Friday 22 January 2016

7 Quick Takes 24: Dead Rats, Hot Tubs, Putting My Foot in it

But not all at the same time, or that would be pretty unpleasant, even for my life...

1. School started for a week, and then we had a holiday to help me recover from the trauma of having to see fifty new faces all over again. It went predictably - I over prepare, start off pretty well, then my nervousness shows itself in the shape of running off my mouth and I end up saying something stupid in class (or at least I think it's stupid). Then I spend the next week or two beating myself up over it when the students have probably already forgotten, if they even noticed.

2. On Sunday evening, my middle daughter announced that one of her rats was looking ill - predictably, since it's a holiday weekend, and any vet visit would be under (expensive) emergency care. We cautiously discussed home care options (aka let's not spend another $200 at the vet unless we have to. Oh, all right, then).
Google "rat" and "rainbow bridge" and what do you know...
Sadly, Ruby had died in the night. OK, I was sad, though my wallet was a little relieved. We consoled one another by talking about how resilient and healthy her other rat, Georgia, is. Thirty minutes later, she comes out of her room to tell me Georgia had dropped dead. Thank you, god of Mondays. I thought it was a particularly deft touch to choose probably the one (burial) day in 2016 in Mississippi when it was below freezing all day. (Actually, I think Georgia was just hanging on so she could outlive her arch enemy, Ruby. Ornery to the sudden end.)

3. Having a boy. Oh boy. What a little testosterone can do. Play with my blocks or eat those dirty old slippers? Read my book, eat my book, or bang it repeatedly on Mummy's hand? Sit quietly with my rattle or empty the rubbish bin? Pull the cat's ear or tail? Make for the wood stove or stop to grab the poker on the way? Choices, choices. We've had to buy a fire guard and a play pen, baby equipment we never needed with the girls. And a baby monitor, in case he wakes up while we're destressing in the hot tub.

4. Ever since he learned to turn over, Alcuin's been pretty determined to not sleep through the night. Sometimes he has a four or five hour stretch a couple of days in a row to lull me into false hopes. I'm close to entering zombie mode. By Monday, I had half a dozen zits (I haven't had a break out for decades), several unfiled, broken nails, and I hadn't showered for three days. No accompanying photo. What was I doing when the baby slept, then? Watching Sherlock and sitting in the hot tub (not at the same time). There's only time for so much.

5. I know I must be of a certain age, because I don't find Benedict Cumberbatch irresistible. But we have fun dissecting the episodes afterwards in the hot tub, and comparing them to the original stories. The Sherlock Holmes I watched most growing up was Basil Rathbone. I think it must have been BBC2 repeats of the movie series. I didn't even realize they were from the 1940s until I looked them up for this post. I do remember being very taken with them, though. I wonder, is a name almost as silly as Sherlock Holmes a prerequisite for playing the character?

or Contemporary?

6. Oh yes, the hot tub.  Hubby finally got the birthday/Christmas/birthday/Christmas present he's been contemplating: a portable hot tub. We've been spending most nights since Christmas simmering under the stars. An unexpected bonus is that when the whole family is in there, you're a captive audience for each other. And it's amazing how a little hot tubbing seems to bring out everyone's hobby horses.

7. The format for this week's sleep-deprived Seven Quick Takes are partly brought to you by the inspiration of Amy Dupire who, with her husband, writes the best Christmas letter I get every year, hands down. I'd name her husband, but I don't think he has a public website, though he ought to have an online business writing Christmas letters. On the other hand, Amy's an author, so visit her website and buy her books! Then head over to This Ain't the Lyceum where other bloggers are probably stealing ideas from their friends, too, even if they're not admitting it.

Wednesday 13 January 2016

Overdue Book Reviews

Here are two book reviews I've owed people for a month or more. I thought about waiting to post until people were over the guilt of Christmas spending, but then I thought you might be sitting on an Amazon e-gift card from the relative who waited until 5pm Christmas Eve to do his shopping. While I'm about it, here's my general disclaimer:

Yes, about 90% of the new books I review are written by people I know. That's why I read them. Of that 90%, about another 90% are solicited, but only in a general way among groups I belong to (e.g. "I'd be grateful if any of you would review my book"). Apart from when I reviewed for the Historical Novel Society, I've never received anything other than a PDF for my efforts. I'm not an affiliate of Amazon or any other retailer, so I provide links for your buying convenience, not my profit. We all have different tastes; I'm aware that even if I'm not completely in love with a book, you might be. To that end, I always single out aspects I liked about the book, rather than attack an author. Plus, I publish a little, and I don't want to create bad karma.  If I really dislike a book, I don't review it at all. So there you go. And here are...

Murder On The Minneapolis by Anita Davison

I've had the chance to read drafts of the second and third books in this series through my online critique group, so I already knew what would happen in the future
of the key characters. Despite that, I was completely drawn into the story and the developing dynamics of their relationships.
Governess Flora MacGuire boards the SS Minneapolis with her young charge, Viscount Trent (Eddie), bound for England. Soon, she finds a body on deck. Despite the evidence she has seen otherwise, the incident is declared an accident. But another murder soon follows. Are Flora and Eddie in danger because of her involvement? And what of the budding shipboard romance between Flora and the upper class Bunny Harrington: surely the class divide will be too strong once they reach the shores of England?
This is a deftly written, classic, cosy whodunnit, with a large net of characters hiding secrets and probable motives, unexpected twists, plus a charming romance. Reading it gave me the pleasure of an entertaining story, and the satisfaction of a well-written novel: the perfect combination in my book (well, and Anita's!).
The other reason you should buy this book is that, sadly, family publisher Robert Hale officially ceased trading in December. Its imprints have been acquired by Crowood Press, who will probably not be continuing its fiction line. This series deserves to live on, so vote with your pocketbook!
Here are the UK and US Amazon links. If you wish to know more about Flora or the author, Anita blogs at The Disorganized Author.

