February Book Round-Up

I was going to write this post mentioning the books chronologically as I read them one after the other throughout the month, however then I decided to number them according to the order in which they touched me most.

  1. The book I read this month which I loved ‘best’ was actually the one I finished reading last, that is, yesterday evening. I had been looking forward to reading Carlos Ruiz Zafon‘s ‘The Shadow of the Wind‘ for quite some time, as I had heard it was very good, and as soon as I randomly came across the book last weekend at the public library, I knew I had some very full days ahead of me. I love reading books about people who love reading books, and therefore this novel was right up my street. ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ is a mystery, a love story, a gothic novel, a historic book about the war, a book describing the city of Barcelona, but most of all, it is a book about books and the obsession one person can feel towards them. The writing itself is mezmerising and beautiful. Truly an enchanting read which touched my heart. I give it 5 stars!

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2. Next up is Antoine de Saint Exupery‘s ‘The Little Prince‘ which I had watched as a little girl in anime-form, but had never read. It is an easy book to read. But no, it is not a children’s book, despite its appearance and pictures inside. It is in fact one of the most beautiful and insightful allegories I have ever read. And it is a novel I will always treasure. I am only sorry that I didn’t read it sooner, but better late than never. I know I will re-read it again, and again, and again. This book is almost a tie-in with the first one in fact. Again 5 stars!

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3. In third place, I’m not putting just one book, but actually three, since I started out February by continuing to read the ‘Ender’s Shadow’ series. I am of course referring to Orson Scott Card‘s ‘Shadow Puppets‘, ‘Shadow of the Giant‘ and ‘Shadows in Flight‘. As you know, I don’t usually go for sci-fi, but Card’s ‘Ender’ universe (for want of a better name) hooked me up years ago – what with political depth, emotional metaphors, religious insinuations and technical jargon, again it’s not my cup of tea… but… but… I’m just a sucker for character-development, and this series is just a master-piece. No, the ‘Shadow’ series is not as good as the ‘Ender’ one, I admit, still I really like most of the characters, not to mention Card’s writing and funny turn of phrase. So, definitely a 4 out of 5 stars for this series in general. 

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4. Following all this sci-fi, I turned my gaze to Rick Riordan‘s ‘Kane Chronicles’. Yup – from sci-fi to ‘ YA mythological fantasy’, quite a jump! But I really needed the breath of fresh air, plus I was missing some good references to Egyptian mythology. Riordan does a masterful job, especially when it comes to ancient history, however I must admit that his characters, especially the ‘teens’, DO come across as kind of flat. Admittedly this could be the result of reading a YA writer exactly after a diet of Card’s densely-packed characterization… but I still enjoyed the fast-paced story-line. I give it 3 – 4 stars.

So, in 4th place this month, I’m gonna place Riordan’s trilogy ‘The Red Pyramid’, ‘The Throne of Fire‘ and ‘The Serpent’s Shadow‘.

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5. Lastly, is another book I got from the local public library – ‘Big Little Lies‘ by Liane Moriarty. I can hear you scream ‘WHAT?’ Female Melodrama? ‘Desperate Housewives’ stuff? Again, not my usual genre, but after watching the T.V series and randomly spotting the novel at the library, I decided to try it out. It was quirky and funny and well-written, but, had it not been for the stellar performance given by the cast in the eponymous T.V series, I wouldn’t have given it one thought. Suffice it to say, it was entertaining, but I won’t be reading any more of Moriarty’s work in future. Again, I reiterate that she is a good writer BUT I don’t particularly enjoy this kind of plot. So, this book gets 3 stars.

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At the beginning of the year I had promised myself that I would try to read at least 8 books per month, that is, two books a week. Last month, I only managed to finish 7, which was below quota, however this month I managed 9, which makes up for January as well. I managed to read so much even though I was abroad on holiday for a week, which resulted in a lot of outings and me being too dead tired in the evening to read anything at all. So, yay me!

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Herbs – Fennel

If you love Maltese food, you’ve surely already sampled the famous ‘patata l-forn’, that is, Maltese baked potatoes. This dish, served as an accompaniment to a number of meat recipes, such as Maltese rabbit or baked poultry, has one particular ingredient without which it wouldn’t really have that wonderful taste we all know and love. That ingredient is fennel (bużbież).

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Fennel is an indigenous herb from the carrot family, which is very common in the Maltese islands. It flowers between the months of May and October and featured so much in the lives of the Mediterranean people, that they even used it in their legends and myths. It was for example, thanks to a stalk of fennel that, according to Greek mythology, the hero Prometheus was victorious in stealing a bit of fire from Mount Olympus and the Greek gods. The ancient Romans used fennel as an eye-wash to treat visual problems, as well as a mouth wash to sweeten the breath, while Russian folk healers used fennel to treat colic.

Fennel, which is most abundant during spring and summer in Malta, sports pretty yellow flowers and is a resplendent plant which can reach up to three meters in height. Both the leaves and the seeds of the plant can be used to garnish or flavor meat, fish or cheese, however the traditional tasty touch which is given to certain particular recipes, such as Maltese roast potatoes or pork, can only be derived from the seeds.

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Fennel is even used in certain cocktails or alcoholic drinks. It is, for example, one of the main ingredients in the fermentation of the notorious 19th century green Absinthe.

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Fennel seeds can act as a laxative and so aid digestion, as well as prevent flatulence and treat constipation. This herb contains iron and histidine, an amino acid which can be helpful in the treatment of anemia. Since fennel also contains high contents of fibre, it can also be helpful in maintaining optimal levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream. Fennel is also rich in potassium, which is vital for a number of important body processes and functions, such as reducing blood pressure, as well as increasing electrical conduction throughout the body, leading to an increase in brain function and cognitive abilities.

Maltese Herbs: Fennel

According to a number of health and medical sources, fennel can also be used to treat hormonal related issues, such as the female menstrual cycle, which can be a sensitive and painful time. Since fennel is anti-spasmodic, it can be a remedy for uterine cramps. It can also regulate out of control menstrual cycles since it contains an essential hormonal substance called ‘emmenagogue’, which stimulates the blood flow in the pelvic area and uterus, and can therefore aid in re-starting irregular period flows.

Preparations made from fennel seeds are also known to be used in cleansing milks to treat oily skin as well as eczema. Leaves can be used fresh, or prepared in an infusion with oil or vinegar. The seeds may also be ground and drunk with boiling water, as well as chewed as a good breath freshener.

This article was written by me and published on LivingInMalta. To access the original version directly, please go here.

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