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

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Flowers in the rain by Rosamunde Pilcher

Flowers In The Rain

Rosamunde Pilcher....She makes you laugh....She makes you cry....She takes you to a world of hope and romance....And into the lives of people you'll never forget.She's Rosamunde Pilcher,America's most beloved storyteller....And this is her gift to you

Anyone who knows my reviews or my reading habits will know that I hate short stories.  I picked this book up when I was clearing my shelves in the study to redecorate and thought I would give it a try.  I am trying to clear out some books to donate to a charity booksale at my husbands work and I thought this would be a quick read, mainly as I foresaw myself giving up after a couple of the tales.

At last a collection of short stories that were enjoyable.  Each of them were complete stories and did not leave me frustrated by lack of description or ending (like most other short stories I have read).  Ok they are slightly old fashioned, sexist! and happily ever after but still managed to be enjoyable.  

Perfect for reading in a situation where you don't have a lot of time or concentration but still want to grab a quick read. 5 out of 5.

Rescue by Anita Shreve



Rescue

A rookie paramedic pulls a young woman alive from her totaled car, a first rescue that begins a lifelong tangle of love and wreckage. Sheila Arsenault is a gorgeous enigma--streetwise and tough-talking, with haunted eyes, fierce desires, and a never-look-back determination. Peter Webster, as straight an arrow as they come, falls for her instantly and entirely. Soon Sheila and Peter are embroiled in an intense love affair, married, and parents to a baby daughter. Like the crash that brought them together, it all happened so fast.
Can you ever really save another person? Eighteen years later, Sheila is long gone and Peter is raising their daughter, Rowan, alone. But Rowan is veering dangerously off track, and for the first time in their ordered existence together, Webster fears for her future. His work shows him daily every danger the world contains, how wrong everything can go in a second. All the love a father can give a daughter is suddenly not enough. 
Sheila's sudden return may be a godsend--or it may be exactly the wrong moment for a lifetime of questions and anger and longing to surface anew. What tore a young family apart? Is there even worse damage ahead? The questions lifted up in Anita Shreve's utterly enthralling new novel are deep and lasting, and this is a novel that could only have been written by a master of the human heart.


Another book group choice and it was an overall enjoyable read.  Quite light reading despite the subject matter.  The author writes very well in a way that flowed smoothly and kept me wanting to read on and on.  
Ok some parts were very predictable but I managed to forgive these as I liked the authors style and I think most people would too.

One that would probably be best for on the beach on holiday or somewhere else you are not expecting a life changing or inspiring read.  Some emotional parts that did make you think about life but, again, done in a fairly "soft" way. 

One unbelievable part (the timing of Peter looking for Sheila) and I have dropped one star for this.  It was slightly too "happily ever after" for me but I think this is what readers of this author in general will like.

Overall an enjoyable, although, predictable and happily ever after read.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Bel Canto

In an unnamed South American country, a world-renowned soprano sings at a birthday party in honor of a visiting Japanese industrial titan. His hosts hope that Mr. Hosokawa can be persuaded to build a factory in their Third World backwater. Alas, in the opening sequence, just as the accompanist kisses the soprano, a ragtag band of 18 terrorists enters the vice-presidential mansion through the air conditioning ducts. Their quarry is the president, who has unfortunately stayed home to watch a favorite soap opera. And thus, from the beginning, things go awry.

Among the hostages are not only Hosokawa and Roxane Coss, the American soprano, but an assortment of Russian, Italian, and French diplomatic types. Reuben Iglesias, the diminutive and gracious vice president, quickly gets sideways of the kidnappers, who have no interest in him whatsoever. Meanwhile, a Swiss Red Cross negotiator named Joachim Messner is roped into service while vacationing. He comes and goes, wrangling over terms and demands, and the days stretch into weeks, the weeks into months.

With the omniscience of magic realism, Ann Patchett flits in and out of the hearts and psyches of hostage and terrorist alike, and in doing so reveals a profound, shared humanity. Her voice is suitably lyrical, melodic, full of warmth and compassion. Hearing opera sung live for the first time, a young priest reflects: 

Never had he thought, never once, that such a woman existed, one who stood so close to God that God's own voice poured from her. How far she must have gone inside herself to call up that voice. It was as if the voice came from the center part of the earth and by the sheer effort and diligence of her will she had pulled it up through the dirt and rock and through the floorboards of the house, up into her feet, where it pulled through her, reaching, lifting, warmed by her, and then out of the white lily of her throat and straight to God in heaven.

