About Me

My photo
One move to America, one surprise pregnancy and a lot of fun later.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)

Against all odds, Katniss has won the Hunger Games. She and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark are miraculously still alive. Katniss should be relieved, happy even. After all, she has returned to her family and longtime friend, Gale. Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be. Gale holds her at an icy distance. Peeta has turned his back on her completely. And there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol - a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.

Much to her shock, Katniss has fueled an unrest she's afraid she cannot stop. And what scares her even more is that she's not entirely convinced she should try. As time draws near for Katniss and Peeta to visit the districts on the Capitol's cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever. If they can't prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are lost in their love for each other, the consequences will be horrifying.

In Catching Fire, the second novel of the Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins continues the story of Katniss Everdeen, testing her more than ever before...and surprising readers at every turn

After reading The Hunger Games I just had to read the rest of the trilogy.  This, the second book in the trilogy, did fall into the classic second book trap.  It did spend a lot of time going over old facts from the first book - as if anyone would read this book without having just read the first one! - and the story seemed a lot slower at first but it did end well, quite nicely setting up the story for the third book finale.

Again it was well written and flowed really well.  Set out in her, what is now, classic three parts it contained quite a lot of detail to take in.  I may well re-read part three as I felt like I missed something.  It either moved very quickly and implied a lot of information I was looking for or I just missed something (which is highly possible).  Still a must read if you have read The Hunger Games.

Although, she still has not covered how Panem and The Capitol came about yet. I just hope that is all covered in the final book.
I am very excited about the movie version of this as there is so much they could do with it.

3 out of 5 as I gave The Hunger Games 4 and this rated just slightly below it, more like a 3.5 but that is not possible to give here.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Tears of a Tiger by Sharon M. Draper

Tears of a Tiger (Hazelwood High, #1)

 After a car accident kills Robert, Andy's best friend and teammate on the Hazelwood High Tigers, Andy doesn't know if he can go on. He's consumed with guilt for driving the night of the accident after a long evening of drinking and partying. With perceptiveness and compassion, Sharon M. Draper portrays an African-American teenager who feels driven to consider suicide in the wake of a devastating tragedy.

Quite a unique book.  It is basically a mixture of newspaper articles, direct dialogue, letters and such to make up the story.  It was a short, snappy read despite covering a serious subject.  I felt the subject matter was handled very well for the books target audience.  In my opinion, the target audience is 17 year old black youths and it is written in a way that would resonate well with them but it just didn't work well for me.

So 3 out of 5 for the story but not one that most people over the age of 17 should bother reading.


Teaching a child English

I always knew that English was a complex language and that I was never particularly good at it at school, being better suited to numbers and science.  It is only as I am trying to teach my two year old to speak and to speak properly that I am realising just quite how complicated a language it is.  I wanted to write a blog about it but could not quite put it into words and then I say this picture on Facebook and it just about sums up what I wanted to say anyway.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice

This may be one of the most frightening novels you'll ever read. It's certainly one of the most unforgettable. Genova's debut revolves around Alice Howland - Harvard professor, gifted researcher and lecturer, wife,
and mother of three grown children. One day, Alice sets out for a run and soon realizes she has no idea how to find her way home. It's a route she has taken for years, but nothing looks familiar. She is utterly lost. Is her forgetfulness the result of menopausal symptoms? A ministroke? A neurological cancer? After a few doctors' appointments and medical tests, Alice has her diagnosis, and it's a shocker -- she has early-onset Alzheimer's disease. 
What follows is the story of Alice's slow but inevitable loss of memory and connection with reality, told from her perspective. She gradually loses the ability to follow a conversational thread, the story line of a book,
or to recall information she heard just moments before. To Genova's great credit, readers learn of the progression of Alice's disease through the reactions of others, as Alice does, so they feel what she feels -- a slowly building terror.
In Still Alice, Genova, who has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard, uniquely reveals the experience of living with Alzheimer's. Hers is an unusual book -- both a moving novel and an important read.

This is one very talented author.  I was introduced to her when I stumbled across the book "Left Neglected" which just blew me away so when I saw this book in my library bookshop for $2 I just had to snap it up and read it right away.

Her writing style is, again, very smooth and just sucks you into the story.  The subject matter was a very difficult one but she handled in a very undramatic way.  That is what draws me to this author.   She writes about the unimaginable but makes them seem like everyday life and I guess they are to a lot of people in the world! 

Her knowledge and experience of the subject matter of Alzheimer's shows through in this book, in fact, a little too much so.  I dropped a star from my review because some of the technical detail and drug terms almost detracted from the emotion of the story for me.

What made this a must read was how she got the reader inside Alice's mind as it was splintering apart and makes you feel like you can understand what Alice is going through - and God forbid that any of us actually go through it in real life.  She kept the emotions just from Alice's point of view and didn't try to go into what any of the other characters were thinking or feeling in any depth and this really worked.  If she had tried to write this with a different chapter from each different characters perspective then the rawness of the subject would have been lost.

Not an easy read because of the subject matter but easy because of the flowing style of the author.  4 out of 5.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath

The Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression, a book that galvanized-and sometimes outraged-millions of readers

The Grapes of Wrath summed up its era in the way that Uncle Tom's Cabin had summed up the years of slavery before the Civil War. At once naturalistic epic, captivity narrative, road novel, and transcendental gospel, Steinbeck's fictional chronicle of the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s is perhaps the most American of American classics.

Although it follows the movement of thousands of men and women and the transformation of an entire nation, The Grapes of Wrath is also the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads, who are driven off their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into Haves and Have-Nots, Steinbeck created a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its insistence on human dignity.

Another book group choice that I openly groaned about at first.  I have only read one other of this authors books, "Of Mice and Men", and while I loved that book (and the film) I thought that this book would be a painful struggle to get through.

I was right about it being a struggle to read and almost gave up at page 105.  However, I am glad that I kept on reading to the end.  It is a book that has many different facets to it and will make a thoroughly interesting discussion for a book group.   

The story is a hard one to read because it is just still too real in today's society, where there is enough for everyone but the rich would rather destroy it than distribute it to the needy.  Now I am not a Socialist by any description but this book certainly did make me think strong and hard about it.  I am looking forward to discussing this aspect of the book with my Russian friend who was brought up in the most extreme end of the socialist scale in Russia.

The writing style was varied throughout the book.  Some parts of it were very descriptive and emotional and really drew me into the feelings of the characters while there were whole chapters that I thought were just too wordy and did not add significantly to the book as a whole.  I, initially, struggled with the vernacular of the migrants on the road but eventually got used to their way of speaking and, in fact, it made it feel more real to me and put me beside them in their lives.

The ending was intense and somewhat shocking to me but it did give me back some hope in the goodness of humans that had been stripped from me by the rest of the book.

4 out of 5 with one star deducted because it was a struggle and could not be described as an enjoyable read and would not be for everyone.  I would suggest starting with "Of Mice and Men" if you have not read any of this authors works before as I think this book would put you off reading any of his other books.  However, put it on your list of books to read before you die.

