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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 Uncategorized, on October 11th, 2017.

I’m thanking my lucky stars, and praising God that my home is intact. You may have read or seen clips on TV about the fires here in California. The Northern California fires have been far worse (homes, shopping centers and many people still missing and many lost) than our one here in Southern California, but devastating nonetheless. I was evacuated on Monday. They finally lifted it last night (Tuesday). I actually returned home late Monday night because I felt safe enough to return, although technically I was in a mandatory evacuation area. The road I used to get home wasn’t blocked off as many others were. I live south of that red blob above and as the fires spread, destroying homes and stables and outbuildings in an area called Orange Park Acres, they extended the evacuation zone, and I was in it. I grabbed a few things: 3 of my paintings, some valuables, my kitty, some clothes, my favorite pillow, medications, passport, cat food, litter box, kitty’s favorite blanket and went to stay with my daughter-in-law’s sister and her husband, who live about 15 miles away, south and west, far from the smoke and raging fire.

I stayed put at home yesterday, all day, watching news reports and refreshing the online fire map on my computer. If I’d left, I wouldn’t have been allowed back to my house. This fire spread so fast, they couldn’t update the maps fast enough. Dozens of my friends were evacuated also, and they’d spread far and wide to friends so they didn’t have to go to a shelter. High praise goes to all the firefighters who risked their lives to save homes. I think I heard that only 8 homes were totally destroyed, but hundreds are damaged and partially burned. The fire started up at the top right corner of that red zone (cause unknown at this point). It was a hot day, we had Santa Ana winds (high winds that blow in from the desert), the temperature was in the low 90’s, and the humidity was under 10% – prime conditions for a brush fire, perhaps from a thrown cigarette butt, since the origin was just beside a freeway, a main east/west artery in our region. The fire is still raging, but it’s going east, into the Cleveland National Forest, off to the right of that red blob. A favorite wilderness park was totally destroyed, along the eastern edge of the red blob. It’s a favorite for hikers and walkers. There is still residual smoke in the air

So, I lost more than a day in my quest to put away stuff from my termite tenting. I’m going to get on that today, I hope. But I’m feeling quite overwhelmed, actually with that task. And to make matters worse, my hot water heater that supplies hot water to my kitchen, has died. My plumber is going to install a small tankless one, but not until next week. Sigh. So I’m keeping my electric tea kettle going as I need to do dishes. Paper plates are the name of the game this week.

Thankfully, I’m fine, and my house is fine. My kitty still feels a bit discombobulated, though, as he’s “off” his food a bit and wants more attention than usual. But we’re alive and well, all things considered.

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  1. Joan

    said on October 11th, 2017:

    I’m so glad you’re okay. You’ve had so much stress the last several days.

    Yes, I have, but nothing compared to what’s still going on in Northern California. 3500 homes destroyed as of this morning’s news. And loss of life to many. I’m very grateful to be okay. . . carolyn t

  2. Carol Wegner

    said on October 12th, 2017:

    What a strange feeling to be living in an evacuation area in Northern California and watch your old neighborhood being evacuated a day later. We lived in Orange Park Acres near Irvine park prior to moving to the unincorporated area of Santa Rosa, near the small town of Graton. The fires have been devastating. It’s heartbreaking to see friends and coworkers lose their homes. We are so thankful to be safe in our home. We are praying that they will begin to get this fire contained soon.

    I was just listening to the devastating news about your NorCal fire. Terrible devastation and loss of lives. And 3500 homes, so far. Glad you’re okay!! . . . carolyn t

  3. Toffeeapple

    said on October 12th, 2017:

    What a frightening position to be in, you certainly did not need that extra stress did you? I hope that you manage to get all your things back into place soon and then you will be able to relax.

    Not much resting going on here. I have managed to get my refrigerators and freezers back in order, and am currently working on my walk-in pantry. I have about 50 jars of herbs and those have all been put away in alphabetical order so I can find them. They were that way before, but when they were packaged up, they were just tossed into a big bag. Haven’t unearthed the bag containing spices yet. They are somewhere in the 15 bags I have yet to open. Am going to a cooking class today, so I’ll be resting there, but as soon as I get home I hope to have the get-up-and-go to do more work in the pantry. Still have lots of stuff stored at my neighbor’s also. . . carolyn t

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