Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Lemon Cranberry Muffins

I firmly believe that lemon and cranberry are one of the best flavour combinations ... like, evah.  This is why I'm always eager to try anything that pairs my mutual obsessions with cranberries and lemon into one blissful baked good. 

This recipe beautifully showcases the love affair between the cran and the lemon.  A match made in gastronomical nirvana.  In this recipe you have a sweet, moist and light muffin with more than a hint of fresh lemony goodness and then ba-bang!!  You get an explosion of a fresh cranberry, and then another .... and another!  A veritable profusion of cranberry!  Never has something that hails from an acidic bog in the northern hemisphere tasted so very good!

Now, I've said before that I don't have an overly sweet tooth.  But I do adore anything sweet that is balanced with a touch of sourness.  Kind of like my personality, I suppose.  You get my usually sweet disposition followed by a blast o' sassy spunkiness.  If you want a fancy way to say it, it's the juxtaposition of the sweet and tangy that titillates my taste buds and makes this moist muffin so very stellar.

You may be asking yourself ... 'Self, where does Laurie get fresh cranberries this time of year?'  Well, seeing that I don't live near an acidic bog here in the northern hemisphere I have to stock up on bags of fresh cranberries every Fall.  I toss these bags into my freezers and hoard them like the apocalypse is imminent.  They are my treasure.  My preciousssss. 

Currently I still have about 7 bags of cranberry goodness divided between my three freezers. I'm currently awaiting a TV network to come up with a new show called 'Frozen Food Hoarders' to showcase my obsession which could also include the 30+ frozen bananas and as well as Jumbo Freezies from 1998 that are stockpiled alongside the cranberries.  But I digress ...

These delicious muffins didn't last long in our house.  While Boy 1 and Missy Moo are not fans of the cran Brad, Boy 2, my parents and I eagerly divvied up these muffins and ate them all within a day.  Needless to say these easy-to-whip-up and oh-so moist muffins will definitely be making a regular appearance in my weekly baking.


Yield: 12 medium-sized muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 large lemon
1 1/4 cup milk
2 eggs
1/2 cup grapeseed oil (or vegetable oil)
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries (I use them from frozen)

Preheat oven to 400F.  Line a 12-cup muffin tin with muffin papers and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt.  Zest the lemon and add zest to the dry ingredients.

Halve the lemon and juice it.  Add 2 tbsp lemon juice to the milk and set it aside.  It will become clumpy looking and will give it an added lemon kick.

Meanwhile, lightly beat the eggs in a medium bowl.  Add oil and milk/lemon juice mixture.  Mix well. 

Gently pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and slowly blend (remember: Overbeating will create dense muffins!).  Fold in the cranberries (mine are always still frozen when I add them). 

Using a large melon baller (or large spoon) fill muffin tins.  Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean.  Remove muffins to a wire rack and allow them to cool completely.  Store muffins in an air-tight container or freeze for later use.

Inspired by: Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy Lemon Cranberry Muffins

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Wonder



Author: R.J Palacio
Genre: Modern Fiction
Type: Hardcopy
Source: Library
Pages: 315
Publisher: Knopf
First Published: February 14, 2012
First Line: "I know I'm not an ordinary ten-year-old kid."

Book DescriptionAugust (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.


My Thoughts:  Often times when a book is so critically acclaimed I'm a little hesitant to pick it up because more often than not the book just doesn't live up to the hype created around it.  Yes, I've become a little cynical in my reading. 

This is not the case with Wonder.  Not by a long shot. 

In fact two words that I initially wrote down after reading the first few chapters of this book were: 'touching and emotional'.  It's because of the emotion and message behind this book that I'm so excited to share it with you.

First of all, I'm shocked and more than a little impressed that this book was written by a first time author.  I think that a huge part of the success of this book is that Palacio has given Auggie (and the five other people who provide the narration) truly authentic and believable voices. 

Auggie is an inspiring, funny and strong main character who will definitely stay with me for a long time.  Palacio has created a sympathetic main character in Auggie who is a normal Star Wars loving boy with an extraordinary face who you can't help but root for.  He's got a great support system at home which has instilled a strong sense of self and he uses his humour to deal with other people's issues with his face.  He is exceptional in that he feels normal even though other people have more of an issue with his face. 

