Tuesday 29 December 2015

Once we were brothers by Ronald H Balson

From the publisher:

“Once We Were Brothers is Ronald H. Balson's compelling tale of two boys and a family who struggle to survive in war-torn Poland, and a young love that struggles to endure the unspeakable cruelty of the Holocaust. Two lives, two worlds, and sixty years converge in an explosive race to redemption that makes for a moving and powerful tale of love, survival, and ultimately the triumph of the human spirit.”

The story starts with Ben, now 83, publically accusing Elliot Rosenzweig, a wealthy patron of arts and culture of being a former SS Officer. Through some friendships and connections, he engages Catherine Lockhart to prepare a lawsuit, and starts to tell her his story.

There are so many stories about the Holocaust, set in so many European countries, from many points of view. This is a good one, but it’s not better, or better told than one we have heard before. There are many flaws, and I suspect a number of readers would pick up on these, and judge the book by them.

But I really enjoyed it. I know that Catherine seems naïve, and that it is unlikely that she would have spent weeks listening to Ben, all those hours unbillable. I kept reading though. It got better and better. And by the last 100 pages I couldn’t put it down.

The legal drama was much better told than the back story, and on the whole, the characters were pretty good – enough showing and not too much telling. I will read more from this author

A solid three star read.

ISBN: 9781250046390

You may also enjoy Saving Sophie by the same author, or Kit by Marina Fiorato, Two Brothers by Ben Elton or The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Saturday 26 December 2015

The Best of the Ten

I know, I said I wouldn't do it. Blog this week. But then I thought. What about a best of the ten of the best? All the funniest posts from the year. `Which means I have left out all the serious stuff, and the newsworthy  and noteworthy. The things we want to rewatch are the funny and the musical ones.

Here’s part 1. I may do part 2 next week. Depending on how my New Year is. Who am I kidding? A good night will be that we DON’T have to take the kids anywhere to celebrate, and we all just turn in early.

If you haven't done this before, you click on the pictures to see the links/clips. Hope you find something to like.

The original comics from Huffington Post. What we love about these is that they really really REALLY get parenthood, and all its ups and downs, and conflicts and contradictions. 

Andy Grammar - Honey I’m good was such a great song. We all loved it.

Did you know cats could jump this high? My favourite cat post.

The one when 1000 musicians got together to perform a Foo Fighters song. Flipping Awesome.

Your underwhelming UK holiday photos. A personal favourite.

The things that ACTUALLY get recorded by court reporters. With straight faces. In courts of law. 

This wins a cuteness of the year award. When a five year old learns he is going to be a big brother. Too precious.

Who remembers Stickees? And this blog (with lots of swearing) about them.

Michael McIntyre is a great comedian. This clip is advertised to be about people who don’t have kids and have no idea what it’s like. Actually it’s about those of us who do have kids, and how life changes forever. It is funny. 

Remember the huge hoo-haa about all the advertising around Women’s Day? Well we loved Ellen on the BIC lady pen…

Hope you all enjoyed that as much as I did revising all the posts from the year. It was fun. Happy Holidays.

What did I leave out, that was your favourite? Leave a comment fro me, and I'll consider it for next week.

Thursday 24 December 2015

Darkside by Belinda Bauer

I guessed the end! And I got it right! Yay for me. And no, I’m not going to tell you. This never happens to me. Mostly I’m reading at such a frenetic pace, there is no time to guess, but it was just a moment, where it clicked in my brain, and I loved the rest of the book as it unraveled in the direction I’d predicted.

I have difficulty trying to explain my absolute joy that I find in all Belinda Bauer’s books. My friends and family look at me slightly sympathetically, wondering if I’m ok in the head. I’m going to try to explain, which will probably have you looking at me askew, and thinking those very same thoughts.

What I find most addictive is her style. The subject matter is dark, but the telling of the tale has quirky humor as an undertone. I find that combination so satisfying. It mimics how I try to deal with difficult stuff in my life – with a sarcastic wit, and poking fun at the problem.

Then her characters, they are just so right. They do a lot of things, and get a lot of things wrong, which also feels right. Especially the children (not so much in this one). I get the feeling that they jump off the pages and surprise me (and maybe her) all the time.

And finally, the plot and setting. Bauer is an expert at finding the exact time and place to best set the events that unfold in nailbiting breakneck pace. Stuff happens, and I get scared.

