Monday, October 16, 2017

Mondays Need a Good Book: THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE

 The War that Saved My Life (The War That Saved My Life #1)


THE BLURB: Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.

So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?
 

THE SCOOP: I almost quit reading after the first chapter, because the mother was so awful, but the story's focus is redemption, love, and growth, and it is absolutely heart-warming as only excellent middle grade can be. 

Ada and Jamie remind me of Alf and Binnie in Connie Willis's Blackout/All Clear books, a bit. Their growth--especially Ada's, once she's given the chance to bloom--propels the story forward.
THE VERDICT: LOVE. I mean, LOVE. I'm suggesting it to my book club for next year.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Caught My Fancy Friday: Oatmeal Cookies

Image result for soft oatmeal cookies

Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies are my specialty. I can whip up a batch in 5 minutes. You can use any recipe you like--really, they're all quite similar. The secret to a perfect cookie is to cook it at 350 degrees for 8 minutes. THAT'S ALL. They will look raw. They will look doughy. But take them out, and they will cool to PERFECTION.

Oh, and don't use milk "chocolate" chips. Semi-sweet. SEMI-SWEET.
You're welcome.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Mondays Need a Good Book: A STUDY IN SILKS

A Study in Silks (The Baskerville Affair, #1) 

THE BLURB: London, April 4, 1888 ~ Evelina Cooper, niece of Sherlock Holmes, is ready for her first London Season - except for a murderer, missing automatons, a sorcerer, and a talking mouse. In a Victorian era ruled by a ruthless steam baron council, mechanical power is the real monarch, and sorcery the demon enemy of the empire. Evelina has secretly mastered a coveted weapon - magic that can run machines. Should she trust the handsome, clever rake who speeds her breath, or the dashing trick rider who would dare anything she would ask?

THE SCOOP: I don't generally care for books that drag Sherlock Holmes (or Jane Austen or Lizzie Bennett) in as a character. I like those characters to stay in their own worlds and for authors to delight me with something new. I'm glad I overlooked that here! Also, Sherlock is a minor character in this first book in the trilogy.

This is steampunk at its best--sprawling, convoluted, Victorian, charming. There were many different plots (and points of view), and the characters had depth. I've read so much YA lately, and although I love it, sometimes I just want a 500-page book full of characters acting like people, with all the surprises and fun that entails. This was wildly creative.

I will add that I didn't love the other two in the trilogy quite so much, but that's usually the case, for me. 

THE VERDICT: Try it!  

Friday, September 22, 2017

Monday, September 18, 2017

Mondays Need a Good Book: THE MYSTERY OF THE CLOCKWORK SPARROW

The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow (The Sinclair’s Mysteries #1) 

THE BLURB: You are cordially invited to attend the Grand Opening of Sinclair’s department store!

Enter a world of bonbons, hats, perfumes and MYSTERIES around every corner. WONDER at the daring theft of the priceless CLOCKWORK SPARROW! TREMBLE as the most DASTARDLY criminals in London enact their wicked plans! GASP as our bold heroines, Miss Sophie Taylor and Miss Lilian Rose, CRACK CODES, DEVOUR ICED BUNS and vow to bring the villians to justice…

THE SCOOP: The was shelved as YA in my library, and the main character is 14, but it read like middle grade to me. Awesome middle grade.

This is like throwing Nancy Drew in the BBC's show Selfridges. I want to move into Sinclair's department store myself after reading it. I did feel like the mystery was a bit obvious and unsurprising, but then, I've read a darn lot of mysteries in my day, and I imagine it would feel totally fresh to a middle-grade reader.

The characters are endearing, the world rich and layered, and THE HATS OH I LOVE THE HATS.

THE VERDICT: I picked it up because I thought it was steampunk, not straight historical, thanks to 'clockwork' in the title. But I have no problem quitting books, and I didn't want to put this one down. Darling!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Caught My Fancy Friday: Writing Groups

My writing group met this morning. I have online critique pals I love, but there's something so therapeutic about meeting in person with other writers.

I love watching members of my writing group grow in skill to tell better stories.

I love being wowed by the mind-blowing awesome plots and characters they come up with.

I love having friends who get the writing business.

I love getting feedback from readers who have known about my story since it was a mess of unrelated threads.

