Silk Road Vegetarian is my second Cookbook review. I chanced upon this gem of a cookbook while in a local bookstore desperately looking for a book for our next Book Club discussion. We couldn't agree on anything specific then and while browsing, the cashier said that there was a 20% discount storewide and I got quite excited when she told me that. I quickly moved to the Cooking section and after browsing for 20 minutes through various other titles including those from renowned chef Nigella Lawson, only this book - Silk Road Vegetarian - got my attention.
I can imagine you asking or wondering why in the world would anyone be buying cookbooks when the Internet is filled with throes of online recipes? Its always nice to hold a book and review the recipes and salivate over the gorgeous pictures. Physical books have thousands of years of history and I still believe in them.
This Cookbook traces the culinary journey of Dahlia Abraham -Klein whose ancestors headed east from ancient Israel to central Asia, joining countless other travellers in the Silk Route, where both commodities and cultures mingled. The Silk Route was an ancient network of trade routes connecting the East and the West and stretching from the Korean Peninsula and Japan to the Mediteranean Sea. As you can see in the map above it stretches from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkmenistan, and passed through India and China.
Dahlia has now settled in New York but has captured her family recipes very beautifully in this book. The food she grew up with was an intermarriage of exotic tastes from Asian, African, European, Indian and even some latin dishes. The book opens with her culinary pilgrimage.
The Contents Page
It will be quite a useful book for all beginner cooks - The Spice Pantry covers the different spices which were a vital commodity in the Silk Road and without which our food will be so so bland. Needless to say. She explains with pictures what is a cardamom, fennel seeds and the different types of grains specifically for the novice cook. The basic preparation also covers freezing vegetables which I thought was something useful to know.
Diving into the recipes proper, Dahlia has divided her recipes into 8 section and starts off with the very Basics :
Basics - e.g Hummus Dip, North African Chilli Paste
Appetizers - e.g. Persian Cucumber Yoghurt Dip
Soup - e.g. Lentil & Carrot Soup
Salads - e.g Middle Eastern Lemon Potato Salad
Main dishes - e.g Sweet-Savoury Chickpea Curry
Rice Dishes - e.g - Swiss Chard Pilaf
Side Dishes e.g - Sesame Noodles
Desserts - e.g. Halvah Parfait
All in all, 122 recipes have been shared in Silk Road Vegetarian and Dahlia has categorised then under Vegan, Gluten Free or Dairy Free for the health conscious. Each recipe is wholesome and delicious. A real keeper.
My 14 year old daughter Ranya told me to read this book. She said it is a moving book and that she couldn't stop crying when she reached the ending. It wasn't a thick book so I agreed (I actually agreed more to avoid her 'How come you can read Riya's book? (having read Riya's literature book Wonder) But not mine?'
Stolen is Lucy Christopher's (See author's picture below) debut 2009 novel and published in UK. The book is set in the Great Sandy Desert of Australia. It tells the story of 16 year old British Gemma who is waiting for her flight in Bangkok on her way to Vietnam with her parents. 24 year old Ty kidnaps her and takes her to Australia and holds her captive in a shack in the middle of dry sandy hot desert. Gemma finds out that he has been stalking her for the last 6 years and that his motive for kidnapping her was to make her fall in with him! ( Dude - there are so many other ways to make a girl fall in love with you. Kidnapping her is definitely not an option!)
Gemma tries to escape but fails. Ty finds her and brings her back to the shack and nurses her with tender loving care. Gemma starts falling in love with him... will she eventually stay back with him isolated from the world with no other person in sight and with only camels, chickens, snakes and lizards for company? Or will she somehow escape and get back with her parents? You have to read the novel to find out.
Stolen is written from Gemma's perpective as a letter to her captor Ty. It has been classified under young adult fiction . But I thought the novel was written very well. Not once did I feel that I was reading from a 16 year old's view. There are basically only 2 main characters Gemma and Ty and little here and there is written about her friends back home, Anna, Ben, Josh and a female camel they catch in the dessert. When Ty asks Gemma what name to give her, Gemma replies Stolen because she has been stolen away from her herd. Very nicely said, Gemma.