If you still care what Darkside is about, and haven’t rushed out to buy your next Belinda Bauer novel, this one is set in Exmoor (like Blacklands), and is about officer Jonas Holly. There are a number of murders, and Detective John Marvel (yes, really) is sent in to investigate. The bumbling irritating Marvel and the simple earnest Holly are great foils for one another, and the drama unfolds to a deeply satisfying and well planned conclusion.   

Hope you enjoy it. I did. So much.

ISBN: 9781451612752

You may also enjoy Blacklands, The Facts of Life and Death, Rubbernecker or Little Black Lies (that one is by Sharon Bolton)

Wednesday 23 December 2015

Good Old Favourites #6

This is the sixth in the series of my Good old Favourites, which means I have a little file that is looking quite thick, of all my best recipes in one place.

Moussaka – thank you Patrick Holford
450g lean beef mince
3 tsp coconut oil or olive oil or a combination
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 red pepper, diced
200g mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons tomato puree
1 tin chopped tomatoes
3 tsp reduced sodium Vegetable stock powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1 aubergine, sliced lengthways
2 medium egg whites
100g hummus

Cook the mince in a large frying pan until it is no longer pink. Set aside. Clean pan and fry onion and garlic for a few minutes. Add diced pepper and place lid on to sweat for 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and replace lid to sweat for another 3 minutes. Combine mince and vegetables, add puree, tin tomatoes, stock and oregano. Cover and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Season with black pepper.
Heat the tablespoon of oil in a frying pan and gently fry the aubergine slices for about 2 minutes on each side. Allow to cool.
Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Using a metal spoon, fold the egg white into the hummus, one spoon at a time – trying not to get rid of the air.
Place the Bolognese sauce into a small ovenproof dish and arrange aubergine on top. Spoon the soufflé mixture on top and bake at 190 degrees for 15 minutes.

Bev’s notes:
1.       Original recipe says to make a double portion of the mince, with the tomatoes, red peppers mushrooms but I don’t. It would be too much for the topping.
2.       Make your own hummus if you want a lower sodium version – Chickpeas (soaked in boiling water, or tinned, but be careful to rinse them thoroughly), olive oil, lemon juice and garlic – just liquidize.

The recipe ticks all the usual boxes. It’s good for you – especially if you serve with more vegetables, or a fresh salad. It’s old – we’ve had it more than a dozen times (and now the recipe is all in one place, not split into meat sauce and moussaka). And it passes the kids and husband taste test.


Tuesday 22 December 2015

The Storm Sister by Lucinda Riley

Lucinda Riley has written a dozen or so novels. The first book in this epic series, is about the eldest of seven sisters, all adopted by Pa Salt, who, reminiscent of GUM in Ballet Shoes, collected babies and sent them home - his "palace" in Geneva - the obvious difference being that Pa Salt is fabulously wealthy, where the "Fossils" were raised on the sniff of an oil rag.

Now Pa Salt is deceased (or is he?) and he leaves each of the six sisters (the seventh is a mystery still to be unwrapped) clues as to their real parentage. Ally is The Storm Sister, an accomplished sailor and musician. Her clues take her to Norway and we discover more about her passions and possible ancestry, including Edvard Grieg, and the conception of the music behind Peer Gynt, which was a play that was later set to music.

The history is well researched and the story flips between 1894 and 2007 without missing a beat. At around page 59, the dialogues started jarring with me. Nothing was ringing true, and I found myself looking for errors, not reading for pleasure, as I did in the first book. The characters seemed trite, there were just too many cliches and everyone was just fitting too neatly into the predictable plot.

Perhaps the challenge of churning out a book a year, each starting in the same place (with the sisters getting together to find Pa Salt gone) but told from a different perspective was too much for a busy author? The contract of trust built in The Seven Sisters has been broken for me, and left me with the sense that this was a rush to finish, and less care and attention given to detail and editing than with the first book. At nearly 700 pages, this was a significant time investment that showed a poor return in enjoyment value.


2 stars

ISBN: 9781447288565

Here’s The Seven Sisters review.

Sunday 20 December 2015

The Zuma files

When I compiled my Ten of the Best yesterday, I took a policy decision to exclude the #Zumamustfall stuff, because

1.    It’s depressing
2.    We are sick of seeing it
3.    It isn’t (all) that relevant to the rest of the world.

However, I was thinking afterwards that to have a space where the best of the media on it is all in one place is not a bad idea. So here are the Zuma files. Click the pictures for the articles or clips. I’ve used quote a few Zapiro images as pictures – because he really does call the man out so well, IMO.