I love cheering on writers on this same (sometimes rotten) path.

I love learning about genres I don't write.

Some people I know are pretty exclusive about their writing circles--new members have to submit their work and be evaluated by current members. That's not my speed. I've worked with brand-new writers who are on their first chapter and writers who churn out amazing manuscript after amazing manuscript, and guess what? Every kind gives me valuable feedback on my writing. And the writers who get better are the ones who keep trying. Who keep plugging along. I've had talented writing friends who quit, who never finish a manuscript, as well as novice writers who improve by leaps and bounds because they keep trying, keep getting feedback, and keep improving.

If you want to write, get a writing group!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Mondays Need a Good Book: METALTOWN


THE BLURB:  The rules of Metaltown are simple: Work hard, keep your head down, and watch your back. You look out for number one, and no one knows that better than Ty. She’s been surviving on the factory line as long as she can remember. But now Ty has Colin. She’s no longer alone; it’s the two of them against the world. That’s something even a town this brutal can’t take away from her. Until it does.

Lena’s future depends on her family’s factory, a beast that demands a ruthless master, and Lena is prepared to be as ruthless as it takes if it means finally proving herself to her father. But when a chance encounter with Colin, a dreamer despite his circumstances, exposes Lena to the consequences of her actions, she’ll risk everything to do what’s right.

In Lena, Ty sees an heiress with a chip on her shoulder. Colin sees something more. In a world of disease and war, tragedy and betrayal, allies and enemies, all three of them must learn that challenging what they thought was true can change all the rules.

An enthralling story of friendship and rebellion, Metaltown will have you believing in the power of hope.

THE SCOOP: I'd describe this book as an apocalyptic Newsies. Then, once Lena was introduced, I realized it had a big dose of Eponine, Cosette, and Marius. 

The world is wildly creative, we get three diverse and interesting points of view, and I'm a sucker for social justice stories. I really appreciated having Lena's character, since it gave us insight into the bad guys and prevented them from looking like caricatures.

THE VERDICT: It's grittier than my usual reads, but it's a great book. I already gave a copy to a girl who will eat it up. Give it a try!


Monday, September 4, 2017

Mondays Need a Good Book: EVICTED

 Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City


THE BLURB:
In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge.

Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced  into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.

Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.


THE SCOOP:
This was the best-written, most thought-provoking, and beautifully annotated nonfiction book I've read in a long time (seriously, his footnotes are interesting). The narrative reads smoothly, and the author intersplices policy decisions and statistics in the chapters. I appreciated how he includes the land(slum)lord's point of view, as well.

A few things that shocked me--

1. I always thought people lived in inner city neighborhoods because they were cheap. No.
2. I had no idea what disincentives women have to report domestic abuse, as police showing up at rental units can tag them as nuisances and lead to evictions. What?
3. Having children makes renters four times as likely to be evicted?!
 

Mostly, I couldn't believe that I was reading about conditions in the United States of America in the twenty-first century. Shocking. Well-researched. Motivating. I hope this work has an impact on our policies--I thought the author made very sensible suggestions in his epilogue.

THE VERDICT:
Read it.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Caught My Fancy Friday: The Cardross Necklace

The Cardross Necklace is fake. Georgette Heyer (the one and only romance writer, as far as I'm concerned) made it up for her novel April Lady. She describes it as a (hideous to her main character) gold and emerald necklace, with flowers set on little coils of gold so it quivers.

{I looked all over the internet and didn't find anything that reminded me of it, surprisingly, and I maybe have a new business idea of manufacturing jewelry and clothing described in my favorite books. Yep, pretty sure there's a BOOMING market for that.}




Image result for emerald gold flowers necklace nineteenth century
Image result for emerald gold flowers necklace nineteenth century

These are the best hideous emerald concoctions I found from the early nineteenth century. That's a stomacher brooch on the bottom.

And here's an emerald, ruby, diamond, and gold giardinetti neckace, circa 1760. Now, THIS one I'd wear in a heartbeat!


Image result for emerald gold flowers necklace
I remember reading an interview with Stephenie Meyer where she talked about looking for designer formals online for her fancy vampires to wear to prom. I was so shocked--I'd always assumed authors made everything up! Describing a picture you see online? Cheating!

