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Just finished reading 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 Novelby 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 (she arrived after the birth, actually). 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 father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. 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.

On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of middle-aged high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, and wealthy) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

 

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 Travel, on December 4th, 2016.

bay_of_kotor_distance

Sorry it’s been so long since I wrote more about my Croatia trip. Holidays and family things just got in the way! This picture is one of my favorites from the entire trip. This was the scene as we ventured up over a rise and looked out over this protected, inland Bay.

Kotor (pronounced ko-tr) is a town unto itself (pictures below, not in the photo above) but the whole area is called the Bay of Kotor. I swear, this bay should be part of the seven wonders of the world, it’s that gorgeous. We were blessed with a beautiful day and lovely contrast with the cloud cover. I was in awe. I wanted to camp out right there for awhile before we ventured down to ocean/ground level.

In the bottom left you can see an angular line; that’s Kotor airport. Not a big airport for sure. Kotor is a big summer tourist destination – there were ample small hotels and apartments used for summer rentals. The town of Kotor, a walled city, is off to the right and in another deeper part of the Bay.

After taking jillions of pictures from that spot in the photo above, we drove down the hill (on a scary set of narrow switchbacks where some buses had to do 3-point turns to make each and every switchback) and went to a hotel on the bottom right side of the Bay (at about 4:00 on the bay’s edge in the photo at top). It was by far the most gorgeous hotel, the Regent Porto Montenegro, that we stayed in on the entire trip. We all were disappointed we had but one night there. We went to the city of Kotor for a tour and had dinner there also.

 kotor_city_with_bay

As you can see, there were two cruise ships in port – I know – they look like little yachts, right? No, cruise ships. The walled city of Kotor is at the bottom right nestled right up against the mountain. I don’t know the elevation of the steep cliff we were on – probably about 1500 to 1800 feet. But that’s just a guess.

The next day we took a very small motor craft out into the bay you see above to visit a tiny man-made island. Next is a photo I found at Wikipedia – probably a better one than I took, as it was raining all day. This islet is called Our Lady of the Rocks. It’s now a Catholic Church (tiny) and thousands visit it every year. It contains a variety of art, including a wall-hanging made by a woman who waited for 25 years for her sailor-captain-husband to return home safely. She wove some of her hair into it. It was dark in the room, so my photo didn’t come out well.

Nuestra_Señora_de_las_Rocas,_Perast,_Bahía_de_Kotor,_Montenegro,_2014-04-19,_DD_19

As we left the island, there is another island just next to it (to the left of this island above, that is private. It made such a pretty photo – I have a hankering to paint the picture below of St. George, Sveti Dorde Island. I should print it out large, so I can sketch it onto watercolor paper. The Bay was just gorgeous.

sveti_dorde_island_kotor_bay

It rather looks like a church – it’s actually a monastery, in existence since the 12th century. The scene was just beautiful.

coastline_by_our_lady_rocks_island

All my life I’ve enjoyed scenes such as this one – it could have been taken on hundreds of different coastlines or lakes throughout Europe. This one in the Bay of Kotor. So pretty.

ancient_church_kotor

old_street_kotor

Here are two scenes from the walled city of Kotor. At left is the ancient church, much celebrated since it’s been in existence since the 12th century. At right was just a photo I snapped of one of the streets inside Kotor. Everywhere it was walking streets, and the little shop at the end of this little piazza had its interior lights on. Very welcoming.

walking_street_kotor

me_window_regent_hotelHere are two more scenes. At left is another view of one of the walking streets. The stores were open and many in our group bought bags and bags of trinkets. I didn’t buy anything. At right is a view of me, standing in the window of the Regent Hotel, looking out at the docks.

I must tell you, as a widow of a man who sailed all of his life (from age 8) when I walked out to the back of the hotel (in the rain) I was overcome with a sense of grief as I looked at all those sailboats and yachts. My DH would have marched right out by all those boats and talked to anyone who might have been around, to find out about the draft, how many feet long the boat was, what kind of an engine, etc. Asking about the sails, about the sailing in those waters, etc.

If you’ve never known about Kotor, you do now, and you need to add it to your bucket list. You won’t be sorry!

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on December 5th, 2016:

    It looks gorgeous, I do like to be close to water. So sorry that you were struck by grief – it can strike at any time I guess. Sending hugs, just in case. xx

    Thank you, Toni. I had a really bad day 2 days ago, probably because my house is all decorated for Christmas; I was playing Christmas music, the house felt so cozy, and I just was overcome with sadness that my beloved wasn’t here with me. Grief blindsides you now and then. It lasted for about 36 hours, the sadness and quick tears. I hope I’m better today. Thank you for the hugs – they mean a lot. . . ct

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