Monday, February 19, 2018

Book Wrap Up 2017

Books to Start Off 2018
So many books helped me through 2017.

Best Mystery

 A Murder of Magpies - Judith Flanders

Samantha Clair, British book editor, gets involved in murder. I love this book. I actually read the second in the series first and ran right out to the library to get this one. Sam has that funny self-deprecating English voice and the characters are distinctive. And you get to see inside book publishing.

 Best Urban Fantasy

 One Damned Thing After Another - Jodi Taylor
Addicting, absolutely addicting. What if time travel was real. And a bunch of academics controlled it? Maybe sort of dull? Hah!

Best Non Fiction

 Grandma Gatewood's Walk - Ben Montgomery

Inspirational story of the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian trail alone. 

Best How-To

 Making an Impression - Gennine Zlatkis

How to make stamps and then stamp them on everything. I follow her on Instagram. I love her work and her pictures of life in New Mexico. It's a lovely antidote to the scenery here in the Pacific Northwest. And her art is fabulous.

Also well worth a read:


 Gold of Our Fathers - Kwei Quartey

Police procedural set in Ghana. Chief Inspector Darko Dawson solves murders in the gold mining region of Ghana. Love the sense of place and the different cultures. 

A Strange Scottish Shore - Juliana Gray

Don't you love finding a new author? Emmeline Truelove travels through time to Orkney to save her true love (see what I did there?) Lord Silverton. Second in the series.


 A Green and Ancient Light - Frederic S. Durbin

Fantasy set in WWII English countryside. A little boy is sent to his grandmother's during the Blitz. Mythology and humanity intersect in this lovely tale. My only complaint is there are no chapters, just one narrative making it hard to find that stopping place when reading in bed.

 The Wee Free Men - Terry Pratchett

I had never read this, though I've heard about it and how great Terry Prachett is. I tried one of the Disc world books and just couldn't get into it. But this book is terrific. Little blue men in kilts!


 Vinegar Girl - Anne Tyler

I read her first book, If Morning Ever Comes, when I was a teenager. She has a distinctive voice that makes me feel slightly disconnected from the characters. She writes cool. Nevertheless, I find her  compulsively readable. This is her take on The Taming of the Shrew. I read it in one sitting.

  The Seven Rules of Elvira Carr a novel - Frances Maynard

Young woman who has never lived on her own learns how to cope after her mother falls and goes into care. Excellent book. Builds slowly, revealing the process of learning to remake childhood assumptions with adult eyes. And the terrible things we do in the name of protecting those we love.

Non Fiction

The Earth Moved - Amy Stewart

I have had two worm bins. I loved my worms. Now we have curbside food waste pick-up. Who knew earthworms were so fascinating? Charle Darwin for one. And who knew all our earthworms are invaders from Europe? And that they cause problems in native forests?  An absolutely wonderful read.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Make Your Own Candles for Advent (or Anytime)

We've had different Advent wreaths over the years. When the kids were young, I had a round brass one that I put on a glass plate and surrounded with greenery. Then I found this simple wooden one at a thrift shop. It is Swedish and charming and takes up very little room. 

Usually, the weekend after Thanksgiving I'd find I didn't have enough new candles: three of one color and a fourth of another, which made for a mad dash to the store before Sunday dinner.

I've made dipped and poured candles. These require the proper equipment and procedures to make safely. There was the one occasion during a class at the community center that resulted in a visit by the fire department. That is another story.

By far the easiest candles to make at home are rolled beeswax. All you need are sheets of beeswax and candle wicks.

Beeswax comes in sheets and a variety of colors. Each year I make four candles for the Advent holder. I also wanted to make two candles for some holders inherited from my aunt.

I cut the sheets into smaller sizes. If the sheets are too cool, they will crack. I lay the sheets near the heater briefly, keeping an eye on them. You don't want them to soften too much or melt.  

Lay the wick across one end of the piece and gently crimp the wax around the wick. You want a tight fit for a firm candle.

Slowly roll up from the end with the wick, keeping the edges even. If the wax cracks, gently push it back together. When you reach the end press the edge into the candle without flattening it. Roll the candle back and forth to get a nice round shape.

 If your candle holder is smaller than the candle, pinch round and round the bottom to make it smaller. 

Advent candles ready, plus two for my lovely inherited holders and some extras. Hmm, the extra candles are three different colors. Guess I'll have to buy more sheets next Advent. 

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Chronicles of St. Mary's

I don't remember where I heard about "Just One Damned Thing After Another", the first in The Chronicles of St. Mary's series but I started reading it in Florida on one of the family business trips. I may have run across in the Barnes & Noble. 

I loved it and couldn't wait to read the next and the next. 

Madeleine Maxwell runs into an old teacher who encourages her to apply for a job at St. Mary's, an institution connected to her old college. Madeleine comes from a troubled past and has difficulty with authority. Since graduation, she has been happily traveling the world working on archeology sites. 

She has to sign an official secrets pledge before being let in on what the job really entails. St. Mary's investigates history as it happens. Time travel and "Max" can't wait to join up. The title tells it: Max is plunged into adventure after adventure.  The pace is quick as the wit. And you get little history lessons along with. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ilona Andrews and Patricia Briggs-Some Kick-Ass Heroines (and pretty cool heroes, too)

I am late to the urban fantasy genre. I discovered it with Aaronvich's fabulous series  but haven't delved much further. Because I had several plane flights last summer, I was looking for something fast-paced and intense. The kind of book I don't normally read at home because it's too violent or disturbing-perfect for creating the illusion I am not really stuck on a plane for x number of hours.

