Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Last One Home by Debbie Macomber

Debbie Macomber has an impressive number of books in print and many have been adapted for Hallmark Channel series. Last One Home tackles sibling rivalry and family upheavals. 

Growing up, Cassie Carter and her sisters, Karen and Nichole, were incredibly close—until one fateful event drove them apart. After high school, Cassie ran away from home to marry the wrong man, throwing away a college scholarship and breaking her parents’ hearts. To make matters worse, Cassie had always been their father’s favorite—a sentiment that weighed heavily on her sisters and made Cassie’s actions even harder to bear.
Now thirty-one, Cassie is back in Washington, living in Seattle with her daughter and hoping to leave her past behind.  Her difficult marriage is over, she is back on her own two feet, and the pieces of her life are slowly but surely coming together. Yet despite the strides Cassie’s made, she hasn’t been able to make peace with her sisters. Karen, the oldest, is a busy wife and mother, balancing her career with raising her two children. And Nichole, the youngest, is a stay-at-home mom whose husband indulges her every whim. Then one day, Cassie receives a letter from Karen, offering what Cassie thinks may be a chance to reconcile. And as Cassie opens herself up to new possibilities—making amends with her sisters, finding love once more—she realizes the power of compassion, and the promise of a fresh start.
My thoughts:
This was a very emotional read for me as I've been in the same position as Cassie. Despite her struggles with a bad marriage and financial difficulties, she was able to provide for her daughter and worked hard to overcome obstacles with no help. 
(Spoiler alert) I wanted this to have a different outcome though. I saw the sisters as being conniving and selfish. The inheritance left by their parents would have made a huge difference in Cassie's life, had she received any of it, and improved the living conditions for her and her daughter. Yet the two sisters, who already seemed well off, split the money between themselves and then squandered it. They gave Cassie the left over furniture neither of them wanted, and Nichole finally gave Cassie the cameo that had been promised to Cassie as a child. It seemed giving Cassie a few items eased their conscience somewhat. I didn't see either of them acting out of love. What I would have liked to have seen was the sisters finding a way to give Cassie her share of the inheritance. Even after reconciling with her sisters, I'm sure that once Cassie found out she had been cut out of her mother's will and inheritance (apparently her mother wasn't in sound mind when she made the will and I wonder if the sisters might have influenced her), Cassie would be hurt all over again. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Saving Grace by Jane Green

Saving Grace is a look into what others might see on the surface as a perfect marriage, but to Grace it is anything but that. If you've ever dealt with a narcissist, you know how they can turn on the charm shortly followed, once they have you hooked, by anger and tantrums. There is an excellent description of this personality type in the Huffington Post. Sometimes there is a fine line between a narcissist and a sociopath.
Jane Green is a gifted writer and I thought the book was well written and delves into dealing with strong personalities and mental illness (Grace's mother). I won't say any more for fear of throwing in spoilers, but it's going on my list of favorites for 2015.

And . . . there are lots of delicious recipes - Eton MessGinger and Honey Chicken with SoySalmon Parcels

From the cover:
Grace and Ted Chapman are widely regarded as the perfect literary power couple. Ted is a successful novelist and Grace, his wife of twenty years, is beautiful, stylish, carefree, and a wonderful homemaker. But what no one sees - what is churning under the surface - are Ted's rages, his mood swings and the precarious house of cards that their lifestyle is built upon. When Ted's longtime assistant and mainstay leaves, the house of cards begins to crumble,and Grace, with dark secrets in her past, is most vulnerable. She finds herself in need of help but with no one to turn to . . .  until the perfect new assistant shows up out of the blue.

A big thank you to Mason Canyon over at Thoughts in Progress - I received the book as winner of a giveaway on her blog.





Friday, June 26, 2015

The Waiting Time by Eugenia Price

I found The Waiting Time by Eugenia Price in a Little Free Library (residential library where you leave a book and take one). Apparently this was written shortly before her death in 1996. I haven't read any of her books before and while looking for her bio, found out that in addition to writing several novels and more than twenty inspirational books, she also wrote daytime serials for NBC.

