Friday, January 29, 2016

Review: The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine

The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine by Alexander McCall Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just can't figure out why I enjoy visiting with Mma Ramotswe as much as I do. The plots are very simple, there is no violence, no "action" to speak of, just a calm,gentle, simple story. Mma Ramotswe is manipulated into taking a holiday by her co-director Grace Makutsi and her husband, Mr. J.B.L. Matakoni. She reluctantly agrees, and then has a very difficult time trying to decide what to do. Gossiping at tea with her Gabarone acquaintances doesn't interest her, and it doesn't take very long to clean her cupboards and mend clothing. So instead, she rescues a young boy from unpaid servitude, and agrees to help Mr. Polopetsi on a case that Grace has assigned him. Along the way we visit the orphan home where we enjoy tea and fruit cake along with the conversation between two good friends, and once again, Violet Septhoro is vanquished. As always, Mma Ramotswe's great heart, her kindness, and her wisdom shine through. I love this series!

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Review: Along the Infinite Sea

Along the Infinite Sea Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's the mid-1960's and Pepper Schuyler, unmarried and pregnant, has just sold a rare antique Mercedes that she's restored and is meeting the new owner, Annabelle Dommerich. Annabelle tells her that the car had originally belonged to her husband, and she whisks Pepper away to her Florida home. As the two women become friends, they share their secrets. The story is told in tandem narration. Annabelle, a minor French princess, has a clandestine affair, and marries when she becomes pregnant. Her story, which takes place in France and Germany as WWII is developing, involves a Nazi general, a Jewish resistance fighter, a prison break, and a desperate flight across Europe. Pepper's story unfolds as she recalls her misguided affair with her boss, a married and prominent politician. The two women become friends as they recognize parallels in their life stories.
I enjoyed this novel, and liked both protagonists. I was surprised on some levels by the ending, but after reflection, decided it made a much better ending than the one I thought I wanted.

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Monday, January 25, 2016

Review: Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule

Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule by Jennifer Chiaverini
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I found this book boring. It had potential, but it just didn't work for me. The biggest problem was the Madame Jule's story. While there are plenty of historical resources available to create a novel based on Julia Grant's life, there is next to none about Jule. Because of this, Jule's story is very thin, and feels like an afterthought. It felt as thought the author didn't know what to do with her. Since Jule's entire story was imaginary, I think the novel would have been better served with the two main characters resolving their conflicts with each other in person.

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Review: The Storm of the Century: Tragedy, Heroism, Survival, and the Epic True Story of America's Deadliest Natural Disaster: The Great Gulf Hurricane of 1900

The Storm of the Century: Tragedy, Heroism, Survival, and the Epic True Story of America's Deadliest Natural Disaster: The Great Gulf Hurricane of 1900 The Storm of the Century: Tragedy, Heroism, Survival, and the Epic True Story of America's Deadliest Natural Disaster: The Great Gulf Hurricane of 1900 by A.L. Roker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very readable account of the 1900 hurricane which destroyed the city of Galveston, Texas. I was familiar with the event ( from a well-researched fictional account of the storm by Susan Wittig Albert), but I learned some fascinating details. This was the kind of nonfiction that drove my husband crazy. I kept interrupting his evening with "Listen to this!" and "Did you know?" questions. What I found especially interesting was the history behind the development of meteorology and the US Weather Bureau. I also had had no idea of how advanced the Cuban meteorologists were, nor of the US political machinations that were to blame for the lack of the warning. I was also really interested by the fact that the Cuban weather service was founded by the Belen Jesuits. My father attended Belen for his entire schooling! My only complaints about the book are that it needed a map for reference, and the few pictures were so small that it was hard to see detail.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Knitting Content

I just finished a cuddly warm shawl called Squall Line which was featured in the Fall 2015  issue of Interweave.  I started it in November and finished while I was watching Downton Abbey on Sunday night.  I used Malabrigo Merino Worsted (purchased at Webs) in the colorway Polar Morn, and it took almost every bit of five skeins.  Although my husband might disagree  ( a few curse words may have been uttered during the knitting of this), I did enjoy the process.  I learned a few things too.  I'd never knitted an edging perpendicular to the body before, and I figured out a short cut for a short cable cross preceded by a yarn over at the very start of a row.  I made ample use of life lines and stitch markers, and there may have been a section of the body pattern that I knit and frogged multiple times because I kept missing a yarn over or I skipped a row on the chart.  The charts were very small, so I enlarged them, and I did some color coding to help me keep track of where I was on the chart.

