Thursday, June 23, 2022

What I've Been Reading Lately

 



Summer has finally arrived!  We went from very cool temperatures to hot and humid.  We have been fortunate to not have many storms with these drastic changes in the weather.  My flowers were not growing much while the weather was cool, but now that it has warmed up they are blooming like crazy.  We planted a vegetable garden this year and it is finally taking off, but so are the weeds!

We will be doing some traveling this week to attend a wedding in the St. Louis area.  After we return, we have some relatives coming to visit us.  It is so good to gather with friends and family.  Things will be quiet around my blog for a few weeks, so I thought I would share some things I have been reading.

Free Fall (The Quantico Files, #3)

This is the third book in the Quantico Files series.  Alex Donovan and Logan Hart are behavioral analysts working for the FBI at Quantico.  They are working on writing up a profile for a missing woman.  After a little investigation, they discover that several women matching this woman's physical description have gone missing.  With very little information to go on and a race against the clock, Alex and Logan try to put the pieces together and rescue the missing women.  

As is often the case when a criminal has committed multiple crimes, the subject matter is dark.  However, Nancy Mehl does a great job of not letting the darkness overwhelm the story.  Throughout the story several of the characters grow in their faith as they try to make sense of what is going on.  The suspense kept me turning the pages to find out what was going to happen.  

Stillmeadow Calendar: A Countrywoman's Journal

Most of Gladys Taber's books are written by the month and this one is no exception.  Stillmeadow is her country home in Connecticut.  She writes about nature, cooking, gardening, homemaking and enjoying time with friends and family.  I am reading this month by month, so I am reading the June chapter currently.  I always enjoy her books. 

"Of course summer officially begins on June 21, at 3:57 a.m., but somehow the seasons seldom go according to the calendar.  Nature follows her own plan as the earth turns.  Now, as she casts her spell, daisies open their innocent eyes and gaze out across the fields at the roses cascading over fences."

In other news, the Blue Angels visited our town recently and I was able to catch their performance.  Our community hosts an air show every other year.  It has been several years since the last one was held due to COVID.  We live a mile or two from the local airport and get the opportunity to see the jets flying over our house as they practice for two days leading up to the show.  It is so much fun and I always stop what I am doing to watch them.  Here are a few pictures:







I hope you are all having a great summer and finding lots of time for reading.  I will still be visiting your blogs, but won't be posting much here for a little while.  See you soon!

~ Gretchen


Monday, June 20, 2022

Book Review: The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

The Horse and His Boy (The Chronicles of Narnia, #5)The Horse and His Boy (Chronicles of Narnia #5). C. S. Lewis. Collier Books/MacMillan Publishing (1970) (First published 1954). 217 pages. Genre: Classic, Children's Literature.

First Line: "This is the story of an adventure that happened in Narnia and Calormen and the lands between, in the Golden Age when Peter was High King in Narnia and his brother and his two sisters were King and Queens under him."

Summary:  Shasta lives with a fisherman in Calormen.  He calls him Father as he is the only father he has ever known.  When he overhears the fisherman making arrangements to sell him to a stranger, he determines to run away.  He soon discovers the horse he is fleeing on is a talking horse, named Bree.  The two of them begin a journey to Narnia.  Along the way they meet Aravis and her talking horse, Hwin.  As they travel through the desert to the north, they encounter lions, suffer hunger and become separated.  When they learn of the Calormenes' plot to invade Narnia, they are in a race to reach the king before it is too late. 

My thoughts:  I enjoyed getting a glimpse into what is going on in Narnia while Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are kings and queens in the land.  

Shasta has not had an easy life.  The fisherman has given him food to eat and a place to stay, but he treats him as a slave.  Shasta has never been able to love the fisherman like a boy should love his father.  So, when he overhears the conversation with the stranger about selling him, he is excited and thinks that maybe this will be a good thing for him, until he realizes that the stranger could just as likely, perhaps more likely, be cruel.  The decision to run away is not a difficult one.  

Aravis is the daughter of an important man who has been promised in marriage to a base man who has made himself important by flattery and evil counsels.  For obvious reasons, Aravis is not excited about the prospect and feels her only way out is to run away.  Only after fleeing on her horse does she discover Hwin is a talking horse.  Aravis thinks very highly of herself and looks down on Shasta.  In fact, she only speaks to the horses.  

I had a hard time connecting with either Shasta or Aravis.  I am not sure why.  The story is full of adventure and an exotic location.  There is danger as well as fun and the story culminates in a battle.  Aslan makes several appearances, which were my favorite parts of the story. 

