Friday, July 10, 2015

7QT 13: A Swanage Seven

I’m on my annual (semi-annual if I’m lucky) visit home to the UK. I hail from South London, but my parents moved down to the coast several years ago, to the area of Dorset where we spent many holidays growing up. So, quickly, in between caring for the baby and being on holiday, here are seven favourite things about Swanage.

1. Chococo

Actually, I’m cheating a little here, because my seven could read Chococo, Chococo, Chococo, Chococo, Chococo, Chococo, Chococo. This tiny seaside town has given birth to possibly the best chocolatier in the UK. My favourite handmade chocolate is probably the Espresso. Or is it Old Thumper? Maybe Brilliant Black Cow. Possibly Bob’s Bees. Not to forget the chocolate biscuit cake, which I still buy even though I have the recipe from their cookbook. Their chocolates are so good, I can eat one a day and be satisfied. And then there’s the café, where my current snack of choice is almond hot chocolate with a raspberry Melting Moment, but I’m gearing up to try the 100% hot chocolate (made with Venezuelan chocolate), which you get to sweeten to your own level. Aargh, enough, excuse me while I run downtown...

2. The view from my window

Hills AND the sea. Bliss.

3.Christmas pudding ice cream

On a beach in July. The ultimate satisfaction for lovers of irony.

4. Being able to walk everywhere
 A bonus: pushing a stroller up steep hills equals postpartum boot camp.

5. Being ten minutes from the sea
I never get tired of the sea. I swim even when it’s icy (which is the usual temperature here). It’s really not so bad once you go numb. I’m never indifferent to the way its vastness makes me seem so insignificant yet is somehow so comforting, assuring me I have a place in the universe.

6. Second hand books
Being a tourist town, there’s always a good turnover of books holidaymakers buy and leave behind. Plus an Oxfam bookstore and a local bookstore stuffed with second hand treasures and local offerings. Last year, there seemed to be at least one copy of Fifty Shades of Grey in every charity (thrift) shop. I suppose people were letting their literary hair down (or tying it up!) on holiday.

7. Fetes
July is fete season in England, and around here there’s at least one traditional fete each weekend. I can’t resist a good rummage, fortified by homemade cakes and tea, of course.  Vintage books, cake keepers, plates, lamps, knitted tea cosies, fairtrade rubber gloves… the list of peculiar bargains we’ve stuffed into suitcases to bring back to the States is endless. 

Bonnie at A Knotted Life is hosting Seven Quick Takes this week. Pop over and say hello.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Murder on the Minneapolis.. and other summer reads

Back to the previous focus of this blog to highlight good reads that might slip under your radar. Brought to you once again from my talented friends: seven summer reads recently or about to be out. Amazon links included (for which I get no remuneration!).

1. Murder on the Minneapolis by Anita Davison
The only physical book I know I'm going to buy this summer (because I want an autograph!). I've seen drafts of sequels, but missed out on the first, so I'm eager to get the beginning of the story. And how could you not want to read about a couple named Bunny and Flora? Due out on June 30th in the UK, October in the US.

The official blurb: Flora Maguire, governess to thirteen-year-old Edward, Viscount Trent, is on her way home to England from New York after the wedding of her employer’s daughter. Conscious of her status among a complement of only first class passengers on the ship’s maiden voyage, she avoids the dining room on the first night, but meets the charming Bunny Harrington on deck, a motor car enthusiast. 
Flora finds the body of a man at the bottom of a companionway, but when his death is pronounced an accident, she is not convinced. The mystery of her mother’s disappearance when she was a child young drives her to find out what really happened to the dead man.
She confides her suspicions to Bunny, and a German passenger, both of whom apparently concur with her misgivings, but the ship's doctor and the captain are reluctant to accept there is a murderer on board.
Flora starts asking questions, but when she is threatened, followed by a near drowning during a storm and a second murder - the hunt is now on in earnest for a killer.
The UK link.
The US link.

2. The Apothecary's Widow by Diane Scott Lewis
I mentioned this in a previous post - a book for those of us who know that love isn't confined to twenty-somethings with perfect bodies. I hope Diane won't mind my remarking that the heroine is much more down to earth and relatable than that slightly sultry cover picture suggests.