Why is it usually those that have nothing that will give everything to help a fellow person!  And that is my closing thought.

ps.  I couldn't resist this picture from Facebook!
Photo: http://humortrain.com/

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Foodie Penpal - Recipe 5 - Chicken Cajun wth chile cream sauce

This recipe came from the website, Campbell's Kitchen.  It is a great resource for easy and quick recipes when you want to cook a home-cooked dinner but just don't have a lot of time.  It helps you cut a few corners while staying fairly healthy (a lot better than prepackaged meals anyway).

I used the cajun spice from my package for this but you could also use creole spice if you have that in your larder already.

Chicken Cajun with Chile cream sauce


1.25 lbs chicken breasts, diced
2 tsps Cajun spice
1 tbsp olive oil
1 can (10 3/4 oz) Cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup water
1 can (4 1/2 oz) chopped green chiles
1 tsp lime juice
1/4 cup sour cream

Season the chicken with the cajun spice.

Heat oil in skillet and brown chicken.

Stir in the soup, water, chiles and lime juice and heat to boil.  Reduce heat to low and cook for 5 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

Stir in the sour cream and cook until hot and bubbling.

I serve with some cooked rice.

And now I will stop boring you with my Foodie penpal recipes and move onto planning next months.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Foodie Penpal - Recipe 4 - Beef Casserole with Sage cobbler

This was the perfect recipe to use the sage and oregano from my package and to warm the cockles of our hearts as the temperature has dropped dramatically this weekend.  One problem though was finding Flageolet beans, so I just substituted some dried Haricot (navy) beans from my larder, presoaking them overnight.

A delicious Sunday dinner for everyone.

Beef Casserole with Sage Cobbler (serves 4 to 6)


400g (1.5lbs) Stewing beef, trimmed and cut into bite sized pieces.
1 large onion, finely chopped
600g (1lb 5oz) potatoes, peeled and cut into bite sized pieces.
4 tomatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2 tsp dried oregano
360ml (12 fl oz) beef stock
400g (14oz) can flageolet beans, drained and rinsed (I used Haricot beans)

Sage cobbler topping
175g (6oz) self raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp English mustard powder
25g (1oz) butter, diced
80g (3oz) mature cheddar, finely grated
4 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped (I used dried sage)
1 egg
3 tbsp milk

Preheat the oven to 170C (375F).

For the beef casserole, put beef, onion, potatoes, tomatoes and oregano into a casserole.  Season well and pour over the stock.  Cover and cook in the oven for 2 hours until meat is tender.

Near the end of cooking time make the sage cobbler.  Put flour, baking powder, mustard powder and seasoning into a bowl and mix well.  Rub in butter until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Stir in the cheddar and sage.

Beat together egg and mile and add most of it to the flour mixture to form a soft dough.  Roll out on a lightly floured surface to 1 cm (1/2inch) thick and cut out rounds with a 5cm (2 inch cutter).  Cover and set aside.

Increase oven temp to 180C (350F).  Stir in the beans.  Top with the scones, overlapping to form a cobbler.  Brush with the remaining egg and milk.  Return to the oven, uncovered and cook for 20-25 minutes until the cobbler is risen and golden brown.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Foodie Penpal - Recipe 3 - Chicken and Aubergine Biryani

To use more of the cardamom pods.  Sorry no photo as I forgot because we were too busy eating it, nom nom!

Chicken and Aubergine Biryani


6 green cardamom pods, seeds only
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 red chillies, deseeded and diced
4 tsp garam masala
1 lemon, juice only
10 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, each cut into 4
2 medium aubergines (eggplant), cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) dice
3 tbsp vegetable oil
25g (1 oz) butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 large red (bell) pepper, deseeded and roughly chopped
400g (14oz) cherry tomatoes
150ml (1/4 pint) white wine
6 tbsp natural yoghurt
fresh coriander, to garnish
lime wedges, to garnish
350 g (12oz) basmati rice, cooked according to packet instructions.

Mix cardamom seeds, garlic, chillies, garam masala and lemon juice in a large bowl.  Add chicken pieces and mix well.  Leave to marinate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat over to 200C (400F).

Toss aubergines in the oil and season well.  Place on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake in the overn for 15 to 20 minutes until just tender and slightly golden.  Remove and set aside.

Heat butter in a large frying pan until it foams.  Add onion and cook gently until softened and golden.

Add chicken and marinade.  Cook for 2 minutes.

Add aubergine, red pepper, cherry tomatoes and white wine.  Bring to the boil and simmer gently, uncovered, for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Reduce oven heat to 190C (375F).

Stir the cooked rice into the curry and spoon into an ovenproof dish.  Cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes until piping hot.

Serve with a spoonful of the natural yoghurt.

Mine came out  a bit too moist, biryani should be quite dry.  Next time instead of cooking the rice separately and then adding, I will just put it into the curry uncooked and use the excess liquid to cook the rice and then pop it into the oven at the end to dry it off further per the recipe.   This was really delicious and would be a great one to take as a one dish meal to a potluck lunch/dinner.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, the shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before--and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

I ignored the hype that was the Hunger games for quite a while and even turned down an invitation from a friend to go and see the movie but like most things, I eventually got sucked into it one night when my husband and I were looking for a movie to watch.  It was a good movie.  I was worried that it would be a poor version of the classic movie Battle Royale or the love triangle of Twilight but it stood on it's own two feet.

I was then inspired to read the book on the back of the movie as I wanted just a bit more background and details on the characters and overall story.  The book gave me this.  It was well written and flowed very well.

Part I allowed us to meet "The Tributes" giving us a good background of the main characters and the reasoning behind the Hunger games.  This part was not covered in as much detail in the movie so it was interesting for me to get a better feel for Katniss and Peeta, the two main characters.

Part II was the actual games and made up the majority of the movie.  It was suitably graphic without being too much so - I guess it is aimed at Young Adults so was less graphic than it could have been.  I was disappointed at some of the detail that had been left out the movie but glad I read the book to pick it up.

Part III the story of the Victors and, I guess, the lead up to the second book in the trilogy.  A bit predictable but I am hoping that it is just setting a certain scene that will be developed latter on.

I am not sure what the justification behind writing this as three books rather than one large book - was it to split it up or just to make more money.  You can't say that the book would have been too long otherwise or you just have to look at each of the Game of Throne books to know that they work at over 1000 pages each.  I would have preferred to just have one book to keep on reading as I now have to re-motivate myself to read the next two.  Although on the plus side, I can put it down and read something else and then go back to it, something I would not do if it were one whole book.  Slightly torn on that one.

An interesting read and I am really looking forward to finding out more about how Panem came about, I just hope the author covers that.  My fear is that she doesn't and it ends up just another predictable love triangle story similar to Twilight. 4 out of 5.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Foodie Penpal - Recipe 2 - Thai Green Curry with Chickens and Prawns

This recipe was chosen to use the green curry paste and coconut milk in my parcel.  I also used up the last of my kaffir lime leaves and nam pla from my larder, which is good as now I can restock with fresh.  I also grow a lot of fresh basil and I am always looking for ways to use it other than in Italian pasta sauce or bread, so this recipe helped me to expand my fresh basil repertoire as well.
I usually cook Thai Red curry as I just liked the colour better, lol, but this one was delicious and enjoyed by the whole family including my toddler. 

Thai Green Curry with Chicken and Prawns (serves 6)

10 shallots, sliced into thin rings
80g (3oz) fresh coriander, stalks and leaves finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 kaffir lime leaves, shredded
4 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp green curry paste
1.2 litres (2 pints) coconut milk
240ml (8 fl oz) chicken stock
12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 tbsp nam pla (fish sauce)
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp caster sugar
12 fresh basil leaves
12 large raw prawns, peeled and deveined

Make a paste with 1/2 of the shallot rings, garlic and coriander.

Heat 2 tbsp oil and cooke remaining shallot rings and garlic until crispy and brown ( 7 to 10 minutes).

In large wok, heat remaining oil and fry curry paste for 1 minute over a high heat.

Add 120 ml (4 fl oz) coconut milk and paste from step one above, stirring well.  Cook for 2 minutes.

Add chicken stock and boil for 5 minutes.

Add chicken thigh and cook for 15 minutes.

Add remaining coconut milk, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, lime leaves and fried shallot mix and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Add basil leaves, remaining coriander and prawns and cook for 3 minutes.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Foodie Penpal - Recipe 1 - Thai Fishcakes

 I chose this recipe to use the ingredient dried galangal sent to me by Adrienne.  Who has heard of galangal (never mind the dried variety), I certainly had not.  It did not even appear in any of my dictionaries.  So, one Google search later I established that it is a stem plant, which is very similar to ginger and originated in Indonesia.  It is used in various Asian cuisines, so off I went to my piles of recipe books and searched through my Thai recipes until I came across this one for Thai Fish cakes which had galangal in the ingredients.  My only problem was that my galangal was dried but a long soak in a hot bath - for it, not me - and it was soft enough to chop and use just like a ginger stem.
The end result (pictured left) was delicious and just full of flavours.  I served it with some brown and wild rice with corn and peas and some spicy Sriracha Sauce.


Thai Fish Cakes  (serves 4)

1 shallot, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 coriander roots, roughly chopped plus extra leaves for garnish
1 tbsp finely chopped galangal
6 kaffir lime leaves, sliced
2 red chillies, deseeded and chopped
450g (1lb) cod, skinned and boned
2 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)
Vegetable oil for shallow frying

Use a food processer to blend all the ingredients, except the vegetable oil.

Form into 8 to 10 cakes.  I find that making them smaller stops them from breaking up on cooking.

Pour enough vegetable oil into a wide frying pan to cover base generously.

Heat oil and when hot (I use a cube of bread to test if it is ready, the bread sizzles when hot enough) fry the cakes for 3 minutes each side until golden brown.

Drain on kitchen paper and serve with garnish of coriander.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Small mirror upscaling

Just thought I would share a small project I fitted in this week (despite being tired from my daughter now moving from a crib to a bed and getting up really early).  We have just redecorated the downstairs toilet but the mirror was a badly painted silver mirror.  It is a lovely size and design so I wanted to keep it but there didn't seem much I could do with it.

Here is a before photo from Halloween - ignore the ghost.
So I gave it a simple spray paint of white gloss using Valspar satin White spray paint and it now looks quite the ticket against the new darker walls.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

How to Look Hot in a Minivan by Janice Min

How to Look Hot in a Minivan: A Real Woman's Guide to Losing Weight, Looking Great, and Dressing Chic in the Age of the Celebrity Mom 

The best-kept secrets of Hollywood moms–revealed by the former editor of US Weekly and current Editorial Director of The Hollywood Reporter.
Current editorial director of The Hollywood Reporter, Janice Min was editor in chief of Us Weekly for six years where she documented one of the biggest cultural shifts of the last decade: the making and celebration of the Hollywood Mom. Think Angelina Jolie, Victoria Beckham, Heidi Klum and Halle Berry—stars who proudly displayed their pregnancies, shed baby weight overnight, and helped turn the once frumpy bump industry into big business. Being a mom had become a style statement: skinny jeans replaced ‘mom’ jeans, Bugaboos became status symbols, and Pilates became a post-natal workout staple. Motherhood became chic, leaving regular moms across America, including Min, feeling both excited and anxious (what, one more thing to worry about?). But in How to Look Hot in a Minivan, Min dispels the idea that looking great post-pregnancy is only for the rich, pampered and lucky. In a style both smart and funny, she brings together top Hollywood experts in diet, fitness, fashion and beauty to show the reader the simplest, most cost-effective strategies for looking younger and better (without the guilt!), proving being a mom needn’t be a style liability.

To start, in compliance with FTC guidelines, I must disclose that I received the book for free through Goodreads First Reads.  

I think I just killed the last few braincells I still have reading this book.  It reflected everything I hate about the world of celebrity and the pressure that is put out there to be superwoman instead of just chilling and enjoying your life and baby. 

The author is very contradictory.  She writes that she does not buy into the world of celebrity and that we should not aspire to look like them or bounce back within weeks of giving birth, yet she then goes on to write a whole book about how you can get to look like the very same celebrities!  While the sections on healthy eating and exercising were just common sense (for anyone not just Mums),  the section on different types of Botox/plastic surgery type procedures just made my jaw drop.

The photos throughout of "celebrities" looking good and bad will, no doubt, interest some readers but I hate it when you see a photo of anyone and then everyone gets to comment on how good or bad they look.  What does it matter if Gwyneth Paltrow looks better with a paler lipstick or if someone wears Crocs on their feet (I am sure they are very comfy for running after a toddler), we should just accept them for who they are and their decision to wear whatever they are wearing, who are we to criticise anyway.

I managed to take one positive piece of advice from this book and that is, a recommendation for a dry hair shampoo for those days when you don't have time or can't be bothered washing your dirty hair.  I know I am grasping at straws but I am trying to say at least something positive about this book.  

Although,  I thought the author did have quite a good writing style and dry wit, I just wish she would put it to better use.  1 out of 5 stars for this alone.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Love Me Back by Cheryl A. Baisden

Love Me Back

Saddled with broken ribs, bruises and welts, an uncaring mother, the anguish of lingering sexual abuse, Beth Brown should have ceased to exist long ago. Yet, now, as an adult, she not only prospers in the heart of Kansas City, she also starts to relish the company of dear friends and manages to preserve herself to see the day she is reunited with the long lost love of her life.
In Love Me Back by Cheryl A. Baisden, we stumble upon the gut-wrenching tale of a small town girl who, bursting with love for all that breathes and exists, perseveres despite the forms of ignominy thrown her way.
Its triumphant description of a healing retreat within nature's deep reserve, unyielding good will, and the all-overpowering conquest of sincere love invites a second look at all the travails of our tired, inspiration-strapped world.

