Friday, July 31, 2020

July Books: Mysteries

Hard to believe there are only a few hours left of July as I type this. The month seems to have zoomed right by. Like all other months, this one was filled with books and as always, there were mysteries on the list. Here they are:
Please Do Feed the Cat by Marion Babson
I found this in the e-book section of the library website, clicked on it, and read this description:
Mystery writer Lorinda Lucas doesn’t like the trend toward overly gruesome crime fiction—but she’s even more upset about Roscoe, the cat who lives next door. He used to look well-fed and well cared for, but when Lorinda gets back from her most recent book tour, she’s worried by his dangerously skinny appearance.

It turns out that Roscoe’s owner has a new girlfriend who’s put the poor cat on a deprivation diet—and that’s not the only bad news in Brimful Coffers. There’s been a fatal hit-and-run and escalating tensions—and before she knows it, the mystery writer will be investigating a real-life murder case .’

This was a light read and funny at times. The author spoofs the gruesome crime fiction her character is not fond of. Lorinda has brought back to the UK a stack of such books from her US tour in the interests of research and at various times, she picks one off the pile and starts reading. She never makes it very far and her cats get used to dodging flying books when she throws them across the room. Babson is quite over-the-top when she creates these excerpts. I don’t read that kind of crime fiction myself, so I appreciated the sentiment.

The cats are a big part of the story, as you’d expect. I enjoyed that aspect of the book a lot. The setting is a village named Brimful Coffers, which has the usual quirky characters. The twist here is that the village has become home to a many mystery writers—another fun plot device. I’d red more of these books if I came across them.

False Scent by Ngaio Marsh
This is the 21st book in the Roderick Alleyn series. I’m really enjoying picking up my e-reader and moving along in the series whenever I want a dose of Golden Age mystery from one of the Queens of Crime.

This book takes place in the home of an actress who is a diva and concerned about her age. It is her 50th birthday, although she doesn’t like anyone to know how old she is. She is difficult to deal with, spoiled, and easily slighted. She has a party planned, complete with photographers for the publicity, but it turns out to be a very unhappy birthday indeed. Early in the day, she has a temper tantrum (called a ‘temperament’ throughout the book) because she feels some other theatre people have betrayed her. Later, at the party, there is another ‘temperament’ about another perceived betrayal. That’s the last temperament—and the last birthday--she has, but was it an accident or did someone have enough and help her out of this world? Roderick Alleyn arrives to find out.

The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katherine Green (Phoebe Reads a Mystery podcast)
This book (published in 1878) was said to have inspired Agatha Christie. It takes place in NY, which kept throwing me off for some reason. I had to keep reminding myself that I was not in an English village.

Mr Leavenworth is the guardian to two nieces, who live with him, but he has a favourite and it is she who is due to inherit his fortune when he dies. When he is found in his study with a hole in his head, suspicion naturally falls on said niece. Inspector Gryce investigates with the help of the family lawyer’s colleague and some other people. There are a lot of twists and turns before the solution is revealed. This book is in the public domain and can be downloaded for free at Project Gutenberg.

This reading lasted for almost all of the month, with Phoebe reading a chapter, or sometimes two chapters if they were short, each day. The book has 39 chapters.

Hand in Glove by Ngaio Marsh
The amusingly named Percival Period is sharing his home with someone he does not really get along with. When said person is found dead in a drainage ditch, Roderick Alleyn must find out who put him there.

The Last Seance by Agatha Christie (audiobook read by Fenella Woolgar)
This is a collection of Christie’s short stories dealing with the supernatural. The reader is excellent. She had quite a task to go between different characters of all ages, different genders, and with different dialects of English, and different nationalities, sometimes in the space of a few sentences. I really enjoyed this one.

And now, August arrives. Onward!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Taco Salad with Lime Vinaigrette

I knew I felt like having some kind of salad tonight for supper, with a piece of the rye bread I made the other day on the side. But I went back and forth about what kind of salad I wanted and what kind of dressing. Then I thought of the bean burgers I had in the freezer. We get them at Aldi and they are spicy-ish bean and veggie patties with a bread crumb coating. These burgers are not really hot, but the ones we get from Lidl are--we like both. I decided to cook those and make a taco salad. I had limes in the fridge, so opted for a lime vinaigrette dressing. This salad hit the spot, along with the warm bread and butter. Yum! 😋
For the salad, I used what I had around, but this lends itself to endless variation. Instead of the bean burgers, canned beans (drained), cooked leftover chicken, pork, or beef, tofu chunks, or meat analogues would work. Cooked breaded/battered  fish or chicken or burgers--turkey, beef, or vegetarian, could be cut up and added, too.  Same with the veggies--this is the kind of thing that would be different every time I make it. Fresh parsley or coriander (cilantro) would be great.