Although many of her books are part of a series, The Waiting Time appears to be a stand alone novel which is set in 1853 Georgia.

From the Cover:
Spirited Abigail Banes dreams her newly married life in coastal Georgia will be lived amid spreading magnolia trees, where lovers walk and whisper along blossom-lined paths. But her dreams are shattered when a fatal accident claims her husband, Eli, leaving her sole proprietor of thei rice plantaion - and the slaves that work the magnificent land.


Friday, June 19, 2015

The Unexpected Consequences of Love by Jill Mansell

Jill Mansell has 26 published books and continues to write best sellers. Her books have been listed as romantic comedies (like Four Weddings and a Funeral) and often comes under the chic lit genre. She definitely keeps the reader enthralled in the stories - she usually has several story lines going throughout her books. I noticed that The Unexpected Consequences of Love is called The Unpredictable Consequences of Love in the UK and has a different cover.

9780755355938The Unexpected Consequences of Love takes place in Cornwall (which most of you know is one of my favorite places). Josh moves into the family hotel and is interested in Sophie. Sophie has no interest in men at all, but her friend Tula has a crush on Josh. Meanwhile, surfer boy Riley has a crush on Tula, but she believes him too flaky to take an interest in him. Thrown into the mix is Riley's aunt, a superstar author and Josh's grandmother and grandfather who are divorced, but still seem to care for each other. Of course there are lots of misunderstandings and a few secrets.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Brighton, England


If you're visiting London and want to take a day trip to the coast, Brighton is a good choice. It's easily accessible by both train and car. Even on days without a lot of sunshine there is still plenty to do with a Sea Life Center, The Lanes (for antique shopping), the Royal Pavilion (a seaside palace built for George IV), the Marina for walks, shopping and great restaurants and everyone should stop at the restaurant on Brighton Pier for fish and chips. Don't expect miles of sand though, Brighton beach has pebbles.
The Royal Paviliion

Volks Railway Train
Tip: Parking is difficult at the Pier and aquarium. Park at the Marina and take the little Volks Railway train along the seafront to the pier.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart

I remember the Moon-Spinners, from the movie starring Hayley Mills (the story differs a little from the book) and recently found the book by Mary Stewart who died last year at the age of 97.

In the Moon-Spinners, Nicola has planned to meet her cousin at a small coastal hotel on the Greek island, Crete, but on her way there, Nicola comes across an injured man and tries to help him. What she doesn't realize is that his injuries are no accident and she finds herself among ruthless criminals who are hiding out in the small Greek village. As is common in books written in the 60s, the story is a little long winded at times and much repetition, but it's a good mystery and Mary Stewart's descriptions are delightful.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Standen House and Garden

While in England last month, I had a chance to visit Standen House and Garden a Sussex country estate. Apart from the beautiful gardens, the house itself features flowered wallpaper and material from Morris & Co. designs. Many of these wallpapers and prints were developed in the 19th century and were again popular in the 1970s. The original garden was designed by Margaret Beale for the Beale family home, keeping both the architecture of the home and gardens in the style of the Arts and Crafts Movement which changed from the traditional Victorian style to one more in harmony with nature. Standen House and Gardens are now part of the National Trust. One of the docents pointed out to us the beautiful embroidered curtains that were purchased in kit form with the print design stamped on the material (you could choose different embroidery silk colors). The curtains were then hand embroidered.
 

Morris & Co. Wallpaper


Friday, June 5, 2015

Night and Day by Ann Summerville

Book 3 of the Pecan Valley series is now available in print and for Kindle.


Not all is what it seems in Pecan Valley and Bea can’t quite put her finger on what is wrong. She’s hoping Marge won’t become a permanent house guest and encourages her to look for a new home, but while they are scouting the neighborhood they end up looking for more than a house for Marge. What Bea wants to uncover is the unsavory dealings of a ruthless realtor and a murderer that might put Bea on the list of victims.