Of course, now I know writers cheat all the time. But there's still something enchanting about imagining something gorgeously spectacular and bringing it to life on the page with nothing but words. Sometimes if I can't figure out what something would look like--like 1920s spats, for example, which confused me for YEARS--I look at pictures, but I usually find my imagination is better than anything google spits up.

Except for that 1760 necklace. Maybe it will make a cameo appearance in my next manuscript.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Mondays Need a Good Book: WOLF BY WOLF

Wolf by Wolf (Wolf by Wolf, #1)Blood for Blood (Wolf By Wolf, #2)


THE BLURB:
The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule. To commemorate their Great Victory, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The victor is awarded an audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor’s Ball in Tokyo.

Yael, a former death camp prisoner, has witnessed too much suffering, and the five wolves tattooed on her arm are a constant reminder of the loved ones she lost. The resistance has given Yael one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler. A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year’s only female racer, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele twin’s brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael’s every move.

But as Yael grows closer to the other competitors, can she bring herself to be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and complete her mission?


THE SCOOP:
 I love alternate history. I especially love it when the alternate history makes the perfect world for the story the author wants to tell--sometimes they tend towards a textbook-like rambling about battles and inventions with an incidental story.

This one is heart-breaking and inspiring. I loved the themes of identity, discovery, the aftermath of tragedy, and whether hope is possible in the face of evil. And here's a two-for-one--I liked the sequel, BLOOD FOR BLOOD, even more (the motorcycle racing in the first book isn't really my scene, and I thought the character development in the sequel was phenomenal).

THE VERDICT: Even if you guess the twists, you'll be thrilled to be on the ride.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Caught My Fancy Friday: Solar Eclipse

Image result for solar eclipse 

Monday was the solar eclipse, and it felt like everyone I knew hopped in their car to drive to Wyoming or Nebraska to be in the path of totality. In my town in Colorado, we were at 94% totality . . . and it mostly felt like a cloudy day for an hour or so. I peered at the eclipse through solar glasses, and it was cool, and then I ran errands at SuperTarget.

But! I know folks who left home at 4 am to see it. A photographer I know experimented with lenses and exposures for months before the eclipse to capture the best images possible. Friends pulled kids out of school, took the day off work, found divey hotels in the middle of nowhere, and camped in stranger's fields (with permission). One writing buddy had in-laws who flew from England to see it.

They all cared a lot more than me.

Part of it is that I usually have to be talked into having a good time, but also, I just wasn't that into it. I've been thinking about how eclipse-interest-levels apply in so many areas of life--books, movies, cuisines, hobbies, activities. I love having friends excited about things I'm indifferent to, because it keeps life interesting. And that's the fun of writing different characters, for me--I love diving into heads that are completely unlike mine.

Maybe I'll write an eclipse into my next manuscript, just to see how my characters react to it.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Mondays Need a Good Book: STRANGE THE DREAMER

Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer, #1)


THE BLURB:  
The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Welcome to Weep.


THE SCOOP:
I loved everything about this book. The characters, particularly Lazlo, are so endearing and complex and GOOD (as in good people, not well-drawn characters). I love rooting for people worth rooting for. The world is absolutely amazing. The story is fascinating and unexpected. I did foresee the two main twists at the end, but I enjoyed the journey to them nonetheless. This had all the wonder and delight of an excellent fantasy.

And Laini Taylor's writing. WOW. Every word she writes is lush--perfectly chosen and immersive.

THE VERDICT:
In all honesty, hold your horses! I thought this was a standalone, and I'm not sure I can wait until the sequel comes out. I'm dying to read it. But if you're more patient than I (not hard), grab it. It's everything I love about fantasy.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Mondays Need a Good Book: BLOOD ROSE REBELLION

Blood Rose Rebellion (Blood Rose Rebellion, #1) 




THE BLURB: Sixteen-year-old Anna Arden is barred from society by a defect of blood. Though her family is part of the Luminate, powerful users of magic, she is Barren, unable to perform the simplest spells. Anna would do anything to belong. But her fate takes another course when, after inadvertently breaking her sister’s debutante spell—an important chance for a highborn young woman to show her prowess with magic—Anna finds herself exiled to her family’s once powerful but now crumbling native Hungary.