All in all I am CONTENT with  my shawl.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Review: Everything Under the Heavens

Everything Under the Heavens Everything Under the Heavens by Dana Stabenow
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to give this book more stars because there were things I really liked. But for me, the biggest problems were the cliff-hanger ending and the fact that I felt too removed from the characters. I loved the premise and the settings. After 20 years of teaching about the Silk Road, I was excited to read a novel that is based on the caravan life. As a piece of historical fiction, it is very well-researched, and I appreciated the details about food, clothing, and geography. I didn't connect with the characters very well; the narration felt too remote. By that I mean it felt like the narrator was completely outside the story, telling me a story about things that happened to other people. I didn't feel like I was in the story with Johanna and Jaufre. I liked the basic plot but it needed to slow down, and build the tension more carefully. The surprise attacks were too out of the blue - a little foreshadowing would help. The ending was extremely abrupt, made more so because I was reading an ebook where it's much harder to be aware of how close to the end of the book you are. I will read the following installment because the plot's premise is interesting, and I do enjoy the author's ability to evoke setting.

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Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Gifts of Retirement

1.  The ability to put chores off.  For most of my adult life, Saturdays and Sundays were the chore days - laundry, grocery shopping, errands, cleaning, bookkeeping for the business, etc.  I have the Timehop app on my iPad and I have been noticing how many weekend entries were focused on all those chores plus the grading and lesson planning my teaching job required.  I'd go back to work Monday morning feeling stressed and tired because I never seemed to have time to do nothing on the weekends.  And never mind trying to do many of the chores of daily living during the week.  It's a real luxury to have the ability to postpone doing things like laundry or vacuuming because I can do it tomorrow if I don't get to it today.

2.  The gift of not having to be out of the house by a certain time every weekday morning.  I don't sleep much later than I did when I was working, but it's such a joy to be able to enjoy a second cup of coffee most mornings (when I don't head out to a 7 am water class!) and take my time with the morning routine.  I'm usually showered and dressed by 7:30 which feels like the middle of the day, compared to the "out the door at 6:30 am" of the past, but if I want to lolligag around the house I can.

3.  That moment of joy when I realize again, (almost daily) that I am retired.  I am still amazed on Sunday afternoons, when I start thinking about the work week ahead, and all the things I didn't get done, and then have that "Glory, Hallelujah" moment when I remember, it doesn't matter.  Vacation isn't ending!

4.  The joy of being able to watch shows that are on at 10 pm IF I choose to watch.  Or to stay up late reading.  What a gift!

5.  The gift of alone time.  I never realized how little alone time I had.  My husband is not retired (yet) so he is at work a good part of the day.  I also go to exercise class two or 3 times a week, and I attend a weekly Bible study.  I've also started to volunteer as a Meals on Wheels substitute driver.  But in between, I have some blocks of uninterrupted alone time.   I don't necessarily do anything exceptional then --- I read, I might watch General Hospital (I can't believe I got myself hooked on that again.  The last time I was addicted was before I went back to work fulltime.  I used to nurse my kids and watch it!  Luke and Laura!!), I color, I sit and knit on the deck in nice weather and bird watch.  But it is so refreshing.

The surprising thing to me about my retirement is that I truly do not miss my former life as a teacher.  While I taught, I loved it.  I did it well, and gave my heart and soul to it.  But it was time to say goodbye to that life, and I have no regrets.  And I am continually surprised by that.

Review: Murder on a Girls' Night Out

Murder on a Girls' Night Out Murder on a Girls' Night Out by Anne George
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the first book in the "Southern Sisters" cozy mystery series. Set in Birmingham, Alabama, the protagonists are Patricia Ann, a retired school teacher, married to the same man for many years, and her sister Mary Alice, who's on her 4th husband. They are as different as chalk from cheese in both physical attributes and personality. Mary Alice impulsively buys a road house. The former owner, who has stuck around to help with the transition, is found murdered in the club's wishing well. The two sisters, along with a supporting cast of former employees, including Bonnie Blue Butler, go to work solving the mystery. Despite the gruesome murder, it's a lighthearted and at time humorous book. One of my favorite lines: "You called Fred to tell him Jed said Ed was dead?" I liked the way the sisters' relationship is portrayed. It's realistic, showing their frustration and exasperation with each other's foibles, as well as the deep bond of love they share. I am looking forward to reading more of the series.

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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Pinterest to the Rescue!

I was in the mood for a hearty vegetable soup this morning, and went to my SOUPS board on Pinterest where I'd saved a recipe for minestrone.

Here is a link to the original recipe, from Little Spice Jar, which I followed pretty closely.

