Thursday, 27 June 2013

Roasted Greek Lemon Potatoes

Today is the last day of school for my small humans.  Some moms are jumping for joy at the thought of time with their beloved offspring.  Others are a little fearful of so MUCH time with their kids. 

If I'm being honest, I greet this day with equal doses of the following:
  • eagerness at the thought of no more lunches to pack
  • delighting in no extracurricular schedules (which lessens the chaos)
  • more time with my kids to do fun stuff or just hang out
  • more time and energy to cook for my family
  • exhaustion from the past few months of chaos
  • and ... let's be honest a little bit of nervousness at the thought of having everyone at home again full-time and the ensuing nattering the plagues my spawn when they're together with too much down time
I have decided to embrace the positive.  I honestly do look forward to just hangin' poolside at my parents' with the kids and their cousins and going on day trips here and there. 

I am not a newbie parent though.  I know that the nattering will come and the dreaded "I'm booooored.".  To combat the inevitable boredom of being at home with no school work (do the kids not remember sitting in class for hours on end?) I have decided to make an "I'm Bored" jar.  Each time one of the kids says that dreaded phrase they can pick a folded slip of paper out of the jar.  It will either have a fun thing to do (play a game, go for a swim, go for an ice cream cone) or they also run the risk of having a chore to do (walk the dog, mow the lawn, do laundry, clean a bathroom).  Bwah ha ha.  Busy, happy kids, less of the whiny "I'm bored!" AND a cleaner house?  Yes, folks, it can be done!

But I digress.  You came here for a recipe so let's get to it ......

I made these spectacular spuds awhile ago for a big family meal and they were a hit. These are tangy and crispy bites of heaven!  The fresh lemon juice (please do not evah use bottled lemon juice.  It is not the same!) and crispy edges truly make this side dish stand out.

For this big family Greek feast I had also made grilled chicken thighs (using my Greek Chicken Marinade --- my most visited recipe here on the blog!), my Mom's Greek salad (links to those recipes are below) and these spuds which totally stole the show for the adults.  Yup, these potatoes rocked as did the entire meal of which we had no leftovers! 

You know that I like a dish a lot when I sneak back into the kitchen under the pretense of starting coffee for dessert when really I'm snagging the last couple of potatoes for myself.  I'm nothing if not the ideal hostess.  My potatoes!!  Mine, I say!

You just gotta try these delightfully tangy spuds and if you haven't tried my Greek Chicken Marinade or my Mom's delicious Greek Salad Dressing you are missing out people.  Go on and follow the links if you're in the mood for an easy, yet delish Greek feast for you and yours.

Happy summer holidays!!  Wishing you sanity, a cleaner house and fun memories of spending time together!

2lbs potatoes, peeled
2 lemons
4 tbsp grapeseed (or olive oil)
1/3 cup chicken broth
1 tsp oregano (dried)
1/4 tsp salt
large pinch of black pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp sea salt

Garnish: crumbled feta cheese (if desired)

Preheat oven to 400F.

Cut potatoes in half (or thirds) so they're approximately the same size.

Zest one lemon.  Juice both lemons and put juice and the zest from the one lemon into a large bowl.  Add to the bowl: the oil, chicken broth, oregano, 1/4 tsp salt, a large pinch of black pepper and garlic cloves.  Mix well.

Add the potatoes to the bowl and toss until the potatoes are coated in the lemon mixture.  Pour potatoes and all of the lemon mixture into a baking dish, ensuring that they are in a single layer.  You will have a lot of moisture.  Don't worry 'bout it!

Sprinkle sea salt over the potatoes.  Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and turn potatoes.  Return them to the oven and bake an additional 20-30 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through.

Sprinkle with crumbled feta, if desired.

Serve with:
Chicken marinated in my Greek Chicken Marinade (my most popular recipe!)
Greek Salad (with my Mom's infamous and well used Greek Salad Dressing )
Greek pitas and Tzatziki sauce

Monday, 24 June 2013

The Fault in our Stars

Note: If you have a moment I'd love it if you'd consider Pinning this blog post to your Pinterest account.  Just hover your cursor over the picture above (or any picture in any of my future posts) and a 'Pin It' button will appear {just like magic!}.  Click on the 'Pin It' button and share this post with all of your Pinterest peeps!  By pinning you'll also have an easy way to find your way back here!  If you'd like to follow me on Pinterest you can find me HERE.

Author: John Green
Genre: Modern Fiction, YA
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 313
Publisher: Dutton Books
First Published: 2012
First Line: "Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death."

Book DescriptionDespite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

My Thoughts: This is a book that I noticed months ago while perusing the aisles at my local Chapters and it was put on my 'TBR (To Be Read) List' immediately.  It's gotten a lot of hype (which may or may not be the kiss of death for a book).  In this case the hype is warranted.

This was a touching read.  Even though you know it's going to be a sad book (it deals with teenagers with cancer-ravaged bodies) and will, most likely, deal with death it doesn't detract from enjoying this book.  You'd think that a book that focuses on a group of teens with cancer would be a huge tear fest from beginning to end but for the most part this book was funny and, in a strange way, uplifting and oh so very touching.  Yes, it's a veritable roller coaster of emotions.  But it works.

For me, what makes this book stand out are the characters.  Not only are Hazel and Augustus well-rounded and completely engaging characters but the secondary characters, including Isaac and the sets of parents, are all complete and give believable voices to the book.  It's these characters and their relationships with each other that truly shine in this book.

Let's get back to Hazel and Augustus.  I loved Hazel from the first line of the book.  Her dry wit, sarcasm and humour.  Loved her.  Augustus held his own too and I adored their hilarious banter.  He had some amazing lines in the book that I immediately wrote down because they were just 'that good'.  Here's some of my favs ...

"Oh, I wouldn’t mind, Hazel Grace. It would be a

privilege to have my heart broken by you.”

"But, while not all stories have happy endings, 
it doesn’t make their journey any less beautiful."

“That’s the thing about pain… It demands to be felt.”

"Some infinities are bigger than other infinities"
“I love you present tense”
Some would argue that 'normal teenagers' don't speak like Hazel and Augustus.  I know that I didn't sound quite so cool at that age but, man, would I loved to have been!  I will admit that they had a certain "Dawson's Creek/more mature than their years" way of speaking.  But, I loved their sarcasm and just their voices in general. {I'm actually a little surprised and impressed at how well John Green got into the head of a teenage girl.} 
Hazel, Augustus (and even Isaac) were believable even if how they said what they said was a little mature for them.  Plus, these aren't normal teens.  These are kids who have dealt with cancer and the threat of death for YEARS.  Honestly, I found Hazel and Augustus to have a more quirky feel to them than being too unbelievably mature for their age.  These teens, after years of treatments, losing friends to the disease that they themselves have, trying to stay strong for their families and friends ... have accepted their fates.  They have cancer.  Cancer SUCKS but their cancers don't define or limit who they are.  They still have life to live.  That's empowering and uplifting.

One of the things that I liked was getting an inside view into the life of a teen with cancer.  Hazel was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer at the age of 13.  Since then she knows that death is hovering over her but with the help of a miracle drug she has been able to lead a pretty normal life (even though she has to lug an oxygen tank around with her for when her lungs suck at being lungs).  Hazel knows she's living on borrowed time and she hates feeling like an emotional grenade so she tries as hard as possible to minimize the emotional shrapnel that she'll cause her friends and family when she finally dies.  Hazel is hunkering down for the inevitable ... until she meets Augustus. 

The one and only thing that I felt detracted from me giving this a full on "5 star review" was the addition of the book storyline (a book that Hazel and Augustus are infatuated with).  It broke away from their relationship and, I feel, bogged down the storyline too. It may also stem from the fact that I just didn't 'get' the book.

This is a book about the strength of the human spirit, the bravery and resilience of a bunch of teens who were dealt a really tough lot in life.  It shows the nastiness of cancer and the strength we gain from connecting with others.  It reminds us that we can still make a huge impact on the lives of our loved ones even if we may not be around long enough to make an impact on the world at large. 

Here's a quote from the book that sums up how I feel about this book:

"I fell in love the way you fall asleep.  Slowly.  Then all at once." 

Oh yes.  This book got to me slowly and totally captivated me before I knew what was coming. 

Highly recommended.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

I Suffer From "The End of School" Mom Syndrome. Do YOU?

Have you read Jen Hatmaker's "Worst End of School Year Mom Ever" blog post?  If not, then you have to go HERE and check it out.  The woman nails how I currently feel about the ca-raziness of the last few weeks (ok, months) of school.

You all know that I'm a self-proclaimed "Type-A/arrive 30 minutes before all appointments/fresh baked goods in the kids' lunches/Bookworm Family social coordinator extraordinaire", right?  That's how I roll ... at least for the first 8 months of school. 

See, at the end of August I eagerly get the kids and their school stuff ready as I hum the Staple's commercial jingle 'It's the MOST wonderful time of the year.'  After 9 weeks of the kids being home and beginning their ever increasing mantra of 'I'm BOOOORED' the kids are going back to school!  Huzzah!  At the beginning of September my small humans have their backpacks cleaned; pencil cases are filled with sharpened pencils, erasers and colourful pencil crayons galore!  Gym clothes smell like a fresh summer's rain.  Running shoes have laces that aren't frayed and their socks are a gleaming white.  Planners are neatly filled out and homemade nutritious lunches are packed with love.  I am the master of the beginning of the school year!  I own it, people!

But things, sadly, do not stay that way.  Jump ahead to late May and the entire month of June and you'll see how my organizational prowess takes a disastrous nose dive.  We go from the blissful September leisurely mornings to eight months later where someone is screaming that they can't find their planner in order for me to initial them; I'm told money is needed today for a school trip I knew nothing about; gym clothes haven't been washed in so long they could stand up on their own volition and quite frankly, Scarlett?  I just don't give a d-mn.  Yup, this Mom has left the building by the end of May. 

By late May -- Stick a fork in me ... I'm done.

It's not that I don't care by the end of the year ... ok, that's part of it.  But mainly I'm just tired.  Oh so very tired of keeping track of three kids' busy schedules.  Plus I work part time, Brad's been extremely hectic at work, we've been busy with Boy 1 getting his Chief Scout award, and he's graduating Grade 8 as well as packing to go to the national Scout Jamboree THREE provinces away from me.  Plus we have Boy 2 and his karate and field trips and Missy Moo is scheduling play dates with her BFFs well into the new millennia and suddenly wants an intricate Greek inspired dress made from scratch for her Social Studies class -- and she knows that her Mom may bake and DIY but she does NOT sew, people! Not a stitch! 

Honestly, by the end of the year the fact that the kids get off to school on time with a decent lunch (and not a random can of Zoodles thrown into their lunch bags, a can opener) makes me feel like a rock star.  Oh, how fast and far the mighty have fallen.

Needless to say, this mom has reached her organizational and energy limit by May but I also don't want to be "The Mom Who Forgot or Didn't Participate".   In case you weren't aware there's a lot of fierce Mom Competition out there and to opt to not do something 'just cuz' goes against my inner Momness.  I want to do it all but I'm learning that by the end of the year I have to pick and choose how much I can do if I want to stay sane ... and that makes me a little sad because I don't want to miss out on a minute of my kids growing up.  I love a smooth running family and unfortunately right now The Bookworm Family truckster is a jalopy just trying to putt-putt its way over the end of school finish line.  We'll make it but we may not look pretty doing it.

Today was another indicator that I need a vay-cay from chaos.  Missy Moo had her track and field meet.  I had the day off so I said I'd drive over and watch her compete in the relay race.  I looked in my calendar this morning and noticed that it was at the university stadium. That couldn't be right.  I obviously typed it in wrong because it's always at a school in a very small town 20 minutes from us.  Phew!  Luckily I caught that one! 

So I drive over to the small-town school only to see that it's a typical day at that school.  There is NO track meet here, people!  I look at my calendar again and feel like something's up because I know I'm right ... and then I check the on-line school notice board and see that I have made a tremendous faux pas.  My initial info in my calendar was indeed right.  Gah! 

