Tuesday 31 May 2016

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

I recently confessed that I have a "hit and miss" relationship status with Kristin Hannah. I'm changing that to a "Hit, miss and well, ok then" status. Guess where this falls?

Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres, especially when the history is told as a fairy tale. This tale involves Anya, and she is telling it to her daughters - Meredith and Nina. The present day story starts, however, with a glimpse into their currently unhappy family life. Dad wants to change his orchards into vineyards, Meredith is helping with the family business, Nina is running away all over Africa, and Mom doesn't do much, except sit staring at the Winter Garden.

I did enjoy the history. And the sisterly love-not-quite-hate bonds.  I also liked how the story started small, as an insignificant part of their lives, and then grew to centre stage, changing them all.

I didn't like the portrayal of the mother. It was pretty unbelievable. Then the story dragged on and on, chapter after chapter of the back story. Yet, in a way, this was also the best part - telling a part of the truth concerning Leningrad in the second World War that is not often told.

The audible narration was fantastic - I do admire a great Russian accent, and the voices were distinct, unique, but not overdone.

Well, ok then. I'm glad I read it, I won't forget it, but it isn't up there with Night Road and The Nightingale or down there with Between Sisters.

A slightly above average three stars.

ISBN: 9780312663155

Monday 30 May 2016

It's Monday. Time to dance

Good morning everyone. It's Monday. Hallelujah.

No really, I'm ready to go. After months of wondering if I can beat this infection and run again, I've been given a clean bill of health. So I'm taking that fine line between sickness and health and dancing on it. And it feels good.

So now we walk/run. We also stop for a cup of coffee, and have a chat - well the chatting happens the whole time, to be honest.

I feel like even though it's cool and crisp in the mornings, the sun is shining just for me - those rays of sun streaming through the reds yellows and pale greens of autumn are lighting my pathway. And the great thing about getting out and doing whatever it is you do to keep fit, is that your mind is cleared, your body is moving in time to the beat, and life feels ok again.

So our song for today can only be Panic! at the disco's Hallelujah.

All you sinners stand up, sing hallelujah (hallelujah!)
Show praise with your body
Stand up, sing hallelujah (hallelujah!)
And if you can't stop shaking, lean back
Let it move right through ya (hallelujah!)
Say your prayers [3x]

Happy running/walking/pumping. And have a great week.

Here's last week's Monday Motivation - What doesn't kill you....

Saturday 28 May 2016

Ten of the best #47

Well hello to you this morning. Thank you for joining in the fun. We're going over our social media feeds, and finding all the beauty, the funny, the interesting and the entertaining.

Get your tea/coffee/hot chocolate, cuddle up with your pet, preferably still in bed, and let's catch up on the week.

We start with some dancing. You can't photoshop dancing, can you? Because if you could, I'd wonder about this. It is too perfect. Simply amazing. It looks effortless, too, which it clearly isn't. The post I saw of this had a different (dull) music track, which annoyed me - the clue was when the music faded out completely and restarted (at around 4:45). So I did some checking, and now you can take a look at the way it was meant to be. Bravo!

The words I love to hear: "Baking is back". Here they are - the best patisseries in Joburg. Mouthwateringly alluring. Banters, eat your carbs out.

We've entered an era of "Liars, damned liars and politicians". Or, as The Guardian puts it "Post truth Politics". Well I never. You used to have to spot the lies. Now you can't see the truth for the scary hair. Chilling.

Speaking of politics, back to SA. Richard Poplak says we must lean towards the light. No, not the speeding train at the end of the tunnel. Read it yourself.

Harvard University - now they can afford to grant free education to all, because of their massive endowment fund. Here's why they don't. Interesting, in the context of #feesmustfall in SA.

Tiego Moseneke writes about his brother, Dikgang, so beautifully. Worth a read.

Annoyed easily? By noises? Pretty much everyone in my house has this condition. Except me, of course. It's called misophonia. This explains. The clip at the end is quite long, but amusing.

Aren't these beautiful. They're by Maja Wronska.

Can you believe that Blake Shelton never had sushi until this week. No, me neither. But this week, he pretended he hadn't on: "Jimmy Fallon Makes Blake Shelton Try Sushi"

In case you missed all the Chewbacca hullabaloo, there was this mom, who posted a video that went viral. This is it. Boring warning - she waffles quite a lot while she's getting the mask out of the box, and then there is a lot of laughing at the end...

And then, guess what? Of course.

Hope you enjoyed the collection.

Happy weekend all.

Last week's ten.

2016 Tens

Friday 27 May 2016

Friday Books

On Fridays I participate in BookBeginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader, and The Friday 56 - hosted by Freda’s Voice. Both involve sharing excerpts from a current book - the beginning and - you guessed it - page 56.

This week's book-

Click the cover for the Goodreads blurb.

They were fighting over apples again. He wanted to grow more eaters to eat; she wanted spitters, to drink.

Here's my p56
There were so many people campin that we were a ways from the platform where the preachers stood so everybody could see dem and hear em. Once Id made sure people had seen me do my share of stirrin the pot and Nathan and Robert had brought back armfuls of wood, I slipped off to hear some God talk.

Set in Ohio, in 1838, James and Sadie Goodenough plant apples, fight, and get older. 

Don't you love the dialogue? It makes me wonder though, if the author got annoyed at autocorrect (probably turned it off completely) - if you want to say campin, it's not camping, or campaign!

Tell me what you're reading, and I'll pay you a visit. Happy reading everyone.

Thursday 26 May 2016

Duet by Kimberley Freeman

Ellie and Angela are two women, extremely alike, who have never met.

Angela is a pop star, living in London. Ellie is an aspiring opera singer, experiencing severe hardships in Europe, where she desperately wants to succeed.

Their lives intersect, unexpectedly, on their respective quests for love, meaning, significance and success in England, Greece, Spain and the Australian outback.

The narration was excellent. Caroline Lee reads so beautifully, I think the most badly written book would come alive with her skilled rendition. This wasn't badly written. The stories of the two women were interesting. The book had its moments of beauty and insight. However, there were too many easy coincidences and clichés for me to say I enjoyed it immensely.

It was pleasant, and I didn't stop reading. Neither did I find myself jumping early into the car to listen while I waited for the rest of the family (which is usually the case with books I love.) Kimberley Freeman has been compared to Kate Morton. I have only read one of Kimberley's books, and all of Kate's, but for me, apart from the fact that they are both Australian, there are vast differences in writing style, plot intensity and development and the weaving of history into the present day. Kate Morton is one of my favourite authors, so not an easy benchmark, in my opinion. This wasn't bad, but was never going to measure up, unfortunately.

A book for wasting time on, when your own reality is distinctly dull.

3 stars

If you feel the same way as I do, you will prefer Kate Morton's The Lake House. Another lovely Australian author is Liane Moriarty - try Big Little Lies.

More book reviews here.

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Caramelized Pear, Gorgonzola and Pecan Nut salad

I have a regular-ish (when I'm not too sick to think about food) recipe post. It's not really for you, it's for me. Reason being that I can hardly ever find the recipes I need, except when I've posted them here. I have a beautiful file, thanks to the inspiration from my lovely sister, but sadly, when I try to find a recipe I need, it has disappeared. No jokes, this happened last night.

I'm cooking and eating lots of vegetables at the moment, so here's one of my favourite salad recipes. I first found it in Tina Bester's Comfort recipe book, but it's all over the internet. Enjoy.

Caramelized Pear, Gorgonzola and Pecan Nut Salad

2 tablespoons butter
Sticky Brown sugar
Black Pepper
2 pears
100g rocket
200g gorgonzola (cut down on this if you're low sodium)
100g pecan nuts (or walnuts), roughly chopped

Honey and mustard vinaigrette, to serve, if needed.

Melt the butter and brown sugar (my recipe says two tablespoons of brown sugar, but if like me, you're cutting back the sweet stuff, just sprinkle about 1 tablespoon, and tell yourself that this isn't a lot, and you're not going to eat all the salad, just most of it). Grind black pepper over the pears.

Caramelize the pears in the pan until golden - this is the trick. I cook them until they're even crispy, which is so yummy.Sticky is good. You want to leave them bubbling for at least 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool. Place the leaves in a salad bowl/platter, add pears, crumble cheese and smashed pecans.

So easy. Enjoy.

And since I'm doing this so I can find the recipes easily, I've updated my recipe index - here. I'll do the alphabetical one soon, I promise.

Tuesday 24 May 2016

The Keeper by Marguerite Poland

Hmm, a bit flimsy, maybe? At 183 pages, this book felt a little thin. The upside was though, it was easy to slip into my bag and take to the appointment and read while I waited.

The Keeper tells the stories of lighthouse keepers back before the lights were automated. These men and their families spent months in very isolated places. All they ate was fish, all they smelled was the sea, and guano (penguin poop). So I suppose it didn't really matter what they ate, it all tasted the same. Hannes is the protagonist in our story. He is born to be a lighthouse keeper. His father was, and he grew up on the island where he now keeps watch. Aletta, his wife, not so much. She is restless and unhappy.

Marguerite Poland is accomplished. The imagery is beautiful, she knows how to show and not tell, and this book gives new depth to the term "atmospheric". It was full of emotion, had a great story, and was in no way flimsy. I should rather have judged the book by its beautiful cover, and not its weight in my hands. 

A beautiful story of the agony and pain, heartbreak and drama, love and mercy, grace and generosity found in the everyday existence of mere mortals. 

A bonus is that Marguerite Poland is a South African author - and there is just enough of the language, and delightful mannerisms in this book to endear it to you, without it being too confusing.

4 shining stars.

ISBN: 9780143539032

Monday 23 May 2016

What doesn't kill you...

Good morning everybody. Hope you're up and dressed and ready to go. I am. 

I have a great song to get us going this morning. You see, running and exercising and getting fit isn't about sudden sharp bursts of passion. It's about doing it everyday, listening to your body, and keeping at it. Like learning to play an instrument, or reading a book - a little every day is the thing that counts. 

If you have been doing this persistently, then the good news is that today you're stronger than you were yesterday. If you're fighting an illness, or just trying to lose weight, then walking this morning, or doing what you do to keep active and fit is going to make you stronger too.

That is my mantra this week - I'm stronger; I'm getting there, and I'm not giving up until I do. It's a long road, but today I just have to take one more step in the right direction.

So go for it. Don't listen to any of the negativity around you. Get up, get out there and start moving. 

Here's Stronger, by Kelly Clarkson

Just me, myself and I

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller
Doesn't mean I'm lonely when I'm alone
What doesn't kill you makes a fighter
Footsteps even lighter 

Here's last week's Monday motivation.

Have a great week.

Friday 20 May 2016

Ten of the Best #46

And here we are for the weekend. What are you doing? I'll be at the Kingsmead Book Fair - so excited! (Read my blog on it here.)If you are bored this Saturday in Johannesburg, I can highly recommend it - great vibe, food, books and authors. But before we head on out, we can't skip the ten of the best. What's been on your social media feed this week? I've had a bumper week. And given what I'm doing this weekend, a lot of the posts below are book-related - bear with me.

We will start with the politics, and get it over with. The Daily Maverick reported on two court cases that have gone against the politicians. How I wish that the national hobby of said politicians wasn't spending so much time and energy on defending their dubious practices. But it does seem like the courts are winning, for now.

I was at the Franschhoek Literary Festival last weekend. I know, I'm totally spoiled. In such a beautiful part of our country, we had perfect weather, wonderful food and wine, awesome talks, great conversations with friends. I didn't even notice that Eugene de Kock was there. (Can you tell I wasn't on social media much?) But he was, and his neighbour  in a session wrote this, which I found quite profound.

This clip is for the mums I know with sons who row. Some of you have even gone for lessons of your own. If you've tried to learn to row, you may relate to this clip. It's James Corden and friends. LMAO as they say. Click the image for the action.