For this salad, I cooked the vegetarian bean burgers and while they were cooking, got all the veggies in the bowls. I used lettuce, cherry tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, red onion, scallion, cucumber, carrot, and sweetcorn. When the burgers were cooked, I cut two of them into pieces and added one to each of our salads. Then I topped with shredded mature cheddar.

Lime Vinaigrette Dressing:
3 tablespoons lime juice
5 tablespoons olive oil
a wee bit of Dijon mustard (I probably used about 1/4 of a teaspoon)
sprinkles of granulated garlic, oregano, ground coriander, and a pinch of chilli powder

Whisk together with a fork. Any leftovers can be stored in a jar in the fridge. The olive oil may get a little solid in the cold, but it's no big deal--it 'melts' again at room temperature.

I hope you're safe and well!

Monday, July 20, 2020

Chocolate Ricotta and Muesli

I've been quietly moving through this summer month, which really has not been that bad for July, one of my least favourite months. While Bill sometimes quips that he is getting ripped off by having no summer, I rejoice at the coolish days (in the 50sF/mid teens C), the grey skies, and the rain. It's sunny at the minute, but the rain is supposed to come back in a couple of days. The clouds have been hanging around quite a lot and one day last week was almost autumnal. If I must have July, I'll take one like this has been so far.

Today I had a productive day in the kitchen. I made some muesli. I prefer it to cereal when I want a cold breakfast. I usually have porridge during cooler weather, but at this time of year, I often have yogurt (which I usually make at home), berries. peaches or bananas, and muesli. If I don't have or want yogurt, I have milk instead. The muesli is good either way.

It's a simple thing to make--place two cups of jumbo oats (old=fashioned rolled oats in the US--not quick oats) in a shallow bowl. Microwave for 3 minutes, stirring at one minute intervals. Then add whatever you like. I add raisins, coconut, walnuts, and almonds. I let it cool and store it in a container. It takes just a few minutes, is healthy, and really tasty.
When I make yogurt and strain it, I end up with whey. I use this to make ricotta. I love homemade ricotta in savoury dishes like lasagne and stirred into pasta, or with herbs mixed in as a bread spread, but I also like it in other ways. In the past, I've mixed in some thawed frozen berries to make a spread for toast, which is yummy! The last time I made it before today, I used some of it in pasta, but decided to try the rest as a dessert. I mixed in a bit of sugar and cocoa powder and let it sit for a few hours. When it was time for dessert, I spooned a bit into a bowl and topped with raspberries and a few mini dark chocolate chips--it's my new favourite way to eat my ricotta. Today's batch is all chocolate. 😋
I think it would also be good with cinnamon instead of chocolate and cooked apples instead of berries. That would be a nice autumn dessert. Peaches would be good, too, maybe with a little vanilla and maple syrup and banana sounds yummy. 

Making the ricotta leaves me with a thinner whey that works really well for breadmaking, so I made a loaf of rye bread with some of it this afternoon.
I have more whey in the fridge so will think about what kind of bread to make after this loaf is done. If I think I'm not going to use it before it goes off, I'll put it in the freezer.

I hope the week has started off well for you and that you're safe and well.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

June Books: English Language and English Villages

Here's the last instalment of my June book list. I spent a lot of time with Miss Read last month. 😀

A Fortunate Grandchild by Miss Read (audiobook read by the author)
When the Miss Read books were recommended to me by a few different people, I looked her up and borrowed a couple from the library. Both were part of her Thrush Green series. A few years later, when I saw an omnibus edition of three of her Fairacre series in a charity shop, I bought it. I liked all of them, so when I saw these audiobooks on the library website, I borrowed them.