Stolen has won a couple of awards Branford Boase Award, Printz Honor Award and shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Literary Award. It has also been translated into French, Greek, German and Dutch.
I would recommend this book definitely to any teenagers or young adults. It comprises 304 pages. Available online in Amazon or check out any of your local bookstores.
The Constant Princess is Philippa Gregory's 2005 historical fiction novel set in Tudor England in the 1400s- 1500s. It is essentially the story of Queen Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife and her rise to power in England.
The novel begins with scenes in the borders of Spain where Princess Catalina, as a 3 year old, sees her mother's astounding tenacity and willpower. Queen Isabella leads her army against the Moors and eventually captures Spain. Catalina is betrothed to the ill-fated crown Prince of England, Arthur. As a child bride, Princess Catalina of Spain becomes Princess of Wales at the age of 16. Prince Arthur dies after just 5 months of marriage and in his deathbed, he extracts a promise from Catalina that she will marry his brother Harry (Henry VIII ) so as to ensure she becomes Queen of England.
Henry VII, her father-in-law lusts after her and proposes marriage instead. She initially accepts but gives up the idea when she realises that she will not have any power over England. Bitterly rejected, Henry VII betroths Harry to Catalina but refuses to give her her allowance forcing her and her Spanish entourage into poverty. After 7 long years of waiting where her father-in-law dies suddenly of an illness, Harry (Henry VIII) finally marries Catalina and becomes Queen of England. She then has complications in her pregnancy, miscarriage and then subsequently her firstborn a boy, declared Duke Of Cornwall, dies tragically 2 months later. The Scots declare war on England and the novel ends where Queen Katherine leads her English army to a glorious victory.
It was my first historical fiction and I found it quite intense. I took 2 weeks to read 528 pages paperback but I could have easily finished it in a week, if not for my usual distractions. It is a lively read, no doubt. There were narrative hooks, motifs, character contrasts and comparisons that kept the story connected. If you like history, you would like this novel. Even though her resolve to become Queen of England at any cost was admirable, I did feel sorry for Queen Katherine as I felt she had a hard life, facing one unfortunate event in her life after another. Even in the end, she fights for her marriage and fights to remain the Queen of England till she dies. Her immense patience and perseverance through all her misfortune and to wait 7 long years in poverty and misery - hats off to Queen Katherine!
We had our book club discussion about The Constant Princess on Monday and we had a lively chat about the internal strength of Queen Katherine. We discussed about how our own mothers have had such a tremendous deep influence on us and on our values that sees us through this day.
During our discussions, we try to have food that somehow follows the the theme of the book we are discussing. (See Picture below). As The Constant Princess was set in Spain, England and involved France, I had prepared Spanish Omelette and Spanish Balsamic Chickpea Salad. Angie brought scones and we also had fruit cakes (from Aparna), nuts (from Sherin) and mini French Baguettes. We washed it down with cold ice lemon tea and hot coffee afterwards. All in all, we had a wonderful Book Club brunch at my place. We have grown from 3 to 7 in 6 months! (Two other ladies couldn't join us yesterday.)
We are always on the lookout for new members. If you live in the East of Singapore and you're a devoted reader, we welcome you to join us. Do feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Constant Princess is available in Amazon for US$7. There are other books in the series too... The Other Boleyn Girl, The Virgin's Lover, The Queen's Fool etc. We have laid off historical fiction for a while to give ourselves a break from an intense read. Look out for my next book review soon on Stolen by Lucy Christopher.
Wonder by R J Palacio is my first children's novel to review. In between books and while waiting for The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory for our next Book Club discussion in March, Riya my 12 year old passed me her school Literature book to read. Being a Potterhead, she has been bugging me to read the entire Harry Potter series! I have been evading her citing housework and the fact that there are like 7 thick books to read, for a while now. So I couldn't escape this time :)
Wonder is a 2012 novel and has received many awards and recognition.