As required by FTC, I received a complimentary copy of Love Me Back by Cheryl A. Baisden as a member of the Dorrance Publishing Book Review Team. Visit dorrancebookstore.com to learn how you can become a member of the Book Review Team.

This is a confusing book.  Written as a fiction story I suspect it is really the authors own memoir, to a large degree and would have been more effective written as a memoir.  In fact, I would have liked it to have been split into three separate memoir books, each covering a distinct time period in her life - much like Dave Pelzer did in his memoirs (A Child called it, The Lost Boy and A Man named Dave).

The story itself had a lot of potential but it was not well written.  It jumped from one story straight into a new one almost without even starting a new sentence.  It felt more like a set of random thoughts and scenarios that someone had written down with the intention of writing it in full later to turn into a book.  It reminded me of the way I tell a story, jumping to the next happening before I have actually fully explained the part I am telling - and that is one of the many reasons why I could never be a successful author.  

This combined with the many grammatical and typing errors throughout the book made it quite a difficult book to read, despite being only 84 pages long.  I found myself having to re-read parts to work out what the author was trying to tell me. 

The publisher needs to get some better Proof Readers and Editors in to improve their product.  I don't proclaim to be brain of Britain or, indeed, very good at grammar but some of the mistakes were unforgivable.  For Example, referring to having "Post Dramatic Stress Disorder"!  Come on, is this a new disorder for actors or something, I assume you mean "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder"  hence the use of the acronym PTSD!  Another example "It don't get any better than this".  Ok they could have just been trying to reflect the way the character actually speaks but, for me, this grammatical error just made me throw my hands up in horror.

A shame as the author clearly has a good story to tell but has been let down by her editors, proof readers and whoever else helped her publish this book.

2 out of 5 from me on this one and only because I actually feel sorry for the author. 


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451

The system was simple. Everyone understood it. Books were for burning, along with the houses in which they were hidden.

Guy Montag was a fireman whose job it was to start fires. And he enjoyed his job. He had been a fireman for ten years, and he had never questioned the pleasure of the midnight runs or the joy of watching pages consumed by flames, never questioned anything until he met a seventeen-year-old girl who told him of a past when people were not afraid. Then Guy met a professor who told him of a future in which people could think. And Guy Montag suddenly realized what he had to do...

I had heard of this book but had never realised what it was actually about or I am sure I would have tried to read it a long time ago.  So when I happened to read the synopsis of it I was quite excited to find this classic.  
Any story about book burning and censorship gets me quite riled up.  I adore reading books and would hate a world where they are not allowed.  Even in today's world of 24 hour TV, ereaders and all the other technology, there is nothing quite as relaxing and entertaining to me than reading a book.    I started this book with high expectations and a real desire to love it.

The concept of the story is great.  Given that it was written in 1950 as a short story in Galaxy Science Fiction and then transformed into a book in 1953, the author was very forward thinking and he got a lot of things spot on.  The dependence of people on large screen TVs and the rise of reality and interactive TV along with the dumbing down of society that it seems to cause.  Luckily, the whole book banning and burning has not happened!

It was in the execution of the writing that I felt let down.  It was just all a bit too poetical and pretentious for me.  If he had stuck to the telling of the story idea it would probably have been one of my all time favourite books but he somehow tried to be too smart - perhaps I am just too dumb - but the style just did not work for me.  It was supposed to be allegorical but  I was just missing what the underlying meaning was!

That being said, I am still going to look out the movie and give it a watch, even just to see Julie Christie in one of her classic roles. 

I gave the book 3 out of 5 for the concept of the story but I didn't rate the writing style very high.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Foodie Penpal - November 2012

I have been looking for some inspiration for my blog and when I saw a post on one of my book forums (readitswapit.co.uk) about the Foodie Penpal scheme I thought it was a great idea.  It started in America on the Lean Green Bean blog (Foodie penpal) and is a great idea where you are paired up with 2 separate people - one to send a parcel to and one to send a parcel to you.  It is a fun way to get in touch with other bloggers (and some non bloggers as well) and receive some fun parcels.

This first month I was paired with Adrienne (http://CrackthePlates.com) to send something to me,  a vegan Blogger who is very passionate about ingredients.  I got quite a cornucopia of herbs and spices and pastes along with a lovely note describing each one.

Included is Tarragon, herbes de provence, oregano, sage, fennel, cajun spice and whole cardamom.
Masaman and Green curry paste.
Coconut milk.
Basil Seeds and Dried Galangal.
Toasted Seaweed.
Various St. Dalfour Organic teas.

Ok so now the fun really begins when I decide what to make with each one.  I was so excited I had four recipes already looked out within an hour of opening the package and that was while I was trying to cook the evening meal!

So here are the recipes I am going to start with.  I will post the full recipes on separate blogs for anyone who would like to try them.

Chicken and shrimp Thai green curry - this uses the Green curry paste and the coconut milk and luckily I had all the other ingredients in my store cupboard - great way to use up those kaffir lime leaves and nam pla.

Cajun Chicken with Chili Cream Sauce - to use the cajun spice.

Beef Casserole with sage cobbler - this uses the oregano and the sage (recipe says fresh sage but I will just substitute the dried).

Roasted chicken - to use the sage as well.

Thai Fish Cakes - uses the dried galangal.  I must admit I had never heard of this ingredient before I received my package so who knew I actually had a recipe that required it.  This is what I am going to love about the Foodie Penpal scheme, bringing a myriad of new and exciting ingredients to my kitchen.

Chicken and Roast Aubergine Biryani - to use the cardamom seeds from the pods.

Beef Kofta Curry - to use the Fennel and whole cardamom pods.  One of my favourite Indian inspired recipes - you can tell as my little recipe card is all stained and puckered.

Please give me some of your ideas and inspiration to use the rest of the spices.

I do apologise to Adrienne for not going vegan with her ingredients (what can I say I am a carnivore) but I will keep on reading her blog to get some ideas for a least one meat-free day each week.

I was paired up to send a package to Jennifer (http://blog.jenn-mann.com/).  Watch this space to see what I sent and what she thought about it!!!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Megamind 3D

Villainy is a way of life, but if a villain doesn't have a hero to battle, can he still expect the same sense of satisfaction from his evil deeds? When Megamind (Will Ferrell) finally defeats his long-time nemesis Metro Man (Brad Pitt), he ecstatically goes about laying ruin to Metro City, reveling in the fact that he can now have anything he wants. Surprisingly, Megamind's glee quickly turns to dissatisfaction as he realizes that the battle was half the fun and everything comes too easy now. Thus begins a plot to turn the nerdy Hal (Jonah Hill) into Tighten, a new hero for Megamind to battle. What Megamind doesn't count on is that Tighten may not turn out to be as good as he's meant to be. Nor does he anticipate falling in love with his old rival's girl Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey). In the end, Megamind finds he must rethink his assumptions about good, bad, and what makes him happy. 
It's an ok movie, a fun way to spend 90 or so minutes.  A good twist on the usual evil versus good movies where the Villain wins and then is lost without his nemesis to pit his wits against.  It is also a good moral of how even someone who has been created pure and good can turn evil.  The 3D effects are better than some other animated movies I have watched recently like Brave.  Not much else to say about it, other than it is offers nothing new from every other similar animated movie but it does entertain for 90 minutes.

