Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Overall rating:
The Time Traveler’s Wife is an entertaining novel. It may not be one of the future classics of American literature but it touches the always fascinating subject of time traveling.
Claire and Henry met each other in 1991 when Claire was 20 and Henry 28 years old. In reality Claire already met Henry when she was 6 and he was in his mid-thirties. It is a love story that lasts for the entire life of one partner and for a set time for the other. 
I have mixed feelings about this: on one hand it is fascinating to get to know your soul mate all your life; on the other hand, it takes away the element of surprise and it puts you in a permanent ‘waiting’ mode.
Ms. Niffenegger, the writer, hints at the fact that time travelers may be a different, and maybe more evolved, species of humans. Of course, there are always ethical issues to consider… For example, imagine that someone goes to 1970 and leaves a tablet behind. What would be the reaction and how could that change the course of history? What about giving your past self advantageous information? I guess that a super human would be possible after all. 
I have to admit that I am dense when it comes to understanding parallel universes, time continuum and traveling, and anything about advance Physics. I always think, how would the people in the past be still alive if I go there from my present?
This book is available in paperback.
Beauty and use of language:★★★

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Promise by Pearl S. Buck

Overall rating:★★
Lao San was the Third son of Ling Tan, a farmer in a village in China, and his wife Ling Sao. Mayli was a futile young woman raised in the US by her father. The Promise is the love story during times of war of these two characters.
Lao San decided to leave his village and join the rebels to liberate his country from the Japanese invasion. His connections landed him in the military and as he ascended in the hierarchy he obtained, among other benefits, a new name: Sheng.
Mayli was bored with her comfortable life in the US and decided to return to China searching for her roots and her identity. She had a somewhat relaxed existence in China as well. This uneventful life pushed Mayli to join the army as a nurse.
Sheng’s division was sent to rescue a British-America platoon that got trapped in Burma during World War II. Little did he know that Mayli was in the same division with the rest of the nurses and doctor that accompanied the soldiers in that mission. The assignment was extremely difficult and, in my opinion, not successful. At the end of the day, the Westerners showed their true colors… in all shades.
This book is available in paperback.
Beauty and use of language:★★

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Overall rating: ★★★★
Aomame was on her way to “work” when the taxi got into a traffic jam on the Metropolitan Expressway. Traffic was not moving and Aomame could not be late, not for this job anyways. The driver suggested she got off through the emergency staircase that would take her to street level; from there she could take the subway and arrive at her destination on time. Aomame decided she didn’t have anything to lose and followed the taxi driver’s advice.
Tengo was a math teacher on a school and a part time writer for a magazine. His editor, Komatsu, received an interesting story for a contest his magazine sponsored. Komatsu proposed Tengo to meet with the author, 17-year old Fuka Eri, and rewrite (polish) the novel so it could enter, and win, the contest.
These two events took Tengo and Aomame to the year 1Q84, for Aomame where Q stood for question, and to the town of cats for Tengo. What made 1Q84 different to 1984? For starters there were two moons in 1Q84 as well as the existance of the Little People.
In this novel, or should I say epic novel, Haruki Murakami takes the readers through an intrisic world where reality and fantasy are intertwined. The characters have depth, a great deal of introspection, and the book presents a number of philosophical and ethical questions that make us examine our own convictions.
This book is available in paperback and Kindle.
Originality: ★★★★
Beauty and use of language: ★★★★

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Cascata Grill Restaurant

Overall rating:★★★★★
Last Friday my friends B and I decided to go to Cascata Grill to take advantage of Miami Spice event. The terrace of the restaurant faces the golf course of Turnberry Resort and Spa in Aventura. There is also a cascade that goes really well with the rest of the ambiance.
I ordered the caprese salad as appetizer, the skirt steak for entrée and the lemon tart for dessert. All three dishes were delicious. The caprese salad had a reduction of balsamic that was a real treat to the palate. The meat was really tender and seasoned to perfection. The lemon tart was exactly as I expected it: strong lemon taste and not very sweet.
The service was excellent. Just a note: this is a restaurant to go to enjoy food and view without rush – i.e. if you’re on a schedule this would not be the place to go.
Value: (based on Miami Spice prices):★★★★★