Overall, the story is a good one.  But, because I didn't feel a connection to the characters, it is one of my least favorite in the series. 

Quotes:

"For in Tashbaan there is only one traffic regulation, which is that everyone  who is less important has to get out of the way for everyone who is more important, unless you want a cut from a whip or a punch from the butt end of a spear."

"But as long as you know you're nobody very special, you'll be a very decent sort of horse, on the whole, and taking one thing with another."

"'Don't you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?' said Shasta.

'There was only one lion,' said the Voice. 

'What on earth do you mean?  I've just told you there were at least two the first night, and -'. 

'There was only one, but he was swift of foot.' 

'How do you know?' 

'I was the lion.'"

Friday, June 17, 2022

Book Review: The Farmer's Wife Sampler Quilt: Letters from 1920's Farm Wives and the 111 Blocks They Inspired

The Farmer's Wife Sampler Quilt: Letters from 1920s Farm Wives and the 111 Blocks They InspiredThe Farmer's Wife Sampler Quilt: Letters from 1920's Farm Wives and the 111 Blocks They Inspired.  Laurie Aaron Hird. Krause Publications (2009). 256 pages. Genre: Non-fiction.

First Line: "The year 1922 lies between two important events in American history."

Summary:  In 1922, The Farmer's Wife, a popular women's magazine, posed a question to their readers: "If you had a daughter of marriageable age, would you, in light of your own experience, want her to marry a farmer?".  Cash prizes were offered to the best 68 answers submitted.  The best answers to the question are included in this book along with the quilt blocks they inspired.  

My thoughts:  I am not a quilter, but I do enjoy quilts.  My interest in this book was the letters written by women living in the rural areas of America in 1922.  I was first made aware of this contest when I came across this blog post. It includes one of the letters that was left out of the book.  I was so intrigued that I wanted to read more.  

Each page of this book includes pictures of two quilt blocks inspired by one of the letters along with a transcription of the letter.  The quilt blocks are beautiful and I was fascinated by the names given to them.  But, my favorite part of the book was the letters themselves.  

The magazine received over seven thousand responses from their readers and 94 percent of them stated that they would, indeed, want their daughters to marry a farmer.  

My heart and mind were filled with the daily details of life for the 1920's American family.  I was struck by how many of the letters mentioned time for reading as a benefit of the farm wife's life.  

"Her leisure (she really will have more than the city dweller might suppose) will be spent in delightful companionship with the good books and magazines her education will have taught her to appreciate."

"The average farmer's wife who plans her work can find a number of hours for reading, writing and social pleasures and in this day of autos and good roads, has time and opportunity for movies, concerts and lectures."

"I also am interested in dietetics, child-welfare books or magazine articles, good farm magazines, and, for recreation, books by good authors, poets and playwrights.  I probably read about eighty books per year, besides magazines."

Something else mentioned in many of the letters was the wholesomeness of life in the country.  The children would not spend all of their time away from home with their friends, but rather families spend time together and with other families.  Husbands would not be tempted by women who practiced vamping.  This was a new word to me, but the author provided definitions of some of the words that came up repeatedly and that would be unfamiliar to modern readers.  Vamping is "practicing seductive wiles on men." 

"On the farm my daughter's husband and her growing boys are more aloof from vicious allurements.  Instead of vaudeville and moonshine, they have box-social and friendly games of skat.  Vamping is very uncommon, and the necessity of birth control is not so apparent."

Many of the letters spoke about the difficulty of farm life, but they all said they wouldn't trade it for city life.  Most of them spoke of time spent outdoors.  One woman ended her letter this way:

"So, I want my daughter to marry a farmer and I want to see her in her own home on a good American farm with the cleanness and wholesomeness of country life lived close to nature, in daily intercourse with flowers and birds and bees, chickens, and cows and pigs, horses and autos and tractors, pianos, Victrolas and telephones, with all the joys and pleasures of an American home in God's wonderful out-of-doors."

Another benefit mentioned that I thought was interesting was not having to worry about keeping up with the latest fashion.

"On the farm, you are quite independent of fads and fashions.  Cotton stockings, sun-bonnets, bloomers and overalls are all right, and you feel happier than the walking fashion-plate."

I really enjoyed reading these letters.  If you are a quilter, the second half of the books gives directions for each quilt square and how to put them together.  



Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Book Review: Murder with Darjeeling Tea by Karen Rose Smith

Murder with Darjeeling Tea (A Daisy's Tea Garden Mystery)Murder with Darjeeling Tea (Daisy Tea Garden Mystery #8). Kensington (2022). 352 pages. Genre: Cozy Mystery.