The official blurb: Who murdered Lady Pentreath? The year is 1781, and the war with the American colonies rages across the sea. In Truro, England, Branek Pentreath, a local squire, has suffered for years in a miserable marriage. Now his wife has been poisoned with arsenic. Is this unhappy husband responsible? Or was it out of revenge? Branek owns the apothecary shop where Jenna Rosedew, two years a widow, delights in serving her clients. Branek might sell her building to absolve his debts caused by the war—and put her out on the street. Jenna prepared the tinctures for Lady Pentreath, which were later found to contain arsenic. The town’s corrupt constable has a grudge against Branek and Jenna. He threatens to send them both to the gallows. 
Can this feisty widow and brooding squire come together, believe in each other’s innocence— fight the attraction that grows between them—as they struggle to solve the crime before it’s too late? 
The UK link.
The US link.

3. The Craigsmuir Affair by Jen Black
Jen self publishes, including being her own cover designer, and her writing puts many conventionally
published authors to shame. Due out July 20th.

The official blurb: In 1893 Daisy dreams of a career as an artist but runs up against the rock that is Adam Grey, who distrusts women and thinks wives should be content with home and family life. When a valuable painting goes missing in the country house where they are both guests, Adam turns detective and Daisy must prove that she is not the thief Adam initially believes her to be. Does she want love and marriage or to fulfill her dreams?
The UK link.
The US link.

4. The Barbers by Katherine Pym
Katherine takes you into the minds of 17th century Londoners not just through her recreation of their lives, but by giving a sense of their language, too. If you enjoy a slightly different reading experience now and then, check out her works.

The official blurb: It is London 1663 and science flourishes in a mini-Renaissance. Celia Barber shares her father’s shop; he barbers, and she heals during a time when women are not allowed to practice medicine.
As a licensed barber, Celia longs to visit the Royal Society or Surgeon’s Hall to see a dissection, but women are not allowed. She befriends a viscount who sneaks her into the Royal Society, where she sees an experiment and meets Robert Hooke, the great scientist of the day. Celia’s sister works as a domestic in Whitehall Palace, who finds an ancient coin. Will it lead to hidden treasure? 
Life in London is harsh. People sicken and die easily. As a healer, Celia sees tragedy. She cannot save all who come to her. Hardest of all, will she be able to save her brothers?
The UK link.
The US link.

5. Lady Faith Takes a Leap by Maggi Anderson
This is the latest in Maggi's Baxendale Sisters series. Once I got through Georgette Heyer in my
adolescence, I never cared for traditional romances... until I read Maggi's stories. Her heroes and heroines are easy to empathise with, and for those who care about the 'bedroom door' issue, the sex is very often post marital and not uncomfortably explicit.

The official blurb: Dutiful daughter Faith Baxendale just wants to please. Faith isn’t as adventurous as her younger sister, Hope, gadding about the Continent with their aunt, nor as rebellious as her elder sister, Honor, who planned to become a card sharp. And Faith couldn’t lose herself in her art like sixteen-year-old, Charity. Even Mercy, at fourteen, shows more backbone!
After Faith’s first Season ends, her father urges her to marry the man of his choice. But when Lord Vaughn Winborne, a neighbor Faith had a crush on while still in the schoolroom, arrives home for the Brandreth’s hunt ball, surprising even to herself, Faith is drawn again towards a man her father would never consider.
The youngest Brandreth male, Vaughn, is the black sheep of the family. His elder brother, Chaloner, Marquess of Brandreth, still looks upon him as a reckless youth, and Vaughn is determined to prove him wrong.

A chance comes in the form of a scandal not of Vaughn’s making, and he must learn to trust Faith, who, when all’s said and done, has always known her own mind. The UK link.
The US link.

6. The Captain and the Countess by Rosemary Morris
Rosemary keeps the bedroom door firmly shut, writing old-fashioned romance that reflects its time,
not modern thoughts and mores clothed in long skirts . She's been working on a series in the Regency era lately, but this is part of her late-Stuart romantic novels.

The official blurb:Why does heart-rending pain lurk in the back of the wealthy Countess of Sinclair’s eyes? 
Captain Howard’s life changes forever from the moment he meets Kate, the intriguing Countess, and resolves to banish her pain. Although the air sizzles when widowed Kate, victim of an abusive marriage, meets Edward Howard, a captain in Queen Anne’s navy, she has no intention of ever marrying again. However, when Kate becomes better acquainted with the Captain she realises he is the only man who understands her grief and can help her to untangle her past.
The UK link.
The US link.

7. All Kinds of Hell by Amy Dupire
Something completely different to round out my seven: a contemporary YA that explores sisterhood and faith in all its facets. Amy used to live in my town - I still miss our chats on life and writing, and most of all her quirky humour that also plays out in her books.