Monday, August 26, 2013

The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

Overall rating:★★★★
Allan Karlsson decided to escape the senior citizen home on the day of his 100th birthday. He had one problem with the place: too many rules – no alcohol, no cigarettes, and all meals at the same time and all tasteless. Allan wanted to buy some vodka, after all it was his birthday and not every day one gets to become 100 years old.
After he jumped out of the window of his room (on the first floor) he decided to go to the bus station and take a bus far away from the home. At the station he meets a much younger man with a big suitcase who needed to use the restroom but it was not possible to get inside with the big suitcase. The young man asks Allan if he could take a look at his suitcase while he went to the bathroom. Allan agreed with the clarification that if his bus came before the young man came out of the restroom Allan would leave anyway. The bus came, the man had not finished his business, and Allan decided to take the suitcase with him on the bus. I personally thought this was a great way to start the story.
The adventure started the minute Allan took the suitcase. He made friends and enemies on the way but for someone like Allan with so much experience in the world, who had been very high and very low, these events didn’t seem to bother him.
As the events of the suitcase unfold, the readers get to know Allan’s story and life experience. It seems that Allan was involved in the main events of the 20th century – since the start of World War II and the atomic bomb to the fall of the Soviet Union.
The entire novel is a satire of politicians, history, justice system, legalities, etc. It is a light read, entertaining, and for those with a good sense of humor, funny. Jonas Jonasson did a great job bringing Allan and the rest of the characters to life… I did not know Albert Einstein had a brother.
This book is available in paperback and Kindle.
Beauty and use of language:★★★

Friday, July 19, 2013

And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

Overall rating:★★★★
The third and latest novel by Khaled Hosseini, And The Mountains Echoed, tells the story of different characters and the turns and detours their lives took. They all have one thing in common: they are related or became in contact with Pari and Abdullah’s involuntary journeys.
Abdullah was Pari’s older brother who felt and exercised the responsibility of a father. Abdullah was seven years older than Pari. Their mother died after giving birth to Pari. Abdullah took care of Pari as a parent would: he fed her, consoled her, played with her…
A series of events took place resulting in Pari and Abdullah being separated for the rest of their lives. It was indescribably painful but life goes on and they had to adjust to their new environment.  It is incredible how many consequences one decision could have! The title could not be more appropriate.
The main story, as well as the secondary ones, is very deep and powerful. The sense of emptiness that Pari and Abdullah separation caused was captured and transmitted superbly to the reader. While I was reading this novel I felt the desolation that the characters must have felt in those years.
Mr. Hosseini takes the readers across different continents and cities; Kabul, Paris, California, Tinos… Life can chance in an instant, people adapt to the new situations, but at the end of the day the love we experienced and knew will never go away… in the worst case it would stay as a ghost or as in Pari’s case as an absence of something vital.
This book is available in hardcover and Kindle.
Use and beauty of language:★★★

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende

Overall rating:★★★★
Portrait in Sepia is the second book of the unusual trilogy that started with Daughter of Fortune and ends with House of Spirits. Aurora Del Valle decides to write her story and the experiences of the people around her. Aurora grew up with her paternal grandmother, Paulina Del Valle. The events take place between 1862 and 1910.
Paulina Del Valle was not the end-of-the-19th –century typical woman. She had a keen sense of business and made a deal with her husband to have her own bank account in England with the profit her business ventures brought. In a time when women depended completed of the closest male relative this was extraordinary.
Aurora grew up with this model of feminism. With time Aurora was able to become an avant garde woman herself. It is true that the beginning of the 20th century looked promising for women as some rules were relaxed, still it was not well accepted that a woman worked outside the house, had a trade, and even worse, had a lover while still married (divorce did not exist back then).
Portrait in Sepia starts in San Francisco, specifically in Chinatown. Isabel Allende, once more, makes a great job of describing the smells, people’s physical appearance in a way that immediately transported me to where the scene was taking place. From San Francisco, Aurora and Paulina traveled to Europe, and after Paulina’s husband death, back to Chile permanently. Once in Chile, Ms. Allende takes the reader somewhere south of Santiago (I suspect to the Puerto Montt area) where the landscape was generous and paradisiacal.
The connection to the next book, House of Spirits, is a subtle one. Rosa and Clara, Nivea and Severo’s daughters (two of the main characters in House of Spirits) are mentioned once in Portrait in Sepia. I remember when I read this passage the first time. I became a little dizzy with the realization that I was being taken back to where everything started.
This book is available in paperback..
Beauty and use of language:★★★★

Monday, July 15, 2013

Bulla Gastrobar

Overall rating:

Last week my family and I ended up in Bulla Gastrobar almost by accident. We were looking for a Spanish restaurant in Coral Gables and voila! It was a Tuesday night so it was not very busy.

We ordered different tapas (small appetizers), one main dish, and two desserts to share. It was more than enough.

The food was really good. I was particularly surprised with the gazpacho – for a cold soup it was much better than I expected. Our entrée was one of the specials: monk fish with clams, shrimp, and calamari in a red sauce, very good as well.