“I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid. I mean, sure, I do ordinary things. I eat ice cream. I ride my bike. I play ball. I have an XBox. Stuff like that makes me ordinary, I guess. And I feel ordinary. Inside.
But I know ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. I know ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go. If I found a magic lamp and I could have one wish, I would wish that I had a normal face that no one ever noticed at all. I would wish I could walk down the street without people seeing me and then doing that look-away thing.
Here’s what I think: the only reason I’m not ordinary is that no one else sees me that way.”

This book could very easily do a tailspin into a very woeful read about bullying.  Sure it has it's emotional moments but it doesn't have a generally sad feel to it.  It's actually a very uplifting read and has a much more simplistic and innocent approach to it that I wasn't expecting.  If you're looking for a gritty account of what life is like living with a severe facial deformity then this won't be the book for you. 

While there is a strong moral message in the book it never felt like Palacio was pontificating or shoving the moral down the reader's throat.  It's a simple lesson: be kinder than you have to.  I would hope that we all realize that we should be nice to everyone (even if we don't do it enough) but this book clearly shows the reader that the negative effects of 'looking away' or pretending we don't notice someone with a noticeable deformity is just as damaging as saying a mean statement. It was an emotional read at times (I even shed a tear or two!) but never had a saccharine or overdone feel to it.

It's because of the moral message that I think that this book should be read by middle school kids. I honestly think everyone should read it but kids in middle school would get the most out of it because I think it accurately portrays the effects of bullying, of ignoring someone based on their looks and shows how little it takes to just be a friend and uplift someone. To do what is right, not necessarily what is the easiest, or what others think you should do.  Those are some pretty big lessons that I think ALL of us need to learn or get a refresher course on.

Overall I truly loved this book.  I was fully emersed in Auggie's world from the beginning to the end and found it to be a very touching read.  The story is told by these six characters with the use of short chapters that really helped to keep the pace moving. But what really stood out with me is the ease and success that Palacio had using various points of view -- Auggie and FIVE others -- to tell the story.  This could have been a literary train wreck with the number of POVs but it was done extremely well giving the reader insight into those around Auggie and how he and they experienced things differently. 

I especially loved his sister, Via's, point of view and her conflicting feelings towards her brother and all of the attention he gets from their parents. She adores her brother but the effects of his facial deformity, his numerous surgeries and how others react to him greatly influences her life.  Palacio also shows how other people in Auggie's life, namely Jack and Summer, deal with other insensitive and downright cruel people who judge them for hanging out with Auggie.

I did have a couple of small criticisms about the book. One thing that did strike me as not quite right were the language and issues that these Grade 5 kids had to deal with. As a mom to kids in Grade 4, 6 and 8 I'd like to think that I have a handle on the voice and development of tweens. Based on that experience with my Small Humans I think that the social issues that were dealt with in the book are more in middle school (Grades 6-8) than in an elementary school setting. I don't think that Grade 5 students are nearly as developmentally advanced as Jack, Auggie, Summer etc were portrayed in the book. I think having the kids be in Grade 7 would have been a more realistic age where they would have experienced the peer and social pressures dealt with in this book.

My other issue with the book is that perhaps because it had a lighter feel to it the ending was also more uplifting and a little too tidy for my liking. The 'bad guy' got his comeuppance and the good guys all rode off into the sunset. These are small beefs about the book (wee 'moos', if you like) but they were noticeable and may bother some readers who were hoping for an edgy ending.

Overall, I loved this book and found Wonder to be truly wonderful.  I adore the moral of the book that encourages people 'to be kinder than necessary' and that people have not only 'the capacity to be kind, but the very choice of kindness'.  Hopefully, after reading this book people will choose to be more respectful and kinder to others even when it's not convenient for them or when it makes them feel uncomfortable. To give others dignity.  Imagine the kind of world we'd have if we all did that.


“Kinder than is necessary. Because it's not enough to be kind.
One should be kinder than needed.”


Highly recommended.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Murder Under The Microscope



Author: Jane Bennett Munro
Genre: Mystery
Series: #1 in Toni Day medical mystery series
Type: Paperback
Source: directly from author
Publisher: iUniverse
First Published: 2011
First Line: "There was a dead body in my office."

