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Just finished The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Read The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome (the Pope) – he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of Margaret of York (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine),  who was a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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What makes my world rock? Having a fun dinner with friends, enjoying some nice, soft wine with classical music in the background, easy-going conversation, but enjoying it over a spectacular meal. Someone recently asked me why I’m willing to spend so much time cooking. Because when my hubby or a guest says “Oh, this is so wonderful.” It makes the work worthwhile.

ct-with-choc-roll

I’m in my early 70’s, and have lots of things yet to do in my life. My other half, Dave, my DH (you’ll see that throughout my posts, it means Dear Husband) of 31 years, enjoyed all my food experimentation, and God bless him, he washed all the dishes. Usually when we entertained, he even set the dinner table for me, and did much of the grocery shopping (because he LIKED to). His parents used to own a gourmet food and grocery market in Ocean City, New Jersey. [Alas, my darling husband passed away in March, 2014, of complications following a stroke. He was a Type 1 diabetic, and was very lucky throughout his life to have very few of the major problems that often accompany diabetes. He lived 74 years, 66 of those as a diabetic.]

I grew up in San Diego, went to college there, married the wrong man and stayed with him for way too many years, had a daughter during that time, was divorced and a year later found Dave, the love of my life. Between us we have 3 children (and now 5 grandchildren). They all live in California. I live in Orange County, California. In the land of sunshine.

Dave and I did a lot of traveling in our married years, as world travel was always important. I took him on a trip to England early in our relationship, as a “test run,” to make sure he’d travel well. (He passed the test, obviously, and he acquired the travel bug as well!) You find out a lot of things about a mate by living with him 24/7. We lived together for some months before we married – probably not something I’d do today – but back then I was skittish of committing myself to someone if I didn’t really know him well. We dated for 6 months, lived together for a year and married in 1983. When I wrote this bio some years ago, we still had lots of world travel places to visit or revisit (and not necessarily in this order): Tasmania (again), Spain (again), Rome (again), Venice (again, but off season), Newfoundland, South Africa, Israel (to see all the Christian historical sites), Stockholm harbor (again), Norway (again), New Zealand (also again). Places we’ve particularly loved: Italy, England (our two favorites), Spain, Turkey and inland Alaska.

At right and below is a recent picture of me in Paris (4 of us girlfriends traveled together for 2 weeks in Switzerland and France) – my friend Darlene and I were at Angelina’s, a very famous place for their hot chocolate. Did you know that French hot chocolate is thickened with flour? Who knew? I’ve recently had cataract surgery and don’t have to wear glasses anymore! That’s a whole lot of fun, though I still must wear them for reading.

When I draw on my travel memories, carolyn_in_Paris_Angelinas_hot_chocolate_200favorite places that come to mind: the villa in Provence that a group of us (friends) rented a few years ago; one of the lochs in Scotland where Dave and I were the only car for miles around. We were on a very narrow 2-lane track – we stopped the car – rolled the windows down and just listened – to the wind – to the leaves rustling – to the lapping water – it was magical; staying at a very posh hotel on the north shore of Lake Lucerne (Switzerland), and a particularly memorable meal we had in the hotel’s restaurant with a view of the lake, mostly occluded in fog that evening; standing at the Spanish Steps in Rome; the Blue Mosque in Istanbul; waking up in Giza, just outside Cairo (Egypt) to look out our hotel room window at the magnificent pyramid; seeing Michelangelo’s statue David in Florence (it’s huge); riding a Segway in Paris; the unbelievably green grass in Switzerland in the springtime; my first visit to Harrod’s in London, many, many years ago, when I bought a $200 (then) Burberry raincoat and thought I’d purchased the moon; and the week we spent in Hawaii with all our kids and grandkids some years back, at a rental home right on the sand.

Reading is also an important part of my life. I’ve been in a book review group (through AAUW, American Ass’n of University Women) for about 30 years. Mostly I read fiction, but the “better paperback” choices, not pulp fiction. Lots of my book reads will be on my blog. Maybe some cookbooks too since I read and buy way too many. I’m also in a 2nd book group now and a 3rd one too.

I’m a committed Christian, have been a member of a Presbyterian church (Trinity United Presbyterian Church) for about 30 years, sing sometimes in the 120+ voice choir, and am involved in two bible study ministries. I also help as a hostess at memorial services as well. I spend way too many hours on the computer every day. I enjoy playing a bunch of different solitaire games (they’re part of my morning wake-up exercises I tell myself), and doing my daily jigsaw puzzle at www.jigzone.com.

So come along for the ride, and see where my writing , cooking, traveling and reading take us.