Dead Man's Shoes

A disaffected soldier (Considine) returns to his hometown to get even with the thugs who brutalized his mentally-challenged brother (Kebbell) years ago.

This movie is a classic example of a low budget, lesser known movie just getting it right.  It hits hard and is such a powerful story that you are just sucked into it despite it lacking the dramatic effects of the blockbuster movies of today.  Paddy Considine gets the role just right and Toby Kebbell is amazing as his mentally challenged brother. 

The Big Twist - I did not see that coming - and you have to watch the movie all over again afterwards to get a whole new appreciation of it.  No more said as I don't want to ruin it for you.

The one downside for some people will be the accents.  Very strong English Midlands accents are hard to follow at times (and I am Scottish) but do not let it put you off this movie as it is well worth struggling through the dialogue.

Attack the Block

Synopsis: Attack the Block is a fast, funny, frightening action adventure movie that pits a teen gang against an invasion of savage alien monsters. It turns a London housing project into a sci-fi playground. A tower block into a fortress under siege. And teenage street kids into heroes. It's inner city versus outer space.

If you are a lover of independent, low budget movies, like me, then you will love this one.  It is billed as a black comedy but some people seem to mistake this for a comedy.  It is not Shaun of the Dead, it is a fairly serious movie with some underlying humour throughout.  It's main message is quite sad with underage boys having to fend for themselves because they have been forgotten and abandoned by their families.  The lead male has the attitude of a much older man despite being only a boy but he has not had an easy life and has had to fend for himself for most of his life.  You can almost understand how he got into crime and being a young thug and can even empathise with him.

The aliens are hilarious and look like evil Furbies but I guess this is because of the low budget.  Don't let the bad aliens ruin the movie though as the story is not changed.  In fact, I don't think this movie would have worked so well had it been shot with a bigger budget.

I am from Britain and have spent a lot of time working in and around London but even I struggled to understand the broad London accents at times.  However, the accents added to my enjoyment of the movie as it gave it an element of reality but I think your average American watcher will struggle to understand them.  Don't let that put you off as it is a movie worth watching.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Brave 3D

Set in the rugged and mysterious Highlands of Scotland, Disney Pixar's Brave follows the heroic journey of Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald), a skilled archer and headstrong daughter of King Fergus (voice of Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (voice of Emma Thompson). Determined to change her fate, Merida defies an age-old custom sacred to the unruly and uproarious lords of the land: massive Lord MacGuffin (voice of Kevin McKidd), surly Lord Macintosh (voice of Craig Ferguson) and cantankerous Lord Dingwall (voice of Robbie Coltrane), unleashing chaos in the kingdom. When she turns to an eccentric Witch (voice of Julie Walters), she is granted an ill-fated wish and the ensuing peril forces Merida to harness all of her resources including her mischievous triplet brothers to undo a beastly curse and discover the meaning of true bravery.

What a charming movie.  It was a funny story with all the usual laugh out loud and sentimental parts that Pixar animated films usually have.  Being a Scot living abroad it was also nice to hear a lot of Scottish accents together (even if some were a bit dubious) and even I laughed heartily at trying to understand the "Aberdonian" accent of Lord MacGuffin's son.  It also made me a little home sick to see the beautiful Scottish scenery reflected in this cartoon - there is nowhere in the world like it.

My only concern about the movie itself would be that a lot of the humour felt very Scottish and I think it would be lost on your average American movie watcher.  The story was nothing special and there were several things that happened that were not explained.  Why a bear, for example?  Perhaps, I am just overthinking it a bit.

I was also disappointed in the 3D effects.  While it gave the scenery some depth it felt as if the movie had just been an old movie made in normal 2D and then converted into 3D.  There was some scenes that could have been made more dramatic by using the 3D effect in a more effective way.

So if you are looking to pass 90 minutes with a charming animated movie, then try it but don't worry about seeing it in 3D.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

Silver Sparrow

With the opening line of "Silver Sparrow," My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist, author Tayari Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man 's deception, a family 's complicity, and two teenage girls caught in the middle. Set in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlanta in the 1980s, the novel revolves around James Witherspoon 's two families the public one and the secret one. When the daughters from each family meet and form a friendship, only one of them knows they are sisters. It is a relationship destined to explode when secrets are revealed and illusions shattered. As Jones explores the backstories of her rich yet flawed characters the father, the two mothers, the grandmother, and the uncle she also reveals the joy, as well as the destruction, they brought to one another 's lives.

At the heart of it all are the two lives at stake, and like the best writers think Toni Morrison with "The" "Bluest Eye "Jones portrays the fragility of these young girls with raw authenticity as they seek love, demand attention, and try to imagine themselves as women, just "not" as their mothers.

I had never heard of this author until I went to the National Book Festival this year, held annually on The Mall in Washington DC.  I went with my friend Vicki and we were wanting to hear Jeffrey Eugenides speak so we grabbed some lunch and went a bit early to the pavilion that he was speaking in so we could get a good seat and eat our lunch in the shade (it was an unseasonable 80 odd degrees outside).  By going into the pavilion early we ended up hearing the author, Tayari Jones, read an excerpt from her latest book (this one) and just generally discuss her life and writing.  She really made an impact on me.  She was just so "real" and well spoken and funny and just everything I would want from a friend, never mind a writer, so I thought I would seek out any of her 3 books and give them a go.  I started with this book, which is her third, because it jumped on me from the express shelf in my local library.  I was hoping I would not be disappointed after having such high hopes and a high opinion of the author from the book festival.

I loved this book.  She has a very smooth style of writing that just reflects the everyday lives of real people without any unnecessary drama - ok, perhaps there is some drama in a bigamist relationship but somehow she managed to reflect the characters lives as if you were there living it with them.  She also managed to get across the African American characters without having to opt for writing the whole book in a stereotypical Negro vernacular, which, quite frankly, I do not enjoy and ruins a perfectly good story for me. 

I couldn't put the book down and I got worried towards the end as I wondered how she would tie it all up.  I hoped she wouldn't go for the dramatic effect with a courtroom showdown, like Jodi Picoult excels at.  I was not disappointed.  Without inserting spoilers, the ending felt like what would happen in the "real" world and didn't have to resort to unnecessary drama to sell the book.

An author to really watch out for and I will definitely be looking out for her first two books, Leaving Atlanta and The Untelling, for future reading.    5 out of 5 from me.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Legendary director Ridley Scott (Alien) returns to his sci-fi origins in this epic adventure bursting with spectacular action and mind-blowing visual effects. A team of scientists and explorers travels to the darkest corners of the universe searching for the origins of human life. Instead they find a dark, twisted world that hides a terrifying threat capable of destroying them...and all mankind!