I used chicken broth instead of vegetable broth, and since I knew we wouldn't be eating it that day, I cooked the pasta separately, rather than in the soup itself.  I used tiny elbows since I couldn't find ditalini in any of my local stores.  I just put the pasta in the bottom of the soup bowl and ladled hot soup over it.  Yummy!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Review: The Inn

The Inn The Inn by William Patterson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I rarely read horror books, but thought I'd try a different genre just to change things up. I wish I could say this was good, even if horror isn't my thing. But this was just plain silly. Annabelle Wish and her husband James Devlin have left NYC to take over the Devlin family bed and breakfast in a remote town in the Massachusetts' Berkshires. Annabelle is recovering from a drug addiction, as well as severe PTSD. As a child her stepfather tortured her by locking her in a closet and convincing her that a tiny blue demon would eat her. Once at the inn, Annabelle discovers that there are very disturbing family secrets that threaten her mental and physical well-being. And then, the town ne'er do-well is found murdered in the woods nearby, and his body is missing an arm. It's eerily similar to murder at the inn many years previously. Next, a inn guest goes missing, and then a workman, hired to do some inn renovation disappears. All in the space of a day or two. At the same time, Annabelle starts seeing the blue demon from her childhood all over the house, and strange noises are emanating from the fireplace in the parlor and in the walls. Needless to say, there are a few more deaths, and many more blue demons, before the final confrontation, which takes place during a raging blizzard. The resolution was abrupt; almost as if the author had written himself into a corner and had no idea how to get out of it. I'm glad I didn't spend any money for this one!

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Review: Stars of Fortune

Stars of Fortune Stars of Fortune by Nora Roberts
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don't mind books in which the protagonist(s) are imbued with unusual gifts, or in which the plots revolve around magic, but this one was over the top. Since this is the first book in a trilogy, I assumed there would be three main characters, all with a similar problem, and that each character would find his or her soul mate. In Stars of Fortune, there are 6 characters, 3 women and 3 men, of course, and they are all destined to search for three stars hidden by ancient gods. They need to find the three stars before the evil goddess finds them and destroys the world. Each of these characters are special. There's a seer, a wizard, a mermaid, an immortal, a lycan, and a time traveler. Like all of Nora Roberts' trilogies, at the end of the novel part of the problem is solved, and one couple is united. While the book held my attention, the formulaic plot annoyed me, and I just had a really hard time suspending my disbelief for the course of the novel. I probably won't read the next two.

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Monday, January 11, 2016

Review: Tricky Twenty-Two

Tricky Twenty-Two Tricky Twenty-Two by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this installment, and laughed out loud in a few places. Stephanie Plum is back! This time the plot involves bubonic plague, catfishing, and a frat house. Plus, Morelli has decided to break up with Stephanie. Or has he? As usual there are donuts, fried chicken, viewings at the funeral home, destroyed cars, Ranger rescues, and ruined outfits. Stephanie even discovers her mother's hidden depths!

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Review: Winter Stroll

Winter Stroll Winter Stroll by Elin Hilderbrand
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I didn't realize this was a sequel to a previous book, but the first chapter pretty much summarized the first one. This was a very short book, covering one weekend in the life of the Quinn family. I am assuming that the character development occurred in the previous book, as there was none in this one. It almost read as perhaps an epilogue for the previous book. I just didn't get into this book at all.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Review: A Question of Inheritance

A Question of Inheritance A Question of Inheritance by Elizabeth Edmondson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the sequel to A Man of Some Repute, and continues the story of Selcechester Castle. Now the the 17th Earl is dead, the title is settled on Gus Mason, a widowed professor from America. He arrives with his teenaged daughters, and none of them are too excited at the prospect of living in the drafty old castle. The protagonists from the first book, Hugo and Georgia Hawksworth, and Freya Wyrton are all present. It's Christmas and the house is full. Even disgruntled and erstwhile Sylvia has arrived with an art dealer and purported fiance in tow. Soon the shenanigans begin when Gus experiences some near fatal accidents. Then one of the Castle's guests meet an unfortunate end. All is well at the end of the book, and there is room left open for a continuation.

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Sunday, January 3, 2016

Review: The Whistling Season

The Whistling Season The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When widowed Montana farmer Oliver Milliron looks for a housekeeper, he's drawn to an advertisement which states the applicant, Rose Llewellyn, "can't cook, but doesn't bite." She's hired, and arrives in the small Montana settlement of Marias Coulee with her brother Morris. The story covers autumn 1909 to spring 1910, and is narrated by Paul Milliron, Oliver's eldest son. The Llewellyns settle into life on the prairie, though it is clear that the life is foreign to them. Morrie becomes the schoolmaster of the one room schoolhouse where Paul represents one half of the 7th grade. Morrie teaches with passion and creativity despite his lack of credentials, and captures the attention of his students with his stories and astronomy lessons centered on Hally's Comet which arrives in 1910. This is a delightful story, providing a picturesque account of life on the frontier. Paul's voice is authentic, and often humorous, as he tells the story of this pivotal year in his life through flashbacks. The lessons he learns with Morrie follow him to adulthood and help him make a difficult decision. The writing is terrific too, evoking the harsh environment and its beauty. I was really sorry that I finished the book!

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