Note: My sincere thanks to author Jane Bennett Munro for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book DescriptionDr. Antoinette Day- a young, successful pathologist known to her friends and colleagues as Toni-has no idea what awaits her when Dr. Sally Shore arrives at Perrine Memorial Hospital in Twin Falls, Idaho, to fill in for a colleague recovering from a heart attack. Toni's life is about to become a living hell. Dr. Shore is supposed to see patients, perform surgeries, and take turns covering the emergency room until the regular surgeon recovers from his quadruple bypass. But unfortunately, she uses her temporary opportunity to discredit Toni and tarnish her reputation with her medical colleagues. When the visiting surgeon is conveniently murdered- her lifeless body found in Toni's office-Toni is the obvious suspect. But Toni is not going down without a fight. Forced to solve the murder in order to save her future, Toni's life becomes even more complicated when her ex-boyfriend starts stalking her and threatening her husband.

In this riveting murder mystery, a stubborn pathologist must rely on more than just her microscope as she delves into a complicated murder mystery, soon discovering that it is not just her freedom at stake-but her life


My Thoughts:  Medical mystery is a genre that I really haven't read.  But one of the things that drew me to review this book was the fact that the author had a successful 33 year career as a forensic pathologist.  To me, this means that she could back up all the medical terms, storylines and the inner workings of a hospital with her real-life experience.  This experience gives the book a sense of authenticity to Toni's role as a pathologist.

But one of the downfalls of having a professional medical specialist write a mystery is that sometimes the medical jargon gets a little heavy and that's what, in my opinion, happened here at times.  I was left wondering in a few spots if the unknown medical term I had just read was vital to the mystery or if I could just keep going and assume that my 'Grey's Anatomy' and 'ER' TV medical 'training' was enough to get me through the verbiage.  The good news is that, for the most part, my hours watching Dr Grey and her cronies was enough to get me by.  (Note: I also read this the 'old fashioned way' with a paperback so I also didn't have my Kindle's dictionary at my fingertips to help me along the way either.)

So, what did I think about this first book in the Toni Day mystery series?  Overall it was a good start and had many things going for it.  There were a lot of plot lines and twists and Toni was an interesting and strong main character who was knowledgeable and spunky.  She definitely held her own and was able to get into enough trouble to keep things flowing fairly well.  Toni was definitely the star of the book and the author used this first book to help the reader really get to know her.  The supporting characters were much more on the sidelines in this book so I'm hoping that I'll get to know them in the next book.

I did have an issue with the dialogue and it stemmed from the emotions of some of the characters seeming to come out of nowhere -- specifically anger and excessive swearing.  I'm not against swearing in a book but I prefer it to not be used needlessly.  For example, Toni referring to a 'f**king endotracheal tube' was a little over the top for me and her anger over the tube seemed to come out of nowhere.  This excessive swearing and sudden angry emotional outbursts seemed a little disjointed with who I thought the characters were.  I actually went back and reread a part a couple of times to make sure that I had understood the feeling of the conversation but I still couldn't understand the reasons for the sudden outburst of anger/swearing.  Unfortunately those episodes did detract from my overall enjoyment of the book. 

Two of the things that this book excels at are amount of action and the twists and turns.  Wow!  There were a few storylines (ranging from the murder to a creepy stalker) as well as red herrings to keep the reader guessing.  While I had an inkling about 'who dunnit', it didn't detract from me enjoying the book. 

Overall, this is a very ambitious first book of a new series.  Dr Munro has created an interesting main character and setting that will ensure many opportunities for Toni to solve crimes.  I was impressed with the detail involved in this first book by the author and while sometimes it did get a little heavy in medical-ese I did enjoy the read.  I'm sure the character development and flow of the dialogue will only improve in future books.