First Line: "Daisy Swanson and her son-in-law, Foster Cranshaw, stood on a rural road outside the more bustling tourist area of Willow Creek, Pennsylvania."

Summary:  Daisy is on the hunt for the perfect birthday present for her boyfriend, Jonas.  She is visiting Rumple's Statuary Shop with hopes of finding a Golden Retriever statue.  While there Mr. Rumple suggests that Daisy might want something more special and insists on showing her some expensive miniatures that he keeps in a safe.  That is not exactly what Daisy has in mind, so they head back outside to look at the stone statues.  While Daisy is browsing, she hears an angry yell from the front gate.  After a heated argument, the customer tears off in his car.

A few days later Mr. Rumple is found dead at the Four Paws Animal Shelter where he volunteers.  He appears to have been hit over the head, but the murder weapon is missing.  Since Daisy has helped the police solve a few murders, the residents of the town seem to come to her with information.  When she becomes a target, the race is on to discover who wanted Mr. Rumple dead.

My thoughts:  I always look forward to a new installment at Daisy's Tea Garden.  The characters are like old friends and the mysteries always keep me guessing.

Besides dealing with another murder in town, Daisy is struggling to come to grips with the idea that her youngest daughter will be going off to college soon.  She is happy and excited for her, but is also dreading an empty house.  Her oldest daughter, son-in-law and grandson live in an apartment over her garage.  However, she agreed that they could live there rent free for one year and that time is coming to an end.  Vi and Foster are thinking about moving out.  I appreciated her very real feelings about all of this.  She knows these things will be good for her kids, but she wants to keep them close.  

Daisy's Amish friend, Rachel, plays a larger role in this story.  I enjoyed getting a glimpse into her life.  Daisy has known Rachel since they were children and has a deep understanding of the Amish lifestyle. I like the way Rachel and Daisy help one another while being respectful of their different lifestyles.  

Mr. Rumple was not a likeable man and was involved in some shady dealings.  His only redeeming quality seems to be his love of dogs.  There are several suspects, but Daisy doesn't know any of them well.  She just keeps following leads until the culprit is revealed.  

I always enjoy lovely descriptions of the location and we definitely get that here.  The story takes place in the fall and the author has done a good job of giving the reader a feel for the Pennsylvania countryside during this season of change. 

After the mystery is wrapped up, Daisy has a few things to sort out in her life.  It looks like she has some exciting things coming up in the future.  I look forward to reading all about it in the next installment.

Quotes: 

"She liked having her family around her and nearby."

"This Sunday evening, Rose had made her famous chicken potpie.  Daisy's aunt had brought a broccoli casserole.  Daisy baked the cheese biscuits that were going over so well at the tea garden, while Vi had put together an apple-walnut salad.  Jazzi had brought a snack mix that they would eat while sitting around and talking.  The meal wasn't really about the food.  It was about connecting with each other, catching up, and understanding what was happening in each person's life.  It was about spreading love around."

"The sky looked like a steel-gray cover overhead.  Clouds swirled, and she wondered if rain would fall before she finished her ride.  She followed her usual route as leaves rustled about her.  Trees were dropping them swiftly, readying for the new season.  Dampness soaked the air, not quite a mist."


   


Friday, June 10, 2022

Book Review: Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart

Nine Coaches WaitingNine Coaches Waiting. Mary Stewart. Hodder & Stoughton (2011) (First Published 1958). 455 pages. Genre:  Romantic Suspense, Gothic.

First Line: "I was thankful that nobody was there to meet me at the airport."

Summary: Linda Martin has taken a job as governess for orphaned, young, Phillipe, Comte de Valmy.  She has been living in England, but was raised in France.  Madame de Valmy has made it clear that she wants an English girl as governess who will be able to teach Philippe English.  Because of this, Linda hides the fact that she speaks French fluently.  Philippe takes an immediate liking to Miss Martin and the rest of the family is relieved to have someone looking after him.  It is important that he is well looked after since, upon the death of his parents, he became heir to the de Valmy estate.  As Linda gets to know the family, she feels that something isn't quite right.  When Philippe narrowly misses death in two different accidents, Linda begins to wonder whether he is safe.  As rumors circulate, Linda doesn't know who to believe.  What she knows for certain is she must keep Phillipe safe.

My thoughts:  Linda Martin is a very likeable heroine.  She is young, but wise for her years.  She spent seven years in an orphanage and learned how to take care of herself.  She doesn't expect things to be handed to her and is very willing to accept her place in life as a servant.  She has a soft spot for Phillipe as he has also been orphaned recently.  