Being film geeks, my husband and I actually watched all the Alien movies (except the versus predators ones) prior to watching this so we would have a full, current understanding of all that had happened throughout the story. We thought this would give us a good base to watch this one letting it answer all our questions on where the aliens actually originated from. A bit of a waste of time as watching this movie actually gave us more questions than answers. Is there going to be another one? As, in my opinion there needs to be to fill the gap where this movie ended and the original Alien movie started.

Stand alone it was quite a good watch. Noomi Rapace (Lisbeth Salander from the original foreign language Girl with a Dragon Tattoo) is a good actress. She does need to work on her British accent as she started the movie herself (and the child version of her) with a very broad, posh English accent but ended up speaking in accented English, a small criticism but one that can ruin a great movie for me.

Guy Pearce is another favourite actor of mine but he just didn't work very well in his role in this movie. He was obviously a young man trying to play an old man. Just no need for that given the number of great older actors out there that would have fitted the bill so well.

Like I said, so many more questions which let the movie down but I won't list them here as they are spoilers for the story.

I wouldn't rush out to watch this but it did pass a couple of hours in a quite entertaining way. I hope there is another one to answer my questions. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Going Rogue: An American Life by Sarah Palin

Going Rogue: An American Life

On September 3, 2008 Alaska Governor Sarah Palin gave a speech at the Republican National Convention that electrified the nation and instantly made her one of the most recognizable women in the world.
As chief executive of America′s largest state, she had built a record as a reformer who cast aside politics-as-usual and pushed through changes other politicians only talked about: Energy independence. Ethics reform. And the biggest private sector infrastructure project in U.S. history. While revitalizing public school funding and ensuring the state met its responsibilities to seniors and Alaska Native populations, Palin also beat the political "good ol′ boys club" at their own game and brought Big Oil to heel.
Like her GOP running mate, John McCain, Palin wasn′t a packaged and over-produced "candidate." She was a Main Street American woman: a working mom, wife of a blue collar union man, and mother of five children, the eldest of whom was serving his country in a yearlong deployment in Iraq and the youngest, an infant with special needs. Palin′s hometown story touched a populist nerve, rallying hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans to the GOP ticket.

I like to think that my reading choices are politically, religiously, and in many other ways, unbiased so after reading the two Barack Obama books - Dreams from my Father and The Audacity of Hope - I thought I would give this book a try.  It has been lying on my tbr (to be read) shelf since 2009 after the last election so when I needed a new book to read on this years election night, I thought what better choice, I would finally give this one a go.

It was a very interesting book.  This woman should be the next President of the USA as she seems to have all the answers to all the problems and has the drive and ability to implement them.  Or at least according to herself in this book. 

I won't get political but I did agree with some of her points and disagree with some, which ones are my own business but I could not get over how much this person thinks of herself.  I guess to go into politics one has to think quite highly of oneself but she seemed to come across (as they say in Scotland) "Up her own arse", which basically means it is all about her and everyone else must be wrong.

I understand that you cannot believe everything you see in the media and that editing can make anyone look anyway the editor wants so what is the real truth?  In my opinion, it must be somewhere in the middle between the media portrayal of Ms Palin and her own opinion as expressed in this book.  She has quite the conspiracy theories going on about everyone around her.

The writing itself was a bit mixed up.  The book could not decide whether it was her personal memoir (like Dreams of my Father) or her political manifesto (like The Audacity of Hope) and she would have been better splitting it into two books just like President Obama did with his.  I would have enjoyed to read her personal story on it's own more and then had the choice to read her political story separately.

The story itself showed a lot of naivety in the author and her surprise at the backlash after and during her VP candidacy must have been expected (even if it isn't nice, sadly, that is the way of the world today).

I have given it 3 out of 5, which you may think is quite generous, but it wasn't a badly written book and it did keep me reading to the end so credit where credit is due.  Not one I would recommend reading unless you have a particular interest in the author and I can't think of any reason why anyone outside her own family would!

The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller

The Bridges of Madison County

The legendary love story, the bestselling hardcover novel of all time, and the major motion picture starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. This is the story of Robert Kincaid, the photographer and free spirit searching for the covered bridges of Madison County, and Francesca Johnson, the farm wife waiting for fulfillment of a girlhood dream. It shows readers what it is to love and be loved so intensely that life is never the same again

This book was chosen as one of my book group reads and I must admit about groaning before starting it and going into it with a biased view.  I do not like Clint Eastwood movies and associated this book with a Clint Eastwood movie (even though I haven't even watched it) so I thought it would be everything I hated about an old fashioned, bodice swelling love story.

I could not have been more off the ball on this.  I could not help compare the book to the classic book, Love Story by Erich Segal as it was set over a short period, it was pithy and to the point.  I thought the writing style was just divine as it flowed like a chocolate fountain and was so descriptive that I could picture each location as if I were there myself.  I am so glad he kept it short and to the point as it did not allow all the unnecessary sloppiness that is usually inserted in these types of novels and it kept it true to the short time period (a few days) that the love element actually happened.

I have a confession!  I actually shed a tear and felt my heart breaking for the two main characters as I so wanted a happy outcome for them, even many years later.  I usually hate happy endings but this is one book that I wanted to have one.  I wasn't actually disappointed though that it didn't have a happy ending as the actual ending was just true to the overall story.  Sorry can't say more as do not want to insert a spoiler.

So, a pleasant surprise from my original bias and a movie I now want to watch.  I guess I will try and get the book group together after the discussion to watch it.  5 out of 5 from me and if it can make a cynic like me cry then everyone else will be weeping buckets of tears!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

New DIY Workshop

My new hobby is refurbishing old furniture and items around the house.  I have a number of items that I have inherited from my Mother as she did from her Mother and most are so old that they are truly antiques.  I love antiques and would never throw out these items as they have some family meaning, even if they have no monetary value.  So I decided to give a number of them a facelift, partly inspired by the work of my friend Susan (Mrs Mac) on her blog (check her out http://mac-adventureswithbooks.blogspot.com/).

I started with an old wicker chair but this was before I had decided to blog about it and it was an experiment to see if I enjoyed doing it and was any good at it.  It turned out quite well.  It was very sturdy and I could not find one of similar quality to buy so I was pleased with it's new lease of life.

Motivated by this we decided to clear out the garage and put in a little workshop/table for me to potter about with.  This would also help me with the kitchen garden I am planning for next year (but more about that in the future). 

So we built these shelves with a worktop and I am enjoying pottering around each day.  It is a bit messy as I have not got around to organising it properly yet and I just finished my ottoman on it.

I took this old Ottoman which had been given to my sister by my Mother and she had then painted it from the original pukey pink to this gaudy gold but leaving the pukey pink on the inside.  It also had a number of scratches and stains inside.

The upholstery was redone very badly in a cream material which I pulled off to find the original and very dirty pink material.  I pulled this off as well thinking it would be easy to just cover the seat with some new material but the actual padding was the original padding and was so disgusting that I threw it out immediately.  It was so old it probably contained asbestos or some other now banned substance.

