Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mums Still Know Best

The Hairy Bikers' Best Loved Recipes: Mums Still Know Best, by Si King and Dave Myers

If you have never had a chance to browse through one of the Hairy Bikers' Cookbooks, give yourself a treat!  My favorite, to date, is their '12 Days of Christmas.'  Don't let the titles fool you, these guys know food.  The cookbooks are stunning with their beautiful pictures of the dishes that are created for their books.
Though many dishes I would probably NEVER make (I can't think of eating fluffy bunnies), I still love leafing through a 'Hairy Bikers' cookbook.'

One thing that I love about these cookbooks, this one is no exception, are the notes to tweak a recipe, and a little bit about the Mum from which the recipe came.  Half of the recipes are from Si and Dave, who have taken some of their favorites, and made them more 'up-to-date.'

The directions are well-written and, as I mentioned before, the photos that accompany most of the recipes are gorgeous.

For we Americans, there is a bit of converting and learning what the different ingredients are (caster sugar = superfine sugar) and having a scale that does measurements in grams, as well as ounces, is VERY helpful with British cooking.  To be quite honest, weighing ingredients does give you a better measurement than using simple measuring cups.

I have to admit that when I first heard of the Hairy Bikers and that they put out cookbooks, I was a bit reticent to look at their books.  Please don't be put off by the name, their cookbooks have a wonderful elegance to them, and have made this cook want to try their wonderful recipes!


4 Stars!

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Westing Game

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

I picked this book up because of all of the wonderful reviews I had read.  Many people touted it as a Favorite, and one of those books that they still remember far into their adults years.  I agree with a few reviews that I have read - I wish I had read this when it first came out (I would have been 12 - perfect age for this book).

A Juvenile Fiction book written in 1978. It was who-dunnit of sorts, and winner of the Newbery Medal. I completed the book, wanting to know how it actually ended. Would I recommend it, as so many others have? No, I would not, unless you were in upper elementary school. It was simply written, with many repetitions, and I had figured out the clues before page 90. It was a nice little escape and a very quick read.

I wish that the characters had seemed a bit more real.  Everyone was exaggerated and many things were NOT explained.  I admit, though, I grabbed a piece of paper to try to figure out the clues, which happened pretty quickly.  Guess that might be the 'old person' in me that did that.

If you have a young reader that you know, I would suggest the book to him or her...they may like the style and hopefully will have fun figuring out the Westing Game. 

3 Stars 

Monday, February 7, 2011

'Wish' by Alexandra Bullen

Wish by Alexandra Bullen

This was a very pleasant surprise.  Even though it was a Young Adult book, I was completely sucked into Olivia's world.  I stayed up late and pretended to not hear my name when the kids called, because I couldn't wait to get back to the story to see what would happen next.  I downloaded it, taking a chance, and am very glad that I did.  To be honest, I didn't even bother reading what the story was about, but was so taken with the cover and that was enough for me.

Briefly, this Young Adult read is (and I normally don't do this in my reviews) about a teenage girl who lost her twin sister.  She and her family move across the country to her mother's hometown of San Francisco, where Olivia stumbled upon an unique alteration shop.  'Mariposa in the Mission' created magical dresses that made wishes come true.

The story itself was very well-written.  Ms. Bullen wrote a story in which the reader cares for the main character in her story.  She seems to understand teenagers very well, and it is portrayed in her writing.  Olivia is a young lady who has this incredibly sad thing happen to her, and it seemed that she didn't deal with it for some time.  Olivia, throughout the story, starts to live her life.  There are several elements to the story that are repeated, but in the repetition of those elements shows the progression that Olivia makes.

The only problem I had with the story was that there was a LOT of under-age drinking, with no consequences.  I think that too much media aimed at teens shows underage drinking without consequences, and it would be nice to have authors or directors deal with this more head-on.  Yes, it is something that many teens do, but it should not be shown so casually.  The reader is left guessing at what caused the death of Olivia's twin until almost two-thirds through the story.  (It is NOT alcohol related.)  I would have also have liked to see more about Posey, learned more about her story as I think it would have helped flesh out her character more, but this did not detract from the story.

Read the end with a box of tissues near by.  It was sad, touching and happy, all at the same time.  Ms. Bullen did a tremendous job of telling the story of a young lady who lost her twin, was given three wishes, and what she did with those wishes.  There were amusing scenes, many poignant scenes, and it dealt with many issues facing teenagers - popularity, relationships, friendships.  This is a great story for anyone who enjoys a well-written Young Adult fiction story.  This reader was completely glued to the story, and couldn't stop saying how much she enjoyed it after finishing the story.

4 Stars

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Charlotte Collins

Dear Mrs. Becton,

Thank you for the news of Charlotte Collins.  I had heard of her husband’s death and my thoughts went out to her.  I am very glad to hear that all is now well with her.