Luckily I still had enough Mom-sense to arrive my requisite 30 minutes ahead of time so I hightailed it, via back roads and warp speed, and drove the 25 minutes it takes into the university to arrive literally 2 minutes before Missy Moo began her relay race.  There I am standing there, panting away, expecting to get a ribbon because I won MY race.  I made it.  The Mom Guilt can be saved for another day.  My faith in my Momness has been restored.  Ok, so seriously, where's my ribbon??

So, to all those other moms out there who are at the end of their proverbial ropes with class parties, getting the 'Red Circle of Shame' from the teacher for forgetting to initial planners, last minute field trips and class parties up the wazoo please know that you are not alone in the trenches of Momness.  I walk in the trenches with you ... with two different socks on, sipping cold coffee as I try to figure out how I'm going to bake cupcakes for a bake sale tomorrow while I'm watching Boy 1 at his Tae Kwon Do class tonight. 

Summer vacation?   Oh ya.  I'm ready!!

Note: If you have a moment I'd love it if you'd consider Pinning this blog post to your Pinterest account.  Just hover your cursor over the picture above (or any picture in any of my future posts) and a 'Pin It' button will appear {just like magic!}.  Click on the 'Pin It' button and share this post with all of your Pinterest peeps!  By pinning you'll also have an easy way to find your way back here!  If you'd like to follow me on Pinterest you can find me HERE.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Too Much Blood (#2 Toni Day medical mystery)

Author: Jane Bennett Munro
Genre: Mystery (medical)
Type: Paperback
Pages:  400
Source: directly from author
Publisher: iUniverse
First Published: July 2012
First Line: "The phone rang."

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

Book DescriptionIt is the middle of the night when pathologist Toni Day receives a call from the coroner informing her that the notoriously sleazy local attorney, Jay Braithwaite Burke, has just been found dead in his Mercedes in the middle of a snowy interstate. Unfortunately, everyone at Perrine Memorial Hospital where Toni works knows Burke. Over the years, he managed to talk nearly the entire medical staff into investing into his hedge fund. After it was revealed they had all foolishly invested in a Ponzi scheme, the feds moved in and he disappeared. Now, two months later, Toni is about to perform his autopsy.

It is no secret around town that many might have wished the attorney dead, including Toni and her husband, Hal. As she delves into Burke's autopsy, Toni already knows they have few clues to go on; when she learns the man bled to death, she suspects it was a homicide. To complicate matters further, Burke's partner also dies in suspicious circumstances, and Burke's widow and children are left homeless by a series of house fires. With a brutal schedule and doubts about her husband's faithfulness, Toni's life is already complex enough.

But when a mysterious illness casts a bloody pall over the holiday season, Toni must rely on her pathological expertise to unmask a killer and rescue herself and everyone she loves from a bloody death.

My Thoughts: This is the second book in the new Toni Day medical mystery series.  I had reviewed the first book in the series, "Murder Under the Microscope" at the end of May (for my review of that book click HERE). 

Unfortunately I had the same issues with this book as I did with the first book in the series.  Excessive and oddly placed swearing, slow plot and too much medical jargon which bogged down the pace of the book and left me wondering if I needed to remember all of the technical stuff. 

Toni's character changed a bit in this book -- unfortunately not for the better.  While she continues to come off as wiser than the cops (who come off as bumbling and in desperate need of Toni's help) I found it odd that Toni is able to get information that a typical pathologist probably wouldn't be able to get her hands on.  Unfortunately her tone seemed to change too.  She seemed very arrogant in this book and overly pushy as she tried to get more information out of people.  In a word, she was really unlikeable.

I will say that the overall pace of this book improved over the first book in the series and the build-up of the suspense was better and led to a very intense ending.  Unfortunately the path to that build-up was hindered by Toni's sporadic yet repetitive worries that her husband Hal cheating on her.  These concerns would pop out of nowhere and took away from the suspense and seemed rather out of place.

Also, her husband's reaction to being awoken in the middle of the night by one of Toni's coworkers at the beginning of the book seemed over the top.  I think this was supposed to be the 'straw that broke the camel's back' and that led to Toni and Hal's marital woes (hence the ensuing 'Hal must be cheating on me!' worries) but it seemed silly.  How can a medical professional not know about pagers or putting one's phone on vibrate mode?  How can a spouse of a doctor not be used to having the phone ring in the middle of the night occasionally?  It would seem to me to be par for the course in marrying a pathologist who needs to be on-call regularly.  It just seemed farfetched and made it seem like a lame excuse for the beginning of Toni's mistrust of Hal.