It all started with electing a Finance minister for (almost) a weekend…

An interesting take – to join or not to join the ANC.

Tom Eaton hasn’t signed anything. 

Wouldn’t this be good…oh to live in Tanzania! I bet that’s the first time a South African has said that!

Struggle leader tells Zuma to resign…

So does The Arch

 Eusebius asks who the ANC will vote for next year. Met Eish!

The Mail and Guardian – a good summary of the protests, mostly pictures, with a few more links. 

While privilege still polarizing our nation

And finally, the video - Juan Joya Borja, better known by his nickname “El Risitas” (“The Giggles”) I wish I understood Spanish. But it does look like the subtitles are accurate. This is hilarious. And also not.

Saturday 19 December 2015

Ten of the Best #26

It’s been a week, people. And you haven’t helped me much. Do you know that every second post on all my social media this week has been about Zuma? And the ones in between – they were your “My 2015 Year in Review” s. I loved them all, I really did. So here is your Zuma free zone. Thought it was time for ‘Nuff said’.

Oh, and I don’t think I will be around next week or the week after – Christmas and all that. So see you on the 9th January, 2016.

You know how it works, right? You click the pictures for the good stuff…

1.    Jamie the very worst missionary drank WINE. Before dinner. And her kids criticized her. #notthatthatseverhappenedtome.

2.    Careful when you say that someone did something FIRST. People get angry, when they didn’t. Especially in Great Britain. 

3.    This is a wonderful clip – Hermione takes on Katniss. Better if you’ve read the books, but jolly good anyway. 

4.    I loved this post. It’s just a couple of pictures, but refreshing, right?

5.    Why 2015 wasn’t such a bad year – thanks Buzzfeed.

6.    6 ways nature has inspired tech innovations. This is so interesting, it’s worth a read.

7.    A few really funny photos of wildlife - no it isn't Donald Trump's hairpiece running away to seek a better life... that's somewhere else.

8.    And in other wildlife - Trevor Noah on guns in America…

9.    Did you know that Tootsie premiered on December 17, 1982? In this 3 minute clip, Dustin Hoffman explains just how profoundly a simple question ripped open one of our culture’s greatest, most tragic wounds.

10.  And we end with a seasonal clip. It’s Oxford University's a cappella rendition of "All I Want For Christmas is You."

Have a great weekend and lovely holiday, you special peeps. Thanks for watching.

More ten of the best. And here's last week's.

Friday 18 December 2015

Friday Book Mystery

Fridays have become so much fun since I started doing this.

BookBeginnings is a weekly meme, hosted by Rose City ReaderTo participate, share the opening lines and your thoughts about a book you're reading, or about to.

"Perched on the bluff’s edge, the house is in danger. Last night’s storm tore land and churned water, littering the beach with bottles, seaweed and horseshoe crab carapaces. The place where I’ve spent my entire life is unlikely to survive the fall storm season. The Long Island Sound is peppered with the remains of homes and lifetimes, all ground to sand in its greedy maw. It is a hunger."

The book .... 

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

This was recommended to me by by 15 year old daughter. She enjoyed it, and thinks I will too. It's about about a young librarian who is sent a mysterious old book, inscribed with his grandmother's name. What is the book's connection to his family? Simon Watson, living alone on the Long Island Sound must find out.

And just because this is such fun, and I so enjoy all your comments (thank you), I also participate in Friday56, hosted by Freda’s Voice on every Friday.

here are the Rules:

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader (If you have to improvise, that's ok.)
*Find any sentence, (or few, just don't spoil it)
*Don’t forget to add your post URL (not your blog url) at Freda’s Voice.

So, again from The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

Oh dear, page 56 is blank!

Here's page 55...

"The girl was something Ryzhkova had not seen in long years, not since her father had gone missing. She’d left everything she’d known to flee from it. She would not say its name. to name such things was to give them power, and yet it was impossible to stop her mind from whispering."

I love it already. Lastly, the cover...

Adding to your TBR? Don't worry, I'm sure when I visit your Book Beginnings or Friday 56, my pile will grow too.

Happy weekend everyone.