There is already a second book to this series, "Too Much Blood" that Dr Munro has generously sent me to review as well.  I look forward to reading that book soon to see what kind of trouble Toni can get into now. :) 

My Rating: 3/5 stars (a solid start to a new series)

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Stolen (re-read)



Author: Kelley Armstrong
Genre: Supernatural, Canadian
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 461
Series: #2 in 'Women of the Underworld' series
Series Order:
  1. Bitten (2001) (for my review click HERE)
  2. Stolen (2002)
  3. Dime Store Magic (2004)
  4. Industrial Magic (2004)
  5. Haunted (2005)
  6. Broken (2006)
  7. No Humans Involved (2007)
  8. Personal Demon (2008)
  9. Living With The Dead (2008)
  10. Frost Bitten (2009)
  11. Waking The Witch (2010)
  12. Spellbound (2011)
  13. Thirteen (2012)
Publisher:  Vintage Canada
First Published: 2002
First Line: "He hated the forest."

Book Description: Elena Michaels may be the world's only female werewolf, but she's just a regular girl at heart - and she certainly doesn't believe in witches.  At least not until a forceful encounter with two small, ridiculously feminine women who lure her into a carefully laid trap ...

Vampires, demons, shamans, witches - in Stolen they all exist, and they're all under attack.  An obsessed tycoon with a sick curiosity is well on his way to amassing a private collection of supernaturals, and plans to harness their powers for himself - even if it means killing them.  For Elena, kidnapped and imprisoned deep underground, separated from her Pack, unable to tell her friends from her enemies, choosing the right allies is a matter of life and death."

My Thoughts:  Any regular readers of my blog know that I adore author Kelley Armstrong's 'Women of the Underworld' series.  She's not only Canadian but the woman can write, people!!  With 'Bitten' being such an amazing start to the series did I love 'Stolen' as much (even if this was the second time I'd read it?)  Oh yes.  Most definitely yes. 

Armstrong continues her series with yet another edge-of-your-seat read with strong female characters.  Stolen is also the book where Armstrong begins to introduce her readers to other supernatural races which makes the title of the series, Women of the Underworld, make much more sense.  These other races will eventually take over the storylines for several books.  I adore this idea of changing the protagonist every book or so.  It's not that we never see past main characters but when a new protagonist picks up the reigns it keeps things fresh.  While I luuurve Clay and Elena, putting them in the background for a few books makes me (without sounding too book geeky) miss them and gives the reader a fresh look into other 'races', namely witches, demons, vampires, shaman etc.

If I'm being honest I think that I enjoyed this book more than Bitten and one of the reasons is that we get a better picture of who Elena really is.  Sure she shows us her tougher side as she has to defend herself without the help of her mate, Clay.  But we also see a more fragile side to her as she begins to view her bond with Clay differently. 

But what really makes Elena's character more relatable and 'real' is how she reacts and feels when she's at her lowest -- dealing with the ruthless, power hungry and sadistic Ty Winslowe.  Ty's dehumanizing treatment of Elena reminds her of the horrible experiences that she had as a child.  The reader sees that Elena isn't always the tough werewolf and this acknowledgement makes her seem like a more believable and endearing character.  You want to root for her. 

If I had any negative things to say about this book is that I didn't get a strong feeling for some of the other supernaturals.  Knowing that the next book is taken over by Paige I was hoping to get to know her (and like her) a lot more in Stolen.  She was OK but not overly memorable or even all that likeable.

Kelley Armstrong remains one of my favourite authors and the fact that she is a fellow Canadian is the icing on the proverbial ... maple glazed donut.  She is an author who expertly understands how to balance all aspects of her books: romance, action, suspense, mystery ...  You cannot ask for more than that in a 'unputdownable' book.  I look forward to re-reading this series over the summer and getting reacquainted with all of the Women of the Underworld.

Highly recommended.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Greek Salad Dressing

I hope everyone spoiled their dear Moms and Grandmas/Nanas/Grannies/Omas etc with loads of attention and hugs last weekend for Mother's Day.  Personally, I love Mother's Day.  Not for the gifts but because I get to be the centre of attention.  Yup, I admitted it.  I do loves me some attention and I unabashedly use Mother's Day to get lots of hugs (even from my 13 year old who is not a fan of PDA at the best of times).  Most years, probably because the kids were young, I didn't make a big deal about it.  But since my kids are tweens and a teen I figured they're now old enough to learn how to pamper me. 