Joined by no common language except music, the 58 international hostages and their captors forge unexpected bonds. Time stands still, priorities rearrange themselves. Ultimately, of course, something has to give, even in a novel so imbued with the rich imaginative potential of magic realism. But in a fractious world, Bel Canto remains a gentle reminder of the transcendence of beauty and love.



After reading the novel "State of Wonder" by this author, I was told that if I loved that novel then Bel Canto would "blow me away".  

To start I will say it didn't blow me away in the manner expected and I would say that if you like Bel Canto then you will love State of Wonder - so the opposite way around for me.

This author is now on my favourite authors list (in my head anyway).  I like her writing style and the understated way she tells quite unique stories.

I enjoyed this book throughout but was getting worried as it was coming to the end as to how she was going to finish the story in a satisfactory way.  I wasn't blown away by the ending but after thinking about it for some time I don't see how else she could have concluded the siege and maintain some realism to the book.

I have given it 4 out of 5 and was very nearly giving it 3.  I felt the Epilogue was wholly unnecessary and I did not like nor believe that part of the book.  It detracted from my enjoyment slightly and my satisfaction with the ending.  I would say that the author should have finished on page 313 of my copy and left the rest to the readers imagination.  The image I would have been left with in that case was a lot more powerful that after reading the epilogue.  Sorry for the cryptic review but I would hate to insert a spoiler for anyone.

Now off to find another book by this author, so glad I stumbled across her.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

City of Women by David R. Gillham

City of Women

Whom do you trust, whom do you love, and who can be saved?  

It is 1943—the height of the Second World War—and Berlin has essentially become a city of women.
Sigrid Schröder is, for all intents and purposes, the model German soldier’s wife: She goes to work every day, does as much with her rations as she can, and dutifully cares for her meddling mother-in-law, all the while ignoring the horrific immoralities of the regime. But behind this façade is an entirely different Sigrid, a woman who dreams of her former lover, now lost in the chaos of the war. Her lover is a Jew.

But Sigrid is not the only one with secrets. 

A high ranking SS officer and his family move down the hall and Sigrid finds herself pulled into their orbit.  A young woman doing her duty-year is out of excuses before Sigrid can even ask her any questions.  And then there’s the blind man selling pencils on the corner, whose eyes Sigrid can feel following her from behind the darkness of his goggles.

Soon Sigrid is embroiled in a world she knew nothing about, and as her eyes open to the reality around her, the carefully constructed fortress of solitude she has built over the years begins to collapse. She must choose to act on what is right and what is wrong, and what falls somewhere in the shadows between the two. 


A book group choice that I was quite excited to read.  I have read plenty of books about the Second World War but they have always been from a male perspective.  This book is about the women left behind in Berlin while the males are away fighting for The Fuhrer.

It started off really well and I could not put it down.  The writing style flowed really well and it had just the correct amount of jumping between timelines to improve the story without leaving you confused.  The characters were interesting and just the right amount were introduced to keep your attention without confusing you with too many, expecially with German names that could have been difficult to follow.

After reading about a third of the novel, I did anticipate that the story would go in a certain direction, so I was pleasantly surprised to find it moving a completely different way, which changed the whole feel of the book.

It is difficult to read (and to write, I guess) about the crimes that were committed in the name of war at that time but the author got the balance right for me.  There was just enough detail to let you feel what was happening but he also managed to get across the difficulty the women of Berlin had to do anything about it, even if they wanted to.  The natural urge to survive and protect yourself while ignoring what is going on around you must have been a hard decision for a lot of people to make.  The author made it all believable for me.

I have dropped one star as I thought the last third of the book got slightly frantic and the plot a bit too complicated and, slightly, unbelievable.  It became a struggle to keep up with who was who and for whom each person was actually working.  I still am not sure who was actually double crossing the rest at the end and whether Sigrid or Ericha was actually the leader.  This did not spoil the book as a whole but, I just felt, it could have been handled slightly better and I would then have rushed to give it 5 out of 5.

An interesting and enjoyable read and one which will make for a great discussion.  4 out of 5.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Drown by Junot Diaz

Drown

With ten stories that move from the barrios of the Dominican Republic to the struggling urban communities of New Jersey, Junot Diaz makes his remarkable debut. Diaz's work is unflinching and strong, and these stories crackle with an electric sense of discovery. Diaz evokes a world in which fathers are gone, mothers fight with grim determination for their families and themselves, and the next generation inherits the casual cruelty, devestating ambivalence, and knowing humor of lives circumscribed by poverty and uncertainty. In Drown, Diaz has harnessed the rhythms of anger and release, frustration and joy, to indelible effect.