(The first in the Pecan Valley Series, Grandmother's Flower Garden, e-book is currently 99c on Smashwords.Com)


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

English Public Toilets turned into Houses

WC house - the entrance
Notice the number 9 sign above the gate!
With affordable housing scarce in and around London, people are being more inventive in purchasing a home. With many public toilets now in disuse, that's one property Englishmen (and women) are choosing for their "castle".
One architect remodeled a 600 square foot underground public toilet into her abode.

Another was purchased for more than $100,000 and remodeled.



WC house - the site

WC house - sitting room

This one, with seaside views, was made into a holiday home.

Before
After




Friday, May 29, 2015

Yarn to Go by Betty Hechtman



Yarn to Go was a recommendation on a book review blog and it didn't disappoint. As an avid knitter myself, I enjoyed reading about how the ladies (and one man) tackled knitting projects at the retreat. There was some knitting jargon that puzzled me. One comment by the author was that all yarn is called a skein. I thought the unwound yarn/wool was called a skein, and a ball of yarn is simply a ball of yarn. So I did a little research. Apparently what I thought was a skein is actually called a hank. The differences: A skein is oblong in shape and wound differently (the ones that you can pull the thread from the inside). However a ball (wound to resemble a ball) is called a ball of yarn. A hank is the yarn before it is wound into a ball or skein. Sorry to confuse those who are non-knitters.
Anyway, enough about knitting. I love the Monterey Peninsula and enjoyed the setting. The storyline was good and the mystery kept me intrigued.

Dessert chef Casey Feldstein doesn't know a knitting needle from a crochet hook. But after her aunt dies unexpectedly leaving Casey to run her yarn retreat business, the sweets baker finds herself rising to the occasion and hosts a scheduled event. What she hadn't planned was trying to unravel a murder mystery.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Maeve Binchy Writer's Club

Maeve Binchy is known throughout the world for her novels, but not only did she delight readers with her stories, she also gave advice to budding writers through her letters that she wrote to students taking a course at the National College of Ireland in Dublin. The Maeve Binchy Writer's Club includes some of those letters along with advice from other well known guest speakers who talked about specific areas of writing during the course.

Maeve Binchy says
"Everyone is capable of telling a story . . . the imagination has no limits."






Tips

  1. Schedule time to write (Maeve got up at 5:00 a.m. 3 mornings a week to write).
  2. Goal (Maeve's was 10 pages a week)
  3. Join a writers' group
  4. Start the story at an interesting point in the life of the protagonist i.e. crisis, decision)
  5. Decide on: Where, when, main dangers, what is the end of the story? Open with action, decide on time period for story (two weeks? two years?)
"Whatever you do - don't give up" - Maeve Binchy

Writing is really one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

When writing mysteries, give the reader more information than you give the cops.

Story: The king died and then the queen died.
Plot: The king died and then the queen died of grief.
Mystery: The queen died and no one knew why until they discovered it was grief.
Murder Mystery: The queen died and everyone thought it was grief until they discovered the puncture wound in her throat.

Maeve Binchy:
What will separate the winners from the losers is that ability to pick ourselves up and refuse to take rejection personally.



Sunday, May 24, 2015

Wisley Garden - England


 
I was fortunate to visit England this spring when all the blossoms and flowers were in full bloom. One of the places I visited was Wisley Garden in Surrey.
The original garden was designed by George Fergusson Wilson who recorded over 22,000 plantings in Oakwood, his experimental garden, from 1878-1902.
After his death, Sir Thomas Hanbury purchased the property and then presented 60 acres to the Royal Horticultural Garden Trust in 1903 which was officially opened by King Edward VII.


The acidic soil in the garden is ideal for profuse flowering rhododendrons, camellias, magnolias and azaleas.

  

Friday, May 22, 2015

Scribbler of Dreams by Mary E. Pearson

I'll start off by saying Scribbler of Dreams is a YA book and not a genre I normally read. I received it as a gift - part of a promotion by the library. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the Romeo and Juliet type story. Except Romeo (Bram) was unaware of the part he was playing. It was a book I couldn't put down with all the aspects of young love, family squabbles and sibling rivalry thrown in. But the underlying part of the story is forgiveness.  Mary E. Pearson is a talented writer and YA might be a genre that I'll explore more this year.

Seventeen-year-old Kaitlin Malone was born to hate the Crutchfields.
The hatred her family has harbored for generations is the one thing she can count on--and the very thing she believes will sustain her now that her father has been imprisoned for murdering Robert Crutchfield.
But then Kaitlin stumbles on a rare opportunity to walk in the enemy's shoes and what she discovers rocks the foundation of her entire world.




Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tips for Travelling in and Around London

I've just returned from a trip visiting family in England and Wales and as it's been a few years since I've been to my homeland I noticed a lot of differences.
Public transport is easy to use in London, but as there are multiple rail services now it's wise to check on travel before you leave. The Train Line Website is a good place to start. For destinations outside London look for lower fares such as day return, off peak tickets. If you're travelling around London an Oyster Card will come in handy. Purchase an Oyster visitor card before you leave and you will get extra bonuses that don't come with a resident Oyster Card. These are easy to use, you swipe the card when you get to the station and again when you arrive at your destination. The balance on the card shows up on the screen. You can top these up at automatic machines at the train stations. These can also be used on buses and the underground in the London area.
london pass image
Vintage Double Decker London Tour with Thames Cruise, London, Hop-on Hop-off ToursA good way to get an overview of London is to take a Thames River cruise. Some are lunch or dinner cruises such as the Bateaux London. If you're walking, stop at a souvenir stall and purchase a map, (or download one here) you'll find a lot of the sights are close together and within walking distance. If you're tired or it's raining, underground stations or bus stops are easy to spot. Another good way to see the city is with the Hop on Hop Off buses. The pass is usually good for the day and you can get off when you see something you'd like to look at and then get on the next bus. There are several different tours called "Hop on Hop Off." The Original Tour price includes a river cruise, but check on the different companies and see which one suits you best (Big Bus has a downloadable map).

A lot of the attractions and museums are free - view Visit London here.

Make sure you have the pin number for your credit card. While many stores and also train ticket booths will take it without a pin, many restaurants and other places require you to insert the pin number when paying. If you have the option, request the transaction in pounds. It's cheaper for the credit card company to convert it into dollars.

Beware of pick pockets. Make sure you have your bag tucked safely under your arm or in front of you while you take pictures. Often someone will bump into you to distract you while another person takes your wallet. Also, don't put a bag between your feet when sitting in a restaurant. Crooks have been known to use the hook of an umbrella to pull the bag out without you noticing.

Weather is changeable, but I did find that May was a lovely time to visit. The weather was good (around 60 degrees) and not too much rain. Also, the spring flowers and rhododendrons were beautiful. But check what attractions you want to see as some of the older houses and castles close in the winter (too expensive to heat) and might not open again until the summer. (Highclere Castle is closed until the end of May) By the way, Europe uses Celsius not Fahrenheit, but a quick way to roughly calculate is to double the number and add 30 i.e 10 Celsius would be 10x2+30=50.

Note: I found a blog Mind the Gap which might be interesting to anyone visiting England.





Friday, May 15, 2015

A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen

When a street musician, James Bowen, found an injured cat he never anticipated it would become a companion and a reason for him to change his life. Up until then he had a drug problem, spent time living on the street without a home, and had been estranged from his family. All that changed when he began caring for Bob, the ginger cat. Bob has since become famous world wide - see Bob's blog here
Someone once told me when life is the most difficult then do something for someone else and take the focus from yourself. This seemed to have worked for James Bowen.