My boys had a big Scout Camporee (with 5,000 other Canadian and American Scouts) for the weekend but did manage to make it home on Sunday afternoon in order to thank me for giving them life among all the other things I give my children on a daily basis.  I started out the day with Brad and Missy Moo making me homemade pancakes in bed (topped with sliced strawberries and whipped cream, no less), bacon, OJ and the compulsory COFFEE.  A caffeinated mom is a sane happy mom, I always say.  It was all delicious!

I completed my day with a 90 minute soak in m'tub while I watched a few episodes of Elementary followed by all five of us making tacos for supper together and watching the final Survivor show (or at least most of it before bedtime).  It was a divine day and I milked it for all it's worth.  I even managed to talk to my own Mom who happened to fly back into Canada with my Dad after 2 weeks away in France.

In order to belatedly celebrate Mother's Day I thought I'd share a family favourite recipe from my Mom.  It's been in all of our recipe books for years and years and is definitely one of my all-time favourite salad dressings.  I actually whipped up a half batch of it for my lunch today (it's marinating some yellow peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and feta.  Mmmm!).  It's so versatile that it not only can be used as a salad dressing but makes a wonderful marinade for chicken, pork or pasta salads! 

There's just something so fresh about the flavour of this dressing over a bowl of diced tomato, cucumber, red onion, kalamata olives and peppers.  Go enjoy this and don't forget to hug your Mom 'just cuz'!!




2 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 tsp fresh lemon juice
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 cup olive or grapeseed oil


Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl.

Serve over a salad which includes:
Tomatoes
Cucumbers
Kalamata olives
Red onion
Greek pepper
cubes of Feta cheese
Romaine lettuce (optional)

Or, marinate chicken breasts/thighs or pork tenderloin overnight in this marinade.

Source: My Mom


Monday, 13 May 2013

Teatime For The Firefly



Author: Patel Shona
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Advanced Reading Copy (ARC)
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication Date: September 24, 2013
First Line: "My name is Layla and I was born under an unlucky star."

Book DescriptionMy name is Layla and I was born under an unlucky star. For a young girl growing up in India, this is bad news. But everything began to change for me one spring day in 1943, when three unconnected incidents, like tiny droplets on a lily leaf, tipped and rolled into one. It was that tiny shift in the cosmos, I believe, that tipped us together-me and Manik Deb. 

Layla Roy has defied the fates. Despite being born under an inauspicious horoscope, she is raised to be educated and independent by her eccentric grandfather, Dadamoshai. And, by cleverly manipulating the hand fortune has dealt her, she has even found love with Manik Deb-a man betrothed to another. All were minor miracles in India that spring of 1943, when young women's lives were predetermined-if not by the stars, then by centuries of family tradition and social order.

My Thoughts:  After adoring other books based in India (namely The Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda) I was eager to read another book set in the very rich culture of India.  From the book description I was expecting a story that showcased how the strict and limited role of women in India affected Layla who was raised by her very liberal thinking grandfather, Dadamoshai.  He believed that women weren't given enough opportunity to succeed due to their lack of education which only caused his numerous opponents to view him as upsetting the social order.  It was this discrepancy, between Layla's upbringing and the cultural role of women, I thought the book would showcase.

This was true in the beginning of the book and I really enjoyed seeing India through Layla's eyes and seeing how Layla struggled to fit into her very strict society.  Unfortunately as soon as Layla moves away to a tea plantation, in the middle of nowhere, the book takes a sudden turn.  It goes from following the relationship between Layla and Manik Deb to becoming focused on the politics of Indian tea plantations which slowed the pace of the book considerably.    

I have to admit that I continued reading the book in the hopes that the story would shift back to the initial feeling that I had in the beginning but unfortunately that never happened.  The pace lagged dramatically and the focus on the political issues of the time seemed to take centre stage.  While beautifully written and descriptive I unfortunately didn't enjoy this book as much as I would have hoped.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Note: My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin for providing me with a complimentary Kindle e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Thursday, 9 May 2013

Greek Pita Pizzas

I'm not sure about you but our family tends to not get overly excited about leftovers.  I can hear my kids' inner thoughts when I tell them what's on the menu "We just ate that meal and we have to eat it again?  Gah!".  Leftovers are kind of a drag ... unless they involve marinated Greek chicken thighs {for my Greek Chicken Marinade recipe click HERE}, pitas, Feta and Kalamata olives.  THIS, I can work with!
 