I took a library book to Guam but didn't read it until the return trip. I was actually sorry the leg from Guam to Japan was not longer because I wanted to finish the book. What was the book? Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews. This is the first in a series about Kate Daniels. 

When I got home, I checked out the first book in the series but I couldn't read it. The action was too intense for bedtime reading. Fortunately, I had another trip, this one to Florida. Land of hurricanes and Zika. An intense book was required to override my anxiety. 

I read Magic Bites on the plane but found myself alone in my hotel still pretty anxious by the tasks ahead of me. Off to the Barnes and Noble. I love Barnes and Noble in Fort Lauderdale. They have been my rock over the past several years. They are open until 10 pm. 

I bought the next Kate Daniels book and read the blurbs. One recommendation said "if you liked this book try Patricia Briggs." So I did. I bought book one, Moon Called. Read it in a day. Went back to B & N. Bought books two and three. Read them in two days. My goodness, these books are addicting.  

The run down:

Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews

Kate was raised to be a killer by her foster father. She very efficient. But he did something wrong because she also has a strong moral compass. Dystopian Atlanta, where magic has disrupted the regular world and there are different factions of magical creatures battling for turf. Kate works for the Mercenary Guild to fight the creatures who are out of control. 

She runs afoul of the Beast Lord, leader of  the city's werecreatures. (weremongooses! or is it mongeese) Sparks fly. The romance takes several books to fully ripen. Talk about foreplay!

 I love the snarky tone of the characters and the world Andrews has created.

Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs

Mercy is a werecoyote mechanic raised by werewolves. Bad things happen, Very, very bad things. Kate deals with them and her over-bearing neighbor who just happens to be leader of the local werewolf pack. Did I mention this was a romance as well?

I love Kate's voice and world view. The books are bloody, be prepared, but fast-paced and the characters are endearing. As with the Kate Daniels books, the romance develops slowly over several books. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Rather Wonderful Series-C.A. Belmond

A rather wonderful series about a young woman who longs for the romance of an earlier time, say the 1920s or perhaps 30s, when elegance reigned in fashion, villas, and cars.  Think Nick and Nora, Tommy and Tuppence, Grant and Hepburn tooling around the Rivera in an impossibly cute car (is the Dragonetta based on the Morgan?)

Penny Nichols, historical researcher, is about to set out on the adventure of a lifetime. Intrigue, inheritance and dashing men. This series is delightful. I consumed them one after another.

Someone recommended them on the posiegetscozy blog to take on a train trip. I wish I was taking such a journey. I would pack them to read all over again.

In order:
A Rather Lovely Inheritance
A Rather Curious Engagement
A Rather Charming Invitation
A Rather Remarkable Homecoming

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Book Review and a Recipe-Wild About Shortbread

I heard a review of Wild when it came out, thought, That sounds interesting, and forgot about it. When it was made into a movie, I remembered I wanted to read it. Forgot about it again. Recently, I found it on the library shelf.  No avoiding it now.

Cheryl Strayed had an extreme reaction to her mother's death. She set out on a self-destructive path through multiple sex partners and drug use, destroying her marriage in the process.

Making this trip was her way of trying to reconnect with a younger version of herself to save herself. It's amazing she made it through because despite her preparation she was not ready for the rigors she faced.

She faced physical hardship and some dicey situations. She confronted her internal demons and enjoyed the camaraderie of other hikers.

It made me nostalgic for my backpacking days along the Upper Kern River in California. The Pacific Crest Trail passes close to where I camped. Even when I was in my twenties I don't think I would have attempted something like this. Aching shoulders and sore feet for a week is one thing. Having to wrap your blistered, bleeding feet in duct tape and losing toenails is quite another.

This is a great armchair adventure best undertaken with something tasty (not nasty freeze-dried food) and a cup of tea.

Lemon shortbread

1¼ cups unbleached flour ( I like King Arthur. I think it tastes better.)
¼ cup sugar
dash of salt
1 stick butter
grated rind of 1 lemon ( I always buy organic when I use rind.)
1-2 tsp. of lemon juice as needed.

I used a food processor to mix.

Pulse flour, sugar and salt to combine.

Cut butter into 8 pats and drop into flour mixture.

Pulse until mixture looks like large crumbs.

Add lemon juice 1 tsp. at a time just until mixture stays together when you squeeze a bit.

Scrape dough onto a sheet of wax paper and form dough into a log 1½ inches in diameter.

Slice into rounds ¼ inch thick and place rounds on parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

Bake at °350. Check after 20 minutes. Edges should be light golden brown.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Cederberg Tea House-A South African Flavour

As pleasant as high tea at Queen Mary was, I found myself longing for a casual tea room where you didn't have to make a reservation. An everyday place.

Tea rooms were all the rage for a while. There aren't as many now. I guess their moment has passed.

Hello Google.

I found the Cederberg Tea House on Queen Anne. A South African tea house. Hmm, that could be sort of British.

And it is. They have tea sandwiches and baked-to-order scones and tea in a pot. I ordered the scones. They were delicious, though I would classify them as American biscuits.  I expect scones to have a crunchier crust but keep in mind that would be American scones. I am no expert on English scones.

They also have rooibos and bunny chow. I'll pass on the rooibos, which is a tisane as Poirot would say, and not a tea. But I can't wait to try the bunny chow.