After the death of his parents, Phillipe has been living with his Uncle Leon de Valmy and Aunt Heloise at Chateau Valmy.  The chateau belonged to Phillipe's father, Etienne.  However, Leon and Heloise have been managing it while Etienne and his family lived in Paris.  Leon's son, Raoul, has been attempting to manage Leon's property, Bellevigne. Unfortunately, Leon has let many things go and Raoul has his hands full trying to keep the place up.  After an automobile accident, Leon was confined to a wheelchair.  He is an intimidating man.  Linda is afraid of him.  On the surface he seems to like Linda, but she doesn't trust him.  Heloise is kind, but can be cold.  She is unwell and needs pills to help her feel normal.  Linda is never quite sure what to think of her. 

There are two potential suitors in Linda's life.  However, she never has any doubt which one she prefers.  There are some very fun, Cinderella-like scenes in the story.  The de Valmy family traditionally holds a dance and decided to go ahead with it even though the death of Etienne and his wife is very recent.  Madame and Monsieur de Valmy invite Linda to attend.  She has nothing suitable to wear, but has saved some money and is able to go to the little town and buy some fabric.  Fortunately, she has sewing skills and makes a beautiful dress.  

As the story progresses the suspense really picks up.  Linda is warned that Phillipe's life is in danger.  She is not sure whether to believe it or not, but decides that she doesn't want to take any chances with Phillipe's life.  The two of them escape in the middle of the night and flee through the woods.  They find some shelter for the night, only to be nearly discovered.  They are hungry, tired, dirty and don't know who to trust. 

Mary Stewart is such a great writer.  I was enthralled through the entire story.  Her descriptions of the French countryside made me feel like I was there.  The night scenes are especially memorable.  I also enjoyed all the literary references.  Each chapter begins with a quote from literature, as well as other references throughout the story.  

I am so glad I finally got around to reading this author and I look forward to discovering other great books by her. 

Quotes:

"And at the edge of the pavement there were the flowers; tubs of tulips and freesias and the scarlet globes of ranunculus; box after box of polyanthus, vivid-eyed; daffodils, sharply yellow; the deep drowned-purple of pansies; irises with crown and fall of white and ivory and blue and deeper blue ... oh, beautiful!"

"I found Buchan, too, and Conan Doyle, and a host of forgotten or never-known books that, gratefully, I devoured - forcing myself to ignore that irrational feeling drilled into me in the seven years at the Home that Reading was a Waste of Time."

"'He's as finicky as a five-times-table, and about as lively."

"An owl called below me, down in the woods; called again.  Its muted melancholy found too ready an echo in me.  I felt tired and depressed."

 

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Book Review: Body on the Bayou by Ellen Byron

Body on the Bayou (Cajun Country Mystery, #2)Body on the Bayou (Cajun Country Mystery #2). Ellen Byron. Crooked Lane Books (2016). 312 pages. Genre:  Cozy Mystery.

First Line: "It was midafternoon and Maggie Crozat had already led five large tour groups through Louisiana's Doucet Plantation, a historic state landmark once owned by her ancestors."

Summary:  Maggie's co-worker, Vanessa, has asked Maggie to be Maid-of-Honor in her upcoming wedding to Police Chief Rufus Durand.  Vanessa is the epitome of a Bridezilla.  She has given Maggie a to-do list a mile long.  When Vanessa's cousin Ginger shows up unexpectedly, Vanessa assumes Maggie's family will find room for her at their Bed and Breakfast.  Maggie has heard Vanessa and other family members complain about Ginger, so Maggie is expecting a terrible experience.  However, when Ginger shows up she is very polite and generous.  Maggie is relieved that she has one less thing to worry about.  

Her sense of well-being comes to an abrupt end when Ginger's body is found at the edge of the Bayou.  Suspects abound as the truth about Ginger's life comes to light.  The Pelican Police Department is on the case, but Vanessa begs Maggie to find Ginger's killer.  Maggie tries to tell Vanessa that finding a killer is outside of her Maid-of-Honor duties, but Vanessa won't let it go.  As Maggie begins looking into Ginger's life, she finds herself compelled to solve the mystery.

My thoughts:  One of the things I love most about this series is the strong relationship Maggie has with members of her family.  That definitely comes through in this book.  Since we already know the characters, we are able to jump right into the story. I was drawn in immediately.