Miss Read is the pen name of Dora Saint, who was born in London in 1913. She wrote novels about small village life through the perspective of a schoolteacher named Miss Read. These books are not really plot-driven. They are quiet, pleasant books about the quirky people in these villages at a particular time. This book is a memoir which is much like her novels. In it, she talks about her two grandmothers and her experiences of them. It was interesting to hear about her basic way of life in the early 1900s. The grandmothers had very different sorts of families and lived in quite different circumstances and through the narration, we get a sense of family life in that particular time and place. I enjoyed hearing about what the homes were like, the attitudes of the grandmothers and aunts, what it was like to go on a summer holiday to one grandmother’s house at the seaside, what it was like to travel by train or by steamship, etc. If you’re interested in those sorts of things, this is a pleasant read.

Time Remembered by Miss Read
This is another memoir, this time with a focus on three years (1921-1924) the author spent at a small school in the country. The author was born in London, but as the book begins, we learn that she and her mother have only recently recovered from the Spanish flu and medical advice was to get the family to the country. They relocated to a small village ‘a few train stops’ down from London. Miss Read had been attending a large London school in which her aunt was a teacher and she was amazed when she got to her new school and saw a small building with a headmaster, instead of a headmistress. It did not take long for her to discover that she loved it and she loved living in the country. She says these were among the happiest years of her life.

As she looks back, she both celebrates what it is she loves about rural life (which comes through in all of her novels that I’ve read) and she considers why she does not like being in cities. I could relate to both. I have never loved cities and have no interest in being in them. We’ve been in Ireland for 6 years now and other than being at the airport a couple of times, have never been to Dublin, which is fine with me. I am repelled by the thought of being there, to be honest, so why waste my time? I’d much rather go visit a small village/town and walk around enjoying the slow pace of life. 
This is another interesting glimpse into life in a different time and place. I enjoy her books.

Over the Gate by Miss Read (audiobook read by Gwen Watford)
I enjoyed the memoirs, so after I was done with those, I checked out this Fairacre novel, in which village schoolteacher Miss Read shares stories of village life, but also listens to stories shared with others about things that happened before her arrival. The book was read by Gwen Watford, whose voice sounded familiar. I knew I’d heard it before and then I remembered—she played Dolly Bantry in the Joan Hickson Miss Marple series a few decades ago. She did a good job with the reading and had a wide range, moving between dialects, characters, age groups, etc. This was very enjoyable to listen to.

Affairs at Thrush Green by Miss Read (audiobook read by Gwen Watford)
I wasn’t planning to borrow this right away, but when on the library’s e-audiobook page, I noticed that some of the Miss Read titles that had been available a couple of weeks ago were no longer listed. Since it appeared that these were no longer going to be in the system for whatever reason, I looked at the titles that were left. I’d either read or listened to all but this one, so I borrowed it. I immediately got a message saying it would not be available for renewal, so I listened to it and returned it. The next day, I checked the website and found that it was gone. It’s a shame these books are going away, because they are very pleasant, heartwarming, and amusing. I enjoy small town/village stories with quirky characters and that’s what these are. Gwen Watford was a wonderful reader, too.

The Stories of English by David Crystal
This book was given to me by a friend a few years ago. I quite enjoyed it.

Happy reading!

Friday, July 3, 2020

June Books: Mysteries

I am pretty sure that there is never a month in which my book list does not contain some mysteries (both short stories and novels), usually classic and/or cosy, but also some others. I started one last night that I'm enjoying so far. Here are the mysteries I read in June:
Offshore by Ann Cleeves
This is a collection of short stories all set on islands and featuring various detectives from the author’s various series. I am only familiar with the Vera series, which I love (new one coming out in a few months). There was a Vera story in here as well as a few Jimmy Perez stories, which are set on one also based in Shetland but with a different detective, and one that seemed to be by a different author but based on an earlier Cleeves series about George and Molly, an older couple who are really into bird watching. The Shetland series has concluded now, I think. I have been considering starting on that one from the beginning, and might do so soon. The author also has a new series, the first book of which was published a few months ago, at least on this side of the Atlantic.

Parting Breath by Catherine Aird (audiobook read by Robin Bailey)
This is one of Aird’s Sloan and Crosby series. This one is set in a college. A student is found dying one autumn evening. His final words are ‘26 minutes.’ What does this mean? Why did someone want to silence him? While on standby in case they’re needed during the sit-in being staged by some students at the college, Sloan and Crosby proceed to figure it all out.