Thursday 17 December 2015

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Set in the quiet village of Carriveau, France, in 1939, Vianne Mauriac and her daughter, Sophie say goodbye to Antoine, who heads for the Front. Vianne’s sister, the rebel Isabelle, is eighteen. She meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and Isabelle races headlong into love and danger, without considering the consequences. No one believes the invasion will come, but it does, and makes the pain of living unrelenting, with the difficult daily choices the sisters face.

I didn't know Kristin Hannah wrote historical fiction, but she tells this story from a less explored perspective - the women’s.

From the publisher: "The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom… a heartbreakingly beautiful novel."

It is all this. The depiction of the relationships was excellent, from the love-hate between sisters, friends who find themselves on opposite sides, fathers, boyfriends and even Nazis. The telling of the history was seamless – never interfering with the story. There was also plenty of action and excitement.

However, there were times I felt exhausted by these unlikely heroines. When I played Barbies as a young girl with my own sister, we needed reasons to put on all their outfits. These attractive bits of plastic therefore went for an ice skate on the pond, rode horses, did a ballet recital, went out to a ball with Ken and starred in a major movie all in a single day. It does make the average woman feel like such an underachiever.

The ending is wonderful, and so is the ride. Worthy of all its accolades.

ISBN: 9780312577223

I alternated between the Audible version and reading this, as I was fortunate to be able to borrow a copy. I liked both, with a slight preference for listening to it.

You may also enjoy Kit by Marina Fiorato, Two Brothers by Ben Elton or Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H Balson.

More reviews.

Wednesday 16 December 2015

Good Old Favourites #5

I am enjoying this series. It means I get  to post all my favourite healthy family meals together in one place. I'm building a little recipe file, right here. The other night, when I couldn't find the recipe in my paper file (which freaks me out, a lot), I remembered it was here, and found it in a flash.

So this week is Quick Vegetable Korma. I think it is from Nigel Slater, and I found it on the BBC site.

Quick Vegetable Korma

3 medium onions 
3 cloves of garlic
a thick slice of butter
a thumb-sized piece of ginger
10 green cardamom pods
a tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground turmeric
2 pinches of ground cinnamon
a cinnamon stick
a good pinch of ground chilli
3 bay leaves
650g assorted mushrooms
250g spinach
handful hazelnuts
a generous handful of raisins or golden sultanas (optional)
200g plain yoghurt
150g crème fraîche

  1. Peel and slice the onions and garlic. Melt most of the thick slice of butter in a deep-sided pan, reserving a little. Peel and grate the ginger and add to the pan with the onions and garlic.
  2. Break open the cardamom pods, discard the green shells and lightly crush the black seeds within. A pestle and mortar is good for this but any heavy weight will do. Add the crushed seeds to the pan with the cumin, turmeric, ground cinnamon, cinnamon stick, chilli and the bay leaves.
  3. Cut the mushrooms into large pieces and add to the pan together with the remaining butter (you will find the mushrooms tend to soak it up). Let the mushrooms cook for a couple of minutes, then stir and cover with a lid.
  4. When the mushrooms have softened and darkened a little, add 200ml water. Stir, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, wash the spinach carefully. Cook briefly in a separate pan until the leaves have wilted but are still bright, about a minute or two. Remove the spinach and cool under running water to keep the colour bright then squeeze dry and add to the pan with the mushrooms.
  6. Stir in the skinned hazelnuts and the raisins or sultanas. Gently stir in the yoghurt and crème fraîche. Warm through gently and serve, with rice or naan bread if you wish
It ticks our boxes - Good - loads of vegetables, and I love a recipe that actually doesn't have salt in it, at all.
Old - We've been making this for the better part of three years, and it's a regular. And I havent changed the recipe, just left out the hazelnuts and raisins/sultanas when I havent had them
Favourites - my kids love this one, even though it's not chicken or beef.
My ever-growing list of recipes, sorted alphabetically.
And here's last week's old favourite - Crumbed Fish and Baby vegetables.

Tuesday 15 December 2015

The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley

I had picked up and put down a book by Lucinda Riley before, I’m not sure why. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood.

However, I received a copy of Storm Sister to review, and, given the personality I have, I decided to read this one, the first in the series, first.
I am so glad I did.