There were also lot of characters in this story and, at times, it got a little hard for me to remember precisely who the author was talking about.  With so many characters you also run the risk of them not being developed enough and this was the case here.  It's hard to care for characters when I really don't know much about them.

I will say that the ending was an 'edge of your seat/will she make it?' ending which I enjoyed.  Unfortunately Toni doesn't strike me as a main character that I want to read more about.  Her cursing over mundane things and her arrogance get in the way of me enjoying her as a protagonist.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Never Knowing

Author: Chevy Stevens
Genre: Suspense, Canadian
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 410
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: July 2011
First Line: "I thought I could handle it, Nadine."

Book DescriptionAt thirty-three Sara Gallagher is finally happy. Her antique furniture restoration business is taking off and she’s engaged to a wonderful man. But there’s one big question that still haunts her — who are her birth parents? Sara is finally ready to find out.

Sara’s birth mother rejects her—again. Then she discovers her biological father is an infamous killer who’s been hunting women every summer for almost forty years. Sara tries to come to terms with her horrifying parentage — and her fears that she’s inherited more than his looks — with her therapist, Nadine, who we first met in "Still Missing." But soon Sara realizes the only thing worse than finding out your father is a killer is him finding out about you.

Some questions are better left unanswered.

"Never knowing" is a complex and compelling portrayal of one woman’s quest to understand where she comes from. That is, if she can survive…

My Thoughts:  When I read Chevy Steven's 'Still Missing' (see my review of that book HERE) I was shocked that it was Ms Steven's debut novel because it was so amazing.  For her sophomore book she has written another thriller with an 'edge of your seat' ending.

There are several things that I loved about this book.  First, I adore it when Canadian authors keep their stories and characters in Canada.  A little Canadian pride goes a long way with me, eh? 

Once again Stevens proves that she has a wonderful knack for providing her readers with a creepy suspenseful read.  The constant threat to Sara was evident throughout the book which kept the pace and energy level high for the most part (there was, admittedly, a bit of a lag mid-way though). 

Unfortunately Sara wasn't my favourite protagonist.  I found that she came off as whiny, overly needy and impulsive.  She'd repeatedly ask her fiancé for his opinion only to ignore it and suffer the consequences.  And while I understood where she was coming from (her very negative relationship with her father and youngest sister) I had a really hard time reading about Sara getting verbally walked on by them time and again.  She became the proverbial door mat whenever they were around and that made me grit my teeth.

Being the oldest of three sisters I get the sibling rivalry but Sara's rivalry with her extremely self-centred and obnoxious youngest sister felt overdone and their issues very repetitive.  I also think that her relationship with her adoptive father put a very negative slant on adoption with him constantly being so cold and unloving  -- and obvious about it too.

I did find it interesting that the author attempted to, I think, create sympathy for John by giving the reader information about his youth.  We get to see the nature versus nurture issue when it comes to how a serial killer comes into being.   That said, I did have a very hard time understanding Sara's desire to become more involved to find the Campside Killer knowing that she was putting herself and her family in mortal danger.

While I did see one of the big reveals coming and found this book a little less compelling than 'Still Missing' I still enjoyed it.  I liked the premise of the book and the ending but I didn't always enjoy getting there.  Ms Stevens still maintained her signature 'edge of your seat ending' and I really look forward to her upcoming book, Always Watching (check back for my review this summer).

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Monday, 10 June 2013

Bacon-Wrapped Cheesy Surprise 'Poor Man' Fillets

As I've indicated in the past my kids are fairly picky.  There are not many foods that they all agree on.  This makes creating a meal that everyone loves 'bang-your-head-against-the-wall-frustrating' kind of tricky for good ol' Mom.  This recipe is no exception.  Missy Moo, a non-meat lover didn't rave about it but both of my boys loved it.  Two out of three ain't bad.