The official blurb: Self-professed Über-geek Joely Malone blames herself for the car accident that nearly kills her and her sister, Becca. But she has no one to blame for Becca's dramatic conversion to Evangelical Christianity, except for Becca's friend Katie. And, perhaps, God. In the following weeks, as Becca attempts to save Joely from eternal damnation, Joely comes to believe that there are all kinds of hell, from her alienation from her sister, to their father's functional alcoholism, to her increasingly tenuous relationship with her musician boyfriend, Aaron.
In a final, desperate attempt to reconnect with Becca, Joely decides to give Jesus a chance. She volunteers with Becca for the church's Hell House event, an interactive drama designed to scare the Hell out of attendees and chase them straight into Heaven.
But it's only when Joely sees how far Becca has gone that she can face her greatest fear and take a step of faith into the unknown.

The UK link.
The US link.
For more Seven Quick Takes, join Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, June 12, 2015

7QT11: Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Lately, I've been keeping up with Better Than Eden. And while I love the boost it gives me - the positivity, the beauty, the sheer whiteness (although I usually skip some of the descriptions of all that amazing homemaking so I'm not too discouraged), it just isn't how life goes in our household. In fact, if I were to keep a blog along those lines, it would have to be called Something Like Bejing on a Particularly Smoggy Day, or Comparable to the London Underground at Rush Hour.  Maybe it's because I'm British and raised on Monty Python, but somehow I only manage to look on the bright side of life when things are at their worst. Here are seven vignettes of our days...

1. Bath Time
A serene baby splashing in the tub? I think not. All our children hated their first few baths with a vengeance. During Alcuin's second bath, he screamed through being undressed by his sister while I tried to fill the bathtub, 'aided' by our cat, Odie, who has an abnormal obsession with water. Here he is below. The second picture is him still trying to get a drink even though the tub is occupied by a screaming baby. I would have shown you the baby, but the picture I got was Full Monty and I don't think he'd appreciate that being on the internet for eternity.

*His name is supposed to be Odysseus, but he turned out to be stupid rather than cunning, so we had to downgrade him to Odie.

2. Reflux
He doesn't have it as bad as his sister did, but it's pretty impressive. There is spit up on his clothes, my clothes, heck, everyone's clothes, the floor, the bed. Probably on the cats, too, but they have white fur anyway so it doesn't matter.

3. Night Time
I decide to nurse the baby back to sleep *quickly* at 2am. He decides instead to fill his nappy. We stagger to the changing station. He pees over everything. Then spits up. Then pees again. I change his clothes. He spits up on them. I change him again and get him back to the bed, where he promptly spits up over the sheets.

4. Memory Loss
I have trouble thinking of the right.. what do you call them?  Oh,words.

5. Pediatrician Visit
Somehow, in my postpartum haze, I agree to an 8.30 appointment. Of course the baby doesn't sleep the night before.  When the nurse calls us in, I try to hold my head high and walk past all those parents who look about fourteen and are staring at the couple who've brought their grandchild in. It's been so long since I've seen our pediatrician that she's gone blond. Later, my husband tries to cheer me up: "We might have been the oldest parents, but until that Asian woman came in, you had the smallest butt." Thanks, dear.

6. Lowered Expectations
My daily goal is to have breakfast and be dressed by 9. I do mean a.m. If the baby is half dressed by lunchtime, that's a bonus.

7. Gender and Species Confusion
I'm not used to having a boy. I call him girl. Or sometimes Odie, I'm not sure which is closer. Yesterday, I held him up to the mirror and proclaimed "There's Beatrice!". Oh well, gender fluidity is popular now, and maybe I'm just head of the curve on species fluidity.

For more lucid Seven Quick Takes, pucker up and whistle, then join Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, June 5, 2015

7QT10: An Alcuin-pedia

We debated for a long time whether to go with Alcuin as a first name for our son, mainly because of others' possible reactions. But when he was born he was definitely Alcuin. I like to think of it as a special name for a special baby, or an ancient name for a child with ancient parents :). So, to celebrate our nerdiness, here is a mini Alcuin-pedia.

1. The name, pronounced AL-kwin, is an ancient British one (well, Teutonic, but we'll go with British). It means "noble friend".

