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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 Travel, on September 18th, 2017.

cherrie_and_me_sooke

That’s me (on the right) with my friend Cherrie, in British Columbia, having breakfast.

A few days ago I got back from a road trip. A 2+ week, 3500 mile road trip. I had posts all set up while I was gone (so you wouldn’t miss me). I have a new car, and I wanted to take her on a nice, long “spin.” Originally I was going to go by myself, because I had lots of places I wanted to stop, to do my own thing, but the end destination was to stay at Sooke Harbour House, in Sooke, British Columbia. This inn, an elegant, old, cozy place holds a warm place in my heart because Dave and I stayed there at least twice, maybe three times over the years. It has a nautical theme, situated right on the Straits of Juan de Fuca, facing south, toward the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. It’s on Vancouver Island, about 20+ miles west of Victoria. The inn has a lovely old knotty-pine trimmed dining room overlooking the views. There are lots of places to sit around the property (providing it’s warm enough and not raining), and most rooms have a small deck or patio to enjoy the view, to listen to the bird calls, with distant fishing boats plying the waters. All the rooms have fireplaces, and many have hot tubs on the decks, outside, or somewhere close by. It’s a very romantic place to stay.

To tell you the truth, though, I wasn’t sure how “happy” I would be staying there. By myself, without my DH. In this very romantic place. But, I really did WANT to go. Dave and I had been planning a trip up the West Coast for a few months off, when he had his stroke and died so suddenly. That’s been 3 1/2 years ago now. I thought I was (maybe) ready to do that kind of trip.

But when my BF Cherrie heard about it, she said she’d like to go with me. Oh, happy day! She and I travel well together – we’ve done numerous trips over the  years (twice to England without our husbands). I knew I’d have a grand time if she shared it with me. And indeed, we did have a great trip.

We drove from where we live in Orange County, California, up the west coast to San Luis Obispo, then Paso Robles, then we kind of whizzed through the Bay Area (except to have lunch with my cousin Gary) and went to Santa Rosa (to eat at a specific restaurant), then we drove to the coast, Old Highway 1, and stayed on it all the way to Port Angeles, Washington. In that interim of northern California, Oregon and Washington coastline we encountered terrible air from the forest fires still burning in many places. Sometimes we couldn’t even see the ocean (part of the reason for the Hwy 1 slow road). Eventually we took a ferry across the Straits to Victoria.

After our stay at Sooke, we took a different ferry through the San Juan islands to Anacortes, and onto Whidbey Island. It’s a place I used to live (in a former life) and I wanted to revisit what I could of where I’d lived there. We stayed at another old, charming inn, before taking another ferry off the south end of Whidbey to Mukilteo. We bypassed Seattle except via freeways and headed for Portland. Stayed in an AirBNB there (more on that later) and just went all over there, enjoying the good food and Powell’s Books. Cherrie flew home from Portland since she’d been gone for about 12 days by that time (and her husband missed her!), and I did the rest of the trip by myself. I drove down through Oregon and stayed with a friend of Cherrie’s JaneAnn, in Rogue River, then hightailed it to Placerville, where my daughter Dana lives with her family. Two days there and then I did another straight shot home.

I’ll be sharing more of the trip in the next week or so, but just thought I’d give you an overview of what we did. I’m very happy to be back home, in my own bed, enjoying my own shower, and petting my kitty, Angel.

When Cherrie and I were up north, it was cool, even a little drizzly in a few places, and we both talked about how we couldn’t wait to get home and make some tummy-warming soups. That’s my goal today (I’m writing this on Thursday), to make some vegetable soup. I have it in my head that I want to make a green minestrone – a soup that I had once in Italy, and I have a recipe for one, but just haven’t ever gotten around to making it. That’s going to happen today, so if it’s as good as I remember, I’ll share it here!

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  1. hddonna

    said on September 18th, 2017:

    Sounds like a lovely vacation. So glad you had such a good time! Looking forward to hearing more.

  2. Carol Wegner

    said on September 18th, 2017:

    Residing in Western Sonoma County, I’m hoping you’ll share which restaurant you made a stop in Santa Rosa just to dine at! My husband and I traveled north as far as Anacortes, down Whidbey Island and followed the coast home until we were forced inland because of the Brookings fire in August, a trip we seem to be in a habit of doing every few years. Your description of the Sooke Harbor house makes me long to return to that part of the island. Thank you for all you share, I have taken books from your list to my book club.

    Thanks, Carol. The restaurant in Santa Rosa is Sweet T’s, a very southern restaurant. I’ve written it up before on my blog (a couple of years ago when my granddaughter was attending Sonoma State). I ordered smoked meat this time, but wish I’d ordered the fried chicken. It’s just so gosh darned delicious. . . carolyn t

  3. Toffeeapple

    said on September 20th, 2017:

    I have enjoyed this first instalment of your trip; I wish I was as brave and confident at driving as you are.

    Looking forward to the green minestra soup too.

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