Her life might well be over.

In Hungary, Anna discovers that nothing is quite as it seems. Not the people around her, from her aloof cousin Noémi to the fierce and handsome Romani Gábor. Not the society she’s known all her life, for discontent with the Luminate is sweeping the land. And not her lack of magic. Isolated from the only world she cares about, Anna still can’t seem to stop herself from breaking spells.

As rebellion spreads across the region, Anna’s unique ability becomes the catalyst everyone is seeking. In the company of nobles, revolutionaries, and Romanies, Anna must choose: deny her unique power and cling to the life she’s always wanted, or embrace her ability and change that world forever.
 

THE SCOOP: I adored two things about this book. One was how the author created a magic system and wove it into Victorian British life--so creative and interesting, with a great voice that reminded me of Georgette Heyer's tone (I have NO HIGHER PRAISE).  I also adored the Hungarian setting. It gave dimension to the plot and helped the story take unexpected turns that felt in keeping with the place.

THE VERDICT: Read it fast, fast, fast, before the sequel comes out! Look at all that gold.35386010

Friday, August 11, 2017

Caught My Fancy Friday: Maurice Utrillo's NOTRE DAME


I fell in love with this painting of Notre Dame by Maurice Utrillo. I'd like it in my house. I'd like to be in Paris. The end.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Mondays Need a Good Book: FIRST CLASS MURDER

First Class Murder (Murder Most Unladylike Mysteries, #3) 


THE BLURB:Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are taking a holiday through Europe on the world-famous Orient Express. From the moment the girls step aboard, it's clear that each of their fellow first-class passengers has something to hide. Even more intriguing: rumour has it that there is a spy in their midst.

Then, during dinner, there is a bloodcurdling scream from inside one of the cabins. When the door is broken down, a passenger is found murdered, her stunning ruby necklace gone. But the killer is nowhere to be seen - almost as if they had vanished into thin air.

Daisy and Hazel are faced with their first ever locked-room mystery - and with competition from several other sleuths, who are just as determined to crack the case as they are.


THE SCOOP: I was late discovering this BEYOND CHARMING set of mysteries. An alpha British girl and a quiet girl from Hong Kong form a detective club at their boarding school and solve murders.

This one charmed the socks off me. It takes place on the Orient Express--and the author says it's an homage to Murder on the Orient Express, one of her favorite mysteries--and mine. It's middle grade, which is about the level of gore Agatha Christie used, and about my own comfort level. 

THE VERDICT: A delightful series! My 11-year-old son was desperate to read the others after reading this one.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Caught My Fancy Friday: Aveiro, Portugal's Blue Tile

A few years ago, I tagged along with my baby sister while she gave a paper at an academic conference in Aveiro, Portugal (at a university where students wore robes like Harry Potter!). We learned that Aveiro is called the Venice of Portugal, and I took a cruise on its canals--twice.

Spoiler alert: the canal is short and ends in a salt production facility.

But I really loved the town. Since the buildings are exposed to so much humidity and salt water, many of them are covered in blue tiles. I adore the combo of practicality and drop-dead gorgeousness. Behold!
 Even the inside of its train station used these blue tiles. I love it.


These are the types of details I love writers to include in their fantasy worlds. Not just the products of an amazing imagination, but with a dash of practicality thrown in. That's probably the mom in me! But I think the inhabitants of fantasy worlds probably need to consider humidity and sea air when building their ocean-side cities, too.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Mondays Need a Good Book: THE SMOKE HUNTER

 The Smoke Hunter



THE BLURB: "London, 1898. Archivist Eleanora Mallory discovers a map to a legendary city . But is it the key to unravelling an ancient mystery or a clever hoax?

"Compelled to find out, Ellie journeys to Central America - with a merciless enemy hot on her heels.

"In a race to uncover the map's secret first, Ellie is forced to partner with maverick archaeologist Adam Bates, a man she's not sure she can trust. Together, they venture into an uncharted wilderness alive with smoke and shadows, where an even greater danger awaits them.

"For what lies there whispering to be unearthed has the power to bring the world to its knees."