One of Time Magazine's
100 Best Young Adult Books
of all Time
An Entertainment Weekly
10 Great Kids' Books
A Parent Magazine's
Top 10 Book of the Year
Wonder is soon to be a major motion picture and is a #1 New York Times Bestseller.
August Pullman or Auggie as he is fondly called is born with a facial abnormality. Home schooled till 10, his mom decides to send him to a public school in Grade 5. He joins Breecher Prep School, New York with much reluctance. Being a new kid in a school is already hard. Imagine being a new kid with facial difference from the rest?? How can he convince his classmates and schoolmates that he is just like them inside, despite his E T like appearance?
It is a nice feel good book with a lot of lessons to be learnt. Told from the perspectives of Auggie, his sister Olivia, his good friends Jack, Summer and Olivia's best friend Miranda and split into 8 parts. Some quotes from the novel :
'Your deeds are your monuments. We should be remembered for the things we do. They are more important than what we look like or what we say' - Auggie in English class.
'Funny how sometimes you worry a lot about something and it turns out to be nothing' - Auggie when he gets a hearing aid.
'...You don't need your eyes to love, right? You just feel it inside you...Its just love, and no one forgets who they love.' - Auggie's sister Olivia when asked how do people recognize each other in heaven.
'Kinder than necessary...Because its not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed. Wherever you are, whenever you can, if you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary - the world would be a better place'. Mr Tushman, principal of Breecher Prep School giving his graduation speech.
Excellent for pre teens and even 8 - 10 year olds to read. I thought it was little youngish for a 12 -13 year old, though. Consisting of 310 pages in medium sized font, Wonder would make a lovely gift for your children, nieces or nephews.
R J Palacio is an American author living in New York. Her chance encounter one day with an extraordinary child in front of an ice cream store made her realize the time has come for her to write her first novel. Wonder is the product of that realization.
'Americans like pregnant women...it baffles me that these self-righteous, self-enthralled waddlers get special treatment. As if its so hard to spread your legs and let a man ejaculate between them.'
I chuckled when I read that. Witty. Hilarious. Thrilling. Reading Gone Girl - the 2012 New York Times #1 Bestseller from acclaimed author Gillian Flynn is the best thing I have done so far this year. I have watched the movie twice and I still wanted to read the novel knowing the ending fully well. What does this say about the movie?? The fact that I watched it twice and still got hooked enough to want to read the novel?? (I'll come to that later).
Gone Girl is a runaway hit thriller novel. Reviews of this bestseller has been done thousands of times online and in print. It has become so successful, that some believe that it has already achieved a cult novel in the thriller genre. I guess I am quite late to review this book but I just had to. It was a very very brilliantly written novel.
Gillian Flynn has written Dark Places and Sharp Objects earlier but none of them skyrocketed to global fame like Gone Girl. It packs a winning formula of intriguing, frightening and enchanting readers all at once.
The novel is about Nick Dunne whose wife Amy Elliot Dunne disappears on their 5th wedding anniversary in Missouri. The journey Nick and the detectives take to find the 'Gone Girl' is crazily twisted. Told through alternating voices, the day by day chilling discoveries tumble out the skeletons in the closet. Shocking, disbelieving.
Some interesting quotes from the book,
From Amy :
'I could build my days around charity committees and home decorations and gardening and volunteering, and I don't think there's anything wrong in building a life around those things. The most beautiful good things are done by women people scorn.' (Interesting)
He came home from work and kissed me full on the lips... I almost cried. I'd been so lonely. To be kissed on the lips by your husband is the most decadent thing.' (Arguable)
'Tampon commercial, detergent commercial, maxipad commercial, Windex commercial. You'd think all women do is clean and bleed' (Funny)
From Nick :
'She was gone, yet she was more present than anyone else' (profound)
I honestly didn't expect the ending. It was beyond my imagination. How could Ms Flynn come up with such twists, such turns in the story? With so many different baffling ideas? Where does she get her inspiration from? An amazing storyline. An equally amazing totally unexpected ending. Ms Flynn is a very gifted author. Gillian Flynn is now my current favourite author.