Singing in the Shrouds by Ngaio Marsh
I couldn’t decide what to read next, so picked up my e-reader and jumped into book 20 of the author’s Roderick Alleyn series, in which he is on a cargo ship that takes a few passengers from England to South Africa. He pretends to be a relative of the shipping company big shot so he can investigate a series of stranglings and to prevent the next one. Due to one tiny clue, it is thought that the murderer is on that ship.

The Missing Diamond Murder by Diane James
I came across this in the e-book section of the library website and the blurb said it was a good choice for people who love British cozy mysteries, so I gave it a try. It was a good read. It’s part of a series (this isn’t the first book and I have not read any others) and contains a backstory in addition to whatever the mystery is. In this case, the mystery involved a family diamond that went missing after the death of the family patriarch, which was also suspicious. Did he manage to make his way to the cliff edge in his wheelchair and either deliberately or accidentally fall over, or was he pushed? Fran Black goes to investigate at the urging of her friend Tom Dod, both of whom are part of a literary society. This is where the backstory picks up—he urges her to go because they have become very close when solving previous mysteries. He is in a marriage that involves his dead brother’s former fiancee or something like that and she is in the middle of a divorce—her husband is living with his new partner and they are expecting a baby. But, in 1930s England, that would not be enough for Fran to be granted a divorce. If she was ‘carrying on’ with someone herself, she would not be ‘blameless’ and the divorce would not be granted. Someone has written a letter to the court insinuating that the relationship between Fran and Tom is ‘improper’ which jeopardises her divorce. He suggests she go to the country to investigate the case, where she can be isolated and away from suspicion. She goes and the story unfolds. I would read more of these books—the mystery itself was fine, but the cultural details were what made the book for me. I quite enjoyed that aspect of the novel.

Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie (Phoebe Reads a Mystery podcast)
A few months ago, I learned of this podcast. At the time, Phoebe was reading The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Christie’s first book, one chapter per day. I caught up just as she was finishing the book. She moved on to Hound of the Baskervilles, which I also listened to and enjoyed. Then she began The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins and there she lost me. I hated the book and after trying to hang on in the hopes it would get better or end, I gave up. I was glad I did, because it seemed to go on forever. I did not unsubscribe from the podcast, but just waited to see what book would be next. It was this one, so I happily started listening again. This is Christie’s third book and it features Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings. Poirot gets and urgent letter imploring him to go to France immediately to help a man named Paul Renauld, who fears his life is in danger. Poirot and Hastings rush off, but arrive to find that Paul Renauld has been killed. Poirot investigates in spite of hostility from the French police detective assigned to the case. It’s no surprise who gets the right answer in the end. Phoebe is currently reading Anna Katherine Green's novel, The Leavenworth Case, which was apparently an inspiration for Christie.

Murder Takes a Holiday by various authors, edited by Cecily Gaylord
This is a collection of 10 classic crime stories that is new to the library e-book collection. There are a few more current authors included, but most are from the Golden Age era. Like the Christmas collections I’ve read in the same series, this is a great read. All the stories involve some sort of holiday/travel.

It's still weird for me to see things about 'the holiday season' because to me that's December. But here it means summer, when people go on holiday (instead of vacation)--at least they did before the pandemic.

Stay safe, wash your hands, cover your face in public, and happy reading!

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Sheepy Watch: Sweet Dreams

The postman put something in the box this morning and when I brought it upstairs, Bill said it was for me. he said he saw it and decided I had to have it. He knows how I love sheep 🐑😀
Note the black sheep on the bottom right of the band. Being a black sheep myself, I particularly like that!

On the watch face, the sheep are cavorting among the stars and the text around the dge says 'sweet dreams' in various languages.
I love it!

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

June Books: Classics

Another month begins, bringing with it a new stack of books to spend time with. Our library is still not open, even though they were able to reopen three weeks ago. In our county, they started a phased reopening last week, with a few branches. Another branch has opened this week. They're still not allowing requests and no books are being send from library to library, so it's all browse, borrow, return for the time being. We have no idea when our branch will open, but fortunately, between my e-reader, charity shop books and other acquisitions, library e-books and e-audiobooks, I am not going to run out of reading material anytime soon!