A book group choice that I really struggled to read.  I just found it completely strange and pointless.  Although, I think I just missed the point of it.  It was written as a number of, supposed, short stories that you realised were all interlinked in some way.  

I don't like short stories and even with the links between them, I just could not relax and enjoy this book.

At first I thought it was cute and relevant that the author had left in a number of Spanish phrases throughout each chapter and I enjoyed looking them up on my translator application on my phone.  This became tiresome after a while as the Spanish kept on coming and some of the translations came back making no sense.  I gave up trying to translate in the end and just made up in my mind what the Spanish was supposed to mean and , to be honest, I didn't really care st this point whether I was right or not.

I am looking forward to having a discussion at book group to see ow much I have missed the point of this book.  I can almost guess which of the members will rave about it and which will probably have the same opinion as me.

1 out of 5 as I got no enjoyment whatsoever from reading this book.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Foodie Penpal - March 2013

blogbadgeSTAMP Foodie Penpals

Another month of Foodie Penpals, and I was paired with Denise Evans who has the blog Eat, Laugh, Love.

She sent me a box of goodies that are produced locally in St Louis/Missouri.  My husbands company has just been taken over by a company based out of St Louis so it is a place that I may get to visit in the future as my husband travels there more often for work.



I was surprised by some of the locally produced produce.  Who would guess that rice was grown in Missouri!  I was sent a bag of brown rice that is supposed to have a nutty flavour.  In answer to Denise, yes I love Indian food and cook it all the time so this will come in very useful.

I need to be excused for not having tried the goodies yet but I am currently in the United Kingdom having travelled here a few days after receiving my parcel.  I will definitely try everything out on my return.

What else did I get?

Hendrickson's salad dressing, which was served at a cafeteria in St Louis from the 1930's through the late '60's.  It is pretty healthy and Denise recommended trying it as a Shish Kabob marinade.

Blues Hog dry rub seasoning.  Which I will probably try with some shrimp or salmon when we dust of the BBQ for some outdoor grilling once Spring finally settles in.

Poppy's Gourmet raspberry jalapeno sauce which sounds very interesting and hopefully will have a good kick to it.

Cookies from a local bakery.  Which I started munching on as I was opening the rest of the parcel.  Not too sweet for me and these were finished in no time.

And Lastly, some no sugar jam which was homemade out of handpicked peaches.  I need to find the recipe for this as I had a tonne of peaches last year to get rid of and all I knew how to make was peach and blackberry pie.

So a great box this month and the first time I have received some homemade goodies, so very pleased about that.

I will be taking a break from Aprils scheme as I don't get back to the US for some time and it will be a tight deadline to put a box together for the posting date.  Shame, as I do really look forward to sending and received these each month.

If you are interested the details can be found Here.

Denise also included a great recipe for Fragrant Red Lentils with rice.  I am always looking for Veggie recipes so this will be tried on my return as I have all the spices already sitting in my pantry.  Here is the recipe:


Fragrant Red Lentils with Rice Recipeenlarge
Becky Luigart-Stayner

This red lentils and rice recipe calls for a fragrant blend of seasonings and herbs. Garam masala is anIndian blend of dry-roasted, ground spices that includes up to a dozen different flavors ranging from cinnamon to fennel to black pepper; it can be found with other spices in many large supermarkets or speciality food shops.

Yield: 5 servings



Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil $
  • 1 cup diced onion $
  • 1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • garlic cloves, minced
  • bay leaves
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups dried small red lentils
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter or stick margarine $
  • 3/4 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 tablespoon seeded minced jalapeño pepper
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 2 1/2 cups hot cooked brown basmati or brown rice
  • 5 tablespoons low-fat plain yogurt $
Preparation

  1. Heat the vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add diced onion, and sauté 6 minutes or until onion begins to brown. Add the ginger and next 5 ingredients (ginger though bay leaves), and sauté for 1 minute. Add 3 cups water, lentils, and salt, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until lentils are tender. Discard bay leaves.
  2. Melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add green onions and jalapeño; sauté 5 minutes. Add to the lentil mixture; stir in juice, cilantro, and garam masala.
  3. Place 1/2 cup rice into each of 5 shallow bowls; spoon 3/4 cup lentil mixture over rice. Top each serving with 1 tablespoon yogurt.
  4. Note: Because jalapeño peppers can vary in heat intensity, you may wish to adjust the amount used based on your own preference for hot and spicy foods.


Happy Eating Xx