We had a great time at Bulla. Our waiter, James, was very nice and attentive. I would go back.



Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Yellow Green Farmers Market

Yellow Green Farmers Market is located in Hollywood, FL and it is open all year round on Saturdays and Sundays from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. I love going there to buy fresh vegetables and fruit at a great price. Also, I like to see and taste some of the local vendors with their baked goods, accessories, soaps, etc. There is live music, which makes the experience even more enjoyable.

More recently, there are new stands of wild caught fish, and products from the Wisconsin Amish - I have tried the cheese and eggs; the taste, texture, and consistency of the products is so different than what we are used to from the supermarket. These items are more expensive so we try to buy them every other week or so to balance the house economics. At the end of the day the extra dollars are totally worth it!

Monday, July 8, 2013

House of Spirits by Isabel Allende

Overall rating:★★★★
House of Spirits was Isabel Allende’s first novel. By coincidence of magic, it became the third book of the unusual trilogy (Daughter of Fortune, Portrait in Sepia, and House of Spirits). In this story, narrated by Esteban Trueba and his granddaughter Alba, we follow the events in the Trueba family, its branches, and the other families connected to them. The events take place, according to my calculation, approximately from 1900 until the military coup to Salvador Allende in the mid 1970s.
This novel tells the story of at least four generations having Esteban Trueba and Clara Del Valle as the central couple. Esteban Trueba is a man who acquired a huge fortune by angrily working first in the gold mines, and later in the farm inherited from his father. Later in his life, Esteban becomes a senator for the Conservative Party. This man is so angry all the time and has so many episodes of wrath that his existence has to be necessarily fictional – a real person would have died of a heart attack much earlier.
Clara Del Valle is an ethereal woman who is more concerned with the whereabouts of spirits than the common activities of the everyday life. She married Esteban and they had three children: Blanca, and twins Jaime and Nicolas. Clara was the center of the family and she gave Esteban the stability that he needed.
This is the second time I read House of Spirits. I liked it as much as the first time. It is a story of love, passion, sensuality, anger, and the desire to change the destiny of a nation and society. Ms. Allende cleverly incorporates important events of the Chilean history giving even more significance to the story.
This book is available in paperback.
Beauty and use of language:★★★★

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Goat Cheese and Leek Quiche

This quiche was a very pleasant surprise. The combination of tastes of goat cheese, leeks, and nutmeg was amazing. The result is a light and tasty quiche that goes well with a green salad. This recipe is very easy to make - I bought a pie crust and just took care of the filling. 

To access the recipe, click here

Friday, July 5, 2013

Museu Calouste-Gulbekian - Lisbon, Portugal

This museum is one of the best ones in Lisbon. It was built in 1960 and its collection ranges from tapestries, Persian rugs, Chinese porcelain to Rembrandt and Rubens.
For art lovers it is possible to spend the whole afternoon without being bored. It is not as big and grandiose as other museums in Europe but it is exquisite. I was fascinated by the rugs, vases, and illustrated bibles from Armenia and surroundings.
To get there, take the red or blue line to Sao Sebastiao (both red and blue) or Praca de Espanha (only blue line). The entrance costs 4 euros per person and it is worth every dime.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Leader's Code by Donovan Campbell

Overall rating:★★★
‘The Leader Code’ by Donovan Campbell gives an overview of the 6 virtues that all leaders should cultivate: humility, excellence, kindness, discipline, courage, and wisdom. In addition to developing these qualities, the writer suggests, and I think he is right in doing so, to define a mission and become a servant for the people or teams we lead – I personally prefer the term service provider since servant could be so easily misinterpreted.
Donovan Campbell makes a good attempt at explaining the “leader-servant” model as well as the six traits that all leaders should have. The book is full of stories – too many in my opinion – some of them interesting, some of them not so much.
I liked the idea of creating the mission statement and becoming a service provider for others, especially those we are assigned to lead. The six qualities described in the book – humility, excellence, kindness, discipline, courage, and wisdom – are great to have not only if we have the role of leaders. Not much is new in this book; mostly is common sense, but it is good to have a reminder.
Mr. Campbell is part of the Marine Corps. Most of the stories and examples in the book come from the military. This concentration of source makes the book boring for people, like me, who are not part of the military environment, and frankly does not see it as the greatest organization in the world.
‘The Leader Code’ is a good read for someone who is starting his/her path in self-improvement and to learn about leadership. For seasoned readers on the subject of leadership, it may be repetitive, without substance; for the civilians, it may become boring after the third story about war, battle, or military exercise.
This book is available in hardcover and Kindle.
Applicability to real life:★★★

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Top Ten Wednesday (TTW) - The First Ten Countries to Obtain Their Independence in this Continent

Since we are about to celebrate the 237th anniversary of the U.S.A. independence I thought that an appropriate subject could be countries who became independent after the U.S.A.
I am not a historian and clearly no expert in independence subjects… I can only imagine the strength of the desire to be free and become a sovereignty that people go to war, kill each other, and so at the end of the day the rest of us get to belong to the newly formed country.
Here is the list of the first ten countries in the American continent that became free. This time the order is from first to last one based on the declaration of the first independence date (some countries became colonies after the independence from the conqueror country).

1. United States

Independence was declared on July 4th 1776. Main figures in this event: George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Capital: Washington, District of Columbia.

2. Haiti

Independence was declared on January 1st 1804. Main figures in this event: Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Toussaint Louvertoure. Capital : Port-au-Prince.

3. Ecuador

Independence was declared on August 10th 1809 lead by Antonio Jose de Sucre. Capital: Quito.

4. Argentina

Independence was declared on May 25th 1810 lead by Jose de San Martin and Simon Bolivar. Capital: Buenos Aires.

5. Colombia

Independence was declared on July 20th 1810. Main figures in this event: Simon Bolivar and Francisco de Paula Santander. Capital: Bogota.

6. Mexico

Independence was declared on September 16th 1810 lead by priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. Capital: Mexico City.

7. Paraguay

Independence was declared on May 14th 1811. It seems that there was no one leader but a series of events that resulted in Paraguay becoming independent from Spain. Capital: Asuncion.

8. Venezuela

Independence was declared on July 5th 1811 lead by Francisco de Miranda and Simon Bolivar. Capital: Caracas.

9. Chile

Independence was declared on February 12th 1818. Main figures in this event: the Carrera brothers (Jose Miguel, Juan Jose, and Luis), and Bernardo O’Higgins. Capital: Santiago.

10. Peru

Independence declared on July 28th 1821 lead by Jose de San Martin and Simon Bolivar. Capital: Lima.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

OTC Restaurants

Overall rating:

My friend K recently introduced me to this unpretentious place in downtown Miami. The differentiator is that OTC has beer from small breweries and I understand they also brew some of them.

The food was much better than I expected… also the portions were bigger than what I had anticipated. It is better to share if you don’t want to end eating all the calories by yourself. Everything I tried that day was great! I highly recommend the pesto quinoa – it is a guiltless pleasure.

The ambiance was relaxed. They have a combination of self-service and waiters. I ordered my food at the counter and someone brought it to the table. Other people in my group ordered directly to the waiter… I was a little confused, but I guess they’d play it by ear.

To visit their website click here.

Service:★ (partly self-service)


Monday, July 1, 2013


Overall rating:

IHOP may not be a fancy choice for breakfast or brunch but it is a convenient one. Last weekend I did not have time to plan and prepare a brunch at home as I usually do. Plan B was IHOP. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised not only with the variety (after all they are a breakfast place) but with the healthy choices.

When in need, IHOP could be a lifesaver. We had the garden omelet and garden crepes. The food was good, vegetables were fresh. Our server was very nice.



Sunday, June 30, 2013

Fluffy Cottage Cheese Pancakes

These are the softest pancakes I have tried. They are really easy to make and they taste great. When I make something else, like today, I only use half of the recipe, which is enough for two people. For the recipe click here.

Today I paired them with an old time recipe from my grandmother: sweet plantain omelette. To make this childhood dish I used one sweet plantain, fried it first, then put the egg batter (four eggs), let them cook for about 5 minutes and then finished in the broiler frittata style.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Maroosh - Mediterranean Restaurant

Overall rating:

My friend KRE celebrated her birthday at Maroosh. We had a table for 11 people in the center of the room. The waiters and the manager/owner were very accommodating and the service was excellent.

Let’s talk about the food. Everything in the menu is delicious. A way of selecting the favorites is by personal taste. I cannot leave this restaurant without having the fried cheese, the falafel, and the hummus. I have also tried the tabouleh and the kibbeh. The ingredients are fresh, the combination tasty, and I believe, being no expert, each dish is authentic Mediterranean food. 

Maroosh’s menu has a variety of small dishes and entrees. For the first time I tried the lamb kafta kabab. I thought it was really good – I am no fan of lamb. Usually, we would order various small dishes; this way we could try different ones in each visit.

On weekends there is a belly dancer. The ambiance is relaxed, great for a night out with friends or significant other. All the times I have been to Maroosh I enjoy the food, music, and dancer, and I leave feeling satisfied and a bit happier. To visit their website click here.



Thursday, June 27, 2013

Casola's Pizzeria & Sub Shop

Overall rating: 

It was the second time I visited this place. I was in the mood for a real burger – one with seasoned patties, sauces other than ketchup, and plenty of taste - , and we were already in Coral Gables.

Casola’s is a very simple place, which could use additional cleaning. They offer pizzas, subs, and burgers. I have only tried the burgers with French fries. They were delicious! Burger was tasty, a little greasy, and interesting. Casola’s opens late and only accepts cash.

Service: Self-service


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Top Ten Wednesday (TTW) - Characters I could not stand

Inevitably, good stories and novels have characters who rub our skin the wrong way. Paradoxically, this talks well of the writer as it means that he/she was capable of strongly bringing to life strong personalities even if the readers could not stand them.
Not all unpopular characters are the villain in the narration. Lastly, it is a matter of personal taste. I particularly do not like senseless or unscrupulous ones… and then there are those that no matter what they do or say I just cannot bring myself to enjoy.
As always the order is only numeric and not by level of dislike.

1. Dolores Umbridge – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Dolores Umbridge was one of the few characters that I disliked as soon as she appeared in the story. Starting with her physical appearance and ending with her malicious personality. Even as a write this post, I feel as if someone is scratching the blackboard with nails…

2. Nils Bjurman – Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. 

Nils Bjurman is the typical man who would take advantage not only of a woman but of a defenseless individual. He also had so much anger stored inside that it inevitably came out in the worst possible way. I imagined him drooling like those mad people or animals that cannot contain themselves. I could not help the strong desire to hit him or kill him.

3. Bella – Twilight Saga.

When Bella met Edward that first day at school she thought he was one of the most handsome guys. She could not help wondering why he would fall for her. I can understand that any teenager would feel this way at the beginning but not for such a long time. Bella felt inferior to Edward. Also, Bella gave Jacob mixed signals about her feelings for him. My friend L warned me about it; I just did not think it would be at that level. I had to take several deep breaths while reading the story.

4. Nadine Karros – The Litigators.

Nadine Karros was the litigator lawyer hired to fight the class lawsuit presented against Nadine’s client, a powerful pharmaceutical company. She embodied that rare breed of women who have it all: she was beautiful, successful, rich, and to make matters worse, fit… I think I need to say no more.

5. Amina Mazid – The Newlyweds.

Amina married an American man to escape her native Bangladesh. What bothered me was the fact that the reasons for the marriage were not clear for him – he thought Amina was in love with him. For this reason I could not connect with Amina. It was almost impossible to feel sorry for her and her family. Maybe it did not help that I did not like the book that much either.

6. Vladimir Girshkin – The Russian Debutante’s Handbook.

Vladimir was a mama’s boy who was tired with his life, his work, even with his girlfriend. He was never able to stand up to his mother. Even when he decided to do something rash and go to Eastern Europe to help a gangster setup an illegal scheme he could not escape his lukewarm manner of acting in life. It was easier to be on the gangster side than on Vladimir’s.

7. Margaret Beaufort – The Red Queen.

Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII king of England, cruelly fought for his son’s throne. She did not rest until her son was put on the throne, and did not spare the life of anyone, including young boys, that could be obstacles to her mission… and all the while praying to the Virgin Mary for the life of those she loved.

8. Andrew – Little Bee.

I have to admit that my dislike for this character is somewhat ambivalent. Andrew was comfortable in his English lifestyle, apathetic to his wife’s struggles and desires. In an effort to reignite their marriage, Andrew and Sarah, his wife, went to Nigeria where they first encountered Little Bee. At that moment both Sarah and Andrew were in front of a very real life situation. Sarah did what she thought was best while Andrew could not shake off the status quo.

9. Stephen – Eat Pray Love.

I know Stephen is not a character in the traditional sense of the word as he is someone who exists in real life. His behavior is fitted for a novel, though. It was especially disturbing and annoying when he referred to himself in the third person. When a kid does it, it is cute; when an adult does it, it is creepy.

10. Florentino Ariza – Love in the Time of Cholera.

Florentino Ariza is the quintessential character who is stuck in the same time and place pursuing an illusion and an impossible love. In modern times he would be the incarnation of a man with an avoidant attachment style – nothing more noncommittal than to fall in love with someone in a difficult situation to correspond that love. Tenacity is a good quality, but at some point one has to move on, and walk on a different path. In my friend K’s words “Dude, move on!”