Maggie helps her parents run Crozat Plantation Bed and Breakfast, a home that has been in her family for generations.  She has a close relationship with both of her parents, although their roles are minor in this story.  Grand-mere Crozat shares a house on the plantation with Maggie.  She helps out around the B & B, is always immaculately dressed and is often found with a cocktail in hand after 5 pm. She is always quick to encourage Maggie and remind her that she believes in her.   Maggie's cousin Lia also lives in town and runs a bakery.  She and Maggie are the best of friends.

Vanessa was a secondary character in the first book and we definitely learn more about her.  Maggie realizes that she was chosen as Maid of Honor because no one else would accept the position.  But, Maggie takes her responsibilities seriously and does the best she can with the unreasonable requests of the bride. 

Two of my favorite characters in this series are Detective Bo Durand and his autistic son, Xander.  Maggie and Xander have connected through art and I really enjoy how that is progressing.

The mystery kept me guessing with plenty of suspects. As Maggie learns more about Ginger's life, she finds more people who had reason to kill her.  The suspects all have secrets too, which leads to more possibilities.  I was beginning to despair it would ever be worked out.  I shouldn't have worried.  It all came together perfectly and at just the right time.  I was completely taken by surprise when the culprit was revealed.  

There were a few surprises at the end which set up the next book.  I am glad to be behind in this series so I won't have to wait for the next book to come out.  

Quotes:

"Gran sighed and shook her head. 'Oh, my darling girl.  Someday you will have children.  And your life will revolve around them to the point where you have only vague memories of what it was like before they entered the world.  And then you will have to let them go.  You won't know what to do with yourself at first.  But eventually you'll find the life you had before, or even a better one, if such a thing is possible.  And your children will always be part of that in some way.  You will not lose them.'"


Saturday, June 4, 2022

Book Review: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Wind in the WillowsThe Wind in the Willows.  Kenneth Grahame. Grosset & Dunlap (1967) (First published 1908). 228 pages. Genre: Classic.

First Line: "The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home."

Summary:  When Mole feels something up above calling to him, he leaves his underground home and discovers a world that was unknown to him.  He meets Rat, who lives on the river bank.  Rat introduces him to Toad and Badger.  The four friends have many adventures together. 

My thoughts:  The first time I read this was to my children when they were young.  We immediately were drawn into the story and fell in love with the four friends.  This time through was no different, except that I have lived longer and have more experience to draw from.  I still found the characters endearing and it is such a fun story full of adventure.

At its core, this is a story of friendship.  Rat immediately welcomes Mole into his world.  Rat is the kind of friend everyone needs.  He doesn't expect much, but is always ready to lend a hand.  

Mole is so enchanted with the world above ground, that he is eager to see and experience everything he can.  Even the dark and scary things.  However, he quickly sees the error of his ways and is eager to be a good friend.

Toad is constantly chasing the newest and shiniest technology.  He is addicted to the thrill of the machine - the faster, the better.  Unfortunately, he has the means to support his habit, but lacks the self-control to stop chasing these things, even when it leads to bodily harm or imprisonment. 

Badger can seem intimidating.  He is large and serious, but he is always ready to offer hospitality.  He doesn't grudge his friends for interrupting his winter nap when they need a place to stay and a hot meal.  

While this is considered a children's book, there is plenty in it for adults to enjoy.  The writing is beautiful and it touches on some serious topics.  There are parts of the book that remind me of The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.  Other parts that are reminiscent of the Redwall series.  There are parts that are hilarious and other parts that are a little scary.  It is full of all the things that make a cozy British novel, such as walks in nature and descriptions of feasts around a table near a roaring fire.  However, to children it is just a story with great characters embarking on grand adventures.  It is a great book to read in the spring as that is when the book opens.  I highly recommend this classic.

Quotes:

"The Rat hummed a tune, and the Mole recollected that animal etiquette forbade any sort of comment on the sudden disappearance of one's friends at any moment, for any reason or no reason whatever."

"The Rat looked very grave, and stood deep in thought for a minute or two.  Then he re-entered the house, strapped a belt around his waist, shoved a brace of pistols into it, took up a stout cudgel that stood in a corner of the hall, and set off for the Wild Wood at a smart pace."

"'Who ever heard of a doormat telling anyone anything?  They simply don't do it.  They are not that sort at all.  Doormats know their place.'"

"Indeed, much that he related belonged more properly to the category of what-might-have-happened-had-I-only-thought-of-it-in-time-instead-of-ten-minutes-afterwards. Those are always the best and the raciest adventures; and why should they not be truly ours, as much as the somewhat inadequate things that really come off?"