After the big family Greek supper that I hosted last week I had a plethora of Greek fare leftover.  What to do?  With a bag and a half of leftover pitas staring me in the face all of a sudden a mental picture of Greek pizzas popped into my head.  Opa! 
 
These little 'zzas were so good that we ate them two days in a row.  Unheard of, people!  That's leftovers squared!  I do believe I should get Bonus Mom Points for this one.  My family is not known for loving leftovers so the fact that I was going to offer up the same fare two days in a row (using leftovers t'boot) made me a little uneasy.  Would my offspring revolt and anarchy ensue?? Nope. 
 
My saving grace is that I had the forethought to offer up said leftovers in the form of pizza.  My kids love pizza {feta, kalamata olives and veggies not so much}.  With this pizza I still got the fresh veggies, olives and the marinated chicken that I love and with the addition of the tanginess of feta and cheese to hold it all in place?  Gastronomical love.  My kids opted for variations of toppings but all in all the supper was a success. 
 
 

Yield: 4 individual pizzas

4 large Greek pitas
1 cup roasted garlic hummus (I used President's Choice brand)
1 cup Feta cheese, cubed
1/2 cup green peppers, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup red onions, coarsely chopped
1 Roma tomato, seeded and diced OR 1/2 cup sun-dried in oil - coarsely chopped
1 cup Greek chicken, cooked and diced finely (see recipe HERE for Greek Chicken Marinade)
16 Kalamata olives -- pitts removed and cut in half or quartered
2 cups marble cheese, grated

Note: Next time I'll also try adding a jar of artichoke hearts too.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Spread hummus over pitas.  Be generous.  Roasted garlic hummus rocks!  Throw on all the yummy toppings.  Oh delish!




Now sprinkle with marble cheese. 

Bake for approximately 10 minutes or until marble cheese has melted and pitas are lightly browned.  Serve immediately.

Source: The Baking Bookworm

Related Recipes:
Greek Chicken Marinade
Layered Greek Dip


Monday, 6 May 2013

The Inquisitor's Wife: A Novel of Renaissance Spain


Author: Jeanne Kalogridis
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book ARC
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: St Martin's Press
To Be Published: May 7, 2013
First Line: "Christ-killers, they call us, but we did not crucify their Jesus; we were bitter exiles in Babylon when he died in Jerusalem."

Note: My thanks to St Martin's Press and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Description: In 1480 Seville, Marisol, a fearful young conversa (descendant of Spanish Jews forced to convert to Christianity), is ashamed of her Jewish blood. Forced into a sham marriage with a prosecutor for the new Inquisition, Marisol soon discovers that her childhood sweetheart, Antonio, has just returned to Seville and is also working for the inquisitors. When Marisol’s father is arrested and tortured during Spain’s first auto da fe, Marisol comes to value her Jewish heritage and vows to fight the Inquisition. When she discovers that her beloved Antonio is working to smuggle conversos safely out of Spain, she joins him and risks her life on behalf of her people; a passionate romance follows.

Unfortunately, Marisol does not realize that her supposedly kind and gentle inquisitor-husband has been using her all along to lead Antonio and her fellow conversos to their doom...


My Thoughts:  Historical Fiction is one of my favourite genres which simply means that I love learning about different eras in history with a great story thrown in for good measure.  So when I saw that this book was set in Spain during the Inquisition I jumped at the chance to review it.  Before reading this book I will sheepishly admit that I knew practically nothing about the Inquisition, Conversos or the horrors that the Jewish population had to endure in the 1400's. 

Being a big fan of Historical Fiction also means that I've read a lot of books in this genre.  A tonne.  Not necessarily from the same era but the style and feel of the genre is similar.  I figured picking up an historical fiction read would help to give me a general understanding of the era all wrapped up in a delicious storyline full of wonderful characters.  

While this book did open my eyes to the brutality and injustice of this period, overall I didn't find it quite as captivating as I was hoping.  I think this stems mainly from my lack of connection with the main character, Marisol.  She came off as very naïve and one-dimensional.  I didn't feel like I really got to know her (or the other characters very well).  I would have loved to get the point of view of Mariam, Marisol's servant as well as Gabriel, Marisol's new husband.  We get a brief glimpse into Mariam's life (one of my favourite parts of the book) but I would have loved to get her inner thoughts as Marisol's life was in turmoil.