I was comparing Ms Flynn to Ms Rowling - author of the Harry Potter series. We have a potterhead at home -my 12 year old Riya- and we watch the movies often. We always discuss how Ms Rowling could have come up with such intelligent ideas for her series. Another truy gifted author.
Comprising 415 pages in very small print, I took 2 weeks to read the book which explains why this review is so late. Gillian Flynn's novels have been published in 40 languages worldwide.
The movie was released in 2015 and I believe it was the best movie adaptation I have seen so far. Directer by David Fincher ( the same director who directed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and starring cool handsome Ben Affleck and beautiful blond Rosamund Pike. The ending of the movie was slighly different from that of the novel. But no change in story line. The soundtrack was equally amazing. Composed by Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross. I especially liked Sugar Storm.
I was blown away first by the movie, then by the music and then by the novel. Read it to love it.
Available at most bookstores for US$ 10.
' A woman is like a tea bag, you never know what she's made of until you put her in hot water'
Honestly, when I read that I really wanted to laugh out loud. Come on, its so cheesy - who ever said that, we must put him or her in hot water! And to think a well known author would actually use this painfully awkward line in her book? What was she thinking??
Ok, I selected this book The Good Neighbour by A J Banner because the synopsis sounded really interesting. It is basically about Sarah Phoenix, a writer settles into life with her new doctor husband Johnny McDonald in Shadow Cove, Washington. One evening, when Johnny is away , a fire breaks out at her neighbour's place, destroying Sarah's happiness. She soon discovers an undercurrent of deception. She is forced to doubt everything around her - her neighbours, her friends and even her own loving husband. She is forced to ask - Can we really know the ones we love?
I did not enjoy reading this book, at all. It is supposed to be a riveting psychological thriller with unexpected twiets and turns. I fell for it!! Instead , I felt like I was reading my 14 year old daughter's essay! It didn't enrapture me like my earlier novels. It wasn't a delicious read. It was written just too simply and the story was unbelievable. The characters in this book never developed beyond boring cliches and stereotypes. Ms Banner relied a lot on decribing clothing, jewelry and scents rather than details which would actually reveal the characters' personality...I finished it quickly for 2 reasons - to start on my next book as I was so bored of this one and secondly to keep to my resolution to write one book review every week.
One other thing that kept nagging me throughout. I believe A J Banner is a psuedonym for Anjali Bannerji ( I saw this on the first few pages Text Copyright@ Anjali Bannerji and A J Banner was born in India). I think Ms Bannerji had wanted her name to sound more western to appeal to a wider audience. I believe she didn't want readers to write her off as another Indian writer. This is all my conjecture but could it be that she may not be proud of her Indian roots? Quite sad if it is so. You must always to be truthful to yourself. I shared my assumption with my girls. Riya, my 12 year old who then questioned me, 'Well, would you have bought the novel if she had used her real name?' I replied "Of course!' For me, a good book is a good book. Regardless of who wrote it. I do hope I am wrong in my overthinking.
Anyway, the 194 pages of this novel are easily readable in a few days. If you an avid reader, you will be bored out of your wits and you would definitely struggle to finish it. I should have read the review first. Available in amazon.com for US$9.
'I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark....'
Dark Places tells the story of a 7-year old Libby Day who escapes from a horrible night in 1985, in Kinnakee, Kansas where her family is brutally murdered. I mean really brutally - axes and head blowing shotguns involved. She testifies that her 15 year old brother Ben did it. Then 25 years later, in desperate need of money, she reconnects with the players of that night to turn her tragic history into something money worthy. Through this process, Libby discovers the unimaginable truth and she finds herself back where she started - on the run from the killer!