THE SCOOP: This book is charming and delightful--and it's not even YA! It's like a mash-up of the best parts of Romancing the Stone, Indiana Jones, and the Amelia Peabody books. The adventure is smart and fresh, I love enemies-to-friends romances, and the heroine is feisty, smart, and swashbuckling. I want ten more like this ASAP.

THE VERDICT: Take this on vacation. You're welcome.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Caught My Fancy Friday: Keys


I love keys. These are from two different museum collections--one in the Netherlands and one in France. Aren't they darling? Aren't you DYING to know what they unlocked? I'm pretty sure treasure would have to lie behind any door these keys opened.




Monday, July 24, 2017

Mondays Need a Good Book: THE HATE U GIVE

 The Hate U Give

THE BLURB: "Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

"Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil's name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

"But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life."


THE SCOOP: Here's the main thing--it's kept me thinking for months. Here's a few other things:
  • The author's voice is out-of-this-world perfect.
  • I felt like I was immersed in a foreign culture in my own country. The vocabulary, the families, the religion, the food, the interactions between friends, the relationships with the police and teachers and parents.
  • She shows the good and the bad of that culture with unflinching honesty.
  • It brings the Black Lives Matter movement to heart-breaking life.
  • Parts of it made me cringe, but I think that was the intent.
THE VERDICT: I wouldn't recommend this book to a really young teen. There's a lot of language and some sexual content. However, there's also a moving confrontation with a social issue at the forefront of many teens' lives, and I'm not sure it could have been done without the language. This book is a wonderful, page-turning, make-me-think-er. Read it and let's chat, please.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Caught My Fancy Friday: Peterhof, GOLD AND SPARKLY


Peter the Great (like every other eighteenth-century monarch with delusions of grandeur) visited Versailles and wanted his own. And in typical Peter the Great fashion, his version was bigger and better. The statues were not gold-leafed during his time, but it is an improvement I can definitely get behind. SPARKLE, STATUES, SPARKLE.

He designed Peterhof to be approached from the sea. This sea channel below leads straight from the gulf to the Grand Palace. They often held boat parades in the sea (Peter's navy was stationed at an island within sight) that ended with boats floating up the sea channel.



This sculpture above of Samson conquering a lion in hand-to-hand combat wasn't added until shortly after Peter's death, but it represents Russia (Samson) conquering Sweden (lion on the Swedish coat of arms) in the Great Northern War (which they won on St. Samson's Day).


I really love the checkerboard floors all over Peterhof.

You can see the Grand Cascade flowing down from the Grand Palace right behind these two grand teenagers.


Those arches mark the entrance(s) to the Grotto . . . one of my favorite parts of Peterhof.


 Grottos! Fountains! Golden buttocks! No sign of the crowds clogging up the gardens!


I wore capris and tennis shoes, to my everlasting chagrin. But I was very comfy, okay? This is another angle of the Grand Cascade in front of the Grand Palace.

And the grounds. Can you believe how GREEN they are? Lush, rich, manicured mazes, wild forests, paths wide enough for carriages to hurtle down . . . 








Even the fountains that weren't gilded enchant me. This one is called the Chessboard Fountain, and it's guarded by dragons:



Monday, July 17, 2017

Mondays Need a Good Book: SYMPHONY FOR THE CITY OF THE DEAD


THE BLURB: "In September 1941, Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht surrounded Leningrad in what was to become one of the longest and most destructive sieges in Western history—almost three years of bombardment and starvation that culminated in the harsh winter of 1943–1944. More than a million citizens perished. Survivors recall corpses littering the frozen streets, their relatives having neither the means nor the strength to bury them. Residents burned books, furniture, and floorboards to keep warm; they ate family pets and—eventually—one another to stay alive. Trapped between the Nazi invading force and the Soviet government itself was composer Dmitri Shostakovich, who would write a symphony that roused, rallied, eulogized, and commemorated his fellow citizens—the Leningrad Symphony, which came to occupy a surprising place of prominence in the eventual Allied victory.


"This is the true story of a city under siege: the triumph of bravery and defiance in the face of terrifying odds. It is also a look at the power—and layered meaning—of music in beleaguered lives."


THE SCOOP: I spent a semester abroad in St. Petersburg with a babushka who lived through the siege of Leningrad. I remember seeing signs at every bathroom that anyone who survived the siege was exempt from paying to use it (and probably other things, but bathrooms were always on my mind!).