And then there's Gabriel, Marisol's new husband.  The description given of him on the book (see excerpt above) notes that he is a 'kind and gentle inquisitor'.  I have a big issue with this description because that is the complete opposite of what his character is like. He wasn't in the book very much and when he was he was an absolute brute who only bowed down to his malicious brother.  Not sure why that was added into the synopsis but it is a far from fitting portrayal of the character.

My other issues with the book are the slow pace and the predictability.  Marisol seemed to be shocked at the reason for her marriage to Gabriel but unfortunately the reason was glaringly apparent to me right from the start.  Plus the surprise ending I saw coming from early on and I found that the ending was tied up much too neatly for my tastes and bordered on being an unlikely situation. 

I was truly hoping for a much more interesting and fast paced read full of interesting characters, drama and plot twists; a book that I could get lost in.  Unfortunately I found the pace so slow that I found myself glossing over paragraphs.  I felt that the characters under-developed and the plot twists were predictable.  

What this book did give me was a better understanding of the Inquisition as well as some of the history of the Jewish people during this time.  It showcases the blatant and undeserved malice and injustice that was shown towards an entire group of people merely because of their religion.  Unfortunately, as we all know, history would sadly repeat itself. 

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Can You Keep A Secret?


Author: Sophie Kinsella
Genre: Chick Lit
Type: Hardcover (own)
Number of Times Read: 2
Pages: 357
Publisher: The Dial Press (Random House)
First Published: March 2004
First Line: "Of course I have secrets."

Book Description
Meet Emma Corrigan, a young woman with a huge heart, an irrepressible spirit, and a few little secrets:

Secrets from her boyfriend: I’ve always thought Connor looks a bit like Ken. As in Barbie and Ken.

Secrets from her mother: I lost my virginity in the spare bedroom with Danny Nussbaum while Mum and Dad were downstairs watching Ben-Hur.

Secrets she wouldn’t share with anyone in the world: I have no idea what NATO stands for. Or even what it is.

Until she spills them all to a handsome stranger on a plane. At least, she thought he was a stranger... Until Emma comes face-to-face with Jack Harper, the company’s elusive CEO, a man who knows every single humiliating detail about her.


My ThoughtsThis was the second time that I read this book.  The first time that I read it (way back in May 2008) I rated it a 4.5/5 stars.  Ya, I loved it and found it hilarious.  This  surprised me because the other two Kinsella books that I had read (including the first Shopaholic book) I didn't love ... at all.

So how did I feel about this book the second time around?  Weellll, I liked it but didn't love it.  Perhaps it's because I kind of knew what to expect.  Or it could be that Chick Lit is becoming a genre that I tend to stay away from because I truly think that it's one of the hardest genres to write well -- at least if the author wants to impress me.  Either Chick Lit comes off as clichéd and silly or, if done well, it can show us a humourous journey as the main character 'finds herself'.  However you look at it this book didn't impress me as much the second time around. 

I know that one of the things that bothers me with Chick Lit in general is that it usually begins with a clichéd, dowdy and misunderstood main character who is typically a complete push-over and looking for the perfect man and/or dress size.   Unfortunately Emma is no exception for some of those clichés.  She is continually degraded by people around her (especially her cousin) and just takes it for the bulk of the book until she begins to view herself differently.  That's great that she 'finds herself' and 'comes into her own' but until then I wanted to reach into the book and shake some sense into Emma every time she didn't tell her cousin off after one of her negative comments about Emma's love life or career.  Gahhh!  I guess that's just not how I work.  I'd be sitting that cousin down and having a heart to heart.

I understand that chick lit is meant to give it's readers a nice, light and enjoyable read and not delve into heavy subjects or spark debates.  I get that.  But for a Chick Lit novel to impress me and keep my attention is quite rare.  The first time I read this book I remember feeling shocked that I enjoyed it so much because I hated Kinsella's first Shopaholic book.  I found 'Can You Keep A Secret?" to be quite funny and Emma to be an endearing character.  So you can either chalk this review up to me now being a more seasoned reader (or perhaps jaded) because this review's rating is much lower than my first rating or how masses of other readers feel about the book.

While this book did have some funny moments as Emma shares her inner-most secrets with a complete stranger (I even found them funny the second time around) those funny bits unfortunately didn't make up for the overall feel that I got from the book and the unease that I had reading about how Emma was used as a doormat.   

My Rating: 3/5 stars


Thursday, 2 May 2013

Layered Greek Dip

This past weekend I thought I'd host a big family get together.  I had one of my sister's and her family (my baby sister lives too far away for an impromptu get together), my mother-in-law and my parents.  It was a big send off to my world travelling parents as they got ready to leave for France the following day. 
 
Ya, this whole semi-retirement thing my parents are trying out?  Two months in Florida, a three week visit home then jet off to France with their friends?  Let's just say it doesn't suck ... at all.  It's lookin' pretty good from where I'm sitting.  I received a picture of them standing on the Eiffel Tower yesterday with the glory of gay Paris in the background. *sigh*  Yesterday the highlight of my day was getting the laundry washed, dried, folded AND put away on the same day.  You may now marvel at my awesomeness.
 
Anyway, I had decided to make a Greek feast for my guests because we all adore Greek food.  So I marinated 30 chicken thighs in my Greek Chicken Marinade (get that recipe HERE) which is one of my top recipes here on the blog.  It is divine, oh so easy and designed to impress your guests.  Seriously, you have to try it.
 
Tip: When you buy chicken thighs (or breasts which you then cut into small pieces) put them in a freezer Ziploc, pour this marinade over them, massage those thighs and freeze them!  This way they're already marinated and ready for the grill.  Plus, as they thaw they get that little extra marinating time.
 
Along with the glorious thighs I also made Lemon Roasted Greek Potatoes (recipe to follow soon because they were ahhh-mazing!!).  My sister made dessert as well as a Greek salad (using my Mom's infamous Greek Salad dressing -- this recipe will also make an appearance soon on the blog) and we had Greek pitas and copious amounts of Costco Tzatziki to round out the meal. 
 
To keep with the Greek theme I decided to make a dip as an appetizer.  So I decided to make a trip to Costco to buy my beloved Tzatziki.  Ahhh, Costco.  You magical mega superstore that sells everything from packages of pork chops that could feed the Duggar clan, to jungle gyms, DVD players and wall safes.  I'm still suspicious that Costco uses some kind of Vulcan mind control to get me to buy waaaay too much stuff but I have yet to prove my theory.  One of my favourite things to get there (besides their yoga pants) is their Tzatziki dip.  Oh man!  This stuff is awesome on pita, cucumber slices, in wraps, on your finger ... ya, I did it.  Don't judge me. 
 
So with this dip as a base, I added some Greek yogurt for that tangy little kick, topped it with store-bought roasted red pepper hummus (hummus is my new addiction) and fresh veggies and feta.  Did I cheat by using store-bought Tzatziki and hummus?  Depends who you ask.  You could try asking one of my 9 year old nephews but you would have a hard time getting an answer because his mouth was continuously stuffed with this dip.  He apparently didn't mind that Aunt Laurie didn't make it totally from scratch and neither did anyone else.  'Nuff said. 
 
This was a really delicious and impressive dip and will definitely be making a repeat performance this summer as we enjoy the sun while sitting in Costco lounge chairs wearing suntan lotion bought at Costco while watching the kids play Bocce ball, you guessed it, bought at Costco.  

 

1/2 cup Greek yogurt (I used 2%)
1 cup Tzatziki sauce (I adore the Skotidakis brand sold at Costco)
I (7oz) container of Sabra Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, cut in quarters
1/2 cup fresh tomatoes, seeded and chopped OR sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
1/2 cup red onion, finely diced
1 cup English cucumber, finely diced
3/4 cup Feta cheese, crumbled

In a medium bowl, combine the Greek yogurt and the Tzatziki sauce until well blended.  Spread over the bottom of a pie plate or serving dish.

Carefully spread the hummus over the Tzatziki mixture. 

Top with the remaining ingredients leaving the feta as the last addition.  Serve with mini pitas, crackers or nacho chips.  Store in refrigerator if not using right away.

Source: The Baking Bookworm

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