone’s secrets from them. And until Bobo Winthrop’s missing girlfriend shows up dead.

Midnight Crossroad is one of those books that you ultimately wish offered a little bit more. Some aspects of it are really interesting. The setting, for instance, is full of possibility. Midnight is tiny – a place with just enough traffic from people on road-trips to make it feasible. Because of the size, the community is a close-knit one. Yet, in spite of how much the townspeople support each other, seemingly every member of the community is running from something or keeping secrets. So the people of Midnight live in the present, not pushing into their neighbour’s pasts.

Aside from having a distinctive setting and enticing mystery with a lot of other mysteries broiling under the surface, quite a few things don’t hold together in Midnight Crossroad. The murder, first and foremost. Why would anyone believe that a woman had run away when she took nothing with her and at no point gave anyone the impression that she wanted to leave – or had anywhere to go?

Also, what is the social setting of this novel? I mean, obviously it’s American, but is this a world like that in Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series where everyone knows that supernatural beings exist – or is the paranormal deeply buried from regular people in this world? Bobo and Manfred appear in other books by Harris. It’s possible that I’d understand the setting more if I had read those novels, but getting into Midnight Crossroad without any background context is a little baffling.

Midnight Crossroad has a lot of promise. The characters – with all their secrets – are intriguing enough to draw readers back; as is the setting. Hopefully Day Shift, the second book in the series settles some of the questions that this one raised.

 

**For older readers

Midnight Crossroad – Charlaine Harris

Gollancz (May 6, 2014)

ISBN: 9780575092853



Mandy Wrangles_2_tnNow that the weather is starting to cool in our part of the world, I thought it would be a good idea to check out a warm dessert this month. Everyone loves apple pie, and I’ve used this recipe more times than I can count. While I found the original recipe in a Mrs Field’s Cookbook (yes, she of those amaaazing cookies fame), I’ve Mandy-ised it a bit over the years, playing around slightly with ingredients and quantities.

 

apple pie 5What You Need:

Crust

3 cups of plain flour

Grated lemon zest from one large lemon

1 cup of butter (please don’t use margarine!)

Aprox 6 to 8 teaspoons of ice water

 

apple pie 2Filling

8 to 10 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and then thinly sliced

2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon

1 cup of white sugar

½ cup of brown sugar (packed tightly)

½ cup of cornflour

1/3 cup of chilled butter, cut into small cubes

 

You’ll also need one large egg for the egg wash, a little more white sugar to sprinkle on top and butter to grease your pie dish. I use a 22cm ceramic dish, though a tin one is fine.

 

apple pie 4How It’s Done:

Crust:

Mix the flour and lemon zest together in a large bowl – a wire whisk is easiest. Add the butter and either cut it in using two knives in a crossing motion, or if you’re a bit slack me, throw it all in the food processor for a quick spurt until it resembles breadcrumbs. Slowly add the iced water one teaspoon at a time until the dough comes together and you can push it into a ball. Divide the dough in half and flatten both halves into disks. Wrap tightly in cling wrap and pop into the fridge for at least an hour, or until it firms up.

Filling:

In a large bowl, combine sugars, cinnamon and cornflour. Again, a whisk is the easiest way to do this efficiently – you won’t need the processor! Add the apple slices to this mix and toss with a spoon until the apple slices are completely covered.

At this stage, it’s a good idea to get your oven preheating. Set it to 200 degrees Celsius.

 

Once your dough is firm, prepare some bench space with sprinkled flour. Using a floured rolling pin, roll out one piece of dough into a circle aprox 25cm in diameter. Gently (very gently) fold the crust in half and then quarters. This makes it much easier to handle. Grease your pie dish and carefully place the corner of your dough into the centre of the dish and unfold, leaving excess dough hanging over the edge. Spoon in your apple filling and sprinkle butter cubes over the top.