From the blurb: 

“Maia D’Apliese and her five sisters gather together at their childhood home, “Atlantis”—a fabulous, secluded castle situated on the shores of Lake Geneva—having been told that their beloved father, who adopted them all as babies, has died. Each of them is handed a tantalizing clue to her true heritage—a clue which takes Maia across the world to a crumbling mansion in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Once there, she begins to put together the pieces of her story and its beginnings…

In this sweeping, epic tale of love and loss—the first in a unique, spellbinding series of seven novels—Lucinda Riley showcases her storytelling talent like never before.”
I am a big fan of the historical fiction genre. The history covered is set in Brazil and France from 1927, and fascinating detail covering the construction of the Cristo statue is expounded effortlessly, so much part of the story that it is difficult to separate the facts from the fiction. Izabela Rosa Bonifacio is 18, her father is a coffee baron, and she is launched on Brazilian society, marries and falls in love while the statue’s construction is completed.
The current day setting is so many beautiful places – Geneva, France and Brazil – in 2007. The gist of this story is set out in the blurb, and Maia is the first of the six (or maybe seven) sisters to follow the crumbs of clues that Pa Salt has left for her to trace her fascinating history.

Please do NOT be put off by this book’s length. There are some long books which turn into weeks of reading, and others that are so filled with pleasure, that you are glad for the length. This falls squarely into the latter category.

ISBN: 9781476759906

The Audible version is gorgeous. It is narrated by Emily Lucienne. I loved her accents and her voice. But it went too slowly for me, so I checked on Kindle and this book was a fabulous $5.69 at time of writing. I downloaded it and finished it that night.

More reviews.

You may also like The Lake House by Kate Morton.

Monday 14 December 2015

If #Zumamustfall, who should rise?

Since reviewing one of the best books I have read in a while, A Casualty of Grace, by Lisa Brown, the following quote has been running through my head with different emphases, and applications:

“It is not enough to do good; one must do it in the right way”

Lisa Brown uses the quote - attributed to John Morley - to open her beautiful book about the plight of British orphans, shipped off to Canada in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In the context of all going on in my life and country at the moment, the quote seems to have some resonance.

South Africa is not at its proudest moment as a nation. Although our history too is filled with long and shameful abominations, never before have we felt that it could all be changed by the removal of a single person, who seems to be most responsible for all our current embarrassment. Hence the cries for Zuma to fall.

It has struck me though, that it would be a crying shame for his fall to take down the ANC, a political organization that despite being born in the worst of times, had the noblest of aspirations and leaders that inspired change and were revolutionaries and visionaries of the best kind. How awful if Zuma's fall brought the heritage that is not only Madiba's, Tambo's and Luthuli's, but that of all the people who fought so hard and sacrificed so much into the same disrepute.

Saturday 12 December 2015

Ten of the Best #25

One morning, back in June I thought, what about a collection of clips and articles for when you are sitting in bed on a Saturday morning? Your husband has brought your favourite morning beverage, and the kids are not yet awake to claim their share of slow internet. I call that a happy Saturday.

And thus began this post - now 25. Its the "best of"s - interesting articles, good songs, funny comics and clips that are worth sharing and keeping.

Got your comfy spot? Let's go. For those new here, you click on the pics for the links.

1.    And here I was, hoping there would be a break from SA – The Bad News this week. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, the $%&* in the creek solidified, the canoe sprung a leak, and it started raining. In other news, Zuma, I mean Dudu, came in like a wrecking ball.

2.    So just when you think it can’t get any worse…it doesn’t.

Friday 11 December 2015

Friday Book Blast

Welcome everyone and Happy Friday to all of you.

Last Friday I started participating in two Book Blog parties, both hosted weekly. I had so much fun, I am doing it again.

The first is BookBeginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader.

How it works is every Friday you share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires. 

The second is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda's Voice, where you

* Grab a book, any book.
* Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader (If you have to improvise, that's ok.)
* Find any sentence, (or few, just don't spoil it) 

Here's the beginning...

"Ben Solomon stood before his bathroom mirror fumbling with his bow tie. He was eighty-three years old and getting dressed for Judgement Day. Years had come and gone since he had last worn his tuxedo, but then, Judgement Day was a black tie affair." 

The book is a gripping tale of two boys, once as close as brothers, who find themselves on opposite sides of the holocaust.

What looks fascinating is that it is told in the context of the accusation of Elliot Rosenzweig of being a former Nazi SS Officer. Attorney Catherine Lockhart must face not only a powerful adversary, but her own self doubts.

Here's the cover.