Winnie-the-Pooh was one of my best stories to read as a child, and then to read to my children. And most of the stories that I did enjoy as a child were not my kids' favourites. There was so much more on offer for them. They did enjoy The Faraway Tree, but I'd somehow missed that particular Enid Blyton. Sad, but true. Anyhoo, this is not meant to be a rant about kids' books today and kids' books of yore, but a gush about Winnie and friends. Here are 20 life lessons from the Bear. My favourite? 
’If the person you are talking to does not appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in this ear.’’
What's yours? Have a look...

In other news, books are big again. I suppose you all knew that? That's why you're holding your phone/device/laptop reading this. But they are, and I am glad.

A beautiful blog on a Mom's response to bullying. So true - it's not enough to say "Be nice."

And for those of us with older kids - 


I'm not exactly sure why this appealed to me, but it did. I found it very funny - maybe because this author has obviously taken some things to heart - 24 things no-one tells you about book publishing.

If this doesn't make you smile, or at least get your foot tapping, you should check your pulse to see if you are still alive. It's Justin Timberlake - Can't stop the Feeling. There are a whole lot of everyday people dancing their butts off. Literally. What fun.

No, it's not Bat Cat, it's not even Catwoman.....it's just "The Michael Jackson Cat". Cute.

Yes, that's ten already. Too short? Check out last week

Bye, I'm off for the weekend. Hope yours is as good as mine is set to be.

Friday Book - The Keeper

On Fridays I participate in BookBeginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader, and The Friday 56 - hosted by Freda’s Voice. Both involve sharing excerpts from a current book - the beginning and - you guessed it - page 56.

This week's book-

Click the cover for the Goodreads blurb.

When the call came, Maisie Beukes was alone in the keepers quarters.Cecil had already gone on duty even though it was only five o'clock

Here's my p56
She opened the fridge, looking for something to make for lunch.
Fish - only fish.
There was only ever fish. And cold boiled rice or macaroni.

This is the story of Hannes - the lighthouse keeper. It is fascinating reading. The keepers and their families are sent to remote places - in this case an island, where all there is to eat is fish - except when the boat comes in, irregularly. And everywhere is guano - penguin poop. To the extent that everything smells like it, tastes like it. Can you imagine?

Tell me what you're reading, and I'll pay you a visit. Happy reading everyone.

Thursday 19 May 2016

Sacrifice by Sharon Bolton

From Goodreads:

In this masterful debut that starts off as a mystery and becomes much more, Tora  Hamilton is an outsider at her new home on the rocky, wind-swept Shetland Islands....Digging in the peat on their new property, Tora unearths a human body, at first glance a centuries-old bog body, interesting but not uncommon. But realizing that the body is in fact much newer, that the woman’s heart has been cut out and that she was killed within a few days of bearing a child, Tora, herself an obstetrician, becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to her—even when the police, her colleagues and eventually her husband warn her against getting involved.

I read Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton last year, and I loved it. I was wondering whether her earlier stories were as good as the latest. The answer? Probably not, but then again, Little Black Lies was one of my best reads last year - that takes some beating. 

What I liked most about Sacrifice was the strong female characters. There seemed to be an abundance of them. Or maybe it's the dearth of them in other crime novels that makes this one stand out. Also they weren't contrived, and neither did the males have to appear overly weak in order to make the fairer sex seem stronger. They were just gutsy, all by themselves.

This is a long story. Arguably a little heavy-handed on the details. Yet I am glad to report that the plotting is brilliant, the character development great, and the gripping intensity amazing. I cannot believe that this was a debut novel. There is no shortage of action and drama, and the spellbinding conclusion will have you sitting on the edge of your seat. And lucky for me, there are about 5 books in the Lacey Flint series to get stuck into. Yay.

An enthralling and satisfying book.