Lady Hope and the Duke of Darkness by Maggi Anderson
A conventionally-published author who has recently taken publishing matters into her own hands is the romance novelist Maggi Anderson. Since I only got to critique her latest novella part way through
before baby days took over, she was kind enough to send my a PDF of the final story. Lady Hope and the Duke of Darkness is the third in the self-published Baxendale Sisters Series - and there are three more sisters to go!
Unlike her two elder sisters who disappointed their parents by marrying for love, Hope is determined to restore the family fortunes by marriage with a man of suitable wealth, rank and social standing. She and her family set their sights on the Duke of Winslow, but then the solitary, secretive French widower, the Duc de Tenebres, enters her social circle, and their mutual attraction threatens to derail her careful plans.
As always, Maggi creates a heroine who is strong in heart and head, willing to be vulnerable, but never a walkover. For those who care, there is only one sex scene, which comes after marriage. I think the only 'complaint' by readers is that they want more! To prevent disappointment, I recommend purchasing the three current novellas in the series and reading them as one novel :)
Here are the UK and US Amazon links. For more, see Maggi's blog at Maggi Anderson Author.

Friday 8 January 2016

7 Quick Takes 23: Frankentrees and More

How traditional did I manage to make our Christmas? A random round up (with thanks to my brother for the title inspiration).

1. We tried to be prepared for our tree. We really tried. But it went like this:
Previous Christmas: survey the yard and select the cypress tree that most looks like it won't need much doctoring to look OK next December. Keep an eye on it all year round.
A few weeks before Christmas: discover that yellow jackets have built a nest in the ground close to said tree, and are not willing to give up an inch of territory.
A week before Christmas: Husband dons beekeeping suit (hurrah for having bees), and goes out at dusk to run a hose into the nest. (A friend gave us the tip of pointing a light away from the shenanigans to divert any emerging wasps.) Several hours later, the hose is still running, and the nest is not overflowing. Six queens have emerged. Eventually, we go to bed, leaving soaked wasps crawling around the yard.

The one on the right is the Queen. Times that by six.

Wake up to 20 degree freeze. Frozen wasps litter the yard. Victory! Then the sun comes out and shines on them. Those suckers defrost and are up and going again.
Give up and go and buy poison. Real victory this time. Silently apologize to Saint Francis of Assisi, but remind him that we did spend $300 on a sick $12 rat that died anyway.

2. Finally, we cut down tree on 21st. We got it in the house on the 22nd and finished decorating by the 23rd! That's the closest to Christmas Eve I've ever managed to make it, so I suppose the wasps were God sent. We haven't found a tree stand that can hold a tree this big, so we always set it in a  huge plant pot full of sand. It may look like a giant potted plant, but it's ours.
Tradition score: 9/10. It would have been ten, but my husband didn't swear half as much this year when getting the tree in place. Plus no cat peed in the sand.

I'd crop this, but the plastic bag nicely demonstrates my photo-taking abilities.

3. We continued a tradition from my youth, and went out for a curry on Christmas Eve (after church - where Alcuin started screaming right at the culmination of a presentation that's been building up piece by piece the entire Advent. Sorry to all the Sunday School teachers and Youth Minister, but there's always next year, right?)
Tradition score: 8.5/10 because American curry houses don't sport a 70s decor or serve After Eight mints at the end of dinner.

4. When we're on our own for Christmas dinner, we always vote on the menu. It ends up traditionally non-traditional, but everyone is happy. The main course this year: Turkey and gravy (for the lone carnivore), mashed potatoes, stuffed butternut squash, roasted broccoli, peas, and last-minute rolls. For dessert: Tiramisu. Home made, because we had boudoir (sponge finger) biscuits to finish up. I tripled (at least) the amount of Marsala and it was delicious.
Tradition score: 9/10 because choosing tiramisu has a flare of je ne sais quoi.

5. British food: No mince pies, because I had forgotten to buy mincemeat when in England this summer (baby haze). Yes, I know there's an Internet, but I want mincemeat I can trust. I did make Christmas cake in November, but without marzipan and royal icing because no one likes those layers anyway. And having a baby did not get in the way of my religiously 'feeding' it with extra brandy for a month.
Tradition score: 7/10. I shoved in a point here for having Christmas crackers.

6. My husband's parents, brother and sister-in-law came for a few days after Christmas. I think they had a good time, even if I was the hostess with the leastess. Even making breakfast seemed pretty complicated with a baby around. Unfortunately, Alcuin had just entered his "stranger danger" stage and didn't trust anyone except his uncle, who looks just like his daddy.
Tradition score: 4/10 because we haven't had anyone stay for Christmas for about 15 years.

7. My resolution for 2016 is to have no resolutions. Being the 46 year-old mother of a baby needs resolve enough.
Tradition score: 0/10, but I suppose that's a positive zero (is that a mathematical tautology?)

This tree is so fresh, it's reaching out to embrace my children

For more Seven Quick Takes that have probably already moved far beyond a Christmas/2015 retrospective, and contain fewer colons: visit Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum.