Saturday, May 28, 2016

Crossfile Trail by Louis L'Amour

I chose Crossfire Trail by Louis L'Amour because of the Wyoming setting for my 50 State Reading Challenge. I've never been a big fan of westerns, but found this book on the 10 cent shelf  at the library and along with the challenge I'm trying different genres this year. Louis L'Amour paints a vivid picture of life and ranches on the wild American frontier and immediately engrosses the reader in the story of Rafe Caradec "a man who always rode at the read, hardened by a life spent among ruthless men who played for the highest stakes." With over a hundred novels to choose from, I have a feeling this won't be my last Louis L'Amour. Crossfire Trail was also adapted into a television series staring Tom Selleck (Rafe's name was changed from Caradec to Covington in the series.)

From the cover:
The only thing Rafe held sacred was his word - and now he had sworn to a dying man that he would save his Long Valley ranch for his wife and daughter, Ann. But Ann thought Rafe was moving in for his own crooked gain, and played right into the deadly hands of the greedy ranchers plotting to destroy her. Then Rafe figured a way to save Ann and the land. It would be dangerous - but that was the only way Rafe Caradec knew.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Dunkirk 1940

The Dunkirk miracle – In WWII fog suddenly covered the English ...
Beginning on May 26, 1940 Prime Minister Winston Churchill asked for help from owners of boats of all sizes and pleasure craft to rescue over 350,000 British and allied soldiers trapped on Dunkirk (Dunquerke) beach in France. Some boats were as small as 18' and it was the smaller boats that were needed to maneuver in the shallow beach area. For an unknown reason, possibly expecting surrender, Hitler had halted his offensive for a few days which made the evacuation possible. It was anticipated that approximately 25% of the armies would be saved. But although of 860 ships that participated 240 were sunk, with assistance from the British Navy and Royal Air Force, over 300,000 soldiers were removed from the Dunkirk beaches.
Description Dunkirk Evacuation shipping routes.png
I remember learning a poem at school I believe it was called Dunkirk 1940, possibly by the Welsh poet, Idris Davies about the little ships and the brave British citizens who traveled across the channel to save the brave soldiers.

The Little Ships, the little ships
Rushed out across the sea
To save the luckless army
from death and slavery

The little ships . . .

Does anyone else remember the poem? I did some research but wasn't able to find it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Although Little House in the Big Woods is a children's book, it's still an enjoyable read for adults. It covers the years when Laural Ingalls and her family lived in a log cabin in Pepin, Wisconsin (near Lake Pepin). Caroline and Charles Ingalls both had the necessary skills for self survival and while Laura's father, a skilled hunter, provided food and fuel for the family, her mother sewed and cooked and kept the cabin clean and tidy. All of the family adapted to a strict regimen to keep their family home well stocked and cared for.
Wash on Monday
Iron on Tuesday
Mend on Wednesday
Churn on Thursday
Clean on Friday
Bake on Saturday
Rest on Sunday
If I was ever stuck in the woods, this is the book I would want with me to learn survival skills! But it wasn't all work. The extended family got together to bleed sap (maple syrup) from the trees which was cooked, and although most of it was stored, they did scoop up platefuls of snow and pour maple syrup on it which quickly turned to candy.
Laura Ingalls Wilder was in her sixties when the first book in her Little House series was published after many rejections (she was told writing for children was a waste of time). Her books now have over 60 million in sales. And of course we all remember the series Little House on the Prairie starring Michael Landon.

Sunday, May 22, 2016


The Suffragette movie is very thought provoking. Meryl Streep plays an important character, Emmeline Pankhurst, but it isn't a huge part. It's Carey Mulligan's character whose fictional story is followed throughout the movie who carries the story. I've never taken the cause lightly as I lived in London next door (as a child) to a woman who had once been a suffragette and she told me some of the horrific stories of how women were treated. Emily Davison is also portrayed in the story. No one really knows if she intended to be killed that day by the King's Horse or whether she merely wanted to disrupt the race at the Epsom Derby and bring attention to the Suffragette Movement. Herbert Jones, the jockey, was unconscious after the collision, but survived.
The 1918 Representation of the People Act allowed women of property over the age of thirty the right to vote.

See the timeline of women's right to vote around the world here

Friday, May 20, 2016

Through a Glass Deadly by Sarah Atwell

I picked up Through A Glass Deadly by Sarah Atwell because it's set in Tucson, Arizona and I'm working my way through the 50 U.S. States for a reading challenge.

From the Cover:
With a weakness for taking in strays, from homeless dogs to extra students, Emmeline can't help befriending troubled newcomer Allison McBride. But their friendship takes a dangerous turn when em finds Allison's husband in the studio - dead.

Sarah Atwell also writes as Sheila Connolly and although I love the County Cork series, Through A Glass Deadly wasn't one of my favorite cozy mysteries, but I can't really put my finger on the reason.

I think a review on Goodreads may sum it up -
I've been researching cozy mysteries, trying to find one that might interest my mother-in-law who loves them. She also loves glass-blowing, so this series piqued my curiosity. The main character, Emmeline, is a glassblower and owns her own shop and studio in Tucson where she gives glassblowing classes. The thing I didn't like about this cozy mystery is that Em's behavior is completely implausible. At the beginning of the book, she meets a woman who is reserved, nervous, and seems like she is hiding something. Within hours of meeting her, Emmeline offers her a job in her studio. Within a day of meeting her, a dead body shows up in her glassblowing furnace (she discovers the body and is remarkably nonplussed). Turns out that the dead guy is her new "friend" Alison's husband. Emmeline defends her friend and continues to believe that she had nothing to do with it.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Air Dance Iguana by Tom Corcoran

I was looking for a book set in Key West to read when I visited there last month and came across Air Dance Iguana by Tom Corcoran. This isn't the first book in the series, but I didn't find it difficult to get acquainted with the characters. Key West is such a unique place and I enjoyed the mystery. I'll be adding Tom Corcoran to my list of TBR authors.

Summary from the author's web page: Two men, twenty miles apart, are killed in the same strange way on a quiet summer morning in the Florida Keys. Forensic photographer Alex Rutledge finds that he may be the only person interested in pursuing justice, especially when his brother becomes a key suspect.Alex connects the current-day murders to a thirty-year-old scam amidst revenge smoldering since the Nixon years. He races time to thwart a final killing and, if possible, to prove his brother's innocence.

In my quest to stick to my budget this year, the book was borrowed from the library.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Murder She Wrote - a Fatal Feast by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain

The Murder She Wrote series books need no introduction. They are true cozy mysteries, one you want to cozy up with (along with a cup of tea). Of course, we already have an image of the main character - Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury).
I chose the book for its setting in Maine as part of the 50 State Reading Challenge.

A Fatal Feast - From the Cover
I squinted to see what had captured his attention. Something in the grass now glistened in the moonlight, tiny specks of brilliance twinkling like earthbound stars.
It wasn't until I was ten feet from it that I recognized what it was.
The hilt of Seth's knife.
The elaborately crafted carving knife protruded from a body - a man's body from the glimpse I saw of his clothes . . .

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Down the Rabbit Hole by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Down the Rabbit Hole by Susan Campbell Bartoletti is one of the books she has written as part of the Dear America series. This one is set in Chicago in 1871 at the time of the Great Fire when fictional characters Pringle Rose and her brother Gideon have become orphans and moved to Chicago seeking refuge from their brutal aunt. Unfortunately, although Chicago has grown rapidly, the buildings and also the roads are built of wood. I like the Scholastic Books because they show us life at the time of a major event.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Caribbean Ports of Call (Frommer's)

If you're planning to take a Caribbean/Bahamas cruise, take a look at Fromer's Caribbean Ports of Call, it has great information for planning excursions and looking at different ports of call. (I found the book at my local library). The Cruise I went on stopped at Key West, Freeport and Nassau.

I've also put together some cruise tips that might help to make your trip more enjoyable.

Cruise Tips - Carnival Cruises 
  1. Take a copy of your passport (showing number) in case you lose it. Give the copy to someone else in your party, in case you lose it.
  2. Gratuities/Tips: You can usually pre-pay gratuities. The pre-paid gratuities are split between all the staff. 15% is usually added to drinks (alcoholic and soft drinks). Note: I believe the Maitre d' is the only one who isn't included in the pre-paid gratuities. There are envelopes available if you wish to give an additional tip to one of the staff.
  3. Onboard spending – You use your sign and sail card for everything and settle up the bill at the end of the trip. You can keep track of your account on your television in the cabin (enter the folio number from your card) or go to the guest services desk. Food and non-alcoholic drinks are usually free (tea/water/coffee/juice). (You are charged for soda) You use your card for gambling too but make sure you cash it out at the Casino before the end of the cruise.
  4. Meals - Meals are included unless you go to the specialty restaurant. You will have the same table for each meal (choose the seating time when you book the trip). There is a buffet open most of the time if you choose not to go to the sit down dinner and also a hamburger and pizza bar. The buffet is the best place for breakfast too. There are usually two formal dinners on a 7-day cruise. On those evenings there are photographers set up over the ship. You can choose which pictures you want to purchase once they are developed. It’s a good night for a family picture. (Look on the web site for clothing suggestions, but Carnival is more casual than some of the other cruise lines)
  5. On the last night you will leave your luggage outside your door for collection (between 8 and 11:30). Keep a bag for items you will need for the last night and the following morning. If you prefer to carry all your luggage off the ship, you will be able to leave earlier.
  6. Duty free – When you board the ship after visiting a port, they will take your duty free and give it to you when you return to your home port (check on limits for your state - Texas is very limited on duty free alcohol).
  7. Entertainment – They will leave a list of entertainment for the following day in a box outside your cabin door or on your bed.
  8. Spa - On the last few days of the cruise, they have reduced prices.
  9. There aren’t too many coat hangers – I take wire ones (from dry cleaning) and leave them after the trip.
  10. Credit Cards – You can use dollars at many of the ports, but if you want to use credit cards at the international ports (Freeport and Nassau) check with your credit card company to see if they charge overseas transaction fees (some credit card companies charge 3% to convert to dollars)
  11. Excursions - I've read some bad reviews on some of the excursions, especially the beach ones. I suggest that you check the weather at the port before booking a beach day excursion. Most of the time they have spots available once you board the ship. For many of them you can't return to the ship if it's raining and sitting in the rain for 4-5 hours isn't much fun. Carnival will also refund the excursion fee (for onboard spending) if you find that their price isn't the cheapest. It's better to book the excursion through Carnival because if there is a delay and Carnival don't know where you are, they might not help you to get back to the ship before departure if you haven't booked through them.
  12. Child Care - There is a wonderful Camp Ocean on the ships for children of all ages.  They do a great job at keeping the children entertained.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield

The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield is one of my favorite reads this year. It's different from the books I normally read (cozy mysteries) and does have bad language in it, but he has set his story in what most of us imagine a poor town trailer park and its residents to be.

The Flood Girls is a softball team. Most of them live in a trailer park in the town of Quinn (population 956), Montana. The main hangout of the locals is Laverna's The Dirty Shame bar. Laverna's daughter returns to Quinn after leaving a wake of chaos behind her, her father has died and she befriends a 12 year old boy who loves sewing and sequins. Throw in the volunteer firemen, a few alcoholics, a group of husky women silver miners, and a new church where the women all wear home made blouses of the same Simplicity pattern along with long jean skirts and the story is off to a flying start.

Monday, April 25, 2016


For years I've been collecting certificates and information about ancestors, but it wasn't until recently I started putting it all together. I'm fortunate that on both my mother's and father's side of the family I have cousins who have done extensive research and I have a lot of information from them, but it can become an expensive hobby.

Start by asking relatives for information and ask for any birth, death, marriage certificates they might have. A few years ago, I asked some of my older relatives if they would write one or two pages about their childhood and about family which gave me a look into their lives at the time (and a few scandals).

There are also several places online where you can access information without paying (WikiTree is a good one). Apart from several aunts, I am the first one in my family to move to another country so all my ancestors lived in Scotland or England so my research is a little different from those who may have traveled to the U.S. by boat.

Keep a notebook and make a list of information/dates you are missing.

Top 10 Free Genealogy Websites ~ Teach Me GenealogyOnce you have as much information as you can gather, sign up for the 14 day free trial on Ancestry.Com. If you start inputting information you will get tips that will help you. Also, many members have copies of census pages which you can download/copy without having to pay an additional fee.

Genealogy Programs:
I have found Family Historian a good program to store data and isn't overly expensive, but the charts aren't that great to print and frame.

Also consider a scrapbook to house your memories from relatives and certificates/census pages. At least if you ever lose access to your data you will have it in print.

Have fun and enjoy getting to know some of your long lost cousins. I found someone in a country on the other side of the world who has connections with my family just by doing a Google search for a relative with an unusual name.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Chocolate Cat Caper by Joanna Carl

Chocolate Cat CaperThe Chocolate Cat Caper by Joanna Carl is a cute story and interspersed between the chapters was a little tidbit of chocolate trivia.

From the cover:
After giving up her career as a Texas trophy wife, Lee McKinney finds herself in a Michigan resort town, keeping the books for her aunt Nettie's luxury chocolate business. But she soon discovers that her new life isn't all truffles and bonbons.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Coal Miner's Bride by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

A Coal Miner's Bride is from the Dear America series by Scholastic. This one is by Susan Campell Bartoletti. Each of the books is written in diary form and gives us a glimpse into the life of the young girl.

Anetka Kaminska lived in Sadowka, Poland during Russian rule in the late 1800s. Her mother had died and both she and her brother were living with their grandmother while their father immigrated to America in search of work. He finally sends for his family, but shocks Anetka when he tells her, in a letter, he has found her a husband and as part of the "bargain" the man sends them boat tickets to travel to America. What she finds is a harsh life in a loveless marriage where coal miners were expected to purchase goods only from the "company store." Often they were not paid in money at all but with scrip that could be used to "purchase" from the store.

I like these books because you hear the thoughts and worries of a young girl at a specific time period and it's a great way for readers to learn about the history.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Hearth Tax

Medieval kitchen fireplace © Richard Croft cc-by-sa/2.0 :: Geograph ...I've been researching where my ancestors came from in England and Scotland and have come across some strange records.

While census records have been invaluable they only go back so far. What I came across today was a list of people in Suffolk (only men and widows are shown) in 1674 who were required to pay a Hearth Tax (First Chimney Act 1662). The Act was passed to obtain more money for the coffers of King Charles II.

Be it enacted that from and after March 25, 1662, every dwelling and 
other house within England, Wales and Berwick on Tweed shall be chargeable 
with the annual payment of 2 shillings for every fire hearth and stove within 
such house, to be paid yearly by even portions at the feast of St. Michael and 
the feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, the first payment to be paid 
at Michaelmas, 1662. 
Note: Those who are shown as certified means that they have a certificate of poverty and do not have to pay the tax! Deficient means they failed to pay the tax.

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Taylor wasn't a dynamic book; there was no mystery to push the story along and no tragedy looming. As described by NPR, it is a domestic story about a family and a house. Although it is beautifully written and her writing is smooth and flows easily, the story wasn't overly enticing.

From the cover:
The Whitshanks are one of those families that radiate togetherness: an indefinable, enviable kind of specialness. But they are also like all families, in that the stories they tell themselves reveal only part of the picture . . . From Red's father and mother, newly arrived in Baltimore in the 1920s to Abby and Red's grandchildren carrying the family legacy boisterously into the twenty-first century, here are four generations of Whitshanks, their lives unfolding in and around the sprawling and lovingly worn Baltimore house that has always been their anchor.