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Just finished a stunning book, The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives (don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read and is reviewed below) and really liked it. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant. Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

 

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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Posted in Beverages, on December 15th, 2015.

fireball_bottles

Truly, I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck, but I don’t frequent bars, liquor stores, big box liquor stores, and rarely even go down the aisle of wine and liquor at Costco – except to stock up on some Bailey’s now and then.

Then my friend Cherrie mentioned that one night when they were camping with a group of friends somebody brought out the Fireball. Having never heard of it and having heard her rave about it I bought a bottle. I thought it was something you mixed with something – – something – surely you don’t drink it straight? But yes she does. Over ice.

WHAT IS IT? It’s a Canadian whiskey somehow imbued with cinnamon and sugar, I suppose. It is very smooth. It’s also “hot.” It’s like drinking red hots with whiskey. Does that give you a clue? And it’s VERY smooth. It would have to be, otherwise I couldn’t drink it. Trust me on that! I’ve now discovered Fireball. So far I haven’t tried it with anything else – not with Rumchata, or 7-up, coffee, or Coca-Cola. There are websites about what to do with Fireball – other wild cocktails. I just can’t get past drinking it straight over ice.

Over Thanksgiving I casually mentioned it to my son-in-law, John, and to Sara, my daughter, who doesn’t drink hardly anything without falling asleep, and she sounded mildly intrigued. So John made a stop at a store one night I was there and must have asked where it was in the store . . . and said to the clerk “oh yea, I’ve gotta buy my mother-in-law some whiskey.” Anyone who knows me would know that’s so ludicrous because I drink almost nothing. But this Fireball. Well, I won’t say I’m hooked. I have one drink (an ounce) over ice and I’m done. And I definitely don’t have it every night. If I did that I suspect I’d get bored with it. So far, having one every 3-4 days, it’s still a treat and a taste sensation with the first sip.

John didn’t like it, and Sara didn’t like it either. We introduced it to Sara’s in-laws and no, they didn’t care for it. So now I have my own bottle plus the one John bought. In case you’ve not tried it – and in case you don’t like the taste of straight shots. This is more like a liqueur since it has a sweet tinge to it. It’s golden and is smooth. Now I have a drink I can order out. The drink has been around for a long time, but other than hearing the name of it, I’d certainly not tried it. It’s lovely . . . just so you know.

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  1. Katie Newman

    said on December 15th, 2015:

    Umm.. welcome to the club! I love Fireball, too. And you’ve described it perfectly — whiskey + red hots + sugar!! I agree, Quite lovely!

    Yup! The Fireball Club. I like it! . . .carolyn t

  2. Mary S

    said on December 15th, 2015:

    My uncle and my daughter (Michelle,) like Fireball. They sip the shot, Michelle shivers after she swallows, which I find comical. She says it tastes like the “Fireball” candies, we had as kids. I don’t like straight shots, so I have not tried Fireball. But because I loved/love those candies, and I like the idea of the liquor over ice, I am game. It will be a treat for the holiday.

    Thank you and Happy Holidays.

    Thanks, Mary. Hope you enjoy a sip. I certainly wasn’t prepared for liking it as much as I do. Merry Christmas to you. . . carolyn t

  3. Toffeeapple

    said on December 16th, 2015:

    I doubt I would like that, I hate the smell of whiskey. By the way, what are red hots?

    Hmmm. You don’t have red hots? They’re a tiny red candy, about the shape of an M&M, but smaller, and it’s cinnamon flavored. And as it dissolves it has a very strong cinnamon flavor with some heat. I haven’t had any since I was a child, but I suppose they’re still out there in the candy marketplace. They might be at my grocery store – I just don’t notice them because I never buy candy. And yes, I understand the aversion to whiskey – it has a powerful scent. I do like blended whiskey – it was my first alcoholic drink I ever had, mixed with 7-up. But by itself I don’t think I could sip it at all. It’s only because Fireball is sweetened a little bit, and it’s very smooth, that I’m able to drink it – and enjoy it. . . carolyn t

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