I must say - this novel is indeed dark. As it was my first horror novel, I was quite apprehensive to continue after Page 47. I didn't read this novel in the evening too. It was just too scary. I did not want it to go to my head and give me nightmares... I mean when I read this Schoolyard Rhyme at the beginning,
The Days were a clan that mighta lived long
But Ben Day's head got screwed on wrong
That boy craved dark Satan's power
So he killed his family in one nasty hour
Little Michelle he strangled in the night
Then chopped up Debby: a bloody sight
Mother Patty he saved for last
Blew off her head with a shotgun blast
Baby Libby somehow survived
But to live through that ain't much a life
I knew I was about to embark on a really dark sinister novel. My 14 year old daughter Ranya read the rhyme and got a bit shaken. What a gruesome gory intro and it didn't help when so many bone chilling details were given in the actual murder accounts. And then there was another equally detailed account of a cow being sacrified to appease the Devil. I actually skipped that page! ( Shudder ). I can imagine what is going on in your mind. What a choice of a book to read!! I know, right??!! No, I didn't regret reading it.. Surprisingly. Thanks Aparna :)
The storyline was quite interesting and was well written. It was a real page turner. Libby's horrible encounter and what happens growing up with that kind of nightmare was well documented. She has become social outcast and can't leave a house or any place, for the matter, without stealing something. Anything small like salt shakers or body lotions....
As it was due for our book club meeting last Thursday, I had to read like 50 pages per day. It was really intense reading for a few days. I finished the 340 pages as quickly as I could - no choice, I had to. Not much blogging, not much watching TV or using my IPad. Just a whole lot of reading in between housework. I welcomed it. In fact, I actually get excited looking forward to read :) (Am I crazy or what?) It is so relaxing - a novel in my hand and a cup tea/coffee next to me. My kind of bliss. My family knows how much I love to read. Forget make-up, forget clothes or bags...Give me a great novel anytime and you will be in my 'good list' forever :))
Am I digressing? Anyway, if you don't mind a whole lot of mention of Satan, Devil etc and a lot of gruesome grisly details, do go ahead and read this book. Its not a yawn definitely. Voted one of the best books to read of 2009 by The New Yorker, a #1 New York Times Bestseller. Dark Plaes has also been made into a movie in 2015 starring Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz and Nicholas Hoult. Don't bother watching this movie. It totally failed to capture the darkness of the novel. Taken very lightly. Worse book adaptation ever.
Dark Places, the novel, is available at Amazon at US$11 paperback version.
Have you come across a story told so well that you soon start believing it to be real? When the lines between fiction and non fiction start to blur? When every dream, every hope and every tragedy seems like your own?
Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen is an emotionally powerful story about a family whom you will not forget. It revolves around Mimi Miller who recounts her life, beginning in the 1960s in Miller's Valley, a small rural town in Pennsylvania, America. We are introduced to Mimi when she is 11 and she lives with her parents and her two older brothers Edward and Tommy. Her Aunt Ruth (who harbors a terrible secret) lives in a small house behind Mimi's and never leaves the confines of her home.
Her family has been rooted in Miller's Valley for generations, 200 years in fact. The farmlands have been threatened by government officials who want to transform the flood prone area into a reservoir. Imagine flooding 6400 acres of old family farms, small ramshackle homes and drowning the entire valley under water?? As the river is released in little by little dampening the ground, it also seems to drown people little by little, forcing secrets to surface and people losing their way of life. As Mimi grows up and faces life's challenges, she realises that the people whom she counted on are not there for her anymore. The only stolidity in her rapid changing world is Donald, her childhood friend who lives in California. The story ends when Mimi is 65.
Told entirely through Mimi, Ms Quindlen makes her characters so alive and so believable. A very interesting moving novel. A bit of a twist at the end, which I didn't see it coming. Kept me glued to its pages. So much so that my husband actually asked me - 'what is this -some marathon reading race?' I finished it in 3 days. I could have read the entire 257 pages in hardback sooner, if not for the mountainous amount of laundry after returning home from our year end holiday.
Some interesting quotes :
' I have clear memories from that time, but they are not the ones you'd think. They are never the ones you think....No, its strange little moments that live inside you and keep peeking out the windows that open suddenly in your mind.'
' Sometimes there are things that you have rehearsed so many times, thought about so often, that when they happen, its like they already happened a long long time ago.'
' No one ever leaves the town they grew up, even if they go'
Miller's Valley reminds us that the place you grew up can disappear but the people who lived in it will go on to live in your heart forever.
Available in Amazon for US$18 paperback.
My first thought when I began reading this book - oh gosh! 486 pages? How will I finish it in time for my other novels? I have a huge pile of books that are sitting quite snugly next to me on my bedside table. I have a habit of ordering as many books as I can online on Amazon. Since its coming from America and I want to save on shipping, I do mass ordering of books - sometimes forgetting that I already own the same book! Recently I had ordered Before I go to Sleep by S J Watson only to reaise that I had the earlier edition of the same book collecting dust in my study cupboard!! Plus I am more into psychological thrillers these days because of my recent reading of The Girl on the Train. So I was pondering as to whether I will find Big Little Lies interesting (I had ordered this book much earler) ...But I managed to finish this novel in a week!
Big Little Lies is a 2014 novel written by Liane Moriarty. Her main inspiration for the story came from a radio interview she heard where a woman recounted her parents' abusive relationship. Even as an adult, she would hide under her bed to escape from her parents' screaming matches - a scene she incorporated into the novel. This novel is considered as one of the top 10 books that every book club should discuss. Well we haven't discussed it yet in our Book Club. But I think we'll lay off Liane Moriarty for a while having already discussed two of her books recently.
Big Little Lies is essentially about the friendship between 3 women who are at crossroads of their lives. Madeline, Jane and Celeste all have their kids entering kindergarten at Perriwee Public School. Jane's son Ziggy is accused of bullying another classmate which he vehemently denies. While discussing the lives of these 3 women and how the parents handle Ziggy's supposed bullying, the novel leads us to the Trivia Night where there is a murder.
This is a women's murder mystery. Till the end, I didn't know who is going to be murdered and who does it. Suspenseful and at times hilarious, I liked the way this book is written - it is a mix of the narration of the weeks leading up to Trivia Night ending with snippets of interviews given by the people involved after that dreadful night.There are many twists along the way which kept me hooked. It addresses many serious issues like bullying in schools, domestic violence, single motherhood, beauty obsessed society.
On the downside, I did feel there was too much attention given to detail - the reader doesn't need to know that Celeste lived in a massive tall sprawling house with soaring cathedral ceilings etc. A mansion would have sufficed, don't you think? I dislike draggy overly descriptive books - Yawn. Books that go straight to the point interests me like The Girl on The Train. I gave up Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan after the first few chapters!! Too much details!! Too much. ( I am using much instead of many on purpose - they are uncountable !)
Overall, I would recommend this book if you don't have anything else good to read. It is not a dark book and definitely not scary. It did raise a few questions in my head when reading certain parts like
'Sometimes, doing the wrong thing was also right'
'The mother sets the definitive tone in every family'
'There are so many levels of evil in this world'
Big Little Lies has been made into a TV series starring Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley. Watch the series if you don't feel like reading 486 pages. But do be prepared to be disappointed - in my experience, the movie or the Tv series is never as good as the novel. I watched the movies Me Before You and The Girl on the Train and they both failed to capture and deliver the essence and drama of the novels. Can't blame the producer - he/she has to squeeze an entire novel into so few hours. Anyway, get this novel at Amazon for around US$10 or at your local bookstore. Happy reading!