See, there are certain factors that make a meal stellar with my menfolk.  Cheese, beef and bacon.  {Cue chest thumping and cave man sounds}  They are but simple folk.  If it had a mother, they'd probably eat it.  Add cheese on it and some BBQ sauce and you might even get a 'Mom, this is really good!' {Sweeter words were never spoken}

When I told my menfolk about what I was concocting in the kitchen Boy 2 was uber excited because he considers himself a connoisseur of meatloaf and bacon.  Although he did say that his patty reminded him of a Boston Crème Donut with it's shape and BBQ sauce/icing on top.  I can't say that he's wrong but this, friend, is no donut.

Remember those delicious beef fillets that you'd get that were wrapped in a thick slice of bacon??  Well, this isn't one of those ... but it is a cheaper version with a few extras thrown in for good measure.  Picture it if you will, a nicely spiced homemade meat patty that envelopes some cubes of cheese.  This patty is then hugged by a delicious piece of bacon (mmmm, bacon) and then topped with a hickory BBQ sauce.  These were on the big side for Missy Moo and I so we shared on between us and it was plenty big for the two of us.

Not only was this meal a hit with the men but it's so easy to make and can even be made ahead of time. I'm thinking that I may serve this up for the next big family function.  So, if you're looking for a meal that's easy to prep and has a good chance in getting favourable reviews from your family you might want to give this recipe a try.

Yield: 4 patties

1lb ground beef
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup oats
1/4 cup BBQ sauce (I used Kraft's 'Hickory')
1 tbsp Montreal Steak Spice (or to taste)
2 garlic cloves, minced
4  pieces Cheddar cheese, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
4 slices of bacon

Preheat oven to 375F.  Line a baking dish with aluminum foil and set aside.

In a medium bowl combine beef, eggs, oats, BBQ sauce, Montreal steak spice and garlic.  Combine well.  Divide the meat into four parts.  Take each portion and place a Cheddar chunk into the centre.

Using your hands fold the meat around the cheese and form into a burger patty -- try to make them flat and not like a giant meatball. (Hopefully YOUR hands won't resemble an uncooked chicken thigh. Ew.  Hand model I am not). Set the patty aside and repeat for the other three patties.

Place a piece of bacon around each patty and secure each end of the bacon with a toothpick.  Place bacon-wrapped patty onto the prepared pan. Repeat for the other patties.

Note: At this point you can place your burgers in the fridge (or I can't see why you couldn't freeze them to use at a later date), if you're not cooking them right away.

Bake for 30 minutes.  Make sure the internal temperature is 160F.  Remove from oven and pour some extra BBQ sauce on top of each patty. Return patties to the oven and set the oven to broil.  Watch carefully and remove once bacon has begun to crisp a bit.

Serve immediately with garlic mashed potatoes and get ready for some High Fives from your carnivorous peeps.

I've shared this recipe on:
Totally Tasty Tuesdays

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Cutting For Stone

Author: Abraham Verghese
Genre: Historical Fiction (India)
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 658
Publisher: Division Books (a division of Random House)
First Published: 2009
First Line: "After eight months spent in the obscurity of our mother's womb, my brother, Shiva, and I came into the world in the late afternoon of the twentieth of September in the year of grace 1954."

Book DescriptionA sweeping, emotionally riveting first novel—an enthralling family saga of Africa and America, doctors and patients, exile and home.

Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon at a mission hospital in Addis Ababa. Orphaned by their mother’s death in childbirth and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution. Yet it will be love, not politics—their passion for the same woman—that will tear them apart and force Marion, fresh out of medical school, to flee his homeland. He makes his way to America, finding refuge in his work as an intern at an underfunded, overcrowded New York City hospital. When the past catches up to him—nearly destroying him—Marion must entrust his life to the two men he thought he trusted least in the world: the surgeon father who abandoned him and the brother who betrayed him.

An unforgettable journey into one man’s remarkable life, and an epic story about the power, intimacy, and curious beauty of the work of healing others.

My Thoughts:  I have a confession.  I gave up on this book and I don't do that easily.  I figure that if an author spent months (or years) writing the book and I should give him/her the respect they deserve and hold on and try to get into the story.  That's all well and good but if a book doesn't grab me in 100 pages I figure my responsibility as a reader has been met. 