4 stars

ISBN: 9780552159753

You may also enjoy Blacklands by Belinda Bauer, or Black-eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

Wednesday 18 May 2016

A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George

Can you tell I’m having a binge? On authors from ages ago. And I have to say, I am loving it. It all started with a visit to a second hand book shop. What can I say, I found Anita Shreve, and Elizabeth George.
A friend cannot understand why I have never read Elizabeth George. It’s not like I have avoided her books, but simply never picked one up - too much else to read. This one called to me - “First in the Inspector Lynley series”. That was it.
And that was me - gone for a day. Into Kildare, Yorkshire - green, rainy, mushy. You can feel the damp mist, hear your boots squelch and hear the whiny infant wail - the legend tells that story. But the latest murder? A girl found next to her decapitated father, saying she did it and she’s not sorry.
Enter the gorgeous Inspector Lynley, fresh from a society wedding (his best friend and ex-fiancee) and DS Havers - the no-nonsense practical detective. Both are assigned to this sensitive case. She thinks it is a set up, and from day one they are pitted against each other.
It’s gruesome, gritty, real, yet also tender and warm. I thoroughly enjoyed this murder mystery. A yarn of messy, broken lives woven into a fabric of immense value.
Do yourself a favour and find a rainy day on which to read this book.
4 stars
ISBN: 9780553278026
You may also enjoy Shroud for a Nightingale by PD James or With our Blessing by Jo Spain.

Tuesday 17 May 2016

Fortune's Rocks by Anita Shreve

I have had the opportunity to visit a few second hand bookshops recently. The best book bargains are still found there (not online), and you get the pleasure of holding the book in your hand while you read it, not to mention how easy it is to flick to the page to find a quote.

Yet, it was with some trepidation that I picked up this one. I last read Anita Shreve about 5 years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed all her books, but I recalled some friends making scathing comments about anything other than The Pilot's Wife. But for R30 ($2), this seemed worthwhile.

It started off well enough - a love story between an older married man and a young girl, months before her sixteenth birthday. A little creepy, but hey, this was 1899 - everything was different, wasn't it? Then in parts two and three, the book changed direction completely, and tackled some amazing subjects, like women's rights, education, poverty and so on. I'm deliberately not mentioning anything that could possibly be a spoiler. You realise that the more things change, the more they stay the same. This gives the story a timelessness that probably wasn't intentional on the author's part, but is hugely enjoyable.

I thought it was brilliant - great character development, awesome setting. But I realized, as I relayed it to my husband - he at first annoyed that I took so long to explain, and then shocked at how good it was - the best part of this book is the amazing plot. Shreve undertook some very detailed research, and then used it extensively to breathtaking effect. Which makes this book part historical fiction. 

If you find this book, grab a copy and clear a weekend. You won't regret it. 

5 stars

ISBN: 9780316734837

You may also enjoy Lisa Brown's A Casualty of Grace, or Kit by Marina Fiorato

Monday 16 May 2016

The Colours of Fall

It's Autumn where I live. It's getting colder. Not that it ever gets too cold to run outdoors. But it can feel like you are breathing in sharp needles for awhile. You know when your chest aches with the pain of inhaling and your brain is screaming for more of the icy oxygen, because your feet are pounding - faster than usual, to warm up. 

This morning though, I'm going to be looking up. Literally, figuratively and all that. One of my favourite Bible verses is. "I lift my eyes up to the mountains, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, Maker of Heaven and earth." 

Whatever your belief system today, take a moment to appreciate some beauty around you. For me and my neighbours now, all we need to do is find a tree, or a few. Look. Feel it in your soul. There - you just de-stressed. And you got inspired to keep moving.

Can't wait to get out there today.

Ooh, nearly forgot the soundtrack to all of that. We need some beautiful music. Well, the song is Halsey - Colours. It's a lovely song. A bit blue for the colours of Fall, but there is loads of sunny blue to see here too, so I'm ok. 

Happy exercising everyone, and a beautiful Monday to you all.

And thank you Sunél, for taking the gorgeous pictures.

Saturday 14 May 2016

Ten of the Best #45

Hey, hey, hey. Well done. You made it to the weekend. It officially begins right here. With a dose of entertainment from social media. The ten best stories, interesting articles and entertainment items from my social media feeds this week. Because you didn't get time to read them all during the week. You were working, after all. Hope you enjoy them.

Let's start with the highly unusual. Once upon a time, an alligator came to visit. It's a cute story. Click the pic for the story

The best bad news story of the week.