The siege fascinates me.

And this was the best book I've ever read on it.
   
It discusses Shostakovich's career ebbing and flowing with the rise of Communism, Stalin, the war, and beyond. I read so many interesting details I'd never heard before. His pictures are amazing. I've heard of Stalin blotting people out of pictures but never seen it before. 

This isn't from the book, but here's an example:

Image result for stalin editing photos


I loved how MT Anderson ties in the symphony with the human spirit and the will to rise above our circumstances. My favorite bit is his retelling of the meeting between the German assigned to starve the Leningraders out and the Russian who fed them. Both agreed the whole city should have been dead based on calories--but not once their spirit was factored in.

THE VERDICT: I loved this book. It's thick and meaty, and perhaps best read a chapter at a time instead of in one gulp. The story is about a city that *almost* starved to death, so don't expect light and fluffy. But you can be awed at human endurance and the power of music and determination.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Caught My Fancy Friday: Achors Away!


I can read ten descriptions of, well, anything without appreciating its true size until I lay eyes on it. I read quite a bit about ships while researching my poisoner-in-Peter-the-Great's-court manuscript, but I never appreciated how MASSIVE they were until I saw some of their bits and pieces. This is the anchor from one of the ships in Peter's navy. Take a glance at those doorways in the background for scale.

HUGE.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Mondays Need a Good Book: BORN TO TREASON



THE BLURB: "Joan Pryce is not only a Catholic during the English Reformation but also Welsh, and comes from a family of proud revolutionaries. But when a small act of defiance entangles her in a deadly conspiracy, a single misstep may lead her straight to the gallows. Now, Joan must navigate a twisting path that could cost her life, her freedom, and her chance of finding love."

THE SCOOP: I loved, loved, loved this book set in Wales under Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth. The main character is a practicing Catholic who hides her faith and helps others escape persecution and death--and she's betrothed to a man who turns Catholics in. 

The history in this book is pitch-perfect (I heard that the author did her master's thesis on this time period), and the details are woven into the story perfectly. I was completely immersed in this world.

This book's language was like poetry. In fact, I bought an ebook with funky formatting, and after one page, I thought I'd purchased a book in verse, and I was ready to stop reading (I know, I know, it's embarrassing, but sometimes I just can't handle poetry). But I couldn't stop reading despite the funky formatting. The language is just too lovely, and, combined with a story tackling faith and love and belief--WOW. It's a jewel of a book. 

THE VERDICT: Pick it up when you have time to savor lovely language and immerse yourself in philosophical dilemmas. You won't be sorry. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Caught My Fancy Friday: The Grotto at Peterhof

The grotto at Peter the Great's summer estate, Peterhof, is delightful. For one thing, it's cool and damp, and summer days even at that latitude are too hot for me. For another thing, LOOK at the texture of this ceiling:

                                  Tell me you don't want to run your hands over those rocks . . .

or stare at the nooks with golden statues and running fountains:

The grotto is full of twists, turns, and staircases. STAIRCASES underneath the ground, leading to the pipes and waterworks that power the estate's fountains.



This sadly dark picture shows some of the pipes they've used at Peterhof over the years. They started out with hollowed out logs for wooden pipes but found they decayed alarmingly fast.



Now they use regular old metal pipes to pump water throughout the gardens' fountains.


Down in the bowels of the grotto. Isn't it delightfully creepy? Do you wish they hadn't built quite so many staircases and pathways to keep visitors safe? I mean, I'd never go down there without them, but it would be much more atmospheric.



And yet. AND YET. Despite the gloom, the damp, and the creepy factor, the grotto was a popular spot for ballroom dancing for centuries.See the remains of sculptural decorations on the left here? Can't you just hear the string quartet striking up a minuet?





Outside the grotto, when the fountains were turned off, ballets were performed, dances were held, and fireworks were fired off. These paintings from the nineteenth century show some of those treats.









                                  This checkerboard floor is where ballets were danced:

 Peter stuffed his grotto (and his estate) with trick fountains. Here's a fun one: every now and then, an absolute deluge of water dumps down right outside this door. It reminds me of modern pool jungle gyms with their dump buckets, but exciting, because you might have been wearing a ball gown and a towering wig!