In fact, I read over 270 pages before finally deciding that this wasn't a book for me.  I kept trying to get into it based on the extremely high ratings that it received on GoodReads as well as Amazon.  Unfortunately I kept waiting for something major to happen, some sort of direction of the plot but it never did.  It is a verbose read with its detailed descriptions of medical procedures; it has a lot of different characters (who were hard to distinguish), a tiresome dialogue and plot that didn't seem to have any direction.  

That said, my opinion is just that.  My opinion.  There are many other readers out there who adored and gushed about this book.  They passionately defend their reviews (and sometimes adamantly state their disagreements with lower rated reviews).  I get that and understand that level of commitment to a book.  I'd, respectfully, do the same for Harry Potter, 'Women of the Underworld' series and Sara Donati's 'Into The Wilderness' because I lurrrrve them and they hold a special place in my literary heart.

But besides the verbosity, slow plot and gaggle of characters the biggest thing that bothered me about this book was Marion as the main character.  For some reason, Marion always had the voice of an adult ... even when he's telling about his life when he was an infant.  Yes, Marion narrates the book even as an infant.  The author expected the reader to just accept the fact that there's an articulate infant narrating the book -- and that didn't sit well with me.  It just seemed odd to have a protagonist be so articulate and descriptive ... as an infant.

Overall, I can't say that I'd recommend this book but I'm glad that I gave it a good shot.  I'd love to hear what you all thought of this book.  Am I way off base here?  Or did you have a similar experience with this book?

My Rating: 0 (I gave up on it)

Monday, 3 June 2013

The Book Thief

Author: Markus Zusak
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII), Young Adult
Type: Paperback
Pages: 550
Publisher: Alfred A Knopf (division of Random House)
First Published: 2005
First Line: "First the colors."

Book DescriptionIt’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

My ThoughtsThis book has been on my radar for a long time but I just never got around to reading it.  I'd heard nothing but high praise for it so when I saw it for sale at a second-hand shop I snatched it up (and may have even cackled with glee at my good fortune for finding a highly touted book for a mere 3 bucks).  First of all, why had someone given away such a gem?  And secondly, why hadn't someone else snatched up this find?!

Unfortunately, I learned why.  Apparently the first owner and I have similar views of the book.  I tried to like this book.  I really did, but unfortunately this is one of those books, for me anyway, that didn't match the hype surrounding it.  Curse you HYPE!!!

Was the book horrible?  No.

Did I find it riveting and fully describing the emotion and circumstances of the era?  No.

Will it stay with me?  Not in the slightest.

I realize that I'm in the minority with my negative review and that puzzles me.  I just don't understand why this book got such high praises from so many people.  Maybe it's because WWII is one of my favourite eras to read about that I'm so particular about how it's portrayed?  WWI was such a ruthless, raw and emotional time that brought out the best and worst in people.  I don't think that this book did the era justice. 

After reading books like "Stones From the River" by Ursula Hegi, "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" , "Sarah's Key" and especially "In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer" I found this book to be dispassionate, lacking complex characters and, frankly, generally underwhelming

The characters are lifeless and almost boring one-dimensional characters.  From Liesel's 'good as gold' adoptive father to her consistently sour and crotchety adoptive mother who constantly berates Liesel by calling her a 'saumensch'  -- a female pig -- (which got old quickly), everyone seemed to be a cliché.  People were either 'good' or 'bad'.  Plus, no back story was given about the characters so I never felt emotional invested in any of them. 

The one character who stood out for me right away was the narrator (I won't share who he is but it was a unique take on narration).  Unfortunately the narrator began to disrupt the flow of the storyline and ended up getting in the way more often than not.  And what's with all the foreshadowing that he gives to reader?  I don't like being told what will happen!  I found that odd and very anticlimactic. 

Also, because the story isn't narrated by the main character, Liesel, the reader never gets a chance to see things from her point of view.  It's always how the narrator sees things happening and the reader being told what's happening instead of experiencing it through the character.  This caused the characters to feel very flat and lifeless.

While the ending was touching and emotional the rest of the book didn't resonate with me.  The writing was good but that cannot make up for the plodding plot or lackluster characters.  Unfortunately I ended up forcing myself to finish the book.  Not a good sign.

Not recommended.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

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