I just took my time playing around with it.  Filling the many tack holes in with Elmers Wood filler and sanding down with a medium sanding block.  I removed all the hardware to decide what to do with later.

After careful filling and sanding I decided to spray paint the outside with Antique Bronze.  This was to darken the gaudy gold and make it complement our old brass bed that it was going to live beside.

I wanted a contrast on the inside so I painted it with a sandy/oatmeal colour.  This took some time as I had to mask off each section carefully between coats. 

So after painting, and I was pleased with how the colours turned out, I started on the seat.  It needed some new cushioning and new cover.  I just bought some simple foam padding for the cushion and cut it to shape.

  I then chose some material (from Jo-Ann's stores, great place for sewing enthusiasts and crafters).  I wanted to get an old fashioned material that had a similar pattern to the original material to give the ottoman an authentic aged feel. 

This was my first ever attempt at upholstery so I, again, took my time and just thought through each problem as I encountered it.  The main one was how to tack the material down and make it pretty.  The options I thought of were to get decorative tacks or to somehow hide the tacks.  I couldn't find decorative tacks that I liked and I was also nervous about getting them in line and to look good so I went with the option of regular tacking and then hiding the tack heads in some way.  Again, Jo-Ann's was an inspiration as I found some material braiding that complemented my colour scheme and the wonderful product of Liquid Stitch.

 I will be using liquid stitch a lot in the future I am sure.  It can be used for hems and will go through washing and dry cleaning!  Anyway, it seemed to work for me as I like the look of the final result.

Finally, I had to put the thing back together.  I was left with the problem of getting hinges that looked good and a new handle, as the old handle was cheap looking and flimsy.  The hinges were troublesome as I couldn't get anything suitable in my local DIY stores, so I just decided to spray paint the old hinges and see what they looked like.  I think they look great! 

The handle was quite easy as there was a great choice in my local Lowes diy store, although, of course, being old and European the required screw size to fit it all together was not US standard but I managed to get one that was very close and works for now.

So here is the final result sitting, for now, at the bottom of our brass bed stead. 

Roll on my next project.  It is a big one as I am going to try and refurbish the old wooden cabinets in my daughters bathroom.  My inspiration for this project came from the blog http://www.centsationalgirl.com, really worth a read as it has given me a lot of practical advice and confidence to give it a go.  So watch this space for the results.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Unexpected by JAJ

The Unexpected

When Hamilton's wealthy mother is suddenly killed in a plane crash, the initial theory of an accident doesn't sit well with him-in fact, he starts to believe his father and Mrs Davis, the woman who has been like a mother to him his whole life, had something to do with it.

As required by FTC, I received a complimentary copy of The Unexpected by JAJ as a member of the Dorrance Publishing Book Review Team. Visit dorrancebookstore.com to learn how you can become a member of the Book Review Team.

I chose this book to review as the synopsis sounded very interesting and I thought what a great idea for a story.  I was right, it was a great idea for a story and really had so much potential.  It had a few characters who were all necessary to move the story along, it had the intrigue of a secret, it had the unexpected twist and it had an unexpected ending(or so you thought) but somehow the author just did not do this justice.

To start, it was far to short.  At only 60 pages long it is more a short story than a novel but without the snappiness of a  short story.  Given the subject matter this had the meat for a significant sized novel and would have been great had the author added more suspense to it.

What he did was just tell the story as if it was just a story guide he had written and then meant to go back and add some meat to it later to make a proper novel.  To me it was more like a book of notes that the author had put together outlining the story he meant to write.

The tone used was also very formal.  The dialogue did not flow smoothly in a normal speech pattern but it was stiff and stinted in a way that one would write if they were desperately trying to get the grammar correct and write a conversation in full without taking account that people, even formal ones, tend to speak in a flowing almost informal way.  In short, the writing of the dialogue felt forced.

Another minor gripe was the cover (see picture above) it did not match the story in subject or era and it gave the book a very amateur feel about it.

Such a shame as this had so much potential but I can truly only give it a 2 out of 5.



Friday, November 2, 2012

Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid

Moth Smoke

When Daru Shezad is fired from his banking job in Lahore, he begins a decline that plummets the length of this sharply drawn, subversive tale. Before long, he can't pay his bills, and he loses his toehold among Pakistan's cell-phone-toting elite. Daru descends into drugs and dissolution, and, for good measure, he falls in love with the wife of his childhood friend and rival, Ozi—the beautiful, restless Mumtaz.

Desperate to reverse his fortunes, Daru embarks on a career in crime, taking as his partner Murad Badshah, the notorious rickshaw driver, populist, and pirate. When a long-planned heist goes awry, Daru finds himself on trial for a murder he may or may not have committed. The uncertainty of his fate mirrors that of Pakistan itself, hyped on the prospect of becoming a nuclear player even as corruption drains its political will.

After reading the book The Reluctant Fundamentalist by this author, I loved that book so much that I wanted to read more of him.  This is his debut novel so I was expecting an interesting read.

Written in an entirely different way from The Reluctant Fundamentalist this book still reflects the authors similar underlying writing style.  It is a lot more meandering in it's story and does jump between time scales and even which person each chapter is written in and I mean by a different character as well as being in first, third person etc.  Because of the underlying style of the author I quite liked this book because I like his style but if you did not love The Reluctant Fundamentalist you would probably not like, or get, this novel.

The concept of the story is good and dramatic and the author starts the build up to where it is leading at an early stage.  I was keen to keep reading to see where he was taking us with the story.  I did begin to get a bit worried when I only had about 40 pages left to read while feeling that there was still a lot to be explained and resolved.  This is where it disappointed me.  I don't think the author gave it enough depth or explained a lot of things that, really, needed to be explained.  Now I know The Reluctant Fundamentalist (and I hate to keep harping back to this book) left a lot unexplained and that was part of the appeal of that novel, being able to decide your own ending and who was the bad guy and who was the good guy.  The same concept just did not work for this story.  To make it better the author should either have made it shorter and sharper or longer and with more explanation and resolution in the story.

A good debut novel but if you want to try this author for the first time then I would suggest you start with his book, The Reluctant Fundamentalist and then read this one.  3 out of 5 from me.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Diet Dropout's Guide to Natural Weight Loss by Stan Spencer, PhD

The Diet Dropout’s Guide to Natural Weight Loss: Find Your Easiest Path to Naturally Thin

If you just want to lose weight, almost any diet will do. The problem is that the rigid, one-size-fits-all approaches of most diets make them difficult to stick with for very long. You quit your diet and the lost weight returns. This book takes a different approach: permanently reshaping the habits and thought patterns that cause your excess weight. The aim is not to lose weight quickly, but to lose it permanently and become a naturally thin person. Drawing from over one hundred scientific studies, Dr. Spencer explains:

• The truth about common weight loss myths
• Why “fat genes” can’t keep you from being thin
• How to naturally boost your metabolism
• How to calm cravings and quit emotional eating
• How to keep a slip from becoming a binge
• How to get more exercise and enjoy it
• How to eat less without going hungry
• And much more

With this knowledge and the simple steps in chapter 10, you will create your own weight loss plan — your easiest path to naturally thin. Creating this optimized plan will take about five minutes, and in another minute or two you will be taking your first steps on the path away from endless dieting to a naturally thin body.