I've been getting into more classics lately and I have quite a collection of those on my e-reader, thanks to Project Gutenberg, a site that has e-books freely available for download. These are all out of copyright and in the public domain and they have various formats to choose from. Some of the classics are pretty long though, having originally been serialised in periodicals and I don't always want to read 700-800 pages or more on a screen, so we have picked up a few used books online lately, both from Book Depository and ebay.

Without further ado, here is the beginning of my June book list:

Odd Women by George Gissing
I learned of this book from a booktube video. It sounded good, so I went to Project Gutenberg, downloaded a copy and put it on my e-reader. I loved this book! After I finished, I went back and got more of Gissing’s work.

This book, published in 1893, revolves around various ‘odd women.’ The title can refer to the fact that the women are ‘odd’ in the sense that most of them do not fit into the roles society has created for them. The other (related) sense of ‘odd’ in the title has to do with the fact that there were more women than men and many women were unmarried, whether by choice or not. The book includes themes of marriage, respectability, the role of women, and early feminism. It’s set in England, and we first meet the Madden sisters. After their father dies, the sisters are left without much money and have to fend for themselves. Two of them end up in poverty, trying to find work as governesses and companions, renting a small room and eating sparingly. Their younger sister becomes a shop girl, but wants a different sort of life. She makes a decision that will have repercussions for a long time to come.

As youngsters, the sisters knew Rhoda, who they end up coming into contact with again as adults. Rhoda has no interest in marriage and works with Mary Barfoot to teach middle class women secretarial skills so they can support themselves. The story branches off from these people, but comes back to intertwine at various times.

Gissing does fall short when it comes to class issues, which seems a bit weird, considering that some of his other work deals with class in a very different way and in his personal life, he was not a fan of the class structure.

I highly recommend this book and I look forward to reading more of Gissing’s work.

The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster
I’d heard about this novella before, but was reminded of it by Bill, who read something about it. I could not find it on Project Gutenberg and couldn’t request it from the library, since it’s still closed, but with a bit of searching, I found a LibriVox audiobook on youtube and listened to that. It is really good. Even though it was written in 1908, it sounds like he could have been writing about today. It’s a dystopian world in which people are forced to live underground with every need taken care of by ‘The Machine.’ At an eariier time, people thought they could control the machines they created, but of course, things did not go as planned. So people live in isolation in subterranean compartments and socialise via their screens. The main characters are Vashti and her son, Kuno. One day, Kuno appears on Vashti’s screen and asks her to come visit him in person. Travel is rare and frowned upon, but she gets permission and travels via airship to see him. This is terrifying for her. She is even more disturbed by what he has to tell her and is happy to get back to her compartment. Her relief is short-lived, however. Excellent story.

A Dark Night’s Work by Elizabeth Gaskell
This novel was published in 1863. It was first published as a serial in a Charles Dickens periodical. The main character of the novel is Ellinor Wilkins, who lives with her father, Edward, and various people who work for the family. The story begins when Ellinor is a very young child and ends when she is in her 30s. Edward inherits the family law practice, but he is unsuited to this work. The family is fairly well off, but does not have high social standing because Edward works for people who do. Things go downhill as the years go by, with serious consequences for many of the people involved. Class and gender roles are themes of the book.

I loved this book. I had it on my e-reader, having downloaded it from Project Gutenberg some years ago. I was recently reminded of it when listening to a booktube video.

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
We recently ordered this book, along with a couple of other books by Dickens. I wanted to read this one first, so of course this one came last. The other two arrived together and this one a week later, even though they were all ordered from the same place at the same time. This one somehow travelled from the UK to France to Ireland, so it had a longer journey. As soon as it arrived, I dove in and loved it from the start. It's not perfect, but there is so much to enjoy in this book and so much that is relevant in our world today. The introduction to this edition was also excellent, although I read those at the end, so as not to have plot points divulged before I start the book. I haven't really read Dickens, except for A Christmas Carol, in decades, so it is fun to revisit his work.

I should note that I have tried to give a flavour of the plots, but without going into too much detail, because I don't like to give too much of the storyline away. There are Wikipedia entries for all of them if you'd like to get that detail, but like the introductions, I never read those until after I read the book either, because they give away the story.

I finished a book just before going to sleep last night, so I will have the fun of picking a new one today. So many books, so little time! I hope you're enjoying some good reading, too.