Your news was very descriptive and I really enjoyed seeing Charlotte’s new life.  The way you portrayed her awakening feelings was very well put.  It seems that she has grown up a bit since Mr. Collins’s death, what with having her own cottage and taking on chaperoning her younger sister, Maria.  The society of Westerham seemed varied and quite full of characters.  But most importantly, the goings-on at the Armitage Ball were quite shocking.  I am very glad to see that American sensibility won the day.

My particular favourite in your writings were the tensions that were felt throughout the novel.  I also particularly liked the verbal banter that Charlotte frequently found herself in.  With your words, I felt that I was actually witnessing the various scenes that Mrs. Collins found herself in; and at times, I was holding my breath along with Charlotte, wondering....

I must say, you had me guessing at what was to happen next to our heroine.  It seems that all is now well, though, there was a time, in your recitation of her story, I wondered what could possibly happen next.

Truly a delightful recounting of a character that deserved to find her happy ending.  If anyone was to have one, it would have been Charlotte Collins, after having spent seven odious years with Mr. Collins.

I look forward to your news on Caroline Bingley.  One can only hope that this particular young lady will grow up and no longer vex those happiest around her, but somehow find that is impossible to imagine.

Yours Respectfully,
Mrs. Fogelson

5 STARS!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Far Pavilions

The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye
4 Stars

While it was rather daunting picking up a book of 955 pages, I enjoyed the story...some parts more than others.  I am actually conflicted with the rating of 4 stars, as parts of this book were completely skimmed (2 stars), but other parts were devoured (5 stars).

M. M. Kaye wrote a story of one man, and not all of his life was accounted for.  The Far Pavilions was an ideal for Ashton Pelham-Martyn, who was a man that did not begin to any one group; a place where he could live peacefully.  Without giving away too much of the story, it is about a boy who was born of English parents a few years before the Sepoy Mutiny in India.  Subsequently, Ashton was then called Ashok by his ayah(Indian nurse maid) and made to look like and who came to believe that he was actually Indian.  Later, he was sent to England to be schooled as an Englishman.  He then requested to go back to India in order to serve in the British Regiment, as India was in his blood.

Many of the incidents in this book were based on facts, and some of those facts were taken from journals of the author’s grandfather and father.  Ms. Kaye did an admirable job of greatly detailing the battles that were throughout the book.  She had taken her fictional character, Ashton, and deftly wove history around him.  I learned about the British Raj, Hinduism, Islam, India and Afghanistan from this work.  However, there was so much that was not explained, and with the length of this story, the reader only gets a taste of these elements.

As I mentioned, I did skim several sections, particularly in the center of the story.  The first two hundred pages had me completely gripped in the world of Ashton, turned Ashok the Indian boy.  Some of the ‘inner workings’ of Ashton got to be a bit tedious, and I found myself flipping through to get back to the story line.  Also, some of the battle scenes, as mentioned, were very detailed, and I admit that I skimmed those to get the gist of the battle.

On the back of the novel that I read is a single quote that sums up the story, “A great romantic adventure novel.”  However, what I took from The Far Pavilions was the story of tolerance, and learned more about Afghanistan, which hasn’t changed for centuries, to give me a greater understanding of what it is we face in today’s world and the War on Terror.  This novel had shown, quite well, the problem with Afghanistan in that it is a very factioned, tribal country that is quite difficult to govern.  It was sad to see countless men perish in this country of 1879-1880.

Here are a few quotes from the book that I loved.

“She is the other half of me.  Without her, I am not complete....she has all the courage in the world, yet at the same time she is like – like a quiet and beautiful room where one can take refuge from noise and storms and ugliness, and sit back and feel peaceful and happy and completely content: a room that will always be there and always the same...”

“The mogul conquest of India and the Arab conquest of Spain, and all the many Holy Wars – the Jehads waged in the name of Allah – that have drenched the long centuries with blood.... The fact that religion had not brought love and brotherhood and peace to mankind, but, as was promised, a sword.”

“We go in search of some place where we may live and work in peace, and where men do not kill or persecute each other for sport or at the bidding of Governments – or because others do not think or speak or pray as they do, or have skins of a different colour.”  

After finishing this tome, I was asked by my daughter if I would recommend this book, and to whom, I couldn’t answer her right away.  I know that several people before me, to include many writers, claim that this is their favourite book, or one that has greatly influenced them.  It is well written and very informative, and I am glad that I had finally found the courage to read such a novel, but I wouldn’t say it is a favourite of mine, nor is it a book that I would recommend.  If someone wants to learn a bit more about India and Afghanistan and the British Raj, who doesn’t mind long, detailed battle scenes, and a bit of a romance, than this is the book for them.  It was well-researched, as pointed out in the Author’s Note at the end of the story, and how many things were true and accurate.  However, as I did feel the need to skim a portion of the book, I cannot put it in a ‘favourite’ or ‘recommend’ category.  

I gave this novel 4 stars because of the effort of this novel and how well it was written.  It was useful to this reader to understand better the country of Afghanistan (which has not changed much in its tribal conflicts within), and how the end of the novel seemed to speak to peace and tolerance, even though it was written in 1978. 

Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. – George Santayana (There are many different translations of this quote.)
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