To start, in compliance with FTC guidelines, I must disclose that I received a copy of the book for free through Goodreads First Reads.  

I started this book with a bit of a negative attitude.  I thought, not another weight loss book, it's all been done before.  So, I was quite surprised that I am actually giving it a fairly positive review.

It has all been done before and I couldn't help but compare it to a book I have recently read (Naturally Thin: Unleash Your SkinnyGirl and Free Yourself from a Lifetime of Dieting by Bethenny Frankel) particularly as they both use the term "Naturally Thin.  The difference though is that this book puts it all down in a no nonsense, short and easily read way without any of the "celebrity" hype that is in the Frankel book.  

I am not the target audience of this book as I know all the rules and guidelines and practice enough of them to be "naturally thin" already but I think it will be a very useful read for those of you who don't already have the right lifestyle to be "naturally thin".  It is short enough that it is not a chore to read and just lists the facts without any floweryness about it.  I think it will be a very useful tool for anyone who truly wants to lose weight and keep it off and who is willing to make the lifestyle changes to achieve this.

I did get some interesting information from this book that I want to investigate further.  I have heard a lot of talk (mainly from one of my friends) about the benefit of sprouted grains but usually just nod and smile without really taking in what their benefit is.  Page 50 of this book was interesting to me and has made me add this topic to my list of "things to investigate further" as I worked under the impression that if, say bread, was made from wheat flour or stone-ground or a variety of similar terms then it was the best one for you, not so, according to this author, so I will need to investigate further for myself.

A glowing review you say, so why have I deducted a star.  I have a personal hatred for books that refer and cross reference too heavily to lists of books or studies in an appendix.  It seemed to me that every second sentence had a small number in it, referring the reader to the book or study that the information came from.  Now, I know the author is just trying to give credit where it is due, but it did start to annoy and distract me very early on.  

So, quite a good, straight forward guide to start you on your path to being Naturally thin.

In the Dark by Mark Billingham

In The Dark 

On a rainy city night, a handgun is fired at random. A struck car swerves and plows into a bus stop, killing an unsuspecting bystander. In an explosive instant, a cold-blooded gang initiation ends one life and forever changes three others: the desperate teenager who pulled the trigger . . . a policewoman on maternity leave . . . and an aging gangster plotting a terrifying revenge.

The truth about the shocking incident will tie them all together in a lethal blood knot. And nothing is what it seems

I will start by saying that I am a big fan of Mark Billingham books.  I have read the first 7 of the Tom Thorne series and enjoyed every one of them in a different way.  I also love the style of writing of this author.  He does short, snappy chapters and has a "blokey" style that works for his stories and the characters.  I like the way he throws a load of characters at you in most of his books and you almost learn about them backwards at times,  I mean you start in the middle of their stories and then find out the basics and details as the book progresses.  So, I was looking forward to reading this stand alone book that was not part of the Tom Thorne series (although Thorne does make a cameo appearance).

I didn't enjoy it, the first Mark Billingham book that I did not enjoy.   The "blokey" style, that I normally like, was just too much in this book.  It was almost exaggerated and while most of the characters were young men/boys living in The Hood in London this should have worked, it just started to annoy me quite early on in the book.

The story did not flow as well as I would have liked and there were to many things happening, conveniently, at just the right time, that was not believable.  I liked the main character, Helen Weeks, and felt that there could be a future for her character if the author could just get the right story for her.   Or even bring her into the Tom Thorne stories more.

Towards the end it felt like the author had had the idea for the story and a couple of side stories but was struggling to bring them all to a reasonable and believable conclusion.

I feel almost guilty writing this review as this is one of my favourite authors, so please don't let me put you off him completely.  I would just suggest that you start with the first Tom Thorne series book, Sleepyhead, before you read this one.  2 out of 5 and that is being generous.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Halloween is coming

and they do it in big style over here, so "when in Rome" I thought I would get into the spirit this year.  Hannah and I have been doing crafts on an almost daily basis to help decorate the house.  There is such a sense of achievement from making decorations oneself rather than just going out a buying some.  We did buy a few but these have inspired me to make some more for future years.  So, I thought I would share some of our craft ideas and hope that we get some feedback and inspiration from your own ideas that you are willing to share with us.

First we made these simple ghosts

Take the bottom of an egg carton and cut out one section.  Cover with glue from a glue stick, something your toddler can help with.  Cover with a large white paper towel and squash the paper towel down over the egg carton to resemble a ghost shape.  Draw a face, I went for a woo face but when I did this craft with a 6 and 3 year old I was babysitting they chose a zombie face.  Then thread some string or thread and put through the head to hang them.

Next we coloured in some bats and hung them from the lamps

The bat template came from the British Swim school website (https://www.britishswimschool.com/) and we just cut them out and let the toddler at them with crayons and pens.                                                                                                                                    

Then we put some bats in our basement                                                                                                        

Fold a sheet of black construction paper in half and cut out a half bat shape, I just did it freehand but I am sure you can find a picture or template somewhere if you are not artistic enough.  Open out and fold the ends of the wings back and hang with thread.                                                                                                                                                                                               

This is one of my favourites.  The idea for it came from the Martha Stewart website with a little add on of my own.                                                                                                                                                                   

White paper, cut out a ghost shape, again I did it freehand but look online for a template.  Cut out and fit to the shape of your mirror.  Draw on the face.  Cut out a speech bubble and write whatever greeting you want.  Stick onto the mirror.                                                                                                                          
Now onto the pumpkins.  We, of course, had to do a traditional Jack O Lantern pumpkin 
We then wanted to do something a bit different that Hannah could help with, so we decided to do a Cookie Monster (from Sesame Street) pumpkin.                                                                                                   

 Just cut the top of the pumpkin and scoop out as normal.  Cut a big mouth like a half circle.  Then the whole family helped to paint it blue with acrylic paint. We painted it outside to keep the mess contained as we had a lovely sunny weekend. Two polystyrene balls stuck with cocktail stick for eyes and black marker pen for the irises.  
To finish we are going to have real cookies coming out of the mouth.                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Various baby pumpkins with feathers, pipecleaners, stickers, pens, paints, really whatever the two year old can get her hands on.  These are great to keep the toddler occupied for ages at the kitchen table.

To finish I thought I would share one of our purchases decorations.  We have an emply section in our front garden that we have not got round to planting yet.  So I thought it would make the perfect graveyard.  A couple of grave stones later and this is what we have.  See the little skeleton hands clawing their way out of the graves!

Anyway, thanks for reading and please share some of your own craft ideas for us to try.

Next stop Thanksgiving and Christmas!!