For the top crust, you can use one of two methods:

Roll out and then fold the remaining pastry half into quarters as you did the first time. Place over filling, crimp the edges together as decoratively as you can, and add a couple of slits into the top with a knife to allow steam to escape.

apple pie 1OR

I prefer to roll out the remaining pastry half into a more rectangle shape, and cut into strips. Add strips to the top of your pie in a weaving pattern, which is a little fiddly, but will give you a much more traditional-looking result.

Either way, once done, whisk egg in a cup and brush over the top of your pie, then sprinkle with white sugar. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 175 Celsius for a further 30 minutes, or until the crust is a deep golden brown.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 15 to 20 minutes. It will still be warm, but this cooling time gives the filling a chance to solidify a little, making it easier to slice. Serve with cream, ice cream or custard (or you know, all three…)

PS – if you ever happen to come across one of Mrs Field’s Cookbooks, do yourself a favour and buy it! I have two. They’re fantastic, and oh, so pretty to look at. All recipes have American ingredients, weights and measurements, but I’ve found it quite simple to convert or substitute.

 

 



George_edgoe fo waterYou may remember we reviewed The Edge of Nowhere for the book club last year, and I was thrilled to see book two, The Edge of the Water, on the shelves recently.

We head back to Whidbey Island but not only do we spend time in Becca’s point of view, we also follow Jenn, the most unexpected character. Glimpsing Jenn through Becca’s eyes in book one made us all cringe just a little. However, Elizabeth George manages to create a sympathetic character from someone I had pretty much written off as a bully and a complete bitch.

We’re introduced to a few more characters and the situations they are all put through are enough to pull you out of your comfort zone. Not everyone is as they appear, and mythology is tied into the storyline beautifully. George has a knack for suspense and keeping you well and truly hooked.

If you haven’t had enough of the community of Whidbey Island you are in luck as the next book, The Edge of the Shadows, looks to be due out late next month. I know for sure I’ll be picking this one up the moment I see it.

A perfect read for those cooler afternoons. Curl up with a blanket and a warm drink, and immerse yourself into this thrilling book.

http://www.elizabethgeorgeonline.com/

The Edge of the Water

Paperback, 400 pages

Published April 10th 2014 by Hodder & Stoughton (first published January 1st 2014)

ISBN 1444720015 (ISBN13: 9781444720013)

 

 

 

 



Meet one of our awesome new reviewers, Sarah Todman.

Sarah Todman is a contemporary fiction writer who lives in Brisbane. She loves books that deliver a gritty punch of realism. And ones that make her cry. Sarah blogs atsayanythingsare.

 



Butler_before the fireMeet 17-year-old Stick, so called because of his stick-like frame. Having grown up within the grim confines of estate life in North Manchester, Stick is on the cusp of manhood and looking for adventure. He and his best mate Mac have pooled their cash, bought a dodgy car on eBay and now they’re going to drive it to Spain. The route is mapped out. Sun, sand, and girls await.

Then, the night before they are due to leave, something terrible happens. Suddenly, the trip is off, and Stick is stuck in Manchester where the life he was so desperate to escape has fractured further than he could ever have imagined.

Sarah Butler’s Before The Fire packs a punch. It’s a Young Adult novel that feels very, very real. Learning that the author also runs a consultancy which ‘develops literature and arts projects that explore and question our relationship to place’ explains why the book’s setting comes through so strongly – in different ways it seems to shape the personalities of each and every character.

The character of Stick is someone who is going to stay with me. Though I finished Before The Fire in just two days, for the time I was reading I was right inside the head of this 18-year-old boy as he tried to make sense of life, and of loss as he tried to get his head around the process of growing up.

You don’t let go of characters like that easily. You don’t want to. In fact, there was a moment about two thirds of the way through the book, that I thought to myself: every single one of these characters has managed to get to me in some way. They all came alive for me.

It’s important to note that the story occurs in 2011 and that it interconnects with the riots which caused chaos and looting in cities and towns across England. This strand of the story is both strong and important but the real journey the reader is taken on is a personal one: it’s Sticks.

Before The Fire is Sarah Butler’s second novel. Now I’m keen to read her first.


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