2. The most (only?!) famous Alcuin in history is Alcuin of York, ca. 735-804 AD. He was sent to York cathedral school as a child, and remained there as a teacher and then headmaster. On a journey to Rome, he met with Charlemagne, who was sufficiently impressed to persuade Alcuin to lead the palace school at Aachen, in which even the Emperor and his wife enrolled along with their children. One of the foremost scholars of his time, Alcuin was a key figure in the Carolingian renaissance. He is credited with restoring Latin as a literary language and with developing the miniscule script which, among other things, made it easier to copy mathematical texts. Though more a teacher than an innovator, he is also the only name of note in mathematical history in this period. It was said of him that "wherever anything of literary activity is visible, there we can with certainty count on finding a pupil of Alcuin's."

See - how long did that take you to read?

Note the uncanny lack of resemblance

3. Here is a contemporary depiction of Alcuin of York

4. Famous Alcuin quotes:

  • He who does not learn when he is young, does not teach when he is old
  • Man thinks; God directs
  • Oh how sweet life was when we were sitting quietly... among all these books

5. Alcuin loved libraries - he established a great library at Aachen, and at Tours, where he retired to be Abbot at Saint Martin's monastery. One of his poems celebrates York and its library (sadly destroyed by Viking raiders after his death).

6. The Alcuin Club, formed in 1897, promotes sound liturgical scholarship. I'm waiting for our complimentary membership.

7. Although I didn't know this at the time, our Alcuin was born at the very time Alcuin of York was being commemorated in my church's noonday service. And the vicar who will christen him in England is a member of the Alcuin Club. So there you go - a name that was meant to be.

For more Seven Quick Takes, join Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, May 29, 2015

7QT9: The Waiting Game

What does one do while pretending not to wait for a birth?

 1. Read something BIG
After coming across happy readers of Kristin Lavransdatter for maybe two years, I got a copy of the Norwegian trilogy, which won the Nobel prize for literature in 1928. One thousand pages of a historical (medieval) novel in the tradition of a Norse saga. I always thought that the concept of Ragnarok could only come from a people who spent half the year in the dark - I think the same goes for the reams of introspection and general sense of fate in this story. I have to say that some of Krtistin's interminable mental self-flagellation did get to me - by half way through I was beginning to sympathize with her feckless husband. On the whole, though, a read to satisfy grown-ups, as Virginia Woolf would say. It will take you to the heart of medieval Norway, and into the hearts of two people passionately in love and completely ill suited.

2. Tackle the almost-final frontier of decluttering
... in the shape of our wine closet aka living room cupboard. I forgot to take a before picture, but to give you some idea of the overall clutter, here is a picture of the living room after I recently rescued a flying squirrel from the cats:
I did not buy the boxed wine.
And here is the Konmari-ed cupboard: Not a squirrel in sight.

The final frontier, by the way, is photographs, but I don't have a spare six months for that yet.

 3. Become an independent trader
Our area has several great swap/sell Facebook groups, one exclusively for all things children. I've managed to sell my daughter's American Girl doll plus paraphernalia for a couple of hundred dollars (after she Konmari-ed her room) plus pick up some cheap baby items. We're giving her a cut on the principle that she should learn early that her unwanted stuff is worth money.

Lovely jubbly!

4. Spend too much time online looking up signs of labour, even though I know the only real sign is the appearance of a baby at the end of it. Start to hate Braxton Hicks.

5. Revisit my television youth
We were sporadically watching All Creatures Great and Small, but now we're getting in an episode a night. My younger daughter wants to be a vet so I thought she'd appreciate the series - and she loves it. Being an accurate portrayal of the British professional classes in the 30s, there is almost perpetual drinking. But boy... are some of those episodes really almost 40 years old? Something apart from the MCMLXXVII at the end of the credits that tells me I'm older: I would have had a thing for young Tristan Farnon (Peter Davison) first time around - now older brother Siegfried (Robert Hardy) is looking pretty handsome.

6. Wait, just wait...
Sometimes feel hopeful, sometimes cry a little...

7. And be rewarded
Alcuin Edward St John, who, at three days past his due date, is obligingly our earliest child ever!

For more Seven Quick Takes, join Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Review round-up

I'm putting my affairs in order/salving my conscience by catching up with with shout-outs and reviews I've been promising for months. Yes, I have critiqued, beta-read or edited these, or have other connections with the authors, but I'm also standing by their talented writing. I'd like to say I'm amazed by the rubbish put out by the big publishing houses versus the quality I so often see from smaller publishers or in self-published work - but no more, alas. So, in historical order, here are:

V.L. Smith - The White Spider of Savignac

The official blurb: When Sir John FitzAlan, lord of an elite mercenary company, is rewarded with the Aquitainian barony of Savignac by Richard Lionheart, his future seems straightforward enough: restore a neglected estate to readiness for war and make the best he can of an arranged marriage to its baroness, Mellisande, a woman he has never met. 
Twice-widowed Mellisande, however, is in no mood for a third marriage. Far from the demure chatelaine John expects, she is an expert vintner and herbalist – skills her people, and the local bishop, suspect she used to murder her two previous husbands.
As John’s disciplined soldiers clash with the unruly local people, and relations with his wife grow colder, John begins to wonder if the tales told of her are true. Will he be Mellisande’s next victim?
My two penny's worth: For those of us who are no longer twenty, Ms. Smith creates a mature hero and heroine you can connect with from the first pages of the novel. The setting is richly and believably detailed and the secondary characters fully fleshed and engaging. Having read other works-in-progress of Vicki's, I can attest to her particular talent in creating sexy vikings :) I especially appreciated the pace of the story - she avoids the current pressure for break-neck speed and develops a plot you can actually savor. I managed to read and enjoy it while still in the throes of morning sickness - what higher accolade could there be?

Diane Scott Parkinson - Ring of Stone

The official blurb: Rose Gwynn is determined to study as a physician in 1796 in England, a time when women were barred from medical school. When she prevails in assisting the local doctor, Rose uncovers a shocking secret that will threaten Dr. Nelson’s livelihood. Servant Catern Tresidder returns to the Cornish village to confront the man who raped her and committed murder. After Rose’s sister is betrothed to this brutal earl, Catern struggles with her demons to warn Rose of the truth. Rose’s attraction to a man far beneath her further complicates her situation. Three people fight society’s dictates to either face ruin or forge a happy ending. Through it all, the ancient stone circle near Rose’s house holds the key to her family’s past, and is positioned through the myths of Cornwall to save her sister’s life.

My two penny's worth: Ring of Stone is a romance by the strict literary definition: a story of love and adventure in a setting where the natural and supernatural coexist - here, the juxtaposition of emerging modern medical practice and the lingering magic of ancient Cornwall. Diane's prose is several cuts above the average romance novel, and the subplots make for a satisfyingly complex read. If you like Ring of Stone, check out Diane's latest Cornish novel, The Apothecary's Widow. Like White Spider, it features a mature hero and heroine the rest of us can relate to.

Amy Dupire - god-thing and other weird and worrisome tales

The official blurb: A Northern transplant teenager chafes under the culture of her Southern U.S. high school and creates her own deity. A reanimated corpse joins a zombie crawl, and stuffed animals spill the beans on their darkest secrets. These award-winning, YA short stories offer curious insights into human nature with humor as well as an unsettling view toward its darker truths. In this collection of tales, you’ll find fortune-telling pancakes, second-tier superheroes, and the occasional possum. 
And it may make you think twice before opening the kitchen cabinets.

My two penny's worth: I've read a lot of Amy's work, published and unpublished, and I love her oddball, dark, humorous take on life. As the blurb says, several of these stories have, deservedly, won or placed in writing competitions. It's hard for me to pick a favourite, but "Key Lime Pie at the Nightmare Diner" and "The Pancake Reader" would definitely be contenders. For young adults or preteens, depending on your child's maturity level/ threshold for the slightly scary.

Friday, May 8, 2015

7 Quick Takes v.8: Reasons to be Cheerful, 1, 2...7

1. I submitted my final grades for classes at the weekend. No complaints/pleading/wheedling for grade changes from my students - in fact, I had two thank yous. I'm done until August!

2. Just thinking of the topic title reminded me of the Ian Dury and the Blockheads song.

3. A new princess. The girls and I approve of the name Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. I did remark that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were in trouble if they had another girl, as they've used up so many royal names, but my younger daughter came straight out with Victoria Caroline Alexandrina. You saw it here first, folks.

4. I managed to make it past my last big 'task' before my own imminent baby - the two hour trip to Jackson to the Mississippi Star student/teacher awards for academic excellence. Quick parental boast - our daughter was an All-Star.

5. It also meant I could visit a real lingerie shop for the first time ever, to get fitted for some decent bras. The lady was lovely, professional, listened, taught, and found the perfect choices.  I walked out feeling amazing. Who knew the right underwear could improve your posture so much?

6. No hung Parliament in the UK - good news whatever one's political leanings.

7. My daughter's pet rat doesn't have terminal cancer - just a plain old mammary tumour that can be removed for a mere $300!  Oh, wait...

For more Quick Takes, hop over to visit Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum. And check out her post on Mother's Day crafts that mothers will actually want!